DUBLIN – Northern Ireland's environment minister announced Monday he has banned the local broadcast of British government ads on climate change and denounced their energy-saving message as "insidious propaganda."
Sammy Wilson has repeatedly raised eyebrows since winning the environment post in Northern Ireland's power-sharing government last year.
The hard-line Protestant, a leading light in the Democratic Unionist Party, argues that global weather patterns are naturally cooling, not warming — and humanity should invest in coping with God-driven climate change, not trying to slow down a man-made problem.
His latest fight is against the central government in London, which funds an "Act on CO2" campaign encouraging the public to reduce their use of electricity and fossil fuels.
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, but the Catholic-Protestant coalition in Belfast has autonomy in many areas.
Wilson said the Act on CO2 ads were "giving people the impression that by turning off the standby light on their TV, they could save the world from melting glaciers and being submerged in 40 feet of water."
He said the ads, which have been running on British television stations including in Northern Ireland over the past year, represented "an insidious propaganda campaign" peddling "patent nonsense."
Wilson said he had already written to the British government's Department of Energy and Climate Change warning it not to distribute any more pollution-fighting ads in Northern Ireland.
In a brief statement, that London-based agency confirmed it had received the letter and would stop running TV ads in Northern Ireland pending legal advice.
In Northern Ireland's fledgling government, individual ministers control their own policy patch — even when others in the four-party coalition oppose their decisions.
Catholics and Protestants from other parties said Wilson's TV ad ban must win majority backing from Northern Ireland's legislature to become legal. Wilson said he did not need any authority but his own.
Wilson won no support Monday from outside his own conservative party, which is Northern Ireland's top vote-getter. Other lawmakers called for his resignation.
Such disputes have been commonplace in Belfast in the power-sharing era — and individual ministers have usually prevailed.
Only last week, Education Minister Caitriona Ruane, a Catholic, abolished a decades-old academic selection test despite opposition from the Protestant side of the government. Last month, Protestant sports minister Gregory Campbell rejected plans to build a new multi-sports stadium that Catholics particularly wanted.
Tommy Gallagher, environment spokesman for a Catholic-backed party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, said the environment minister was engaged in "grandstanding on an extreme and dangerous scale" and "must be held accountable for his maverick posturing."
"It is one thing for Sammy Wilson to hold weird views on climate change or the creation of the world. It is another when he uses his position to pursue causes which are in conflict with the objectives of the department he is supposed to be leading," Gallagher said.
David Ford, leader of a joint Catholic-Protestant party called Alliance, said Wilson's views were "profoundly unrepresentative" of Northern Ireland opinion. He expressed surprise that Wilson had not mentioned the exceptional past week of snowfall.
"Almost the only misrepresentation that the minister did not utter was the suggestion that one week's snow proves there is no global warming," Ford said.
Wilson, a motorcycle enthusiast and former schoolteacher, has long been regarded as the most irreverent character within his strait-laced party, with a tongue equally acid and witty.
His career survived a 1996 embarrassment when personal photos of him frolicking nude with a girlfriend on a French beach holiday ended up on the front pages of Belfast tabloid newspapers.