agendaNi issue 109

Page 1

...informing Northern Ireland’s decision-makers

A new approach Ulster-Scots Agency’s Ian Crozier ASSEMBLY ELECTION 2022 CPD Chief Executive

DfE’s Head of Energy

Activist, advocate,

Sharon Smyth on

Richard Rodgers

and academic

delivering effective

discusses an

Monica McWilliams

public procurement


talks peace,

decarbonised energy

misogyny, and



Issue issue109 8 June Aug/Sep / July 2022 11

Special Carbon reports:

• •Housing • Energy • •Public Tax Special Reports: Health ICT affairs

£2.95 €4.95 / £2.95












Matters arising




The Housing Supply Strategy


Abri Group Chief Executive Gary Orr on addressing the decarbonisation challenge


Assembly election 2022


Cover story: Ulster-Scots Agency’s



Ian Crozier on delivering a new approach 22

Tourism: The road to recovery


CPD Chief Executive Sharon Smyth on

Energy Department for the Economy’s Richard Rodgers on delivering an integrated decarbonised energy system 64

delivering effective procurement policy

Oxford Institute’s Malcolm Keay on the future electricity system




In partnership with

the role of energy storage

78 40

Housing Executive Chief Executive

Public affairs 78


Mark O’Donnell, Deputy Secretary at the


Permanent Secretary reshuffle


Tom Hartley: Losing sight of our Presbyterian built heritage

Department for Communities, discusses housing priorities

Leading women: Monica McWilliams on leadership, misogyny and building peace

Grainia Long describes a decade of delivery in housing

Ulster University’s Inna Vorushylo discusses


Back page: Designating as ‘other’


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2022 speaker line-up... Lucy Von Weber Head of Marketing Visit Wales Cillian Walsh Senior Marketing Manager Just Eat Felicitas Olschewski Head of Digital, EMEA


Ricky Thompson Social Media Editor Department of Finance Denis Tierney Acting Head of Marketing and Communications Limerick City and County Council Orlaith Grehan Digital Communications Manager St Patrick’s Mental Health Services Paul McGarrity Managing Director Octave Digital Nick Carson Head of Corporate Communications Northern Health and Social Care Trust

How to register... By email


By telephone +44 (0) 28 9261 9933

agendaNi Issue 109 June/July 2022 Digital


Print Editorial

Decision-making and decarbonisation… In an interview for agendaNi’s annual energy report (inside), the Department for the Economy’s Head of Energy Richard Rodgers described the energy transition as “the greatest opportunity for society in the region, since the industrial revolution”. It is a bold but very plausible thesis when you consider the potentially pervasive economics of the decarbonisation of energy. The timely delivery of the net zero agenda presents an opportunity to completely transform an economy, which has for decades failed to keep pace with its neighbours, by creating new industries, jobs, and supply chains.

David Whelan, Editor Fiona McCarthy Ciarán Galway Odrán Waldron Circulation and Marketing Lynda Millar Events Jillian Wallace Advertising Lynda Millar lynda.millar@agendani.comm Design

Just over a month on from an Assembly election which delivered historic change, not least the mandating of a nationalist First Minister for the first time, and a significant increase in the ‘other’ voices in the Assembly, work should have already begun on delivering policy to grasp those opportunities.

Gareth Duffy, Head of Design

With one-quarter of ‘the decade of opportunity’ already passed, a stalled Stormont could have persistent and detrimental repercussions in future decades.


Both decision-making and decarbonisation are central themes to our special reports within this issue: Housing and Energy. Both sectors have a vision for transformation but require policy direction and resources if they are to deliver in the coming decades. David Whelan

Jamie Hogan Subscriptions Sharon Morrison Email: Online:

Owen McQuade, Publisher bmf Business Services 19a Maghaberry Road Maghaberry, Co Antrim, BT67 0JE Tel: +44 (0) 28 9261 9933 Twitter: @agendani Web: Printed by: GPS Colour Graphics

FSC® is an acronym for the Forest Stewardship Council®, which is an independent, non-governmental, notfor-profit organization that was established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. The FSC® system provides an assurance that products such as wood and paper have been harvested in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. The FSC’s Chain of Custody certification provides a way in which the material can be tracked from the certified initial source through the manufacturing process to the end user.

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Some fiscal devolution possible by 2027 The “administrative capability and capacity” of the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Civil Service to absorb and manage additional tax-raising powers has been highlighted as a concern by the independent commission examining the Executive’s responsibility for tax and spending.

Ruling out full fiscal devolution as an unrealistic option, the Commission recommends that any taking on of additional tax powers should be done gradually to ensure fiscal stability.

In its final report published in May 2022, the Fiscal Commission highlighted concerns raised over the Executive’s stability, as well as its capacity to reach “coherent and consistent” policy decisions and previously indicated leadership and delivery capacity concerns within the Northern Ireland Civil Service as key considerations in any devolution of tax powers.

Currently, regional rates is the only significant revenue raising undertaken by Stormont and the Commission has suggested smaller taxes such as stamp duty and landfill tax could be devolved in the short term, to build institutional capability and capacity. Setting out a potential timeline, the Commission says that while dependent on political will, significant increased fiscal devolution to Northern Ireland could be in place by 2027/28.


March 2023 deadline set for abortion service The UK Government has given the Department of Health a deadline of March 2023 to set up full abortion services.

service, to allow the Department of Health to oversee the commissioning of abortion services in Northern Ireland.

In July 2019, in the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, MPs in Westminster voted to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland and create new laws, essentially extending rights to Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK.

The unsustainable nature of the interim service provided by the health and social care trusts has been highlighted following a number of closures and restarts due to limited resources, with Amnesty International describing a “postcode lottery” for healthcare by forcing women to travel in the midst of a pandemic.

However, Health Minister Robin Swann MLA refused to commission and fund abortion services, stating that the “significance and sensitivity of the issue” needed Executive approval. Abortion regulations took effect in March 2020 and health trusts have provided an interim early medical abortion


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In a written statement to parliament, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis MP said that he was “extremely disappointed” the full commissioning proposals had not progressed and said that he was issuing the direction to the Department of Health, Health Minister Robin Swann and to the Health and Social Care Board.

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Protocol package could be formalised The EU Commission has suggested it is ready to produce legislation to mitigate against trade frictions between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but has urged the UK Government to engage in the process. The EU’s Brexit negotiator Maroš Šefčovič has told MEPs that he is prepared to turn a previously proposed package of solutions in to draft legislation in a bid to draw the UK back into formal negotiations to deliver workable solutions to the current impasse. Šefčovič’s address came just days after the UK’s Foreign Secretary outlined to the House of Commons her plans to bring forward a domestic bill to change the post-Brexit trade deal for Northern Ireland, claiming that it will be legal under international law.

Following the 2022 Assembly Election in May, the DUP, having already indicated its intention not to enable a fresh Executive, opted not to agree to a new Speaker, meaning the Assembly cannot sit and Executive ministers from the last mandate are now operating in a caretaker capacity, with limited powers. The party has said that it will wait to see progress on the UK Government’s plans before committing to any action. The EU Commission has constantly reiterated that it will not renegotiate the binding agreement it agreed with the UK less than two years ago, however, Šefčovič believes that the formalisation of legislative proposals put forward in October 2021, could prevent action by the UK Government and refocus negotiations.

In response, the EU said that it would “need to respond with all measures at its disposal”, if the UK was to take unilateral action.


O’Dowd announced as Infrastructure Minister Assembly rules mean that Sinn Féin is the next party by vote share entitled to nominate another minister. The DUP says that it will not nominate ministers for a new Executive until its demands around the removal of the Protocol are met. Under new legislation passed by the UK Government, in the event of failure to nominate, ministers may continue to serve in a reduced capacity for up to six months. Former Education Minister John O’Dowd MLA has been appointed as the new Infrastructure Minister, taking on the role in a caretaker capacity until a new Executive can be formed. Sinn Féin’s O’Dowd takes the place of Nichola Mallon, who lost her north Belfast seat in May’s Assembly election. The SDLP, which lost four seats in the Assembly, opted not to take up the option of putting forward a replacement for Mallon citing its reduced mandate.

In his first publication, Minister O’Dowd outlined a commitment to “improving the quality of life for people across the north”, but cited the challenges of delivering vital public services in the absence of an agreed budget. “Of course we know that the absence of a functioning Executive and no budget in place for this year, makes the challenge all the greater. Vital funding is locked away. New initiatives within the department cannot be undertaken,” he said.

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Northern Ireland Assembly Election 2022 Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill MLA, elected in Mid Ulster, now has a mandate to take up the post of First Minister.

The Northern Ireland Assembly Election in May 2022 was historic for a number of reasons but none more so than the mandating of a nationalist First Minister for the first time since the formation of the State. While a range of notable themes emerged from the 2022 Northern Ireland Assembly Election, not least the rise of the ‘others’, the split vote of unionism and the decline of the SDLP, undoubtedly, the foremost outcome was the emergence of nationalist Sinn Féin as the largest party at Stormont.

Assembly returns. While many have, and will, rightly emphasise the joint authority of the First and deputy First Minister positions in the Executive Office, that control of the First Minister’s office was central to the pre-election rhetoric, for those both opposed and in favour of a nationalist First Minister, is telling.

In a legislature, originally created to ensure perpetual unionist rule, a tipping of the balance is not only significant but also symbolic. The default unionism setting, historically in place since partition, can now no longer be assumed, neither internally nor externally.

Those seeking to downplay Sinn Féin’s success have pointed to no gains in the party’s seat numbers (27) and little change in first preference votes since 2017 (29 per cent compared to 27.9 per cent in 2017). Instead, the narrative is that a greater spread of votes across unionist parties, coupled with an uplift in Alliance support, led to seat declines for both the DUP (-3) and the UUP (-1).

Equally symbolic is the right given to Sinn Féin by the electorate to now hold the post of First Minister, if and when the 6

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However, such a narrative fails to recognise changing trends. The 2017 election result was widely identified as a high watermark for Sinn Féin. Less than a year before, it had lost an Assembly seat and seen its first preference vote share fall by almost 3 per cent. Fast forward to the emergence of the RHI scandal, the resignation of then-deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster’s crocodile comments in relation to the Irish language, and a fresh election saw Sinn Féin close the gap on the DUP to one seat, lifting their first preference votes on the year before. That Sinn Féin has not only been able to hold but build upon its 2017 support by the electorate is significant.

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DUP leader Jeffery Donaldson MP led his party to a loss of three seats.

First preference vote share (%): election 2022

Ind/Other 5% SDLP 9%

TUV PBP Green 2% 8% 1%

Sinn Féin 29%

UUP 11%

Alliance party 14%

DUP 21%

Source: NI Assembly Elections Report.

success, of equal importance to a party’s final tally is whether it is transfer friendly. Highlighting this, only 21 of the 90 MLAs elected in May 2021 had a sufficient number of first preference votes to meet the quota and to be elected at the first count. Interestingly, the DUP was the most transferable party, receiving 26 per cent,


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compared to the SDLP’s 20 per cent, Alliance’s 17 per cent, UUP’s 13 per cent and Sinn Féin’s 9 per cent. Parties running multiple candidates often distort transfer data, with the majority of their transfers coming from party colleagues. However, of note is the fact that most of the DUP’s transfers came from the TUV (40 per cent), most of the

SDLP’s transfers came from Alliance (28 per cent), while the Alliance Party had a broad appeal to voters of the UUP (23 per cent), Sinn Féin (21 per cent) and the SDLP (16 per cent).

Unelected Pre-election, a number of figures announced their intention to not stand for election and leave frontline politics. The DUP’s Jim Wells, the Alliance Party’s Chris Lyttle, and the SDLP’s Sinéad Bradley were some of the 11 MLAs who for various reasons said they would not be returning to Stormont. However, the election also ousted a number of highprofile names. Early in the election count it became clear that Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon’s seat in north Belfast was under threat and while the hope of transfers kept the now-former MLA in contention late into the count, the seat was eventually declared for the Alliance Party’s Nuala McAllister MLA. With the DUP failing to nominate a deputy First Minister, existing ministers took up caretaker roles, however, without a mandate, Mallon’s position was returned to the SDLP to replace her. When the

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UUP leader Doug Beattie could not lead a resurgence of the Party’s electoral fortunes.

party opted not to, the nomination switched to Sinn Féin, which installed John O’Dowd MLA. Another recent minister to miss out was the DUP’s Peter Weir who, up until the party’s leadership crisis, held the education portfolio. One of Stormont’s longest serving MLAs, Weir had held a seat since 1998 and was expected to return. While having served for a shorter tenure, the SDLP’s Pat Catney’s had hoped his work in the Assembly, not least the successful introduction and passage of his Private Member’s Bill securing the provision throughout Northern Ireland of free period products, would ensure a return, but he narrowly missed out on consolidating what was an election upset in 2017, when he gained the seat in the historically unionist stronghold of Lagan Valley. Other long-standing casualties included the DUP’s Mervyn Storey, the UUP’s longest serving MLA Roy Beggs and their sole female MLA in the last mandate Rosemary Barton, as well as the SDLP’s Dolores Kelly.

The loss of two Green Party MLAs, including party leader Clare Bailey, marked a loss of the party’s total cohort of seats.

Gender balance The 32 female MLAs elected in May 2022, more than one-third of all members (35.6 per cent), represents a record number and a significant increase than the first postGood Friday Agreement Assembly of just 13 per cent females. A total of 17 more female candidates stood in 2022 than in 2017, meaning that females made up over 36 per cent of all candidates. Female representation in the Assembly chamber will increase slightly from election results, given that DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson MP has once again opted to co-opt Emma LittlePengelly MLA into an Assembly seat.

Future On Friday 13 May, MLAs gathered in Stormont for what would usually be the launch of Assembly business via the election of a Speaker and deputy speakers. In protest against the Northern

Ireland Protocol, the DUP intends to not participate in establishing a working Assembly and Executive, meaning that all other MLAs are essentially locked out. In failing to support the election of a Speaker, the party essentially paused the operation of the Assembly. Similarly, the Executive cannot meet without a First and deputy First Minister. The DUP said it would not nominate ministers to Stormont’s governing Executive, meaning that ministers from the last mandate are currently acting in a caretaker capacity. Under changes to the Northern Ireland Act brought forward by the British Government amid the last collapse of Stormont, following an election, there is a six-month window for an Executive to be formed before a fresh election is triggered. The DUP has set a high bar of demand for radical changes to the Protocol and even the UK Government’s plans to domestically legislate changes to the Protocol, against the advice of the EU, might not go far enough to meet demands. If so, Northern Ireland faces a fresh Assembly election in early winter.

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Translink’s ambitions: Public transport’s future

Translink looks forward to working with stakeholders during the new Assembly mandate to deliver a highquality public transport network and progress ambitious plans to drive a modal shift in favour of greener public transport; a better option for travel socially, economically and above all, environmentally. Belfast, converting around one third of the Metro fleet to zero emission. Next year will see us reach a milestone, as Derry~Londonderry becomes the first city in these islands to benefit from a 100 per cent zero emission urban bus fleet. We continue to develop the use of renewable energy sources, including the introduction of two new hydrogen refuelling stations – the only such facilities anywhere in Ireland – and one of Europe’s largest electric charge points at Milewater Service Centre in north Belfast. Our goal is to deliver a 50 per cent reduction in our current emissions by 2030, using science-based targets and in line with our Climate Action Pledge. With political support, we have taken significant action already, delivering 100 new zero emission buses for Metro in

By this summer, we will operate the fourth-largest zero emission bus fleet in the UK and Ireland, supporting Northern Ireland-based manufacturers. Incorporating the potential for electric and hydrogen technologies, we are also developing a rail infrastructure plan

focused on decarbonising the rail network. Our plans for the rail network will also see us grow capacity with the provision of new train carriages; all 21 of our new carriages will soon be in operational service. We aim to achieve net zero across our network by 2040, making a huge contribution to Northern Ireland’s progress. This is essential, not only from an environmental perspective, but also socially and from a public health perspective – it is estimated that by 2035, 84,000 new cases of disease in Northern Ireland, directly associated with air pollution, will have been recorded, at a projected cost to our health service of approximately £635 million.

Investment While existing funding has gone a long way towards delivering positive results in recent years, helping Translink drive a shift in transport habits, challenges remain. Public transport in Northern Ireland has traditionally received less public funding than any other UK region, with per head spending only around 27 per cent of the UK average. This must

be addressed in a long-term budget to enable public transport to reach its full potential. As a cross cutting service, public transport is a key enabler to the successful delivery of any Programme for Government. By supporting public transport, the new Assembly can better connect communities and create opportunities vital for the recovery and future development of all our people.

Rail enhancement We are starting to witness substantial investment in our rail infrastructure, future-proofing our network, but there remains much to do. We have a fiveyear plan to deliver a programme of railway investment and works, protecting and enhancing our £3 billion railway asset and helping to address decades of under-investment, providing a safe and reliable network for future generations.

Rail review The All-Island Strategic Rail Review will examine options to transform the railway network and enable additional passenger capacity. This has the potential to expand the network and improve connections to ports and airports, subject to funding. Enhancements to the flagship Enterprise service between Belfast and Dublin are also a priority, and we are working with colleagues in Irish Rail and the SEUPB Peace Plus project to invest in new rolling stock, introduce an hourly frequency, and deliver infrastructural improvements to reduce journey times.

Facility enhancement We will continue to transform public transport through a programme of upgrades and enhancements. Our stations, halts and bus shelters must be attractive and high quality, with Belfast Grand Central Station our keynote project. Replacing existing facilities at Europa/Great Victoria Street and entering service in 2025, Belfast Grand Central is a hugely important transportled regeneration project and Executive Flagship, which will represent a new beginning for public transport, as well as acting as a key generator of economic growth and prosperity. It will be the main transport gateway to Belfast, with bus, coach and rail connections to all parts of Northern Ireland and beyond. The associated Weavers Cross development, with

Belfast Grand Central at its heart, will be a new city neighbourhood, boasting a range of major commercial opportunities to support local investment and the economy, and act as a catalyst for regeneration in this part of the city centre. We are also planning new station facilities at Ballymena, Lurgan and York Street in north Belfast, as well as enhancements to Botanic Train Station in south Belfast and a new station to serve growing commuter need at Lisburn West, along with a programme of improvements to our bus stations across the Ulsterbus network. We will also deliver park and ride upgrades, which are vital for our integrated transport network, across main routes, including at Ballymena, Moira, Newtownards and Trooperslane, near Carrickfergus.

Contactless ticketing One of the customer-facing projects Translink customers can expect to see more of is contactless and accountbased ticketing, with a focus on ease of use, integration, convenience, and value. We want to use ticketing to encourage integration and boost public transport usage. Ultimately, customers will benefit from the introduction of a Tap On, Tap Off account-based system on every service in Northern Ireland. We will also introduce online facilities such as the ability to top-up pre-pay smartcards and checking journey history, payment history and any discounts applied to customers’ accounts.

The future We will work with stakeholders to deliver enhanced bus connections across Northern Ireland, reducing congestion and improving air quality. This will include the delivery of Glider phase 2, building on the success of the existing service, connecting the north and south of the city, as well as neighbouring suburban areas, and delivering high quality urban rapid transport across Belfast. In Northern Ireland, where over 20 per cent of households do not have access to a car (rising to almost 36 per cent in Derry~Londonderry and 40 per cent+ in Belfast), dependence on effective public transport is vital. Translink will work with the new Assembly to deliver sustainability at the heart of decision making; we share the aim of all parties to improve wellbeing for all, with public transport interlinked with draft Programme for Government outcomes. We are ambitious for the years ahead, capitalising on technological advances to enhance services, our people, the environment, and the communities we serve, and we are confident that, with the right support, we can unlock a better, greener future and make Northern Ireland healthier, more economically competitive, socially inclusive, and renowned as one of the top locations in Europe for sustainable transport. More information is available online at

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A new approach for Ulster-Scots Ulster-Scots Agency CEO Ian Crozier discusses the opportunity through the New Decade, New Approach agreement to appreciate the true scale and value of Ulster-Scots identity.


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First and foremost, explains Crozier, the term Ulster-Scots refers to a community of people, the Ulster-Scots. From the early 1600s onwards, Scottish people flooded into Ulster, first as part of community organised settlements in Antrim and Down and then the government-backed Plantation of Ulster: and then as refugees fleeing famine and religious persecution. Within a relatively short time, about 30 years, they were being referred to not as Scots, but as Ulster-Scots and have been known by that name ever since. The term Ulster-Scots is also used to refer to the culture and heritage of the Ulster-Scots community, in other words its cultural identity. The Ulster-Scots community has its own language, also brought from Scotland, which for centuries was simply known as ‘braid Scotch’ or ‘broad Scots’, but for the last one hundred years or so it has also been referred to as Ulster-Scots. Crozier is incredibly passionate about all aspects of Ulster-Scots but expresses some frustration that the imposition of a narrow linguistic focus has at times tended to stifle the development of a broader understanding of the UlsterScots community and their identity. “In 1998, Ulster-Scots was given recognition in the Good Friday Agreement with the creation of the North/South Language Body. While this was a welcome step, I think being framed within a language setting has tended to reinforce a linguistic focus in the minds of policy makers and many in the media and body politic that has been detrimental to the broader cultural identity,” he says. “The Ulster-Scots community, our beliefs and traditions have shaped the place that we live in today. Many aspects of UlsterScots identity, whether in terms of music, sport, our speech, or our characteristic ‘thran’ nature, have become mainstream in Northern Ireland, not narrow cultural markers, but broad themes in our society. Adopting an artificially narrow focus on Ulster-Scots misses out on a treasure trove of cultural wealth and risks making everyone here, whether they identify as Ulster-Scots or not, culturally poorer.” The Presbyterian ethos of the UlsterScots was fundamental, according to Crozier, as with it came a focus on

education and a love of liberty which had been central to the Scottish Reformation and laid the foundations for the age of enlightenment. Ideas with their roots in Scotland took hold in Ulster and were later carried around the world with the Ulster-Scots diaspora.

“Linguistically, Ulster-Scots as it is now

“The idea that an unjust king or government could be defied, which started with the Covenanters, was taken to the next level at the Siege of Derry. A generation or two later, when civil and religious liberty was again denied, the Ulster-Scots in America, or Scotch-Irish

members of the Germanic language

known, is a daughter of the Scots language, which has a pedigree stretching back over one thousand years [the earliest known Ulster-Scots poem is 300 years old this year]. Scots is a sister language of English and we are all family, which includes German, Dutch, Flemish, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. We are often compared linguistically with Irish, but that is like comparing apples and oranges,” he explains.

“Everyone needs to understand that identity in Northern Ireland is multi-layered and the picture is usually more complicated than it appears.” as they became known, inspired by stories of the Covenanters and Londonderry, overthrew the king and secured American independence,” he explains. The value placed by Ulster-Scots on learning led to a vibrant education scene and the foundation of many of Northern Ireland’s best-known schools, like Belfast Royal Academy, RBAI, Campbell College and Victoria College, as well as Queen’s College, later QUB. People from the Ulster-Scots community and its diaspora have been to the fore in almost every field of human endeavour, whether science, engineering, medicine, diplomacy, politics, the military, sport, arts, music and many more besides. That is one reason why Crozier thinks it is ironic that among a range of slurs often thrown at Ulster-Scots is that it is the preserve of stupid people. He points out that the Ulster-Scots language, so often a lightning rod for detractors, was the medium for generations of literary genius, up to and including 20th century giants like CS Lewis and Seamus Heaney.

“One thing that both languages share, however, is that they live in the shadow of English, a global language. Speakers of both Irish and Ulster-Scots have faced strong pressures, sometimes internal from their own families and sometimes external from the education system and the media, to moderate their speech in the name of getting on.” Despite these pressures, at the time of the 2011 census, 140,000 people in Northern Ireland indicated some ability in Ulster-Scots. Crozier believes that this figure is just the tip of the iceberg. “Folk with ability in Ulster-Scots often aren’t aware of it, thinking they only speak English because that is what they were taught in school. They don’t realise that they learned a different language at home, their true mother tongue and really, they have been bilingual all along.” The mission of the Ulster-Scots Agency is to inspire and empower people and communities in Ulster to embrace their Ulster-Scots identity, build kinship with those outside Ulster who share that identity and friendship inside Ulster with those who do not.

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“Ulster-Scots occupies a much more central place in our society than many people realise, the challenge for us now is to help everyone understand that and embrace it.” During the pandemic, the Agency provided Covid recovery funding to well over 600 organisations including bands, halls and community groups across Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland that are involved with UlsterScots, demonstrating a much larger community sector than many would have previously anticipated. A new language initiative, Wheen o Wurds, launched just prior to Covid-19, has also seen a very high response. The online quiz, which helps people to appreciate the Ulster-Scots words they use every day and leads to the award of a Wheen o Wurds badge, has so far been successfully taken by more than 150,000 people.


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Crozier believes these unprecedented results show clear evidence of the importance of Ulster-Scots, not just to the Ulster-Scots community, but to everyone in Northern Ireland. “Whether in terms of language, heritage or culture, Ulster-Scots occupies a much more central place in our society than many people realise, the challenge for us now is to help everyone understand that and embrace it for the good of us all.” The CEO observes that Ulster-Scots identity has weathered a real storm in the last 50 years. “The Troubles forced people into a binary world, where British and Irish national identities were the focus and Ulster-Scots was squeezed into the background. After 1998, Ulster-

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Scots returned to the fore, but faced an onslaught from those still trapped in a two tribes mentality. Whether attacking our language or identity more generally, Ulster-Scots have too often been spoken of and treated in a way that would not be tolerated in respect of any other group in our society. Generations of Ulster-Scots have grown up not knowing about their identity or embarrassed to embrace it, listening to people who said we had no culture. “Outdated attitudes that deny or diminish Ulster-Scots must be challenged and overcome. Everyone needs to understand that identity in Northern Ireland is multilayered and the picture is usually more complicated than it appears. The best thing we can do is be curious and find out for ourselves.” The CEO is optimistic that a broader understanding and package of supports for Ulster-Scots in the New Decade, New Approach agreement of January 2020 can serve as a springboard for ambitions to enable Ulster-Scots to go from surviving to thriving. The agreement acknowledged the need for greater support for Ulster-Scots in schools, placing a duty on the Department of Education to encourage and facilitate the use of Ulster-Scots in the education system; provided for a commissioner to enhance and develop the language, arts, and literature associated with the UlsterScots tradition in Northern Ireland; and paved the way for a long-term strategy for Ulster-Scots language, heritage, and culture. Crozier was part of an expert advisory panel which has recently delivered a recommendations report for the strategy, with a call for views closed at the end of April 2022. “We have expressed some qualms about some of the terminology that has been used, as we feared that it could have drifted towards some of the narrow interpretations of the past, but the terms of reference for the strategy and crucially the decision of the UK Government to recognise the UlsterScots community as a national minority within the UK under the Framework Convention for National Minorities place the new protections firmly within a

“Ulster-Scots has shaped our society and through our diaspora can shape our place in the world.” context that should see support for UlsterScots identity in its broadest sense.” Quizzed on what he would identify as progress in the coming years, Crozier says: “We need to see Ulster-Scots in all its forms appreciated across government for the value that it can bring to everyone in Northern Ireland and supported accordingly. “Ulster-Scots has shaped our society and through our diaspora can shape our place in the world. 2026 will see the 250th anniversary of the American Declaration of Independence, which was brought about

by the Ulster-Scots. What other country wouldn’t love to have that link? At a time when there is great concern about the balance of relationships within our islands, Ulster-Scots can be a social and cultural bridge. “As we continue to come out of the pandemic, Ulster-Scots can help bring communities together again. Whether we want to promote diversity, improve creativity, inspire our young people, improve our neighbourhoods, attract tourism or inward investment, Ulster-Scots has a great contribution to make in the future, just as it has in the past.”


Ian Crozier Ian has been Chief Executive of the Ulster-Scots Agency since July 2011, having previously worked as a Chief Executive in the third sector and before that as a Special Adviser to successive ministers for Social Development in the Northern Ireland Executive. He served for 10 years as an elected member of Belfast City Council and has held a range of non-executive directorships including Belfast Harbour, the Laganside Corporation and North Belfast Partnership, where he chaired both the board and Programme Management Executive for the £10 million URBAN II European funding programme. In recent years, Ian has held ministerial appointments on the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Traditions; the Covid Recovery Taskforce for Culture, Arts and Heritage; and the Expert Advisory Panel for the Strategy for Ulster-Scots Language, Heritage and Culture which flows from the NDNA Agreement. Ian graduated in law from Queen’s University Belfast and has since completed postgraduate certificates in urban regeneration (BURA) and corporate governance (CIPFA).

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‘Fundamental review’ of planning system needed “Appalling” performance statistics are symptomatic of a planning system “beset by more fundamental issues”, a report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has assessed. In a heavily critical report by MLAs, the Northern Ireland Assembly’s PAC Committee, whose function it is to examine public spending with hindsight and recommend improvements to the stewardship of taxpayers’ money, voiced alarm at the volume of concerns around transparency, said it was, struck by a lack of accountability for poor performance and described a system “in chronic failure”. Among a range of 12 recommendations made by the committee was a call for an independent and fundamental review of the system and the establishment of a commission to identify tangible improvements that can be achieved in the short term.


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The PAC invited witnesses to consider the Northern Ireland Audit Office’s (NIAO) report, entitled Planning in Northern Ireland, which concluded that the planning system is failing to deliver for the economy, communities, and the environment. In its subsequent report, published in March 2022, the PAC said that the widely known performance issues within the planning system were “a source of considerable concern” for the Committee, stating that they were “appalled” by the failure of planning authorities to deliver on many of their key targets, particularly in relation to major and significant development, since the transfer of planning functions in 2015.

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That one-fifth of the most important planning applications aren’t being processed within three years is not only impacting on applicants, developers and communities but also risks investment in the region, according to the PAC, who believe a significant programme of reform is needed. Highlighting that some elements of underperformance relate back to the transfer of powers in 2015, the PAC report describes a situation of an inadequate budget, an inappropriate staffing model and the need for change to the future funding model before acknowledging “widespread recognition” that the system is not working. “The Committee is clear that change is now needed and ‘a sticking plaster’ will not suffice. Given such obvious criticism, it is hard to understand why action hasn’t been taken until now.” While recommending a fundamental review to ascertain long-term, strategic change, the PAC committee said it was “struck” by the number of immediate changes that could be made. “There has been an inertia throughout the system and many of those involved appear reluctant to make much needed changes…The Committee has heard that there are a number of opportunities to make

the impression “of a system that can’t plan for the future, isn’t doing well on deciding today’s applications; and doesn’t appear to be properly enforcing the decisions it made in the past”.

Transparency On transparency, the Committee expressed “alarm” by the volume of concerns and said that it was seeking urgent remedial action to ensure better transparency for applications called in and those overturned by a planning committee contrary to recommendation of the planning offices. Additionally, the Committee says it is seeking more transparency as to how councils exercise enforcement powers given the considerable variation across councils. On the perceived “misunderstanding” of accountability by the Department, the Committee has placed an expectation on the Department to provide a radical action plan to address accountability issues. Recommending that the Department and the Head of the Civil Service consider how leadership could be strengthened to provide an effective oversight role, the Committee says it is “very concerned” that the Department does not grasp the severity of issues facing the planning system, does not recognise the urgent need for change and has a

“The operation of the planning system is one of the worst examples of silo working within the public sector that this Committee has encountered.” immediate improvements to the planning system. We recommend that a commission is established to identify tangible improvements that can be achieved in the short term.”

Local development plans (LDPs) On LDPs, the majority of which have yet to be published seven years into the process, the PAC described a process “stymied by a complete underestimation of the complexity and volume of work required” and pointed to a lack of key skills and resources within councils, which it believes is compounded by a series of “unnecessary checks and balances” implemented by the Department for Infrastructure (DfI). Describing performance in planning LDPs as “incredibly slow”, the report highlights that most recent projections puts 2028 as the year now expected to see an LDP in place in each council area, 13 years into a 15-year cycle. Coupled with concerns heard around effectiveness and equality of enforcement, the committee says that it was left with

poor understanding of its role in implementing change. “The operation of the planning system is one of the worst examples of silo working within the public sector that this Committee has encountered,” the PAC states, describing a need for a radical culture change in the way in which central and local government interact. If the planning service is to improve, the Department and councils must start to collaborate as equal partners. This will require a concerted effort from all those involved to work in a more productive way.” Concluding, the PAC report says: “The planning system in Northern Ireland is clearly not working. Given the widespread, severe, and entrenched nature of the issues outlined, the Committee is calling for a fundamental review, led by someone independent from the Department, to identify the long-term, strategic changes needed to make the planning system fit for purpose.”

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Openreach continues to pave the way to a digital revolution in Northern Ireland

Garret Kavanagh, Director of Openreach.

With demand for online services continuing to increase, the role that Openreach Northern Ireland plays in keeping people connected has never been more important. Openreach, Northern Ireland’s largest digital infrastructure provider continues to invest in the future of Northern Ireland having recently announced that 80 per cent of homes and businesses can now get its next generation Ultrafast Full Fibre broadband, that’s 4 out of 5 properties. Full Fibre broadband is up to 10 times faster than the average home broadband connection. For example, you can download a two-hour HD film in less time than it takes to make a cup of tea. And video gamers could download a 5gigabyte virtual reality (VR) game in 1.7 minutes, instead of waiting half an hour with a traditional copper based broadband line. The service is delivered over fibre optic cables running right to the property, which also means Ultrafast Full Fibre

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broadband is five times more reliable than traditional copper based broadband connections. Greater capacity means more devices can be connected, so more people can get online at once without experiencing any slowdown, buffering or dropouts. And demand continues to grow, with more and more Northern Ireland homes and businesses ordering a Full Fibre service. Chief Executive of NI Chamber Ann McGregor says: “I was delighted to hear news of this significant milestone in Northern Ireland. Openreach are leading the way in terms of their transformative broadband technology, and to hit 80 per cent coverage of the region is a fantastic achievement.” McGregor adds: “The digital future of

UK Trails as 10 Countries Pass 95 Percent Full Fibre Broadband Cover - ISPreview UK Lockdown, sport and festivities – the story behind the UK’s record 2021 broadband use (

Northern Ireland is extremely positive. The Openreach investment, alongside other commercial programmes and publicly funded interventions puts Northern Ireland in an enviable position well ahead of our near neighbours, as the most connected region in the UK and in Ireland. In fact, access to 1,000 Mbps Full Fibre broadband in Northern Ireland is on a similar footing with global leading countries such as the Nordics and the Asia Pacific region. This is a fantastic opportunity for local businesses and government to take advantage of, while we are ahead of other regions.”1 The pandemic highlighted our reliance on fast and robust broadband. In fact, demand for broadband over the Openreach network doubled during 2020 and increased a further 20 per cent during 2021.2 Director of Openreach NI, Garret Kavanagh comments: “What we are doing at Openreach has an important impact on the lives of everyone in Northern Ireland. Reliable broadband is often considered as the fourth utility, alongside gas, water, and electricity, something that most of us would struggle to live without. We have gone from the internet being a source of information to it being our primary channel

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A 10x Economy ( The Socio-Economic Benefits of FTTH

for communication, work and education. “The past couple of years have really accelerated already established trends where we have seen the use of online solutions becoming a greater part of our lives as we have been unable and perhaps reluctant to leave home. For example, many transactional services have moved online, and people feel much more comfortable and confident about things like submitting a planning application, booking appointments, or having a meeting using Teams or Zoom rather than face to face.” The ambition which has been set out in the Department for Economy’s ‘Vision for the Economy’ embraces innovation to

offers an opportunity to maximise the benefits of this world leading platform, at a time when there are significant pressures across public sector services including health and social care. Accelerating the digitisation of public services to improve service levels to citizens, whilst reducing back-office costs has been underway for some time. The next challenge is to create smart platforms to seamlessly introduce citizens to the services they need but may not know about. This coupled with the adequate provision of digital skills training to ensure no one is left behind could lead to an unprecedented shift in how citizens engage with public services. Kavanagh continues: “This Full Fibre

own business, Openreach NI has also pledged to endeavour to convert its diesel fleet to electric and other renewable fuels by 2030, aiming to achieve their ambition of net zero carbon emissions. Installing and maintaining the digital network is a huge operation, and with one of the largest van fleets on the road in Northern Ireland necessary for essential work every day, reducing their carbon footprint is a big focus for Openreach NI. “We understand the need to act on climate change and we are committed to reducing our operational impact. We’ve created a dedicated Openreach project team, focussing on cutting fleet emissions and helping to identify alternative, cleaner

“Openreach are leading the way in terms of their transformative broadband technology, and to hit 80 per cent coverage of the region is a fantastic achievement. The digital future of Northern Ireland is extremely positive. The Openreach investment, alongside other Ann Mc Gregor, Chief Executive of NI Chamber commercial programmes and publicly funded interventions puts Northern Ireland in an enviable position well ahead of our near neighbours, as the most connected region in the UK and in Ireland.” deliver 10 times better economic growth, and with the current availability of gigabit capable broadband to residents and businesses, the opportunities for digitisation are enormous.3 International benchmarks show that Full Fibre broadband coverage not only has a positive impact on households by revolutionising the way we live, but it can also accelerate economic growth. In Sweden, where there is similar coverage, studies have shown that those connected to Full Fibre broadband are 11 per cent more active online, have more devices connected to the internet and have higher customer satisfaction levels. The same report shows 4.8 per cent more start-ups in French municipalities with high levels of Full Fibre access.4 The next Programme for Government

technology will open up endless opportunities, enabling and encouraging the set-up of new businesses, social initiatives and online products, services that we can’t even imagine yet. It will support economic and social regional rebalancing as high-speed connectivity means people do not have to live in large urban centres for high paid jobs or to access the best goods and services. “As more people continue to work flexibly, it will also support a more sustainable future, leading to less journeys and reduced CO2 emissions. A recent report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, predicted a saving of 700,000 tonnes of carbon from reduced commuting, as a result of upgrading the UK to Full Fibre.

technologies, actively looking to phase-out diesel vehicles by replacing them with electric vehicles. It’s important that we pay back to the communities we live in,” Kavanagh says. The UK Government has set a target for the digital infrastructure industry to achieve 85 per cent Full Fibre coverage by 2025. In Northern Ireland Openreach has already achieved 80 per cent coverage and build work is continuing to extend the network further. The challenge now is for individuals, communities, business owners and public services to take advantage of all the possibilities this digital capability offers.

For more information contact

Keen to live out sustainable values in its

Employing more than 1,000 staff, working across Northern Ireland, Openreach manages and maintains an open access wholesale digital network with customer service levels independently regulated by Ofcom. More than 600 Communication Providers such as Sky, EE, Talktalk and BT use the Openreach network to provide services to residential, business customers and critical national infrastructure.

Partnership for an innovative and sustainable future

Following its first live Annual Tourism Conference in two years, Tourism NI Chief Executive John McGrillen outlines progress to date and challenges ahead. Over the last two years resilience and collaboration has been the bedrock on which the recovery of our tourism industry has been built. Working together, the councils, the Northern Ireland Hotel Federation, Hospitality Ulster, Visit Derry, Visit Belfast, NI Tourism Alliance, Tourism Ireland and Tourism NI have all played their part in helping to deliver much needed support to our beleaguered industry and to make sure the voice of tourism has been heard. Innovation has also helped to drive us as we recover from the effects of the pandemic. We have adapted to new ways of working, embedded an exciting new brand for Northern Ireland: “Embrace a Giant Spirit’ and created a very successful new call to action ‘A Small Step to a Giant Adventure’. The recently launched, world class Game of Thrones Studio Tour in Banbridge, the revamped W5 at the Odyssey and new experiences and activities right across the country supported through our Experience Development Programme have also helped us achieve real cut through in the market place, particularly in the Republic of Ireland.

We know that last summer was a very positive one with visitor spend in hotels, bars, eating places and attractions up by a quarter compared to the same period in 2019. Spend by people resident in the Republic more than doubled during the same time period, while domestic spend grew by almost one third and Great Britain spend rose by 10 per cent. The online reviews left by visitors for the second half of 2021 showed that our visitors had a very positive visitor experience. Our consumer research indicates that approximately half of Republic of Ireland visitors to Northern Ireland during 2021 were first time leisure visitors, with two out of every three saying they intend to return to Northern Ireland again. Industry data also tells us that hotel forward bookings for 2022 paint a positive outlook, particularly for weekends, and tour operators also indicate strong order books going forward. Our consumer surveys suggest around one-fifth of people on the island of

John McGrillen, Chief Executive of Tourism NI, with Alex Polizzi, the Hotel Inspector and Economy Minister Gordon Lyons MLA.

Ireland intend to take a short break here over the late spring and summer period and around one in seven are considering a longer break. We are also seeing the return of events and conferences and Cruise Belfast has already welcomed cruise ships into Belfast in the past month, with a positive outlook for the rest of the year. The return of air access to the island of Ireland is crucial, as is maintaining and enhancing our domestic and international air connectivity. By the summer of 2022 it is anticipated that 92 per cent of the 2019 seat capacity onto the island of Ireland will have returned with seat capacity into Northern Ireland sitting closer to 75 per cent. Flybe’s return to the George Best Belfast City Airport is both an indication that the conditions required for recovery and future growth are encouraging, as well as a vote of confidence in Belfast being announced as its second base. Having come out of the pandemic we are however now facing a new set of challenges. We are seeing a dramatic increase in energy, raw material, food and labour costs and of course an unwelcome return to a 20 per cent VAT rate. All of these are impacting upon businesses’ bottom line. These costs are of course also impacting on customers as disposable income levels are reduced. Whilst demand in the short term is buoyant, it is important that we remain competitive and continue to be perceived as a value for money destination. The task for 2022 is therefore going to be managing costs whilst providing value for money and retaining the customer satisfaction levels achieved in 2021. Covid has brought with it unexpected consequences. Many people have re-evaluated their lifestyles and have left the workplace in what has become known as the “Great Resignation”. This has had an acute impact upon the tourism and hospitality sector,

exacerbating the labour shortages the industry was already facing in the aftermath of Brexit. Simultaneously we are witnessing increasing numbers of young people in the 16-24 age group joining the ranks of the economically inactive. History has shown us that the impact of people of this age not entering the workplace becomes a generational problem with life-long consequences. The tourism and hospitality sector across the UK provides 50 per cent of young people of this age with their first ever job and provides them with the employability skills to progress up the employment ladder. Given the right support many of our young people could find long term employment opportunities within our vibrant tourism and hospitality businesses. Earlier this year, Tourism NI in partnership with the Hospitality and Tourism Skills network (HATS) launched a widespread, heavyweight tactical recruitment campaign across Northern Ireland from January 2022. The results are very impressive and has shown the huge potential to place many people in employment as things get tougher for households here. 2019 saw us welcome the 148th Open to Portrush and achieve a record breaking £1 billion in revenue, It is due to return in 2025. There may be bumps along the road to recovery but I am confident that the resilience, innovation and collaboration we have witnessed over the past two years will see us match that £1 billion spend by 2025 and set us on a positive growth trajectory to the end of the decade and beyond.

Contact Us | TNI ( T: 028 9023 1221

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Credit: TourismNI

Tourism: The road to recovery

Further, space glamping ocean pods, Glenarm Castle Estate.

While the after-effects of the pandemic continuing to impact on the tourism industry in Northern Ireland, shoots of optimism exist in the rates of recovery. Record-breaking industry figures of annual revenue generation in excess of £1 billion reached in 2019 are unlikely to be seen again until 2025 at best, reflecting a difficult period for Northern Ireland’s tourism businesses. However, figures for the second half of 2021 show a returning appetite for customers. Chief among signs for optimism is not only an increase in domestic spend post-pandemic but crucially an increase in spend by visitors coming from the Republic, a recognised target for potential growth in prepandemic years. In Autumn 2021, Tourism NI published an industry barometer, taking the temperature of tourism businesses in the second half of 2021 and gaining an


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insight into their future outlook. Although only a snapshot of a selection of businesses, the barometer serves to highlight areas for optimism and indicate where further support might be required. The data suggests that only around 13 per cent of businesses never experienced closure during the pandemic while a total of 31 per cent of businesses reopened in May 2021, the most popular month by a significant margin. Only 7 per cent of businesses surveyed still remained closed but only slightly over a quarter were operating at full capacity. Of those operating at full capacity, more tended to be either attractions and activity providers rather than serviced accommodation establishments.

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Business performance June - September 2021

way above 2019

above 2019

same as 2019

below 2019

way below 2019

not sure

Source: TNI Industry Barometer Autumn 2021

While just under half of businesses reported lower turnover between June and September 2021 than the same period pre-pandemic in 2019, a quarter recorded a turnover increase and a further 19 per cent noted similar levels. Identifying additional challenges facing the industry, businesses pointed to energy costs (44 per cent) overheads (38 per cent) and supply chain issues (21 per cent) as key negative impacts, alongside staff recruitment/retention challenges. Positively, 30 per cent cited a rise in the number of staycations as a beneficial outcome. Interestingly, while uncertainty remained around when businesses felt they would recover financially from the

impact of the pandemic, the vast majority (61 per cent) identified the end of 2022 or early 2023 as a targeted timeframe and 12 per cent said they had already fully recovered. While a difficult period continues for many businesses involved in the tourism industry, with almost half recording reduced turnover on pre-pandemic figures, almost 45 per cent were able to point to similar or higher levels. For the majority of businesses that recorded an uplift, the domestic and Republic of Ireland market were driving the increase, a figure which bodes well for hopes that domestic and neighbouring market growth will be the basis for full recovery.

Advance bookings for October - December 2021

Other overseas Great Britain Republic of Ireland

Northern Ireland 0%







no change







Source: TNI Industry Barometer Autumn 2021

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An immersive connection to local culture

Newry, Mourne and Down has long been recognised for its unique opportunity to experience the outdoors against a composite backdrop of landscape and culture. With a coastline of approximately 150km, three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Mourne, the Ring of Gullion, and Strangford and Lecale, and its location on the strategically important Eastern Economic Corridor, tourism is a key driver for growth in the district.

history and traditions, its contemporary culture or simply the way local people make a livelihood. Where landscapes and distinctive settings have inspired art, literature, music and films, these have added another dimension to presenting local towns and villages to new visitors of the region.

During the term of the Council’s Tourism Strategy from 2017 to 2022, a key priority has been on developing destination experiences, with a commitment to delivering transformative projects and critical infrastructure.

The tourism industry has been building destination experiences that are distinctive and of sufficient scale to provide visitor appeal. A cluster of businesses are collaborating to utilise produce from farmers, chefs, foragers, distillers and artisans to shine a light on the wonderful produce in the region and to tell the story of the important role the local landscape provides in the distinctive experiences that have been developed in this area.

The growing demand for developing new authentic visitor experiences with an immersive connection to local culture has been the focus of council’s industry engagement to date. The Council has worked in collaboration with Tourism NI and local tourism providers to bring to life new and unique experiences which are aligned to the ‘Embrace a Giant Spirit’ brand for Northern Ireland. The core of building these new experiences has been based on storytelling, using stories to help visitors connect with the past and gain unique insights on the present, whether it is the geology of the area, its

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has developed, implemented and taken part in several ambitious projects and programmes, all of which are designed to enhance the district’s well-deserved reputation as a place to be for tourism, leisure and business activities. The most ambitious of these investment programmes is the Belfast Region City Deal.

The Deal represents a new way of working between central and local government and regional partners, and secures a bespoke package of investment from central government and the BRCD partners of more than £850 million to support the delivery of a shared vision of inclusive economic growth that delivers more and better jobs, a positive impact on the most deprived communities and a balanced spread of benefits across the region. The Mourne Mountains Gateway project is a major tourism project within the City Deal aimed at enhancing Northern Ireland’s tourism offering and which will redefine this visitor experience associated with the Mourne Mountains. The £44 million investment will support sustainable growth of tourism in the Mournes, whilst protecting and enhancing the natural heritage and habitat of the region. A new Gateway Visitor Centre will provide visitors the opportunity to connect with nature’s rugged beauty, and will create improved, and more sustainable access to the Mournes. In addition to key priorities within Belfast Region City Deal a series of catalyst projects have been identified to be transformative in terms of growing the tourism economy. A bid to secure UNESCO Global Geopark status for Mourne, Gullion, and Strangford has been ongoing with the region operating as an Aspiring Geopark since 2018. The international significance of achieving UNESCO Global Geopark Status will play a key role in differentiating the region and will provide an important focus for sustainable tourism delivery, whilst developing the area’s geological heritage along with all other aspects of the natural, cultural and intangible heritage. The quality of the forest parks, beaches and outdoor spaces across the district has been key, particularly more recently in providing an opportunity for local communities to have easy access to outdoor spaces. However, these facilities are also an important element of the tourism offering, providing visitors with opportunities to engage in local culture, heritage, and the myths and legends associated with the region. With three Blue Flag Beaches stretching along the expansive coastline, investment is planned in new visitor amenities at Tyrella Beach, providing a more visitor-friendly welcome and enhanced visitor experience.

Providing sustainable ease of access for visitors to the outdoors is a priority for the Council and investment in a major new mountain walking trail in Rostrevor Forest will provide an important addition to the current opportunity available for mountain biking and low impact walking in Rostrevor and Kilbroney Park. In the Ring of Gullion, the Council are transforming the visitor experience at Slieve Gullion Forest Park and Camlough Lake. At Slieve Gullion this will be achieved through a new outdoor amphitheatre, and immersive storytelling that blends new technology with music and drama, in the unique natural setting of the Forest Park. At Camlough Lake plans are being developed for a new £3 million cross-border Activity Tourism Hub to enhance the recreational and water-sports offering of the area. In Delamont Country Park, on the shores of Strangford Lough, a significant investment is planned to enhance the visitor facilities and to maximise the setting of the location, with proposals to develop an iconic viewpoint, trail enhancement and a new visitor hub. Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has been prioritising investment of circa £8 million across these key visitor sites in its current capital programme, in addition to the major investment that the Belfast Region City Deal programme will deliver. This investment from the Council, combined with a focus on developing authentic visitor experiences, and in continuing to build on the strong working partnership with the local tourism industry, can help to ensure the district is well-placed to continue on course for sustainable economic growth of the tourism economy in the next five to 10 years.

For further information: Newry, Mourne and Down District Council T: 0330 137 4046 E: W.

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Delivering effective public procurement policy Sharon Smyth, Chief Executive of Construction and Procurement Delivery (CPD) for the Department of Finance, discusses how monitoring is set to play a critical role in procurement reform for a more effective system. Offering an honest reflection of the effectiveness of public procurement policy in the Northern Ireland in the past two decades, Smyth says that, following a shift in how policy is developed and approved, more focus is now being placed on measurement. Smyth highlighted that since 2020, a number of strategic drivers have required a transformation in public procurement governance structures and policy priorities, meaning a shift of focus away from a process-driven function to a commercial enabler, helping to deliver the Programme for Government commitments. Included in this shift was a move by the then Finance Minister Conor Murphy MLA to restructure the Procurement Board, replacing permanent secretaries with senior procurement practitioners and appointing representatives from industry, as well as the voluntary, community, and social enterprise sectors to broaden the input on policy development.


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In addition to restructuring the Board, the Minister also changed the approach to policy approval, with a requirement for Executive approval helping to ensure the consistency and the application of policies. And, in an important step ordered a review to existing Procurement Guidance Notes (PGN’s) to extract essential procurement policy. These steps by the Minister were developed to ensure a shift away from procurement policy being dominated by purely economic considerations and instead broadened to include goals such as societal, environmental, and human wellbeing and rights. On how this intention is being achieved, Smyth points to the development of a forward work programme (FWP) in April 2021 with the aim of implementing procurement policy to drive “broader social impacts alongside cost and quality”. To date, five policies have been agreed by the

Executive priorities and obligations on public procurement bodies,” explains Smyth. “The review of existing PGNs found that while there was good reason to develop the policies, it was clear that many were outdated and had outlived their useful purpose as there were alternative sources of information of best practice in place.” Smyth adds: “It was recognised that best practice guidance had moved significantly with the development of the UK Government’s Cabinet Office’s playbooks, which have shifted practice away from procedural instruction in favour of a much more commercial approach.” The Procurement Board has agreed to consider the application of the playbooks published by the Cabinet Office with the aim of improving commercial focus. The Sourcing and Construction toolkits will not be mandated in Northern Ireland

“It was recognised that best practice guidance had moved significantly with the development of the UK Government’s Cabinet Office’s playbooks, which have shifted practice away from procedural instruction in favour of a much more commercial approach.” Executive to meet these priorities since the FWP was developed, including the Scoring Social Value Policy (PPN 01/21) in July 2021 and four further policies in November 2021 of: •

Social and Other Specific Services (PPN 02/21);

Supply Chain Resilience (PPN 03/21);

Procurement Control Limits (PPN 04/21); and

Human Rights (PPN 05/21).

The Procurement Board also agreed two further policies on the construction pipeline and the use of a standard form of contract for construction projects in February 2022 but the absence of an Executive means that these are still awaiting approval.

but as Smyth explains, all heads of Centres of Procurement Expertise are working closely to agree common practices were possible. “We are moving towards a system where ownership of toolkits will rest with procurement practitioners, which will allow the flexibility necessary to ensure that guidance keeps pace with best practice and delivers a more responsive, agile, and innovative procurement environment. “We also must think about procurement in terms of a complete commercial system so that we consider the skills and competencies of the various actors within the system and ensure the same focus applied in the procurement or tendering stage is matched at the planning, contract management, and the exit stage of the commercial life cycle.”

“From our point of view, the new policies are simpler to navigate and genuinely reflect the

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Measurement Smyth stresses that demonstrating the effectiveness of the shift in procurement policy requires adequate measurement. Explaining that each new policy note now includes a section on monitoring and reporting, requiring each Centre of Procurement Expertise to provide reports against their performance annually. Smyth says that by monitoring policy, CPD will be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of public procurement by showing: •

social value impacts through the policy on scoring social value;

how many contracts have been reserved for the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors;

case studies to demonstrate supply chain resilience;

volume and value of contracts awarded over £30,000; and

details of the actions taken to address human rights risks.

Smyth suggests the benefits of monitoring include not only being able to demonstrate the work of Centres of Procurement Expertise and the impact procurement policy has on each of these, but also


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increase transparency in how public money is spent and highlight the commitments for ethical, sustainable, and socially driven procurement practices. “This new monitoring regime will allow us to form a baseline of performance and effectiveness of public procurement from which to work from,” says Smyth, adding: “We have to show what we do and demonstrate how public procurement can make an impact on broader social themes. “The new policy notes will reinforce the commitment for ethical, sustainable, and socially driven procurement practices, which should deliver more consistent and transparent outcomes.” Concluding that a “dramatic shift” has occurred in public procurement in Northern Ireland since 2020, Smyth says that this represents “only the start” of the journey of procurement reform. “I believe the new public procurement regime, underpinned by the UK’s upcoming Procurement Reform Bill, will provide a more transparent procurement. I am a great believer in the power of data to drive change and with the new monitoring regime in place, I hope that very soon we will be able to competently answer the question of whether public procurement in Northern Ireland is indeed effective.”

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Study shows large disparity in early school leaving between north and south

Early school leaving is between two and three times higher in Northern Ireland than it is in the Republic, a new report has shown. Students from more disadvantaged backgrounds were also found to be more likely to leave school early in Northern Ireland. A report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) published in April 2022 has found that the proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds who leave school with at most a lower secondary qualification stands at 14 per cent in Northern Ireland, compared to 6 per cent in the Republic. The finding comes as part of the report, A North-South Comparison of Education and Training Systems: Lessons for Policy, the first study of its kind that compares the differing education and training systems north and south, from primary, to third-level. The report states that this is “concerning” due to the fact that early school leavers are found to be more likely to be unemployed or in low-wage work and potentially insecure jobs later in life. Students from disadvantaged 30

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backgrounds in Northern Ireland were also found to be more likely to leave school early than their southern counterparts, highlighting “an important difference” between the two educational systems in Ireland, where “it is likely that academic selection in Northern Ireland and the success of the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme in [the Republic of] Ireland in retaining students in education are strong contributory factors”. Academic selection in Northern Ireland is deemed to have “significant consequences for the social and ability profile of schools and for young people’s post-school choices and aspirations”. Relatedly, students from disadvantaged backgrounds were found to be more

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likely to be clustered into certain schools within the northern system when compared with the southern system. Those who are funnelled into non-grammar schools were found to have “low educational expectations relative to those who attend a grammar school, particularly for boys from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds”. The proportion of graduates was found to be the same in both jurisdictions, but Northern Ireland was found to have a much smaller rate of people completing postsecondary non-third level qualifications, while postLeaving Certificate (PLC) courses have risen in popularity in the Republic. 10 per cent of northern school leavers attain such qualifications while 30 per cent of their southern counterparts do so. This is deemed to be “an area where cooperation across the island of Ireland may be useful”. This lack of take-up can be partly attributed to a perception of further education as a second-best when compared with higher education qualifications, a perception that the report attests to finding in both jurisdictions according to the stakeholders interviewed. The report does note, however, that “important differences occur across the two jurisdictions in terms of the configuration of post-school opportunities within the

Wages were found to be significantly higher in the Republic than in Northern Ireland at all levels of education. The report states: “Higher returns to education can incentivise individuals to invest in their education and may in part be driving the low levels of attainment in Northern Ireland. Lower returns to education in Northern Ireland may also be reflective of lower productivity levels in Northern Ireland.” Stakeholders interviewed by the ESRI were said to have highlighted examples of good practice in the case of cross-border cooperation, with common examples including teacher education initiatives through the Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South (SCoTENs), strong links between the inspectorates, the Middletown Centre for Autism, and the Joint Peace Fund. However, the report does note that “more generally, stakeholders highlighted that in many areas north-south links are ad hoc in nature and based on individual relationships or specific projects and initiatives, thus making sustained co-operation more challenging”. Stakeholders were nonetheless said to be willing to engage on more substantive issues with potential for cross-border collaboration. Given the shared challenges across both jurisdictions in “trying to counter educational disadvantage and create

Northern Ireland was found to have a much smaller rate of people completing post-secondary non-third level qualifications, while post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses have risen in popularity in the Republic. 10 per cent of northern school leavers attain such qualifications while 30 per cent of their southern counterparts do so. broader educational landscape”. Those interviewed were said to have highlighted recent policy developments in the Republic of Ireland as having the potential to change this perception, but respondents in the North emphasised the “challenges of having a multiplicity of providers and duplication of courses”. While existing research and industry surveys have already highlighted the ‘high stakes’ nature of the assessment systems in both jurisdictions, with a heavy reliance on final exams for overall grades, stakeholders were said to have raised concerns to the ESRI around the secondary system preparing students for exams “rather than for the world of work and adult life”. In the Republic, plans to change this are afoot with the recently announced Leaving Certificate reforms setting a goal of no final exam accounting for any more than 60 per cent of a student’s overall grade.

an inclusive educational system for students with special educational needs”, the ESRI suggests that these could be the starting points for discussions centred on future cooperation. Speaking at the launch of the report, Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD said: “Today’s ESRI research adds significantly to the evidence and understanding we have on how our education systems serve students, families and communities on this island; how we could learn from each other north and south on education delivery and reform; and how we can do more together to enhance educational experience and outcomes for all. “I believe these need to be central concerns for how we work through the Good Friday Agreement in the time ahead.”

agenda issues


An aggregated approach to smarter, simpler operations Material Difference’ as the Group continues to execute its strategy to create sustainable value for all stakeholders, delivering growth through organic improvement and acquisition in the heavy side construction materials market. The Group’s two well-invested cement plants are actively engaged in carbon reduction practices, which include utilising alternative raw materials and lower carbon fuels.

Breedon Ireland’s Managing Director, Terry Lagan.

As of 1 May 2022, Whitemountain Quarries Ltd, Lagan Asphalt Ltd, and Lagan Materials Ltd have rebranded as Breedon Ireland. Since the acquisition in 2018, when the family of Irish companies became part of the Breedon Group, its Irish materials and contracting divisions continued to operate under the brands Lagan in the Republic of Ireland and Whitemountain in Northern Ireland. Breedon Group plc, a leading vertically

integrated construction materials group in Great Britain and Ireland, delivers essential products and services to the construction sector. In addition to holding one billion tonnes of mineral reserves and resources with long reserve life, Breedon supply valueadded products and services, including specialty materials, surfacing and highway maintenance operations, to a broad range of customers through its extensive local network of quarries, ready-mixed concrete, and asphalt plants. Breedon’s circa. 3,500 colleagues embody its commitment to ‘Make a

Breedon Ireland’s Managing Director, Terry Lagan, set up the original Lagan Group business in Ireland in 1989, which originally comprised an asphalt production and contracting division along with a bitumen emulsion production plant. The business developed from there to cover the entire island, with operations from Cork to Donegal and Galway to Dublin, becoming the largest independent producer of construction materials in the Republic of Ireland. A sign of great things to come for the company in the Northern Region, Breedon Ireland are currently completing the final phase of works at Prince of Wales Avenue, Stormont, Belfast, with upgraded bituminous asphalt finished footways, as well as being the main contractor on the Mealough Road Junction improvements scheme. The brand merger of Lagan and Whitemountain to Breedon Ireland will help to combine the Group’s talent, knowledge, and expertise. More robust governance processes mean Breedon, as a unit, can be resilient against future risk, protect the livelihoods and welfare of their employees and refine their sustainable business model to create more value for all stakeholders. Breedon place huge significance in, and engage with a national network of local relationships, contributing to the communities they serve, with materials donated to local projects, support for local schools, community events and charity fundraising. The goal across the entire Breedon Group is to work together as one, all making a material difference.

Hyperfast NI’s Project Stratum ahead of schedule in bringing full fibre broadband to rural regions

Many rural households in Northern Ireland are living in digital poverty at a time when broadband is becoming almost as essential as electricity or water. The importance of connectivity was thrown into sharp focus by the Covid-19 pandemic, when millions of people were plunged, seemingly overnight, into a world of working from home and virtual schooling. It is also one of the reasons why Project Stratum is so important to Shane Haslem, Chief Operating Officer at Fibrus, the Northern Ireland full fibre broadband provider responsible for its delivery under the brand Hyperfast NI. Haslem describes its goal as “bringing rural Northern Ireland out of the digital dark ages”. “Hyperfast broadband will ensure that people can work from home and families can utilise the value of the internet, should it be for home schooling, virtual learning or gaming,” he says.

Many people are unaware that there are two very different types of broadband – copper wire and fibre-optic cable – and the one you get depends on where you live or who your supplier is. Copper is slower when it comes to moving large amounts of data and, thanks to companies such as Fibrus, the days of relying on limited bandwidth are numbered. For Haslem, Project Stratum represents “the broadband infrastructure project of a generation”. “Broadband in rural areas was constantly missed because, without state intervention, it wasn’t achievable,” he explains. “But, thanks to the Department for the Economy (DfE), the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural

Affairs (DAERA) and Fibrus, the private sector is now building a rural broadband network using future-proof fibre technology.” Project Stratum, which aims to bring hyperfast broadband services to 76,000 rural premises here, is a partnership financed by DfE, DAERA and Fibrus. The Stormont Executive’s contribution was £165 million (£150 million from DfE, agreed in the ‘Confidence and Supply’ deal between the DUP and Conservative Party in 2017) and £15 million from DAERA. “Total public funding for Project Stratum is £197 million which, along with Fibrus Network’s investment of over £48 million, brings total network costs to more than £245 million,” the Chief Operating Officer says.

Economy Minister, Gordon Lyons, with Chief Operating Officer at Fibrus, Shane Haslem.

Haslem, who is responsible for Hyperfast NI, which is overseeing the installation and management of the new network delivered by Fibrus, said the project hit the ground running. “We basically started building a network on the day we signed the contract,” he reveals. “That is unheard of in this industry. Normally, with a project of this scale, you are nine months in planning before building works commence. “We created a bid that would see us complete a lot of preliminary works in advance of the contract award.” He adds: “We actually planted poles in Coalisland on 19 November, 2020, effectively the day that we signed the contract for Stratum.” Haslem says Project Stratum has made a huge difference to rural homeowners. “The people who really benefit from good quality broadband are those who have been missed out until now,” he states. “These are folks enjoying a service sub 30 megabits and the service that we are putting in place will be up to gigabit capability (1,000 megabits).” He adds: “Also, when people are buying houses, one of the key things they look for is a good quality broadband connection. It allows them to work from home and reduces commuting costs.” Pointed to recent changes to the project, he says: “Project Stratum initially started off as 76,000 rural premises, to be delivered by March 2024.

“Just recently, at the turn of the year, we worked with DfE to roll in an additional 8,500 premises to be added to Project Stratum. They’ve now been effectively incorporated into the roll out and will be delivered by March 2025.”

It will also put an end to the ‘digital darkness’ in our regional and rural towns and villages but Shane insisted that delivering in less than two years what others have taken five years to achieve is not the end of Fibrus’s ambitious plans.

He adds: “Further public funding of £32 million will be utilised to extend gigabit capable broadband coverage to reach an additional 8,500 homes and businesses in predominantly rural areas of Northern Ireland. The additional premises include 2,500 harder-to-reach properties that were out of scope of the original contract, plus a further 6,000 premises.”

“In addition to Stratum, we are in the process of rolling out our own commercial network across Northern Ireland at pace, targeting the smaller towns and villages,” he says.

Regarding the £32 million, the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) provided £22 million, while £9.85 million came from DfE and DAERA. Haslem says that Covid highlighted the need for good quality broadband; for example, “a schoolteacher living in the countryside had to sit in his car to teach his class virtually, because the broadband in his house kept cutting out. The teacher drove to his father-in-law’s home to tether their wifi as his own connection was unsuitable. “That exemplifies the limitations of copper, which is largely based on a telephone network that goes back many decades. “When you roll out full fibre broadband there’s no distance limitation anymore,” he explains. “Fibre is also future proofed, it is more robust and provides a much more stable and high-quality service.”

“We’ve also started building in the north of England.” Economy Minister Gordon Lyons MLA described Project Stratum as “one of the most important major infrastructure projects Northern Ireland has ever seen”. “My officials are impressed by the Fibrus work ethic and the contractor’s solutionsfocused mindset. Fibrus has successfully overcome a number of deployment challenges and I’m pleased that more than a third of the 85,000 homes and businesses in Project Stratum’s target intervention area can now access full fibre broadband. “Fibrus is ahead of schedule. We hope that remains the case as more citizens benefit from this transformational public intervention focused on improving broadband infrastructure and enhancing connectivity in predominantly rural areas of Northern Ireland.” Fibrus T: 028 9099 3230 E: W:

issues agenda

‘Now or never’ to limit global warming Immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors are required if global warming is to be limited to 1.5oC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned. In the third in a series of assessment reports by the IPCC designed to update governments and policy makers on the latest scientific findings related to tackling climate changes, IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea described a “now or never” scenario if global warming is to be limited to below the target set out in the Paris climate accord. In August 2021, a previous report by the IPCC, detailing the potential impacts of rising global temperatures, was described as a “code red for humanity” by the UN Secretary General António Guterres. The latest report published in April 2022, is


agenda issues

designed to set out the scale of measures that are required to limit warming to an acceptable level. The report outlines that even with all existing national decarbonisation ambitions implemented, by the end of the century, global temperatures will rise by 3.2oC. For context, severe and extreme weather patterns currently seen across the globe are the result of a 1.1oC rise. Underscoring the need for transformative changes to everything from energy systems to land use and investment, the report says that limiting warming to 1.5oC

issues agenda

“Limiting warming to 1.5 oC will require a 43 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2019 levels by 2030.” will require a 43 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2019 levels by 2030. Carbon emissions would need to peak in the next three years, falling rapidly after that, reaching net zero by 2050. The type and scale of some of the actions that will be required are detailed in the report, including:

• Fossil fuels Despite global pledges to reduce emissions, the reality is that emissions increased by 6 per cent in 2021, in parallel with economic activity. As expected, the report highlights that this alignment will only be broken if fossil fuels are removed. The scale of reduction required will mean traditional coal use would have to fall by 95 per cent by 2050 and the report suggests the 85 per cent decrease in alternative green energy technologies since 2010 is an enabler of ending the age of fossil fuel.

• Carbon dioxide removal Simply decarbonising current processes will not be enough, and for the first time the report identifies the importance of carbon removal from the atmosphere. The IPCC has endorsed carbon dioxide removal (CDR), be that through removal technologies such as filters or increased trees, however, it acknowledges that the preservation and expansion of forests to absorb carbon will not “fully compensate for delayed action” in other sectors.

Critics have said that the focus on technology presents too easy a solution for high-polluting countries and industries for not transforming their processes.

• Efficiency Also new, the report includes a chapter on the social aspects of mitigating emissions, with a focus on reducing demand for energy in the areas of mobility, nutrition, and shelter. Highlighting that approximately 10 per cent of the world’s richest households are responsible for 40 per cent of global emissions, the report states that changing individual behaviours could cut emissions by between 40 to 70 per cent by 2050.

• Finance Understandably, greater investment is needed in low-carbon energy if warming is to be limited. Investment will need to increase by between three and six times than current levels, but the IPCC report stresses that some of the additional investment required already exists. Alongside recommending the removal of government subsidies for fossil fuels, the report points out the existing financial cost of climate disaster recovery and suggests that efforts to lower warming, while probably slightly costlier than limiting warming, brings with it much greater co-benefits.

agenda issues


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The strategic housing authority for Northern Ireland

Housing report

In partnership with

The strategic housing authority for Northern Ireland

A decade of delivery in housing Chief Executive of the Housing Executive Grainia Long says that a relentless focus on delivery is required, if we are to realise the economic, social, and environmental potential of housing in this decade. Following on from the 2022 Assembly election and the hope that an Executive can be formed soon, Long says that the Housing Executive will be ready to deliver on a forthcoming Programme for Government (PfG), and hopes it will recognise the centrality of housing for Northern Ireland’s future. Firstly, the Chief Executive indicates the need for a complete transformation of the current model for preventing and responding to homelessness. Over the past four years, levels of homelessness have soared, and show no signs of slowing. This has led to excessive use of costly forms of temporary accommodation, at the expense of a holistic focus on prevention and tenancy sustainment. With budgets and front line staff over-stretched, for too long homelessness provision has been in emergency mode. “It is very clear that simply doing what we have always done is not going to bring around the transformative change which is so clearly needed,” explains Long. “As an organisation, and with our partners, we have been giving serious thought to the strategic shifts that are needed. This decade has to be different if we are to reverse the trends.” To do this, the Housing Executive published its new homelessness strategy 2022-2027 Ending Homelessness Together, with a specific focus on prevention.

Over the past decade, figures show that the waiting list for social housing has risen by around 10,000 to 43,971 in 2021 and a similar rise has occurred for those in housing stress which is currently around 30,288. Understandably the number of allocations over the decade have not only remained low but have fallen, underpinned by only a small rise in the number of new builds. Long strongly agrees that the gap between housing demand and supply is not closing fast enough, however, she points to evidence in recent years of sustained levels of investment in social housing in Northern Ireland when compared with other parts of the UK, and suggests this is a cause for optimism. Secondly, the Housing Executive has called for government-wide partnerships on retrofit of homes, addressing fuel poverty and adaptation. Long welcomes the mindset shift in the post-Grenfell tragedy years which has sought a better balance investment between asset management and housing development. In response, the Housing Executive has significantly increased investment in its stock, spending over £195 million in 2021/22 to improve homes and making them fit for the future. Building its capacity for the future, the Housing Executive understands it has a major part to play in ensuring Northern Ireland meets its net zero targets, and warmer dryer homes are essential.

The strategic housing authority for Northern Ireland

“The decarbonisation challenge is an exciting one,” says Long. “Through improving the energy efficiency of homes we can impact positively on people’s lives, but we need rapid action. The funding and scaling up of implementing energy efficiency measures across Northern Ireland is urgently required across all tenures, not just social housing, and we have a great opportunity to do this on a cross-governmental business. “We are very proud of what we have collectively delivered in relation to energy efficiency, but we recognise the need to ramp that up in the short to medium-term. This presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for industry to invest in skills and ensure the right supply chains are in place. The potential to reduce economic inactivity through local apprenticeship schemes could be transformational. “Fundamentally, the Housing Executive has put sustainability at its core, meaning we want to transform everything we do with an intent and urgency on the need to decarbonise our stock, improve energy efficiency, support the building of low-carbon homes and decarbonise our fleet.” The third ask of a Programme for Government is revitalisation of the Housing Executive which will allow it to borrow against its assets and invest in its homes and add to new supply. “If we are going to change the trends around rising homelessness and increasing waiting lists then we must ensure we have sustained levels of funding for social housing. Again, this does not only mean new developments. Our investment levels in our own stock were the highest they have been since 2007 but we are still faced with a huge investment requirement and funding shortfall for this decade and over our 30-year investment plan. “We are preparing for the point where we can borrow in order to invest and address these challenges. That is one of the game-changers that will allow us to look

back on this decade and map out significant improvements.”

Barriers Long acknowledges that a number of potential barriers exist in delivery of the Housing Executive’s ambitions. Chief among them is the potential absence of a longterm investment plan for its homes. There is also a risk of failure to make the most of partnerships across the housing sector and across government and for the potential opportunities afforded by scaling up energy efficiency and retrofitting in this decade to be missed. “Transformation and revitalisation are about much more than better housing and better lives for our tenants. Through investment for the future, we can create a huge economic opportunity for young people to join the labour force and for others to skill-up or reskill. That is why we are developing partnerships across education, industry, and government. “Additionally, we believe there is much more potential to extract social value from investment in housing, meaning that every £1 spent delivers into the heart of the community.” Long concludes: “Housing has an economic, environmental, and social mission and we have an opportunity in this decade to deliver significant change. Doing what we have always done will no longer worka step change is needed if we are to deliver results for the people we serve.”

Housing Executive T: 03448 920 900 E: W:

The strategic housing authority for Northern Ireland

Housing priorities housing report

challenge to housing supply here; it is a range of challenges and the combination of those that means that we are not able to provide the right volume and type of homes in the right places.” The Deputy Secretary explains that the vision for housing is underpinned by objectives to increase housing supply across all tenures, prevent homelessness, reduce housing stress, and prioritise housing solutions for those most in need, improve the quality of housing, build thriving and inclusive communities, and support a just transition to carbon neutrality. “Clearly, we need more social houses,” O’Donnell says. “The most significant capital investment our Department makes to address housing need is through the Social Housing Development Programme it operates with the Housing Executive and housing associations to develop new social homes.”

Mark O’Donnell, Deputy Secretary of Housing, Urban Regeneration and Local Government at the Department for Communities (DfC) discusses housing priorities and the progress made in implementing the transformative housing programme. “The first priority was the Housing Supply Strategy, aimed at giving everybody access to a good quality, affordable and sustainable home suitable to their needs and located within a thriving, inclusive community,” O’Donnell begins. Amid rising levels of housing stress and homelessness, affordability issues for those buying and renting, and the current cost of living 42

crisis, O’Donnell reasons that the strategy sets out a policy framework within which difference-making programmes can be developed. “This is what we call the whole-system approach and I am pleased that that approach has been broadly welcomed by all of our stakeholders and partners,” he says. “The whole-system approach emphasises that there is no single

2,403 housing units were started in the financial year 2020/21, the highest figure achieved in 10 years. “In 21/22 we spent £171 million on new-build social housing, which is the highest spend that we have ever achieved in a single year and a total of 1,713 starts were achieved by the end of March 2022,” O’Donnell adds. “This year, more than any year previously, we have demonstrated that it is really difficult to work within an annual budget. It gives you an artificial cut off point. It adds weight to the challenges that the absence of a functioning Executive and a multi-year budget pose.” A significant challenge facing housing in Northern Ireland is the revitalisation of the Housing Executive, as laid out by former Minister for Communities Carál Ní Chuilín MLA. O’Donnell says that work to date has established the “clear and pressing need for intervention” to prevent the loss of social homes and to enable the significant and growing investment requirement to be met. Revitalisation of the Housing Executive

The strategic housing authority for Northern Ireland

will include its allocation of social housing. The Fundamental Review of the Allocation of Social Housing, which was published in 2020, is now at implementation stage, with 18 of the 20 proposals progressed over the next three years subject to funding. “Social housing is not the only housing we need,” O’Donnell adds. “If we are to meet our housing needs, we have to deliver affordable homes. The Department continues to provide significant funding for co-ownership as our main partner for the delivery of immediate homes here. That has enabled over 30,000 people to buy their homes, many for the first time. We have £158 million of financial transactions capital loan funding approved to deliver over 4,000 affordable homes through co-ownership over a four-year programme. The Department has also increased co-ownership’s property value limited from £165,000 to £175,000 and we hope that will ensure that people can continue to access affordable homes right across Northern Ireland and we will keep co-ownership’s property value limit under review to ensure it remains set at an appropriate level.” The private rented sector has by now become the biggest part of Northern Ireland’s housing market, and the introduction of the Private Tenancies Act has sought to regulate the sphere, bringing safety requirements, minimum energy efficiency requirements and

housing report

“The whole-system approach emphasises that there is no single challenge to housing supply here; it is a range of challenges.” strengthened security of tenure to renters. This is just the beginning, O’Donnell says: “The next phase of that private sector reform will include regulation of letting agents, the introduction of Grounds for Eviction, consideration of how we can ensure rents area fair and a review of fitness standards across all tenures.” As homelessness rises, O’Donnell points to the £72.8 million of protected funding in the Supporting People Programme every year since 2015/16 from his department as evidence of work being done, but also reinforces the need for long-term planning to be supported with a multi-year budget. Concluding, he turns to the climate agenda facing all sectors, but not least housing which faces a radical decarbonisation over the next decade: “The question is: how do we fulfil our housing targets at the same time as fulfilling our obligations to meet net zero targets? How do we support households to decrease transmissions in houses they already have and how do we ensure a just transition for those most vulnerable? Those are the main questions facing us as we find ourselves on the pathway to zero carbon by 2050. We don’t have all the answers to that, but we do address it in our housing supply strategy, and the green growth energy strategies. All of those provide us with the framework for the changes that we need to make.” 43

housing report

Time to talk about stigma At Clanmil, our purpose is to provide homes for people to live well and over the past year we have been re-examining how best we can work with our customers to do just that, writes Carol McTaggart, Clanmil Housing Group Chief Executive. We all know the importance of a good home. We know it is so much more than shelter. It is a place where we can belong, put down roots and be part of something bigger. It allows us to make the most of opportunities to flourish and grow. Essentially, it helps form who we are. That is why it is so concerning when the tenure of our home, whether we own it or rent it, is used to define us and becomes a label by which others judge us and measure our worth in society. Most of us will agree that it just should

not happen that someone is judged because they rent their home from a social landlord. Yet this is our reality. Too many people carry an often unconscious bias about social housing and the people who live in it. A survey of over 500 adults in Northern Ireland, carried out by the Chartered Institute of Housing in partnership with Professor Roger Awan-Scully of Cardiff University towards the end of 2020, revealed that stigma around social housing remains a persistent theme in Northern Ireland. 44 per cent of the people asked said they would never want to live in social

housing, and 56 per cent thought that social housing has high levels of antisocial behaviour and crime. Some did recognise the need for affordable housing, but many did not want it close to them. With one in six households across Northern Ireland living in a social home, this sweeping stigmatisation simply cannot go unchallenged. I grew up in social housing. Back then, you could easily identify social housing estates and there were times when I was made to feel there was something inferior about my home and my community because we lived in social housing. Whilst the house was a haven for me and my family during a turbulent time in Northern Ireland, its design and layout did not lend itself to our daily family life. Things like eating together as a family or finding quiet space for homework were impossible. Today we are working to provide quality, well designed homes that are tenure blind. In England, a campaign run by people who live in social housing, called See the Person, looked closely at where the stigma comes from. They found the causes to be many and varied, including the way the media represents and reports on social housing and the


housing report

Carol McTaggart, Clanmil Housing Group Chief Executive (second from right) with some members of Clanmil’s Central Customer Council.

people who live in it, and the fact that housing policy often promotes home ownership as superior to renting. More surprisingly, they also pointed to the role of social housing providers and the people who work for them in creating and reinforcing stigma. They called for landlords to work with tenants to tackle inappropriate views and language and to develop relationships of mutual respect.

most of all, a willingness from all to be open and

At Clanmil we have been focusing on the relationships we have with the people who live in the homes we provide, and we have been making changes.

the problem.

One thing we are doing is trying to avoid labels that could suggest that people who rent their homes are somehow different. We are challenging ourselves to see the person and to work hard to build the trust and great relationships that are essential if we are to fulfil our purpose.

about that. It is time to have an open and honest

The people who live in our homes are our customers. They expect, and deserve, a standard of customer service from us that is as good as they receive from other businesses. While we do not always get it right, we want to meet this expectation and make sure that the customer experience with us is the best it can be. We are working hard with our customers to rebalance our relationships with them by moving towards a customer space where people have a say in the services we provide and how we deliver them. We are building a diverse pool of customers who are helping to shape our services and we are encouraging them to raise their voices on behalf of the more than 10,500 people who live in our homes, placing them front and centre of our decision making. This has not been without its challenges. Building mutually respectful relationships takes time, focus and

receptive. It is an ongoing conversation that is transforming our understanding of our customers and helping us be more responsive. I believe passionately in the importance of social housing. It plays such an important role in the quality of life for so many people. It is part of the solution, not

The stigma that too often surrounds it can affect people’s life chances and we must do something conversation about the stigma associated with social housing. This conversation needs to involve government, the media, housing providers, politicians, and of course, the people who live in social homes. We all need to ask ourselves how we are contributing to this stigma and how we can break down and challenge the bias surrounding social housing. We can all be part of the change that’s needed. For our part at Clanmil, we will continue to work with our customers to create places where people want to live, where they are proud to live, and where they have the same opportunities as anyone else.

Contact Clanmil Housing Group T: 028 9087 6000 E: W:


housing report

The strategic housing authority for Northern Ireland

The Housing Supply Strategy A 15-year plan to deliver over 100,000 homes, including over 33,000 social homes, and address supply-related pressures in Northern Ireland has been further delayed, with no new timeline for publication. Initially disrupted due to Covid-19, the delivery of a longterm framework aimed at delivering transformative change to tackle rising levels of homelessness and those in housing stress in Northern Ireland was initially planned for publication in March 2022, but the Department for Communities has now said that the absence of a functioning Executive or agreed budget means “options are under consideration”. With preparatory work having begun in 2019, a draft Housing Supply Strategy has concluded consultation and a final strategy is awaiting ministerial sign off. However, drafted on the assumption that the Northern Ireland Executive would publish a multi year budget, questions have been raised over whether the ambitions of the strategy will be properly funded, in the absence of an agreed budget. The draft Housing Supply Strategy sets out a vision that “everybody has access to a good quality, affordable and sustainable home that is appropriate for their needs and is located within a thriving and inclusive community”, acknowledging that the adoption of a whole-system approach can ensure inclusive transformation of supply. While looking out over a 15-year period to 2037, the Department for Communities has said that it plans for a series of enabling action plans over one- to three-year periods. Rising levels of homelessness, coupled with a social housing waiting list in excess of 45,000, the vast majority of which are in housing stress, has been compounded by inflationary pressures on supply, rising rents and an acknowledgement


that current housing stock is not reflective of the changing needs of the population. Long-standing and underpinning themes in the current housing supply challenge include rising demand in response to population change and the growth in the number of households; a decline in home ownership linked to a significant increase in private renting and a widening gap between new housing demand and the annual rate of construction. While Northern Ireland’s housing stock has increased over the past two decades to over 814,000 homes, an annual rate of growth of 6,200 homes is significantly lower than prefinancial crash levels of 11,500. Projections show a growing and ageing population, meaning levels of housing construction not only need increased but must meet changing demand. The draft Housing Supply Strategy is centred on five key objectives:

1. Creating affordable options While working to better understand existing stock and demand changes, the Department says it will increase in supply across all tenures and establish “new intermediate products” to provide alternative options outside of what is currently available. Long-term interventions include addressing infrastructure constraints, land availability and skills gaps, while also optimising public and private finance. In the short term, the Department says it will ring-fence

The strategic housing authority for Northern Ireland

Increasing Housing Stress and Numbers Accepted as Homeless, 2002/03-2019/20 Number of applicants in Housing Stress as at 31 March each year and the number of Homeless acceptances each year 30,000


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Applicants in housing stress




















Homeless acceptances

Source: Department for Communities (DfC): Housing Statistics.

housing association grant funding to enable more social houses to be built, progress Housing Executive revitalisation, undertake an assessment of housing association powers and extend the scope of the current land registry for the public sector.

2. Prevention and intervention On preventing homelessness, the Department acknowledges that delivery of new supply will go some way to addressing the demand of those most in need, however the draft strategy also outlines an ambition to progress a holistic approach to housing provision, recognising the importance of wraparound and support provision. Alongside the ongoing work of the Housing Executive, the Department has indicated the desire to bring forward an interdepartmental Homelessness Action Plan and implement the 18 recommendations of the Review of the Common Selection Scheme, which looked at the current social housing allocations system.

3. Quality Northern Ireland’s existing housing stock, particularly the private rented sector, face issues in relation to quality and it is acknowledged that the fitness standard in Northern Ireland is now lower than neighbouring jurisdictions. While in itself a significant challenge, the need to decarbonise the housing stock offers an opportunity to ensure buildings are fit for the future. The Department has pledged to undertake a comprehensive review of fitness standards applicable for all tenures and suggests the potential creation of a new Homes Ombudsman with scope to assess improved building regulation standards and new home safety.

4. Better places Local council led community plans and their local development plans, are set to guide the housing design and provision. The Strategy recognises the need not just to build new homes and to protect existing supply but also to build and maintain the inclusive and cohesive places in which homes are located, while also acknowledging “the wider social and economic impacts and consequences of the segregation of housing here… and the benefits of creating more shared housing areas”. Continuation of progress and support of the Shared Housing programme is outlined by the Department, as is further research on new approaches to place-making.

5. Decarbonisation Alongside a range of other measures linked in to crossgovernment, climate focuses strategies, the Department says it plans to work with social and intermediate housing providers to ensure new build homes are net zero carbon by 2026/27. Challengingly, delivery of the strategy’s objectives is based on a number of assumptions that the Executive will act to address significant barriers including the current infrastructure investment gap, planning reform and providing necessary funding for decarbonisation. Whether the strategy, when delivered, will be successful will rely heavily on not only solving the current political impasses but also ensuring that adequate funding is made available to address the range of challenges facing housing supply. The Department says that the Housing Supply Strategy will be delivered through a series of detailed action plans, each of which will align with budget periods.


housing report

Simon is 50 but the charity finds little cause for celebration Simon Community NI’s Chief Executive Jim Dennison discusses the state of homelessness in Northern Ireland, innovative projects launched during the charity’s 50th year and the role Stormont must play in stopping a homelessness disaster. From a handful of volunteers delivering soup to rough sleepers on the streets of Belfast, Simon Community NI has come a long way since it was established in 1971. Now with a workforce of over 380 passionate individuals, Northern Ireland’s leading and longest running homelessness charity currently supports up to 636 marginalised people each day across 26 accommodation projects and 13 community support services. Taking up the role of Chief Executive in 2014, Jim Dennison, a housing and community relations professional of over 20 years has witnessed the organisation adapt to an everevolving homelessness crisis. “Acknowledging 50 years of providing homelessness shelter and support to our society’s most vulnerable is a massive achievement but a bittersweet milestone. On the one hand, we are extremely proud of the staff, volunteers and supporters who have helped us be there for those who needed our support over the years. However, on the other hand, we’re reluctant to refer to it as a celebration as the anniversary sadly highlights the fact that homelessness has been encouraged to run rampant throughout Northern Ireland for decades thanks to government failings, under resourcing, and siloed tactics. “Isn’t it a shame that each year, thousands of people come through our doors at their lowest with nowhere else 48

to turn to? And that on average around 1,000 households present as homelessness to the Housing Executive each month with over 40,000 sitting on social housing waiting lists for homes that may never come? And sadly, these figures don’t even include the 100,000 households estimated to be experiencing hidden homelessness. We are on the cusp of a homelessness disaster in Northern Ireland and I am worried decision makers are still thinking a temporary bandage is the solution.”

The Covid catalyst Dennison details that the Covid pandemic, whilst a challenging and worrying time for staff and clients at the charity, acted as a catalyst that brought about better partnership working, removed the constraints of bureaucracy and saw the homelessness sector, and Simon Community, advance at a speed and efficiency not witnessed in his eight years as Chief Executive. “Rounding off our fourth decade with a global pandemic wasn’t ideal but we got through it. I saw colleagues, clients, funders, and partners committed to one thing, ensuring everyone in the country was in a safe and secure place to weather the storm. And as we began working around the new normal, the charity was able to explore newer ways to respond to and end homelessness.

“Launching the charity’s 50th anniversary at Stormont in October 2021, we used the high-profile event to showcase the charity’s future commitment to growing awareness, creating change, and responding to need. To date, we have launched bespoke homelessness services, welcomed new members to our ever-growing teams, lobbied for stronger government commitment, and released substantial research into Hidden Homelessness.”

for the Departments for Communities, Education, Health and Justice and require them to report annually to the Assembly; the delivery of properly resourced, multiyear budgets for homelessness support services to facilitate long term funding decisions and to allocate needs assessed funding to flagship projects such as the Supporting People programme; and

At a time when growth for many organisations witnessed a pause, Simon Community entered its 50th year with the launch of a Women’s Advocacy project, roll-out of a Housing First for Youth service but most notably, the commitment from the charity to buy as well as manage 50 homes for people who


increased housing supply through a combination of public asset initiatives, refurbishing vacant properties, a fully supported NIHE build programme, and incentivising private rented sector use.

are homeless over the next two years. The charity already has purchased six homes with a seventh on the horizon.

“While we exist, Simon Community will always be a champion for the people we directly or indirectly support. You simply need to look at the most recent figures on homeless deaths here in Northern Ireland — 217 people over 12 months dying while experiencing homelessness. If one person on our roads died every other day, there would be a huge public outcry, a media campaign, resources across departments thrown at it. It’s this inequality that drives our charity. We do, and will continue to, ensure everyone experiencing homelessness is given a voice and treated with the dignity and support they are entitled to.”

“Our temporary accommodation services run at full occupancy and for every bed we have, we could fill it five times over such is the demand. Unfortunately, many of our clients are ready and able to live independently but are in limbo with few social home building projects in the pipeline and unaffordable private rents across the market. This is where Creating Homes can help by providing long-term move on homes in communities where people can flourish.”

Stormont must act

Partner with Simon Community in its 50th year by visiting

Ahead of this year’s Assembly elections, the charity met with representatives from across the major parties to lobby for three Programme for Government asks that will bring about meaningful change:

T: 028 9023 2882



the delivery of a Homelessness Co-operation Bill to put inter-departmental co-operation to ending homelessness on a legislative footing

housing report




housing report

The strategic housing authority for Northern Ireland

Private Tenancies Bill Passed before the cessation of the last Executive’s tenure, the Private Tenancies Act seeks to protect the rights of private tenants by limiting rent increases by once per year and extending notice to quit periods issued by landlords. The Private Tenancies Bill, which passed through the final stage in the Assembly on 15 March 2022, took effect from 5 May and seeks to protect private tenants from sudden homelessness by adjusting minimum notice to quit periods served by landlords. Under the Act, private landlords must provide tenants with: four weeks’ notice if their tenancy has been in existence for less than 12 months; eight weeks’ notice if their tenancy has been in existence for more than 12 months but less than 10 years; and 12 weeks’ notice if the tenancy has been in existence longer than 10 years. Tenants are also required to provide their landlords with written notice of their intention to quit with four weeks’ notice if their tenancy has been in existence less than 10 years and 12 weeks’ notice if it has been in existence for more than 10 years. Deposits for tenancies will be capped at one month’s rent under the Act and rent increases will be capped at once per 12 months, with landlords unable to increase rent within the first 12 months of a lease. The Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey MLA, said that the passage of the Bill would ensure “safety, security and standards within the private sector”. 50

“Protecting tenants is a priority for me,” Hargey said. “I have consistently stated my determination to ensure all rents are fair and tenants are protected in their homes. I will ensure we build further on the rent controls already secured. This bill will deliver important protections with more reform to come.” The Act will also introduce a minimum Energy Performance Certificate rating, which will mean that homes that do not reach an as-yet-undefined rating will not be allowed to be let out. This provision, which mirrors a similar rule in England and Wales, is included with the aim of tackling fuel poverty as it is hoped that higher energy efficiency ratings will mean that renters can better afford to heat these properties. The Bill had been criticised by People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll as a “missed opportunity”. Carroll’s proposed amendment of a 10 per cent rent cut for every private renter in Northern Ireland originally passed an oral vote in the Assembly, before it was overturned. Hargey defended the Bill as the “beginning of private rented sector reform”: “I have laid the foundations and further work is a priority for the Department.”

Our carbon challenge

housing report

Barry Kerr, Apex’s Director of Development.

Apex Housing Association (Apex) says addressing global concerns about climate change and local concerns about fuel poverty are the prime factors behind its intention to have a decarbonisation strategy in place by March 2023. Despite this strategy currently being a ‘work in progress’, Apex has already made moves towards reducing its carbon footprint and lowering heating bills for its tenants by piloting a nearly zero-energy approach (NZEB) in the construction of some of its new masonry homes being developed in Newtownabbey.

NZEB pilot in Newtownabbey Construction on the site of the former Newtownabbey High School in Rathcoole has already begun and will see the former school grounds, which have been vacant since 2015, transformed into a thriving community of 76 houses and 35 apartments. The NZEB pilot project will see the construction of six homes with enhanced insulation and a variety of renewable energy options, to gauge what works best in practice for Apex

and its tenants. Apex also has plans for a second pilot scheme on a timber frame development which will begin later this year. Barry Kerr, Apex’s Director of Development, says Apex is committed to meeting the highest possible standards in relation to decarbonisation and energy efficiency: “Over the next 30 years, our ambition is to virtually eliminate carbon emissions in our homes; bringing enormous benefits for tenants, communities, the economy and the environment. Energy efficiency standards will soon be enhanced within new building regulations, but we are working on the premise that all newbuild social housing will be required to meet the nearly zero-energy building standards in the next few years.

and experience we are building on NZEB standards is being shared through the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. This collaborative approach is vital as the decarbonisation task ahead of us can only be accomplished by working with government, tenants, our industry and wider society.”

New development in Newtownabbey 111 new homes will be built on the site of the former Newtownabbey High School site in Rathcoole. Of these, eight will be sold as affordable homes, with the remainder delivering much needed high-quality social housing. Part of the site will provide homes for people over 55, featuring private balconies and access to a communal garden. The development will also have a new park at its core, helping to make it a vibrant and sustainable community.

If you would like to know more about Apex’s decarbonisation agenda or NZEB pilot projects, please phone 028 7130 4800 or email

“We are one of the leading social housing providers in Northern Ireland and we recognise we play a significant role within the sector. The knowledge


The strategic housing authority for Northern Ireland

The decarbonisation challenge The decarbonisation housing report

agenda poses an existential challenge to housing associations but also presents a huge collaborative opportunity, argues Abri Group Chief Executive, Gary Orr. Orr, the head of a large housing association operating primarily in the south of England with over 40,000 homes and a £250 million annual turnover, believes that the housing sector is facing an existential threat in its ambitions to decarbonise. Offering some lessons taken from England to delegates at the 2022 Housing Conference, the Northern Ireland-born Chief Executive points to estimations that housing associations in England face a bill of some £35 billion to decarbonise their existing stock of some five million homes. Without major collaboration and efficiencies, “material and significant strains” may place significant strains on the long-term viability of some housing associations, a Westminster select committee was recently told by a body representing small and medium housing associations. Orr explains his own organisation’s approach which has not only included bringing subject matter expertise into the boardroom, but also training and recruiting staff to act as climate champions. Analysis of the challenge ahead has not only produced a better understanding of where emissions exist in the 52

organisation (97 per cent located in homes, waste, purchased goods and services and embodied carbon in new development) but also indicated the need to bring an additional £20,000 per home into their business plan between now and 2050 to bring all existing homes to a net zero standard. As Orr explains, Abri has adopted a fabric-first approach: “Our view is that while there are very credible technologies emerging, the market is insufficiently developed and so our focus has been on driving up EPC ratings. Putting sophisticated technology in an uninsulated home is folly.” Orr explains that such an approach also brought with it a fundamental decision which is likely to be faced by all social housing providers. “Stock condition is critical because what we found was that there is a rising level of disposals into the private market, as a result of the retrofit analysis. Some of the architypes were deemed no longer economically viable and the question posed is how does the removal of stock deemed no longer ‘economically viable’ balance against the expense of removing a ‘viable social’ housing asset within that community. These are big decisions social housing providers will face.”

Analysis also revealed that alongside emissions of 40 per cent in existing homes, 20 per cent in goods and services and 10 per cent in waste, 30 per cent of Abri’s emissions occurred in their development activity. Recent data suggests that 29 homes can be built through modern methods of construction (MMC) at the same emission rates as one traditionally built house. Orr urges faster movement into the MMC market, highlighting that his own organisation have committed to accelerate beyond current levels of a 25 per cent MMC minimum in their current development programme of around 1,200 homes per year. However, it is in the area of collaboration where Orr believes housing associations in England and across the devolved regions can have the greatest impact. The Chief Executive highlights that Abri are part of a Great Britain-wide collaboration with four other partner housing associations. Representing around 300,000 homes and a variety of architypes in the UK, the collaboration provides a unified voice in not only lobbying government to prioritise the subject matter of home decarbonisation but also demonstrating the viability of decarbonisation solutions.

The strategic housing authority for Northern Ireland

shaping and attaining government support towards the decarbonisation of its stock, Orr is very aware that housing associations must proactively look beyond government funding which will be insufficient to fund the estimated £36 billion bill for five million social homes in England. The Chief Executive highlights that this £36 billion cost sits within a wider £350 billion potential cost of the decarbonisation of the wider residential market.

“We as an alliance are very interested in the ability to take greater control and drive a market for which we are expected to be at the forefront of. Our research indicates that government will need to create 250,000 new, high-skilled jobs to decarbonise the nation’s housing stock. If housing is to be the catalyst for those jobs, why should we wait for the private sector to take control of that market when we have the opportunity to think creatively and deliver programmes to decarbonise a locality in its entirety? “Why can we, as housing providers, not lead the solutions and drive those

housing report

While the group has had success in

employment and training opportunities, where we own the narrative, creating resilient organisations that continue to build and maintain homes while investing in our communities?” Orr concludes: “By firstly achieving an internal understanding of the decarbonisation challenge, housing associations can get ahead of their own new build programmes. However, the next step must be that building alliances with peers, firstly allowing you to lobby and work with government but also potentially shaping the market to the best of your ability.”

and we have been able to help many private tenants and landlords by opening up the communication and helping them come to realistic solutions.” When both parties agree to take part, an independent mediator

Reaching resolutions through mediation The housing mediation service operated by Housing Rights offers landlords and tenants who find themselves in dispute a way to reach agreements that are satisfactory to both parties, without having to go to court. Funded by the Department for Communities, the service has

with specialist housing knowledge will help them talk through their issues to come to a solution. Agreements have helped to prevent evictions and sustain tenancies. Having used the service, Peter O’Callaghan, Belfast and South Region Manager with Smartmove said: “The service has been excellent in acting as an independent 3rd party in solving a number of our landlord/tenant disputes. They have been able to create peace of mind for tenants who would have often otherwise been reluctant to engage with staff directly. I have no doubt that tenancies have been saved through the use of the mediation service.”

helped reach 145 positive outcomes in housing disputes since it

To enquire, call 028 902 45640, email

launched in November 2019., or apply online at

The service is free and available to landlords, letting agents and

tenants in the private rented sector, and can help resolve a range

Housing rights are developing housing specific mediation

of issues.

training courses for professionals in the housing sector including

Laura Coulter, Housing Rights Housing Mediation Manager said: “The service has really come into it’s own over the last few years,

landlords and letting agents that will skill participants in mediation techniques. To enquire, email 53

The strategic housing authority for Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland housing statistics housing report

Published in December 2021, the Department for Communities’ Northern Ireland Housing Statistics report for 2020/2021 is an annual compilation of statistics relating to aspects of housing. It is divided into six sections.


Private renting demand

Total housing stock

Total stock per


1,000 population 2020/2021: 426 dwellings New dwelling completions

Estimated median weekly rent in the private sector

Estimated median weekly rent in the social sector




12 per cent decrease on 2019/2020 representing a

Energy •

Owner occupier demand

Affordable Warmth Scheme grants were awarded to

1,599 homes •

2012/2013 until 2020/2021, 45,882 boiler From

replacement grants were approved, totalling

Q3 2021, the House Price Index stands at 143.4 The standardised house price for Q3 2021 is £159,109 This represents a 10.7 per cent increase since Q3 2020 As of

£31 million

Social renting demand •

31 March 2021, a total of 43,971 applicants were on the social On

Household characteristics •

Average weekly household income during

2019/2020 was £793

housing waiting list •

Of this total,

30,288 were in

housing stress •

In 2020/2021,

9,889 households were

accepted as statutorily homeless


Estimated weekly expenditure from

2020 was £486.40

2018 to

conference report

Grainia Long, Northern Ireland Housing Executive; Mark Bailie, Homeless Connect; Jordan Buchanan, PropertyPal; Mark O’Donnell, Department for Communities and Paddy Gray, Ulster University.

Northern Ireland Housing Conference The Northern Ireland Housing Conference took place in La Mon Hotel, Belfast on Wednesday 11th May. The event brought together over 130 delegates and those in attendance gained an insight into the current issues for the housing sector in Northern Ireland. Expert speakers included Mark O’Donnell, Department for Communities; Jordan Buchanan, Property Pal; Carol McTaggart, Clanmil Housing; Mark Baillie, Homeless Connect; Grainia Long, Northern Ireland Housing Executive; Gary Orr, Abri, and Paul Taylor, Bromford. A massive thank you to our sponsor, Greenview Group, the speakers and delegates who joined us and made the conference a huge success.


Mark O’Donnell, Department for Communities addresses delegates

David Salters, Greenview Group and David Polley, Department for Communities

Gary Orr, Abri; Carol McTaggart, Clanmil Housing; Loma Wilson, Radius Housing; Michael Burke, Greenview Group; Paul Taylor, Bromford and Paddy Gray, Ulster University

Grainne Robinson, Habinteg Housing and Laura O'Dowd, Ark Housing

Robert Gilmore KPMG and Stuart McAllister, Northern Ireland Housing Executive

Nicola McEvoy and Judith Woodburn, Department for Communities

Energy report




energy report

Economic opportunity through delivery of an integrated decarbonised energy system Six months on from the publication of the Government’s Energy Strategy, the Head of Energy in the Department for the Economy (DfE), Richard Rodgers, talks to David Whelan about short-term progress, medium-term aims and the ultimate ambition of a decarbonised energy system, which supports the transformation of our local economy. “Delivering self-sufficiency in affordable renewable energy as quickly as possible”, Rodgers sets out, emphasising his belief that energy decarbonisation represents the greatest opportunity for society in the region, since the industrial revolution. The Head of Energy acknowledges a sea change in public awareness in recent years which has shifted mind sets away from viewing energy as simply a cost. In fact, recent global events, not least COP26 and rising energy costs have thrown a spotlight on Northern Ireland’s ever-present over reliance on fossil fuels. However, he acknowledges that there is a significant communication challenge to gain public understanding and buy-in for the potential of renewable energy and zero carbon technology,


that would support the transformation of our local economy and help to deliver a healthier and more prosperous society. “What we have is the greatest opportunity for local society. Our size, at 1.9 million people in around 768,900 households, provides the flexibility to move away from importing the vast majority of energy that we use and wean ourselves off fossil fuels,” he explains. “The opportunity and the government message is that through energy decarbonisation, we not only create a healthier environment but that we move away from being subject to energy price volatility and sending money outside of the region for fuel and instead capitalise on our natural endowment.”

In December 2021, following two years of extensive engagement, the Executive published its long-term Path to Net Zero Energy, a pathway for energy to 2030 and towards a 2050 vision of net zero carbon and affordable energy by 2050. A short-term annual action plan for 2022, which included 22 actions, was published in January.

The Northern Ireland Government’s role is to set the policy and the regulatory frameworks, as signalled in the Energy Strategy, to ‘pump prime’

It is this whole-system energy approach which is guiding the thinking around renewable support. While the action plan includes plans to consult on a renewable electricity support scheme for delivery in 2023, Rodgers believes thinking needs to move away from prioritising certain technologies, which he believes has led to a “subsidy chase” elsewhere.

energy report

Investment in energy decarbonisation will be largely from the private sector and consumers – the former in the infrastructure, which will be fully regulated, and the latter in home appliances and technology. Given the complexity of the energy decarbonisation pathway and also that many of the technologies are developing, the overall cost can only be forecasted. However, the Committee for Climate Change, the UK government advisor, is clear in its forecast that overall there will be a net benefit to consumers.

“Currently, we are operating at 75 per cent System Non-Synchronous Penetration (SNSP) which, with credit to SONI, NIE and our local engineers, is world leading. If we can apply that innovation to the whole-energy system, in the future, our unique selling point will be the delivery of an integrated, AI-controlled and decentralised energy system, meaning that not only will we ensure energy is affordable but also offering the opportunity to rebalance the economy.”

“When we talk about support schemes, I don’t think the future is about individual tariffs. Yes, we will need to have some grant support to pump

“International investors have visited and told us that we are one of very few places that has this joinedup vision and while we still have to work through the details, the aspiration is for a central, common support scheme.” the pathway with public sector investment in demonstrator projects and also provide overall financial support for the integrated energy system solution. “The intention of the action plan is to drive short-

prime markets but what we really want is a fully regulated energy system in Northern Ireland. That system will deliver stable prices, breaking the link to volatile global commodity markets and based instead on the capital we invest on the cost to maintain that capital.

term progress towards what is our ultimate goal, a regulated energy system that is, for the first time ever, across all of heat, power and transport,” he explains. “To do this we need to move from the impressive decarbonisation of the power sector, where we already have over 40 per cent of our electricity generated renewably, to a 100 per cent scenario. We also need to work out how to efficiently store energy for when the wind doesn’t blow.” Decarbonised electricity, coupled with energy storage and an envisioned smart grid, has the potential to revolutionise Northern Ireland’s energy system and Rodgers believes that Northern Ireland has already indicated its potential to be a global leader on energy innovation.

“International investors have visited and told us that we are one of the very few places that has this joined-up vision and while we still have to work through the details, the aspiration is for a central, common support scheme,” he explains.

Skills Rodgers emphasises that the expertise that will be needed to develop and deliver low- and zerocarbon technologies and to then potentially export those solutions, already exists in Northern Ireland, however, he is aware that more need to be done do develop the skills capacity if the region is to make the most of the opportunity on offer. The 2022 action plan includes an action to carry out an energy skills audit for energy decarbonisation by the end of the year.

4 59

energy report

“Our size, at 1.9 million people in around 768,900 households, provides the flexibility to move away from importing the vast majority of energy that we use and wean ourselves off fossil fuels.”

To this end, he believes the whole-ofgovernment approach being applied to energy decarbonisation is advantageous. “Through the over-arching strategy and annual action plans, all of which will be reviewed, we are bringing a private sector formal business rigour to the public sector and we are also ensuring collaboration across government. The skills audit links into the Department for the Economy’s vision for a 10X economy and the Skills Strategy, but we’re also linked into the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and its landing of the Green Growth Strategy, the Department for Communities’ work around fuel poverty and the Department for Infrastructure around planning and infrastructure delivery. Again, the economic opportunity and societal advantages of energy decarbonisation are being developed and delivered across government.” The Deputy Secretary is aware that while the vision is clear, a range of challenges will need to be overcome in order to deliver it. Asked what he sees as the biggest barriers to the 2050 goals, the Head of Energy says: “There is always room for more urgency in government. I want to see things move faster, however, we also must ensure that they are done properly and I say that cognisant of the fact that we are still dealing with the shadow of the Renewable Heat Incentive. The resource challenge is not just a financial one, we need to continuously develop our people to deliver good policy.” He believes that the confidence to successfully move at pace is underpinned by checks and balances introduced to ensure that fundamental mistakes, such as that which occurred with RHI, are caught.


Offshore Interestingly, among the ambitions to diversify Northern Ireland’s renewable energy mix, included in the Energy Strategy is the ambition to develop an action plan to deliver 1GW of offshore by 2030. The feasibility and affordability of developing offshore generation in Northern Ireland has long been questioned, firstly because of a complex leasing system with the Crown Estate, and secondly because of the nature of the geology. Rodgers acknowledges that the geology, whereby the island’s coastline has steep shelves, means that floating technology will be required. Suggesting some initial interest already from developers, he says that a challenge from the private sector is to reduce the normal 10-year development timescale for offshore generation into a shorter time period, to aid the 2030 ambitions. He reiterates that the whole-of-government approach will be an asset in this regard. Concluding with a summary of short-term progress, the Head of Energy expects to report on the progress of the 2022 action plan early in 2023, while at the same time publishing the action plan for the year ahead. On whether current political instability in Northern Ireland will impact on delivery, Rodgers believes that the need for energy decarbonisation is supported by all political parties and there is collective buy-in to the strategy. “We want to ensure the visibility of our delivery progress. When you consider the seismic shifts that have already occurred in relation to energy even since the action plan was published in January 2022, there is an understanding that our vision has to be flexible but also that we remain focused on the need for urgent delivery.”

80 by 30: Now is the time to act

as other key stakeholders. You will be able to view this on our website, and I welcome people in the industry contacting me about it. RenewableNI will highlight the vital role that the planning system can play in enabling a green economic recovery. Currently it is dysfunctional and under resourced and is blocking new renewable development.

energy report

Wind farms are spending more than twice as long in planning here than in Great Britain. This is a considerable disincentive to investors who are operating across these islands and globally. We are facing a climate emergency and we have seen through Covid that government can deliver at pace when required to do so. We now need a Covid type response to climate. It is clear that without significant improvement of planning timelines that we will fail to achieve our renewables and decarbonisation targets.

RenewableNI announce their new Programme for Government (left to right): Paul Carson, Deputy Chair of RenewableNI and Managing Director, Strategic Power Projects; Tamasin Fraser, UK Director, ABO Wind; Steven Agnew, Head of RenewableNI; and Garth McGimpsey, Chair of RenewableNI and Senior Project Manager, RES. Credit: Paul McErlane.

After years of campaigning, RenewableNI recently celebrated success at seeing our ambitious goal of 80 per cent renewable electricity by 2030 included in the Climate Bill. RenewableNI is a not-for-profit representing businesses across the renewable electricity sector. We work together with our members and stakeholders to create a better future, powered by clean electricity. RenewableNI promotes responsible development, supports good community engagement and the delivery of lowcost electricity generation from sources such as wind, solar and battery storage, using our greatest natural resources. The ‘80 by 30’ renewables target is a welcome but very challenging one, which will only be met through joined up government and collaboration with industry.

RenewableNI welcomes the appointment of a new Infrastructure Minister and look forward to working with John O’Dowd MLA in his new role, as his department will be key to the success of the Energy Strategy. How much can be achieved by a caretaker minister is uncertain, but it is no benefit to business to have an Assembly that cannot assemble. We are launching our Renewable Energy Programme for Government at the end of June and will invite all the newly elected MLAs to attend, as well

RenewableNI is hosting our free webinar series and our Smart Energy Conference, which will take place on Thursday 6 October in the Clayton Hotel Belfast. These events focus on the key aspects of delivering new renewable generation including markets, grid and planning. RenewableNI and our members know now is the time to act, to ensure a greener and cheaper electricity system for everyone in Northern Ireland. We hope to see you at the conference in October to add your voice to the call for action. You can find out more about these events, and our ongoing work, at or by emailing me at

RenewableNI T: +44 (0) 28 9044 6240 E: W: Twitter @RenewableNI LinkedIn

It is therefore imperative that a new Executive is established as soon as possible to begin delivery of the energy transition. 61

energy report

Lessons from the Northern Ireland energy crisis While predictions show that energy prices are set to remain high for at least another year, there are early lessons that companies, advice organisations, and policy makers can take to help consumers, according to the Director of Infrastructure and Sustainability at the Consumer Council, Peter McClenaghan. The impact of the cost-of-living crisis in Northern Ireland is harrowing. As Northern Ireland’s representative consumer body, the Consumer Council works with consumers daily, hearing their concerns, and providing advice. We hear first-hand how upset, worried, and angry people are about price increases. While consumers understand the increases are due to global factors, that knowledge doesn’t make paying their bills any easier. The demand for our front-line consumer advice and complaints service has risen by 70 per cent on pre-pandemic levels. Coupled with the increase in demand, is an increase in detriment. The magnitude of individual need and distress is clear; and is being witnessed by all our local energy suppliers, debt advice centres, and charities.

Fuel poverty It is no surprise that the Utility Regulator estimates fuel poverty could increase to a staggering one in two households. In December 2021, the Consumer Council undertook research that estimated fuel poverty at 31 per cent and further research with 1,003 households in February and March 2022 that indicates fuel poverty rates are now 34 per cent. Between December 2021, and March 2022, our Home Energy Price Index shows energy prices increased by 48 per cent and with forecasts that energy prices will remain high for some time, greater consumer support will be essential during the winter of 2022/23. 62

Consumer Council Composite Energy Price Index

introduction of such protections would not insulate consumers from price increases it would improve service standards and consumer resilience.

Trust and net zero

The Consumer Council’s Home Energy Index tracks changes in household gas, electricity and home heating oil prices in Northern Ireland. A composite index is calculated, meaning that all three energy prices are combined to create one overarching figure which uses appropriate weighting to reflect usage and market share.

The Consumer Council’s role in the inaugural fuel bank scheme In September 2021, anticipating a winter of high energy prices, we undertook research into the establishment of a fuel bank for Northern Ireland. Armed with this research we used our statutory position in the energy market to engage with companies to encourage them to fund the proposal to provide emergency assistance to households at imminent risk of disconnection. We also succeeded in encouraging the Department for Communities to match fund company donations ten-fold, meaning supplier donations of a quarter of a million pounds were effectively covering the administrative costs. The scheme proved highly successful and was augmented by a further £55 million government support fund distributed to individuals on qualifying benefits. We are proud to have played a role in the first Northern Ireland fuel bank scheme, in partnership with the Department for Communities, energy providers, and Bryson Charitable Group. On its launch the charity run fuel bank scheme received unprecedented demand. This demonstrates the urgent need to increase such financial support as the number of vulnerable households in our community continues to increase.

The benefits of regulation Within a fortnight of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, energy prices had doubled for the two-thirds of households in Northern Ireland who use heating oil. This extreme rise demonstrates the peril of having consumers subject to global spot market prices for their essential energy needs. The fact that the supply market for heating oil in Northern Ireland is only subject to limited self-regulation has understandably come into focus again in recent months. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently compared Northern Ireland’s off-grid consumers to the majority of UK domestic energy users, highlighting that the former group do not benefit from standard protections including debt support, a priority services register to address consumer vulnerability, or a requirement on suppliers to provide energy efficiency advice. The CMA also noted the lack of formalised regulations on charging, the lack of access to mandatory independent alternative dispute resolution, and the limited payment options available to heating oil consumers which is particularly important given consumers must make bulk purchases of at least £250 of heating oil at current prices. While the

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Despite such hardship and the significant media attention on energy due to constant price increase announcements, we have seen no evidence that consumer knowledge of the sector is being enhanced. Rather, we have seen significant misunderstanding, misinformation, and growing consumer distrust in the sector. Our research into consumer attitudes in Northern Ireland’s large, unregulated off-grid sector provides an indication of the low levels of consumer trust in suppliers operating in an unstable market. If credible solutions are not found to address the market instability, fairness, and affordability issues emanating from this crisis, we risk a significant and wide-ranging erosion of trust in the energy sector. As our collective efforts in the pursuit of decarbonisation grows, we must not ignore the importance of trust and understanding in encouraging consumer behaviour change.

Finding solutions Solving these problems will require significant change to our energy infrastructure and regulatory regime. In making this long term change we must redouble our efforts to place consumer’s needs; energy and technology affordability, guaranteed standards regardless of fuel source, and security of supply, at the centre of energy transition planning. However, we will not retain consumer’s trust in the decarbonisation journey without a significant uplift in immediate financial support, energy efficiency advice to consumers, and further resourcing of the advice sector. We are in unchartered territory so as policy makers, regulators, and industry leaders, we must coalesce around solutions that ensure the energy transition is accessible and affordable for all. Contact Peter McClenaghan on: T: 028902 51852 E: W:


energy report

The future electricity system In adopting “technology push” measures to decarbonise electricity, little consideration was given to the system consequences, argues Malcolm Keay, senior research fellow, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. Keay believes that governments, businesses, and analysts need to learn from mistakes in the decarbonisation of electricity and adopt a systems approach to the wider decarbonisation of energy. Stressing that there will be no return to the electricity system, or indeed, energy system of the past post-pandemic, the energy policy expert believes in the need for fundamental changes to how the electricity system is planned, analysed, and operated if decarbonisation ambitions are to be reached. To date, electricity has been the key focus for decarbonisation in Great Britain, highlighted by a plummet in emissions since 2010 which have seen electricity emission reductions form over three-quarters of total emission reduction. Keay highlights that the emergence of low-carbon solution technology, alongside no requirement for operational change on the part of the consumer, have made the electricity decarbonisation politically easy but stresses a much greater complexity exists in the process. “The outcome is that electricity as a system is changing rapidly, for example, the cost structure was once mainly marginal costs, but the future system will be mainly capital costs. Logically, pricing should change too because pricing in a short-run marginal cost basis doesn’t make sense when you have an industry that does not have short-run marginal costs. This has not been fully recognised and I believe will come back to bite us over time,” he states. 64

Another example of change outlined by Keay, which he believes has yet to be fully appreciated is the structural change to generation moving from a centralised system to a decentralised one. “In the UK, renewables have been multiplied 15-fold since 2000 but decentralised generation has multiplied 1,000-fold, meaning we are getting a very differently structured industry. How we think about industry must change.” The Senior Research Fellow believes that a theoretical appreciation of change exists but believes little recognition has been given to the potential implications. Highlighting that, at present, governments drive virtually all investment and that even in relation to operation, prioritisation of renewables means little influence by markets, Keay believes that “electricity markets are broken”.

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Similarly, he believes that regulation is effectively broken, pointing out that the four traditional elements of regulation (two competitive and two monopoly), neglect an emerged fifth element: consumers and prosumers. “The distinction between the monopoly and non-monopoly elements is fading,” states Keay. “We have seen, for instance, in the UK capacity market, the interconnector has been competing with generation and you have a network asset competing with generation assets.”

Policy Emphasising that overall policy is lagging behind events, Keay says that piecemeal interventions, for example, a focus on offshore wind, fail to address the need for whole system optimisation. To some degree, the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021 provided a glimpse of the future energy system. Changed work and travel system meant that in Great Britain, generation from renewables exceeded that from fossil fuels for the first time, while the carbon intensity of generation dropped 95 per cent below 1990 levels and decentralised generation rose to over 30 per cent at times. The pandemic accelerated some trends that were predicted to happen on a longer timescale, meaning that some outcomes were foreseeable, however, as Keay explains, not all change has taken place as previously expected.

“In the UK, renewables have been multiplied 15-fold since 2000 but decentralised generation has multiplied 1,000-fold, meaning we are getting a very differently structured industry. How we think about industry must change.” Malcom Keay, Senior research fellow, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies

For example, balancing cost as a share of generation cost increased, as expected, but unexpectedly, large discontinuity was seen in relation to price. The balancing price as a share of total generation cost in Great Britain went up from 5 per cent to 25 per cent in 2020. “This discontinuity has two possible consequences,” explains Keay. “Firstly, that fairly low-level problems can suddenly jump up and bite when you are not prepared for them and secondly, that the validity of pricing is further undermined. The increased costs have to be borne somehow and along with many other costs, such as renewable support, are smeared across the price. So, the prices are increasingly not having much of a function in demonstrating cost, instead they are simply a mechanism for cost recovery.” Other unexpected outcomes during 2020/21 highlighted by Keay is that the misconception that nuclear is needed as baseload generation was somewhat disproven as the grid paid nuclear plants to turn off when there was excess generation. Additionally, he says that in the demand side, placing energy efficiency at the centre of policy is “simply wrong”. “When you have a situation where you have 40 per cent of wind power being 4 65

dispatched down, energy efficiency is not what you need, you need a better system with demand side flexibility,” he says. “Energy efficiency may have a part to play in demand side policy but to emphasise it as the centre of policy is wrong and risky in terms of the future ability of the system to cope. Emphasis on energy efficiency is not going to deliver the new system which is needed.” The UK’s National Infrastructure Commission estimates that system optimisation could be worth £8 billion annually and Keay highlights that with growing intermittency in the system, a range of options for balancing exist. However, he states that different price and regulation regimes of these options are problematic.

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“As long as you have a position where the prices in one area are set in a different way from prices in a different area, it is impossible to see how the market is going to sort this out. However, there is no overall system planner. There is no one else sorting it out, so it is just not clear how we will get to an optimised solution.” Keay explains that the impact of the lack of coherency spreads beyond electricity and into other spheres of the energy market. Highlighting the absence of a systematic overall approach to getting the right balance on price between sectors, he points to a current tax regime which potentially makes electricity more expensive than other fuels, due to bearing internal costs, which will act to discourage its use in heating and transport.

Average subsidy (£ per MWh) Renewable source Sewage gas

Subsidy 4.5



Onshore wind






Offshore wind


Anaerobic digestion


Small scale feed-in tariffs


Wave and tidal


Although the UK Treasury has acknowledged that some of the tax costs currently being borne by electricity need to be shifted to gas, politically, no direct action has been taken. Keay believes that a systems approach could reduce the cost of electricity through greater efficiency and the Carbon Trust estimate a £16 billion per year saving if such an approach was adopted. “At present, one of the major problems with electricity is the average load factor being well under 50 per cent. By 2030, 40 per cent of wind power would be dispatched down and that is a very inefficient way to run a system. What you have to do is think of the energy system as a whole and ways in which electricity could be used across that system. That is not the current approach of the government, who are pursuing a piecemeal technology push approach, with various projects coming to fruition at various times and in various ways. 2050 may seem like a long time away but big decisions in relation to networks, hydrogen etc are needed now to get the right mix in each network.” As Keay highlights, the issue is not just prevalent in the UK. In Ireland, for instance, dispatch down of wind power was in the past relatively minor at around 4 per cent but by 2020 it rose to about 14 per cent. EirGrid predicts that by 2030, this could rise to 40 per cent. “The system consequences need to be thought through properly,” he states. Keay assesses that even with technical solutions, the political task of developing networks in an efficient manner and under a presumably liberalised market approach in the timeframe will be challenging. “The fact is that all the networks we have now were developed under a monopoly approach in one way or another and governments had not really thought about how they would develop these new networks and how they would get them in the right place at the right time under a liberalised system.”


Summarising, Keay says that it is clear that governments and most key stakeholders did not pay enough attention to the systems issues in decarbonising electricity and are still trying to pick up the pieces as a result. Given that systems issues will be even more fundamental in the next stages of decarbonisation, governments and stakeholders need to start thinking in systems terms.

Smart Grid Ireland has a track record of working constructively to influence infrastructure investment and energy policy and regulation in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland.

We provide our members with opportunities for networking and thought leadership in new network related technologies to deliver worldclass energy solutions and address climate issues. With offices at the Technology Centre, Queen’s University Belfast and Dublin City West, Smart Grid Ireland partners with both Queen’s and Ulster University, and the Energy Institute, University College Dublin. For more information contact

Bob Barbour CEO & Secretariat for Smart Grid Ireland

Co-mingling boosts councils’ recycling rates As we move towards a ‘zero waste economy’ and a society where waste resources must be fully valued both financially and environmentally, Joseph Doherty, Managing Director of Re-Gen Waste, says that his leading-edge infrared sorting technology is extracting high-purity, high-value end fractions from co-mingled household waste and boosting his customers’ recycling rates. Doherty explains that: “Simplicity and convenience are the most significant factors in determining participation by householders and this means offering them a service where they can put all their recycling in one bin. Local authorities need to encourage the maximum number of people to recycle, to reduce their landfill costs and comingling with glass appears to be the most successful way to grow their recycling rates.” These opinions are reflected in a recent national poll, carried out by Lucid Talk across all 11 council areas in March 2022, which revealed that 24 per cent of Northern Ireland householders said they are not happy with recycling service. Yet, in council areas where household recyclables (plastic, paper, card, tins, and cardboard, etc) can be ‘co-mingled’

with glass in the same bin, 82 per cent of householders reported that they were happy with how their council had asked them to recycle, with Derry and Strabane Council’s householders being most content, at 88 per cent. According to Doherty, the survey findings, when examined alongside DAERA’s latest figures for Councils’ 2020/21 Household Dry Recycling and Landfill Rates, it would seem to suggest that the convenience and containment of a single wheeled bin for dry household recycling is considered appealing by householders that use this service. The councils with householders happiest with their recycling service generally had the highest household dry recycling rate per capita, and the lowest landfill rate per capita. These councils

were those that offered a co-mingling service to their householders. Doherty says: “Co-mingled or mixed recycling is probably one of the most versatile recycling services available to householders. It is practical, efficient, and convenient and means they can put numerous commodities into the same bin without any hassle. “Councils we work with confirm that for them, it is the easiest and best value recycling system available for householders and increases their household recycling rates.” The Lucid Talk survey found that Mid and East Antrim Council’s householders were least happy (61 per cent) with their council’s recycling collection method, followed closely by Belfast City Council (65 per cent).

Of the respondents who said they weren’t happy with how their council has asked them to recycle, 23 per cent rated their bin lids and boxes blowing away in windy weather as the top negative factor.

“Innovations in recycling technology are transforming the way we work, to improve the sorting of recyclables, at a rate unrivalled in history and Re-Gen Waste has made a conscious effort to keep pace.

Reassuringly, 81 per cent of the householders surveyed across Northern Ireland said that they try to recycle everything they can, up from 74 per cent from the same poll held in 2019. However, 17 per cent of the respondents admitted to recycling only when it was convenient for them, but not always.

“And the irony is, that contamination is still present in a kerbside sort system; the difference is that it is left in the box by kerbside sorters and the householder dumps it in their residual waste bin. This material can end up in landfill at a cost of £120 per tonne, resulting in an increased cost to councils. They also need to factor in the landfill tax. Co-mingled can create a higher value. It will be recycled one day when economics make it viable.

When asked what would encourage them to recycle more, of the councils that don’t offer a fully comingled recycling service with glass, over half said they would recycle more if there was one bin that took all recycling, including glass. Doherty continues: “These survey results are very similar to the results of the survey carried out by Lucid Talk in 2019. Simplicity and convenience continue to be the most significant factors in determining the success rate of householder recycling. “It is heartening to see more householders are saying recycling is very or somewhat important to them (95 per cent) and that eight out of 10 people say that they try to recycle everything.” The survey found that 8 per cent of people across Northern Ireland who cannot recycle their glass along with the rest of their recycling waste, will put their glass in the municipal waste (black or grey) bin, compared to 1.8 per cent who live in council areas that offer a co-mingled glass recycling service.

“Our recent £5 million development including an investment in 10 of the latest generation Autosort units, has already boosted dry recycling sorting performance. The new units use sophisticated infrared sorting technology to increase the quantity of fibre and paper materials and have increased the output of plastic fractions, enabling Re-Gen Waste to move from their current mixed plastics output to more refined, higher purity single stream plastics fractions. The equipment combines near infrared (NIR) and visual spectrometers (VIS) to quickly and accurately recognise and separate different materials according to their material type and colour, extracting highpurity, high-value end fractions.

In Belfast, 22 per cent of respondents said they put their glass in their municipal waste bin rather than recycle it, an increase of 2 per cent since 2019. This council area does not offer a co-mingled glass recycling service to half the district.

The technology also provides Re-Gen with invaluable in-depth digital metrics and data about the status, performance and operation of their sorting equipment and the material waste composition it detects. Doherty says they can “quickly understand what materials are coming in and how they are changing due to shifting societal and household dynamics and the enactment of government policies”.

When respondents who live in council areas where glass is co-mingled were asked if they would recycle less if they had to place their glass waste into a separate caddy, one third said they would.

“We can then feedback to local authorities to help them understand where contamination is coming from and, in turn, provide more targeted recycling information to householders,” he adds.

Doherty says: “It is patently obvious that if we make recycling easy for householders, they will recycle more. And if we provide householders with a recycling service that allows them to put glass into their recycling bins, the volume of glass in their black bins and therefore landfill, decreases dramatically.

“As one of Europe’s most advanced materials recycling facilities we have the investment capital and the operational expertise to provide next generation sorting technology that is diminishing the already low contamination levels and can transform how councils handle their dry household recycling.”

Research commissioned by Re-Gen Waste Ltd. Polling was carried out by Belfast based polling and market research company LucidTalk. The project was carried out online for a period of five days from 14th March to 18th March 2022. The project targeted the established Northern Ireland (NI) LucidTalk online Opinion Panel (13,816 members) which is balanced by gender, age-group, area of residence, and community background, in order to be demographically representative of Northern Ireland. 1,945 full responses were received. A data auditing process was then carried out to ensure all completed poll-surveys were genuine 'one-person, one-vote' responses, and this resulted in 1,770 responses being considered and verified as the base dataset (weighted and unweighted). Then in order to produce a robust and accurate balanced NI representative sample, this base dataset of 1,770 was weighted by gender, community background and additional demographic measurements to reflect the demographic composition of Northern Ireland resulting in the weighted data tables and weighted results set i.e., the final results – 1,770 responses (weighted) and these are the results presented in this report. All data results produced are accurate to a margin of error of +/2.3 per cent, at 95 per cent confidence. NB all surveys and polls may be subject to sources of error, including, but not limited to sampling error, coverage error, and measurement error. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

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Decarbonisation: The role of energy storage Policy and regulatory support for energy storage is needed to enable the energy transition in Northern Ireland, says Ulster University’s Inna Vorushylo. Highlighting the three main transitional pathways to net zero carbon identified in Northern Ireland’s long-term Energy Strategy of electricity, transport and buildings, the lecturer in energy markets and storage believes that energy storage will play a key role across all pathways and sectors in the transition to a net zero energy system. The potential benefits of storage to the electricity sector include providing renewable generation variability management, system stability and reliability through ancillary service provision, and security of supply via diversification and improving affordability. By energy storage Vorushylo refers to a wide range of storage technologies, including electrical, thermal storage and demand side response provision among others. As, Vorushylo points out, energy storage will have an enabling role in the envisaged decentralisation of the power grid which will be needed for net zero. Outlining why greater levels of energy storage will be required, the academic points to the existing challenges associated with the variability of renewables, predominantly wind generation, and the difficulty for the 70

system operator to accurately forecast levels occasionally. “Energy storage can help to quickly synchronise renewables into the system, while also helping to minimise the impact of variability on the system and minimise the process for the consumer,” she says. While acknowledging that energy storage is not the full solution to addressing rising gas prices, the academic believes that greater capacity will help minimise peak energy prices and will form a critical part of stronger interconnection across different countries envisaged for the future. “Additionally, with increased levels of renewable generators and a move towards a more decentralised energy system, significant investment in infrastructure will be required. Energy storage can assist a lot in this transition by optimising infrastructural costs and providing system services at various levels.”

Heat and transport Electrification will play a central role in the decarbonisation of the heat and transport sectors and energy storage can bring benefits including a reduction of impact on the electricity system, with peak demand reduction providing flexibility to the system and supporting consumers to actively participate in the market.

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Research carried out by Ulster University to help inform the preEnergy Strategy consultation shows that through the high electrification scenario for heat and transport, peak demand could increase by 60 per cent by 2050 compared to 2018 levels. “By providing the opportunity for flexible demand-side response, storage can significantly minimise the impact of emerging technologies on the system,” she explains. An example provided by Vorushylo in relation to heat centres is an understanding that years with the lowest available wind profile in Northern Ireland often coincide with the coldest years. Air source heat pumps, while recognised as positive technologies, reduce in performance when the temperature decreases. “Again, energy storage, especially long-duration energy storage and demand-side measures, can help minimise this effect on the system,” she states. Alongside a high electrification scenario, the university’s research also analyses a high gasification scenario, as well as a hybrid scenario. In both these scenarios, hydrogen has a major role but as the academic acknowledges, the infrastructure required to generate a future hydrogen economy is not yet in place. “The main missing piece of the puzzle is energy storage,” she asserts. “The critical role of hydrogen and carbon storage in a hydrogen economy has been widely acknowledged across Europe. In Northern Ireland there is hydrogen storage potential for Northern Ireland through the Islandmagee storage project, and this is in the context that the UK

“In Northern Ireland carbon storage sites are not easily available and so we need to invest in new hydrogen infrastructure or medium storage facilities.” has one of the lowest levels of current natural gas storage in Europe. In Northern Ireland carbon storage sites are not easily available and so we need to invest in new hydrogen infrastructure or medium storage facilities.” Highlighting that Northern Ireland can learn from existing exemplars, Vorushylo says that while pumped hydro storage technologies continue to dominate global energy storage power capacity, the role of battery storage and thermal energy storage is growing.

Barriers Turning to the barriers for energy storage implementation in the market, the academic highlights that energy policy and regulation has been a long-standing barrier to storage development but outlines prioritisation of storage in a number of recent UK-level strategies and planning easements which indicate positive movement in this area. Cost is another identified long-standing barrier but while energy storage technologies remain in the early stage of development and so are capital intensive, projections suggest large future reductions, with the academic highlighting that cost reductions are already evident. Unlocking demand side potential can significantly improve peak demand reduction and, as result, contribute to price reduction, lowering fuel poverty and managing gas crisis in Northern Ireland. On how much energy storage would be required for Northern Ireland, Vorushylo says that no straightforward answer exists, instead indicating that the optimal level of storage will be dictated by manufactures and a range of factors ranging from the future carbon price to the policy direction for EV penetration. However, existing research from other countries indicates a strong trend whereby higher penetration of renewables correlates with a requirement for greater energy storage. Vorushylo contends that critical to the future of energy storage will be the investment viability for these technologies. Launched at COP26, the Long Duration Energy Storage Council forecasts the requirements for 85 to 140 TWh of energy storage by 2040 to achieve net carbon energy system globally. Members of the council, which include the likes of BP and Siemens, have called for as much as $3 trillion of investment into long duration energy storage to give the global power system the flexibility necessary to achieve net zero emissions by 2040. “I believe such a push puts fresh emphasis on governments to create environments of the right policies and regulatory frameworks to attract this investment into their countries and regions.” Concluding, the academic says: “Energy storage technology is a vital group of technologies, and the role of energy storage has been more widely recognised across the UK and in Northern Ireland. While energy storage is a global enabler, it is clear that policy and regulatory support for energy storage in Northern Ireland is needed to enable the energy transition.”


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Flexible demand ‘urgently needed’ Northern Ireland “urgently needs to empower consumers” by developing its “untapped energy resource”, flexible demand, a report funded by the Department for the Economy has stated. There is overall a “serious mismatch between variability and flexibility in the Northern Ireland power system”, the report by Ulster University’s Patrick Keatley found, with Northern Ireland having a “highly distributed and variable energy supply, managed by highly centralised and relatively inflexible resources”. A lack of market access for consumer resources was found to result in the wastage of clean local energy and the over-procurement of and over-reliance on investor-owned fossil capacity. The rollout of smart meters is thus cited as a “critical building block” towards enabling smart energy systems and allowing consumers to create and monetise value through flexible energy demand, and although the rollout of such technology has been “problematic in some countries”, the need for real-time and two-way communication on this front remains. Northern Ireland is deemed to be an ideal place for such deployment due, in part, to its high proportion of variable renewable energy (VRE). It is not just the scale of VRE capacity that marks Northern Ireland’s network apart, but also the low-density and dispersed population meaning that it has a disproportionate high level of low-voltage network connected to homes and businesses in remote areas. Northern Ireland thus has over twice the amount of transmission and distribution infrastructure per head of population when compared to Britain, 58 metres of wire per customer 72 72

compared to Britain’s 28 metres per customer. Almost all of this network is lower voltage.

system management at such times of stress”. Keatley’s research has also found that

This means that almost all VRE resources in Northern Ireland are connected at these lower distribution voltages, meaning that windfarms are on average much smaller than windfarms elsewhere, resulting in “highly decentralised and variable generation, which compounds an already variable (or ‘peaky’) demand profile, largely shaped by domestic consumer demand”. However, despite the success of connecting high levels of VRE, flexibility is still “largely limited” to the dynamic operation of fossil generators.

the failure to develop flexible resources has led to increased capacity payments for fossil fuel generations, with current system planning rules meaning that the continued absence of the North-South Interconnector multiplies the value of new fossil generation at auction. From this situation, Keatley makes the following recommendations: establish flexible demand as an asset class; design from the bottom up when rolling out smart technologies such as smart meters; prioritise low-income

A lack of other supply-side resources, e.g., interconnection, “most notably the seemingly interminable delay to construction of the North-South Interconnector”, as well as a failure to deploy significant levels of consumerside flexibility “has resulted in a highly inefficient system”. Such an inability to provide flexible demand has led to the dumping of indigenous renewable energy. These low levels of flexibility also mean that, on top of periods of overgeneration, there are periods of undergeneration. Four amber alerts were issued by SONI during the winter of 2020/2021 due to high demand amidst low wind availability. It is noted by Keatley that “no consumer-side resources like critical peak reduction tariffs exist to allow consumers to contribute to (and be rewarded for)

households, particularly the 120,000 social homes in Northern Ireland; monetise the capacity value of energy efficiency by allowing energy efficiency to compete against traditional fossil generation assets in auctions; consider the circular economy; exploit synergies in Northern Ireland through harnessing the power of the local IT industry to develop smart technologies and by deploying these technologies at scale through the large public sector; invest in smart networks; establish new ways of collecting, analysing, and sharing data; and recognise locational value. Adopting this approach, as Keatley points out, would align with the UK Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy’s Smart Meter Policy Framework Post-2020.

Turning policy into action

In the wake of the IPCC’s latest report into the impacts of climate change, it is more important than ever that politicians continue to show leadership in this area. There are three key issues that we believe should be addressed in Northern Ireland:

Fabric first energy efficiency A “fabric first” approach is an essential element of any retrofit investment programme. Creating a more energy efficient house requires both behavioural changes and possible retrofit upgrades which could include switching to a low carbon heating system, such as a heat pump, topping up insulation, installing energy efficient windows or investing in smart heating controls. We know through our work with local financial institutions that effective energy modelling can also help improve energy efficiency. This approach runs, tests and models’ different scenarios to find the most effective energy investment solution.

Renewables integration and opportunities Northern Ireland has an excellent potential for growth and integration of renewable energy. It is already having a profound effect on the electricity sector and there are plans in place to double generation by 2030.

Significant challenges remain. Key to solving these will be the roll out of smart meters and development of flexible tariff options to match energy consumption to periods of abundant energy, enabling various storage options. At Energy Saving Trust, we believe that heat pumps are a key part of the solution for homes that are off the gas grid, as well as an attractive and increasingly cost-effective option thanks to their efficiency. A Craigavon firm with aims to drive down costs of heat pumps recently attracted significant investment from a major UK utility, and with local manufacture, access to and awareness of this technology should improve. More businesses such as ‘The Electric Storage Company’ are emerging and providing flexibility services, energy storage, and data acquisition and our EV network is expanding significantly which will enable a wider transition to renewable energy. Use of our modern gas network for biomethane injection and hydrogen studies will also indicate possible further opportunities.

Fuel poverty A just transition to a decarbonised economy is vital. With 43,800 households in Northern Ireland considered to be in extreme fuel poverty prior to recent cost increases, the situation is worsening. Energy Saving Trust is the Programme Administrator of the Northern Ireland

Sustainable Energy Programme (NISEP) on behalf of the Utility Regulator. The programme oversees an £8 million fund, 80 per cent of which is dedicated to supporting vulnerable customers, improving the energy efficiency of the existing housing stock and reducing energy bills for many householders. Huge challenges and opportunities exist for our new Assembly members, and we will continue to advocate for policy development aimed at a just transition to a net zero society.

For more Information please visit

Robert McCreery Policy Officer Energy Saving Trust E:

energy report

Energy Saving Trust is an independent organisation dedicated to promoting energy efficiency, low carbon transport and sustainable energy use. We aim to address the climate emergency and deliver the wider benefits of clean energy as the UK transitions to net zero.

energy report

Simplifying governance for the energy transition Richard Lowes, Senior Associate at the Regulatory Assistance Project and researcher on the University of Exeter’s report on energy governance in Northern Ireland for the decarbonisation transition, discusses simplifying the complex governance of energy in Northern Ireland in order to guarantee the quick adoption of energy efficiency. Calling Northern Ireland’s current energy governance structure “extremely complex”, Lowes points to the fact that building control, a key tenet of transition governance, is connected in some way to almost every government department. Transport faces a similar problem, and Lowes also notes that it “opens up wider questions around legal authority” due to the fact that the Executive would require an agreement from Westminster should it attempt to change the local tax regime for petrol or diesel vehicles. “This isn’t to say that it is any less complicated for the UK Government but it goes to show that if you want a coherent policy, which is what is needed at a time of rapid transformation, this complexity may make life difficult,” he says. “It is very complex; possibly too complex.” Coherence and complexity were cited as the top issue hamstringing energy transition governance in the interviews conducted as part of Lowes’s research on energy governance in Northern Ireland. Commissioned by the Northern Ireland Executive, “with the complexity of the different organisations involved and the relationships between them 74

meaning that coming up with a specific programme could become quite complicated”. Concerns over leadership and where the responsibility for the energy transition lies sprang from this. With the research conducted in 2020 and published in 2021, Lowes does caveat that there have been developments in the past year with the publication of an energy strategy, but states: “Nonetheless, even with stakeholder engagement, it is not clear if there is an owner for certain issues and without an owner, you are unlikely to get the transformative policy that you need in time to meet goals for decarbonisation.”

which clash with its requirement to expand the gas system. Reform suggestions arrived at via the research include: the incorporation of many energy and climate policy issues into one government department; the founding of an oversight body similar to SEAI in the Republic with responsibility for programme deliverance; the adoption of a Northern Ireland carbon budget, with the UK’s Committee on Climate Change providing advice; and placing a duty on all departments to consider climate and energy transition as part of their policy development.

Lowes remarks that his reported concerns over lack of capacity and expertise are now being addressed but does point out that concerns over a lack of whole-system thinking remains due to the siloed nature of the work being performed.

Sounding an optimistic but cautious note, Lowes concludes: “Northern Ireland is very well placed to benefit from the energy transition and from decarbonisation in general owing to its potentially excellent renewable energy resource and the way it might be able to leapfrog some of the issues we are facing in the UK around the gas grid. Significant energy governance reform could drive that. We caution that if this doesn’t take place there is a real risk that the economic benefits of energy transition won’t be realised and goals for decarbonisation will be missed.”

There was unanimous support among interviewees for a simplification of the decision-making process involved in the energy transition, and there was also seen to be “a need for better energy leadership” and an updating of the Utility Regulator’s statutory duties to reflect the need for decarbonisation,

Renewable generation and electricity consumption 2021

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Published by the Department for the Economy (DfE) in March 2022, Electricity Consumption and Renewable Generation in Northern Ireland: Year ending December 2021 outlines the percentage of electricity consumption in Northern Ireland generated from renewable energy sources and the type of renewable generation deployed. The report benchmarks renewable energy generation against Path to Net Zero Energy objectives, which include “meet[ing] at least 70 pet cent of electricity consumption from a diverse mix of renewable sources by 2030”.

Renewable electricity generation by source of generation, January to December 2021 (%) 1.6


3.9 5.1

Wind Biomass Landfill gas


Biogas Solar PV Other (including hydro and CHP) 82.1

Main findings According to data provided to DfE by NIE Networks, in 2021, the total volume of electricity consumed in Northern Ireland was 7,574 GWh. From January to December 2021, 41.3 per cent of total electricity consumption in Northern Ireland, or 3,131 GWh, was generated


from renewable sources. However, this represents a 7.9 percentage point decrease on the previous year (January to December 2020). Of the total renewable electricity generated in Northern Ireland during 2021, 82.1 per cent was generated from wind, compared with 84.9 per cent in

2020. The 2021 wind proportion figure represents a record low. Meanwhile, only 560.7 GWh, or less than one-fifth, of renewable electricity generation came from non-wind sources that year. These figures refer to electricity generated from renewable energy sources physically located in Northern Ireland, as record by NIE Networks and SONI. It does not include microgeneration, non-export generating stations, or imported electricity. As such, the decrease in the proportion of electricity consumed from renewable energy sources in 2021 largely correlates with lower wind speeds and therefore reduced winder generation during the year. Consequently, as a result of several facts, including weather and the creation of new renewable generation facilities, renewable electricity generation varies greatly from month to month. That being said, non-wind renewable generation volumes have increased by 62 per cent, from 354.6 GWh in 2016 to 560.7 GWh in 2021. However, the greatest growth (46 per cent) in nonwind renewable volumes was experienced between December 2016 and December 2018, followed by smaller growth (11 per cent) in nonwind renewable volumes between December 2018 and December 2021.

A science-led approach to the development of geothermal energy in Northern Ireland

energy report

NI Geothermal Advisory Committee members at the building site of new QUB Management School in the process of installing geothermal technology.

The potential of geothermal energy to reach the (NI) Climate Change Bill (No.2) emissions targets through its direct use as a

coupled with a life cycle analysis of the building informed the decision.

low carbon energy source is acknowledged in the Northern Ireland


Executive’s Energy Strategy Pathway to Net Zero. A geothermal

GSNI and QUB are co-hosting several events during #NIGeothermalWeek from 13-17 June 2022.

energy demonstrator is included in the Department for the Economy’s (DfE) Energy Action Plan.

Setting the scene In December 2020, GSNI started a national conversation on geothermal energy in a conference co-hosted with the Centre for Sustainable Energy and Climate Action at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) which attracted 308 delegates.

Momentum Throughout 2021, GSNI and QUB hosted a monthly webinar series featuring guest geothermal experts. Due to popular demand, another year of monthly seminars is underway in 2022. All webinars are available to view in YouTube. GSNI chairs the Geothermal Advisory Committee (GAC) which meets monthly

since it was established in July 2021; one of the GAC’s first tasks was to review a new report by Dr Rob Raine and Derek Reay on the Geothermal energy potential in Northern Ireland: summary and recommendations for the Geothermal Advisory Committee.

Geothermal heating flagship project A new 6,500m2 building at the Queen’s Management School at Riddel Hall, Stranmillis Road, Belfast is being built which is adopting geothermal technology. The Low Carbon Report, part of the RIBA Stage 3 design process, proved to be critical in its adoption. Economic models and cost calculations were not the primary drivers, but rather the longerterm growth and expansion prospects,

The main event is a geothermal conference on 13 June at Queen’s Management School. 120 delegates attending in person will hear from invited keynote speakers. In roundtables they will also discuss and feedback on recommendations for geothermal market sector development. The public are invited to join an online panel discussion and submit questions on 15 June at 7.30pm. It is hoped that these activities will further inform and sustain the momentum of interest in geothermal energy in Northern Ireland.

Dr Marie Cowan Director, GSNI Dundonald House, Belfast, BT4 3SB E:

“There was a collective ambition for the best possible outcome for all with Riddel Hall. We normally work to pre-set BREEAM standards however, with Riddel we were looking beyond that… Incorporating the geothermal solution into the building at an early stage was key”. Damien Toner | Director of Estates | Building Surveyor | Queen’s University Belfast

“From our side, there is long-term stability. That is, our heat costs on that part of the estate remain constant and will not change for the next 100 years”. Jacqueline Kearns | Estates Manager | Quantity Surveyor, Queen’s University Belfast 77

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Leading women Monica McWilliams Monica McWilliams, co-founder of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition and former Human Rights Commissioner talks to David Whelan about forging leadership, challenging misogyny, and building peace. When Monica McWilliams sought a title for her story, one she took the opportunity of the Covid-19 pandemic to put to paper, she found inspiration in an unusual source. Stand Up, Speak Out was chosen as an epitome of how the activist, advocate, and academic tackled unequivocal misogyny and inequality in her lifetime and is a blatant retort to the male politician who once ushered her to “sit down, shut up”. With an ease, unique to her alone, McWilliams is somewhat unassuming yet very aware of her impact as a female role model. Although dismissive of her own personal influence, McWilliams acknowledges that as part of a collective, she has been involved in breaking new ground in political and civil society.


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Interestingly, it is McWilliams’s work as a young academic that she is most proud of. Following completion of a scholarship at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, the Derry-born activist joined the faculty of Ulster University, introducing a Certificate in Women’s Studies to provide access to third-level education for women from disadvantaged communities alongside the first Irish University master’s degree in women’s studies. Her academic work led to her being commissioned by the British Government to complete a major study detailing the personal experiences and stories of women abused through domestic violence, leading to the first government policy in the UK on domestic violence. “I took great pride in giving a voice to those who had

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I think things have changed profoundly and that is shown by many more women coming forward to enter politics. experienced domestic abuse,” she explains. “I also learned a lot about the importance of ensuring implementation, seeing a project through and delivering for those who had shared their experiences.” McWilliam’s experience was the cornerstone of an extensive reach into the voluntary sector, not least as a member of the management committee of the first Women’s Centre in Belfast, helping to establish the Northern Ireland Poverty Lobby and gaining election to the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. She has been involved with Women’s Aid for almost 40 years. “The voluntary sector highlighted to me the importance of a support network. You do not make change alone, especially when you consider the magnitude of the subjects we were and are still tackling. Those years were formative but when advocating for rights, for equality, work is always unfinished.” McWilliams is best known for her role as a co-founder of the Northern Ireland’s Women’s Coalition, set up in 1996 to contest election to the Northern Ireland Forum, the body for all-party talks which led to the Good Friday Agreement. Although organised into an electoral force in less than six weeks, McWilliams is quick to point out that the women’s movement and network had existed for 25 years and so was built on a “mosaic” of talented and diverse women. Quizzed on the leadership style needed to hold together such diversity, McWilliams says: “I do not subscribe to this notion of the ‘leader’ or leadership being embedded in one individual. There is a saying that you can go faster alone but further together and that is how we approached the Coalition. We recognised that there were leadership qualities in every individual and that identifying our diversity of strengths made us stronger as a whole.”

As a cross-community party, the Coalition bravely tackled issues such as weapon decommissioning which given its composition, it would have been forgiven for avoiding. However, she stresses that all of the issues on the table impacted on the people it represented. On how potentially community-divisive issues were tackled, she says: “We built consensus. That is not something one or a few arrive at, it has to be built. Many of us may not have known each other personally to begin with but we built trust and commitment through the recognition that you need to constantly challenge your own thinking, particularly in a conflicted society. It meant that when we adopted a stance, it was a stance of accommodation, one we all had input into and one that we could all get behind.” McWilliams was elected alongside party colleague Pearl Sagar to join the peace talks. She believes that the work of the Coalition in shaping the Good Friday Agreement has been underplayed in the almost 25 years since. “We definitely had our own agenda in relation to right of women to participate into the shaping of our future, but we were not just there to be token representatives. The women’s movement had been involved in conflicts throughout the world from the Middle East to the campaign for nuclear disarmament in eastern Europe and many of us cut our teeth in supporting the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. “Through that, we brought our experience to a wide diversity of areas. We read the agreement comprehensively, we brought expertise and input to every strand, and we came to the talks with a preparedness that I think shocked some of the other parties, who failed to see beyond their narrow rhetoric.”

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Asked whether, given the division that still exists in Northern Ireland’s politics, leading to stop-start governance, a role for a party like the Women’s Coalition exists today, she explains: “There is a diversity of political parties that exists today that we did not have then. Then, many people steered clear of belonging to a political party and a window opened up where we believed we had something to offer in shaping our society’s future. “The system then, a list system geared at parties and not individuals, created the space to get involved that doesn’t quite exist today. We saw a vacuum, we asked existing parties to apply themselves to the issues we thought were important and we didn’t get an adequate response.”

short time, he was a character who recharged my batteries. He called others out and challenged their thinking, not just around the conflict but in how they treated women. “David broke the mould, and it became clear to me very quickly that he understood the struggle of Protestant working class people, which many of us around the table did not. “David taught me the importance of mediators in society. In our society particularly, we went to separate schools, lived in separate communities and played different sports but all of a sudden, we were supposed to sit down at a table and make politics work. David was a translator, which was badly needed in those times.” McWilliams, through her many roles and peace advocacy across the globe, is well travelled and has met some of the world’s most impressive leaders. While she holds special regard for Nelson Mandela, with whom she spent three days in the company of along with the other political leaders in Northern Ireland, a time when the South African famously jested that the Northern Ireland parties had brought apartheid back to the country, it is community influencers like Irvine she points to as her role models.


McWilliams applauds those individuals who put themselves forward for election. In her book, she details the impact being a public figure – often being the victim of abuse – on both herself and her children.

Speaking the day before polls opened in the 2022 Northern Ireland Assembly Election, a campaign in which Northern Ireland recorded its highest levels of female candidates but also one marred by levels of online abuse, the former South Belfast MLA between 1998 to 2003, believes misogyny is still pervasive. “I think things have changed profoundly and that is shown by many more women coming forward to enter politics. However, it is important that we continue to call out those who continue to carry attitudes of the past.” McWilliams stresses that the fight against misogyny is not for women alone and emphasises the importance of men standing up and speaking out. In this regard, she points to the late David Irvine of the PUP as a pioneer in his approach during her time in politics. Her book details the unexpected professional relationship struck between McWilliams, a human rights defender and Irvine, a former UVF member, whom she describes as “like a brother”. Irvine’s transition from paramilitary to a persuader of loyalism to embrace peace and pursue their cause through politics is somewhat underplayed, with history tending to focus on larger mandated figures like John Hume, David Trimble, Gerry Adams, Tony Blair, and Bertie Ahern. However, McWilliams is clear about the important role figures like Irvine played. That such a relationship flourished is testament to McWilliams approach to politics. “To build relationships, you have to get to know the stranger,” she explains. “I didn’t personally know David before we entered the talks but within a very

“There is a saying that you can go faster alone but further together and that is how we approached the Coalition.”

“I am often asked who my role models are, and I often struggle to pinpoint one. I put a lot of emphasis on the values that I was brought up with and the incredibly formative influence of my sisters. I was fortunate enough to encounter a number of good mentors in my early academic life but if I had to identify the type of person I admire, one would be Sister Úna of Good Shepherd in south Belfast. She has served as a Chaplin in the women’s prison and has led on making a huge difference in her own community for almost 40 years and has never sought recognition but is an inspiration to the young people around her.” Returning to politics in Northern Ireland, McWilliams reflects on whether the efforts to create power-sharing was worth it, given the fragmentation that still exists. “It rolls off people’s tongues too easily sometimes to say, ‘we made peace’. When you have a society that is more accustomed to war, making peace is harder. We interrupted a culture of failure and that came with no guarantee that of a smooth transition. The politics of power-sharing needs to be worked at on a daily basis because when the stakes are small, the fight is bigger.” The author admits that almost 25 years on, there is scope for review of what was agreed in 1998. “The agreement was not set in stone, highlighted by the fact that it has been and will be reviewed. I welcome review to adapt to a changing society, but I would also urge caution against moving away from the agreement’s principles, because they were designed to meet the needs of a conflicted society. We have come a long way, but we must continue to build peace and make politics work.”

Life after politics Following her work as an MLA for south Belfast, in 2005 she was appointed as Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, serving for almost two terms before joining the Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University to undertake further research on human rights. In 2012, she was appointed as oversight Commissioner for prison reform in Northern Ireland and in 2016, she was appointed by an intergovernmental treaty to the Independent Reporting Commission on the disbandment of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. Monica was the Chairperson of the Governing Board of Interpeace, an international NGO based in Geneva, until July 2021. She is Emeritus Professor in the Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University.


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public affairs agenda

Permanent Secretary reshuffle Following the appointment of Jayne Brady as the new Head of the Civil Service in June 2021, former Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Permanent Secretary Denis McMahon took up the post as Permanent Secretary of The Executive Office (TEO), a role previously carried out by the Head of the Civil Service. In the first half of 2022, a number of changes have taken place at the Permanent Secretary level including new appointments and re-positionings.

Department of Finance: Neil Gibson In February 2022, it was announced that EY’s former Chief Economist in Ireland Neil Gibson would be permanently filling the post vacated by Sue Gray, Permanent Secretary in the Department of Finance. Gibson, like Brady, was appointed following competition, from outside the existing ranks of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. A former Director of Oxford Economics, Gibson previously headed up the Ulster University’s Centre for Economic Policy. Following Gray’s departure, senior civil servant Colum Boyle had been temporarily promoted to the position of the Department of Finance’s Permanent Secretary but was returned to the Department for Communities.

Department for Communities: Colum Boyle Following his move back to the Department, in April 2022 Colum Boyle was appointed Permanent Secretary in the Department for Communities (DfC). Prior to his temporary promotion to the Department of Finance, Boyle had been Deputy Secretary for the Work and Health Group in DfC.

Following the move to split the role of the Head of the Civil Service in late 2021, agendaNi details a number of shifts across Permanent Secretary level of the various Executive departments since the turn of the year.

Department for Infrastructure: Julie Harrison Part of a broader reshuffle, former Northern Ireland Chair of the National Lottery Community Fund, Julie Harrison joined the Department for Infrastructure on 1 April 2022. Harrison’s background is in research and analysis, social inclusion, grant making, and urban regeneration and she moves to the role having joined the civil service as Deputy Secretary in the Department of Justice in 2020. Harrison replaces Katrina Godfrey, who has moved to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs: Katrina Godfrey Godfrey transfers to the Department following three years as Permanent Secretary in the Department for Infrastructure. Prior to that she had held senior levels in TEO and the Department of Education.

Department of Health: Peter May

Department of Justice: Richard Pengelly In a direct swap, Richard Pengelly has been moved from his post in health, a position he has held since 2014 to head up the Department of Justice. Peter May will now take on the role as Permanent Secretary Department of Health and Chief Executive of Health and Social Care. Health is now the fourth Permanent Secretary portfolio held by May, having served in both the former Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department for Infrastructure prior to justice. Both May and Pengelly’s names had been linked to the Head of the Civil Service vacancy prior to the appointment of Brady. Pengelly vacates his health post after almost eight years as Permanent Secretary, a role he took on after a spell as Permanent Secretary of the former Department for Regional Development between 2013 and 2014. Prior to this he had been Public Spending Director in the former Department of Finance and Personnel.

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formation of 61 new congregations. This included intense congregational growth in the 1860s, in the wake of the Ulster Revival of 1859, and again in the 1890s as Presbyterianism took root in the developing working-class areas of Belfast. Between 1668 and 1908, the 68 Presbyterian congregations in Belfast built just over 100 churches. In this process they displayed a prodigious capacity and flexibility for the development and building of new meeting houses/churches and the associated infrastructure of church halls and schools. The building of new churches ceased during the years between 1908 and 1927, possibly due to the impact of World War I. Between 1927 and 1949, 15 new congregations were established. Of the 18 new congregations that emerged between 1950 and 1994, all but one were on the outskirts of Belfast.

Losing sight of our Presbyterian built heritage “If we cannot physically see a congregation or its place of worship, historically we become deaf to its narrative,” writes Tom Hartley, who has charted the central role Presbyterians played in creating the narrative of Belfast. The first Presbyterian congregation in Belfast was formed in 1644, meeting in the old Corporation Church in High Street until 1668, when the first meeting house was built in the vicinity of the North Gate. From 1668 to 1819, the growth of


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congregations was slow; only seven congregations were formed but with the increase in the city’s population in the nineteenth century, new congregations were established on the perimeter of the expanding town. Between 1820 and 1908, Presbyterianism in Belfast entered a period of dynamic growth with the

Since Presbyterianism established itself in Belfast, 101 Presbyterian congregations have been created. In that period, they built 167 churches and substantially renovated many others. Add to this the building of church halls, over 100 national schools and three colleges, two substantial administrative buildings and a War Memorial Hostel. However, by the last decades of the 19th century, long-established Belfast inner city congregations had begun to move to more affluent districts. Between 1874 and 1901, seven inner city congregations had relocated and of the 12 Presbyterian churches that constituted the historic core of Belfast Presbyterianism, only four remain. This movement and loss of Presbyterian churches from the inner core of Belfast extended into middle Belfast in the period 1918 to 1941, when six churches closed. Further closures which began in the early 1960s were accelerated by the impact of secularisation and the unfolding political conflict that began in the middle of that decade. Many Belfast Presbyterian congregations felt the loss of a generation of young people, who left to study in Britain and

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usually did not return. Added to all of this was the effect of urban renewal which, with its focus on improving housing stock and the demolition of older terraced housing, resulted in the break-up of old established communities and the consequential movement of population to the suburbs and the satellite towns around Belfast. Between the closure of College Square North Church in 1964 and Windsor in 2022, 31 Belfast Presbyterian Churches have closed: 13 in the 1960s and 1970s; three in the 1980s; four in the 1990s; and 11 since 2000. Of those 31, 18 were located in north and west Belfast. When congregations closed, many of their buildings, in particular those early 18th- and 19th-century meeting houses, were either demolished or reconfigured as warehouses or business premises. With the passing of time, the memory of these old meeting houses faded and disappeared, and with that loss of memory, the dynamic contribution of those Presbyterian congregations to the life of their city and community also vanished. Of the 31 Presbyterian churches that have closed since College Square North in 1964, 12 have been demolished; if we cannot physically see a congregation or its place of worship, historically we become deaf to its narrative.

College Square North, demolished in the 1960s.

“When congregations closed, many of their buildings, in particular those early 18th- and 19th-century meeting houses, were either demolished or reconfigured as warehouses or business premises.”

Therefore, in the preservation of these old Presbyterian churches we can hear the story of these hidden Belfast Presbyterian congregations. These stories from our past are a reminder of the central role Presbyterians played in creating the narrative of Belfast. While their creativity found expression in increasing numbers of congregations, it was also one of the driving forces in the industrial expansion of the city. Politically, Presbyterians were found across the spectrum of Irish political movements, their curiosity often the motor in the formation of numerous Belfast intellectual societies, including the Linen Hall Library, the Literary Society, the Natural History and Philosophical Society, the Botanical Society, the Astronomical Society, the Naturalist Field Club, the Arts Society and the Library Society and the founding of the Belfast Academy, the Academical Institution and Victoria College.

Rosemary Street, vacated in the 1890s but not demolished until the 1960s.

A reading of the history of these societies and institutions provides ample illustration and proof of the intellectual contribution made by the Presbyterians of Belfast. Their contribution led to the emergence of a dynamic intellectual core that sought to bring advances in the areas of medicine, education,

engineering, and the arts. Their story needs to be told and told again. Tom Hartley is a former Lord Mayor of Belfast. Further information on Belfast’s Presbyterian built heritage can be found in Tom’s book Written in Stone: The History of Belfast City Cemetery.

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public affairs agenda

Designating as ‘other’ Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong argues that with 20 per cent of MLAs now identifying as ‘other’ work must continue to give consideration to replacing the current cross community voting system with a weighted majority system free from designation. Anyone who watched the finale of Derry Girls recognised the hope we all had when the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) was welcomed by the majority of citizens across Northern Ireland. Many of us recognised it was not perfect but it gave us a way forward towards a lasting peace. Twenty-four years later and some of the Agreement scaffolding is in serious need of review. Our designation system enables a consociational society only ever recognising a binary political system. Sadly, reviews and updates to the GFA have not modernised its ability to reflect a new and more diverse Northern Ireland, where not everyone is part of an ‘ism’. Sinn Féin collapsed the Assembly from 2017 to 2020. Now the DUP are using the same veto process to stop the Assembly, following the 2022 election. The GFA was created to give nationalism and unionism a veto, you cannot have one without the other. Built into the GFA is a requirement for a cross-community vote, which only counts the votes of the number of unionists and nationalists, and excludes all others such as Alliance, People Before Profit, and the Greens. Others’ votes on significant matters, such as the election of a Speaker, or First Minister and deputy First Minister, and deciding a budget are not treated the same. The politicians and the people who vote for them are disenfranchised. The Assembly is built on the foundations of division and maintains that, even when the system allows one party to collapse the institutions. The Assembly and Executive Review Committee (AERC) had already begun in the previous mandate to scope the removal of


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the designations requirement (to be replaced with a requirement for weighted majorities on defined key votes or in situations where a reformed Petition of Concern has been invoked) and consideration of the method of appointing the First and deputy First Ministers as well as the titles, to reflect the joint and equal nature of the office and the principle of partnership. In October 2021, AERC contributed to an Assembly debate on the stability of the institutions. The motion welcomed the work initiated by AERC to consider the matter of replacing the current cross-community voting system with a weighted majority system free from designations and called on the AERC to report on the outcome of this consideration to the Assembly before the end of that mandate. However, given the limited time remaining before the 2022 election, scoping work was carried out, resulting in a body of preliminary research/evidence and a possible review of terms of reference for the next AERC to progress. It is vital this work is completed and both the guarantors of the GFA take forward legislation to break the veto cycle and bring equality into our politics. With the Alliance surge, the ‘other’ designation now accounts for 20 per cent of the Assembly. Is it right one-in-five Assembly members' votes should be treated as less than other parties who can use their power to veto devolution and prevent support from being provided to people and businesses hammered by the cost of living crisis and other issues? Our society is changing. The Assembly should reflect that.

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