agendani Issue 119 June 2024

Page 1

Accelerating to net zero SONI’s Peter McNaney and Alan Campbell

€4.95 / £2.95 Aug/Sep 11 issue 8 Carbon Tax • Special Reports: Health • ICT £2.95 June 2024 Issue 119 Energy • Skills for the future • Public affairs
history’ project Agriculture,
Academic historian Marie Coleman critiques the
Government’s Troubles ‘public
Environment and Rural Affairs Minister
Andrew Muir MLA outlines green economy priorities
in building the workforce of
future ...informing Northern Ireland’s decision-makers
Economics professor Sandra McNally outlines the role
of apprenticeships


Titanic Belfast

Now in its 10th year, the Social Media Belfast conference is firmly established as Northern Ireland’s leading social media event. Bringing together over 200 attendees, the event will take a deep dive into what social media will look like for 2024 and onwards. A highlight of #SMBelfast is showcasing successful social media campaigns from Northern Ireland and beyond.

Speakers confirmed include…

Anui Hautalampi Global Social Media Lead UN Women

Kate Cafferky Group Head – Ireland LADbible Group

Graeme McQueen Media Relations Manager, daa

James Keep Senior Social Media Data Analytics Manager, WWF UK

Cian Corbett

Digital and Innovation Marketing Manager, AIB Group

Why attend #SMBelfast 2024? ��

• Face to face networking with +200 marketing and communication professionals

• Hear leading social media practitioners: Visiting and local speakers

• Enhance your social media marketing and communication skills

• Learning: New trends and the latest insights

• Examples of best practice social media use across different sectors

Clodagh Whelan Social Media Manager F&B Huskies

Steve Parker MD, Social and Influencer Stripe Communications

Claire Winter Head of Marketing Kingsbridge Healthcare Group

For more information… Full programme announced soon! By email Online
Northern Ireland’s leading social media conference

Digital Events Publications

Targeted acceleration…

At the time of writing, 2030 is five years, seven months, and 11 days away. That is the timeframe for the Northern Ireland Executive to deliver the Climate Change Act’s target of 80 per cent electricity consumption from renewable sources.

An estimated 3.5 TWh of generation will require support if Northern Ireland is to achieve this. As the long-awaited renewable energy support scheme approaches finalisation, realisation has dawned that only projects procured under the first two prospective auctions will be operational in time, such is the proximity of 2030.

A draft roadmap outlines project delivery of 30 per cent by 2027, and 70 per cent in 2029. A timeline that leaves little room for delay, in a region that has become synonymous with inertia.

Delivery on 2030 targets is a critical milestone on the way to achieving the even more tasking ambition of net zero by 2050. Following years of policy stagnation, and recurring stop-start governance, the need for an accelerated energy transition has never been more evident.

Of course, increased generation alone will not meet the targets. Much needs to be done to enable a secure and stable electricity network, which protects the consumer. The need for a co-ordinated approach to this acceleration is a key theme of this issue’s cover story with SONI, which is readying itself to enable an “unprecedented” upgrade to operations of the energy system.

Similarly, looking beyond generation, the round table discussion hosted by mutual energy focuses on the role of long-duration storage in a net zero future. A wide variety of issues are covered in the annual energy report, and the report is complemented by an in-depth skills for the future report.

agendaNi Issue 119

June 2024


David Whelan, Editor

Fiona McCarthy

Ciarán Galway

Joshua Murray

Chloé Murray

Circulation and Marketing Lynda Millar


Jillian Wallace


Gail Kinkead


Gareth Duffy, Head of Design

Jamie Hogan


Sharon Morrison

Email: Online:


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04 08 08 Issues 08 Budget: Sustainability not yet driving Stormont finances 12 Environment Minister Andrew Muir MLA: Towards ‘a strong, green economy’ 16 Cover story: SONI’s Alan Campbell and Peter McNaney on accelerating to net zero 22 Round table discussion: The role of long-duration storage in a net zero future 28 UK Cyber Security Council’s Jessica Figueras on managing cyber threats to public services 34 The OEP’s Richard Greenhous on protecting and improving the environment Digital Events Publications 04 Matters arising 07 Quoteworthy contents 37 37 Energy report 42 Design consideration for renewable electricity support 46 The IEA’s Shane McDonagh on hydrogen and the future of energy in transport 62 Delivering an Offshore Renewable Energy Action Plan (OREAP) 66 Hydrogen UK’s Clare Jackson on developing the green hydrogen industry 70 The design and roll out of smart meters Hosted by Sponsored by

81 Skills for the future report

UUEPC’s Mark Magill overviews Northern Ireland’s talent dilemma

Apprenticeships: Building the workforce of the future

95 All Party Group on Skills in focus

Digital skills in Northern Ireland

102 Public affairs

Marie Coleman critiques the UK Government’s Troubles ‘public history’ project

116 Political platform: Eóin Tennyson MLA

119 The ICTU’s John O’Farrell on the value of real social engagement 120 Back page: Séamus McGuinness and Adele Bergin

104 Boundary review: What Northern Ireland’s new boundaries mean for future elections 108 Profile: Taoiseach Simon Harris TD 110 Co-option in the Northern Ireland Assembly
102 34 90 66 16 08 81
on border
Skills for a greener economy
120 28 108


South-north tourism sustains pandemic growth

An increase in south-to-north tourism, originally attributed to overseas travel restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic, has continued.

Overnight trips from the Republic of Ireland have increased by 46 per cent, with spending increasing by £86.6 million compared to 2022 statistics.

Figures released by the Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that, between January and September 2023, all types of tourism grew rapidly including holiday trips, visiting friends and relatives, and business tourism.

Substantial growth has been seen following the Covid-19 pandemic, with a 145 per cent increase in overnight trips since 2019.

Chief Executive, John McGrillen of Tourism NI states: “Our research shows that every part of Northern Ireland is

benefiting from this investment and the very strong growth in visitor numbers and spend which has resulted from it. While there continues to be challenges for the industry, these results demonstrate tourism’s growth potential as we look to the future.”

In February 2024, then-Minister for the Economy Conor Murphy MLA welcomed the ongoing cross-border tourism increase stating: “It is hugely encouraging that more people from the south of Ireland are travelling to the north to holiday… Tourism is a flourishing part of the all-Ireland economy, and it is important to build upon this success.”

In February 2024, consultation on a new draft Tourism Strategy for Northern Ireland indicated an ambition to grow the value of the industry by up to 75 per cent over the next decade, from a baseline of an estimated £1 billion in 2019.

Andrew McMurray co-opted as South Down MLA

Andrew McMurray MLA has been coopted as an MLA for South Down following the resignation of Patrick Brown.

McMurray, a politics graduate, was an Alliance Party councillor for the Slieve Croob area of Newry, Mourne and Down council from 2019 to 2024 and has said that it is “an honour and a privilege to become the MLA for South Down”.

McMurray also thanked former MLA Patrick Brown for his commitment to the constituency since 2014.

Brown cited a medical diagnosis and “personal reasons” as his reason for resignation.

In his resignation statement, Brown said: “There are basically no treatment pathways for adult ADHD in Northern Ireland, and I did not feel it was likely I could come to learn to cope with and fully understand this diagnosis within formal politics.”

4 agenda matters matters arising
Credit: Alliance Party

The High Court in Belfast found that the conditional immunity from prosecutions for ‘Troubles’-era crimes, contained in the UK Government’s controversial Legacy Act, is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and therefore deemed unconstitutional.

Despite facing opposition from Labour, all Northern Ireland parties, several victim’s groups, and the Irish Government, the Legacy Act was passed by the UK Parliament in September 2023.

The Act creates a new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR) to take over all ‘Troubles’-era cases from 1 May 2024, including those with the Police Service in Northern Ireland (PSNI).

Prior to the High Court ruling, a report published by an international panel of human rights experts, Bitter Legacy: State Impunity in Northern Ireland Conflict called for the Legacy Act to be repealed.

Legacy Act

Providing an independent assessment of the extent of state impunity for human rights violations during the conflict, the report stated: “Based on the evidence already presented by state-sponsored bodies, that collusion was often a deepseated feature of the practice of state agencies throughout the entire conflict. It cannot be relegated to the actions of a few rotten apples.

“The State not only engaged in collusion but also blocked proper police investigations into conflict-related killings to protect implicated security force members and agents,” the report explained.

The Northern Ireland Office responded to the court hearing, stating it will remain “committed to implementing the Legacy Act and delivering the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery”.

Hargey temporarily replaces Murphy as Economy Minister

Conor Murphy MLA stood down from his position as Minister for the Economy on medical grounds in May 2024.

Murphy has served numerous ministerial roles, including as Minister for Regional Development, which commenced in May 2007, serving until 2011. Then after, he served as Minister for Finance from January 2020 until October 2022.

Murphy’s Sinn Féin colleague, Deirdre Hargey MLA, has replaced him on an interim basis. Hargey served as the

Minister for Communities in the previous Executive from 2020 to 2022.

The decision was publicised a day after it was revealed the then-Minister would not attend the Covid Inquiry after advice from his doctor.

The Newry and Armagh MLA took up the role as Minister for the Economy in February 2024, and stated that he aimed to provide “good jobs”, “regional balance”, “raise productivity” and “reduce carbon emissions”.

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matters arising

Illegal Migration Act should not apply in Northern Ireland, court rules

The Belfast High Court has ruled that the UK Government’s Illegal Migration Act 2023 should not apply in Northern Ireland due to the legislation breaching human rights laws and some elements of the post-Brexit Windsor Framework.

The UK Illegal Migration Act provides new powers for the Government to detain and remove asylum seekers it deems to have arrived illegally in the UK.

The challenge was brought by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, an independent watchdog, and a 16-yearold asylum seeker from Iran, who is now living in Northern Ireland.

The Windsor Framework established rules for human rights implications, such as Article 2 which guarantees that rights granted to people in Northern Ireland, including refugees and

The SDLP’s Lilian Seenoi-Barr has made history by becoming Northern Ireland’s first Black mayor.

Seenoi-Barr, who was born in Kenya, was co-opted onto Derry and Strabane District Council in June 2021, and was subsequently re-elected in the Foyleside district in the 2023 local election.

In a statement, the SDLP said: “We are so proud that councillor Seenoi-Barr will be the next mayor of Derry and Strabane.”

Jason Barr, current deputy Mayor and Shauna Cusack, who were both elected as SDLP councillors, put themselves forward for the role, and subsequently

asylum seekers, under the Good Friday Agreement, cannot be undermined by the UK migration legislation.

DUP interim leader Gavin Robinson MP stated: “Whilst today’s judgement does not come as a surprise, it does blow the Government’s irrational claims that the Rwanda scheme could extend equally to Northern Ireland completely out of the water.”

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak MP said the court decision changes nothing about its plan to send illegal migrants to Rwanda.

He said the British Government is working to get flights off the ground to Rwanda soon and “nothing will distract us from that or delivering to the timetable I set out”.

“We will take all steps to defend that position, including through appeal,” Sunak said.

Lilian Seenoi-Barr

becomes Mayor of Derry City and Strabane

resigned from the party, with Barr stating the decision was due to “decisions made by the management committee”.

The SDLP has apologised for “failures in communicating the process to members, the upset this caused and that it has reflected poorly on a positive selection”.

Succeeding Sinn Féin’s Patricia Logue as Mayor, SeenoiBarr has stated that she is focused on the positives of the role and told BBC Northern Ireland’s Sunday Politics programme: “My focus is really to show that we are a united community, we can be a united community and everyone within our district can be represented by anyone, regardless of the colour of their skin and we have the opportunity to do that together.”

6 agenda matters matters arising

“Dysfunctional bastards. How will we ever get through this with an enemy within? I have a good mind to walk off and leave them to it, as no doubt do you.”

Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride in a text to Robin Swann in autumn 2023 as revealed in the Covid Inquiry.

“I do not wish to be sensational, but I do not want a hydrogen bomb under East Antrim, thanks very much, Mr Nesbitt.”

Stewart Dickson MLA responding to a suggestion that salt caverns have potential as a future hydrogen store in his constituency.

“I’m a glass half full man, and from the meeting we’ve just had, my glass nearly overfloweth because the prospects look really, really good.”

Chris Heaton-Harris MP on the newly formed East-West Council.

“Hosting the 2028 European Football Championships in a worldclass Casement Park presents our island and economy with an unprecedented opportunity.”

Michelle O’Neill MLA speaking on Casement Park.

7 agenda quoteworthy

Budget: Sustainability not yet driving Stormont finances

The first budget since the return of the Executive has resulted in political tensions between the four governing parties, with the Ulster Unionist Party even threatening to withdraw its one minister in the Executive. agendaNi examines the 2024 Executive Budget and its ramifications: both economic and political.

In total, the Department of Finance, with approval from the other parties in the Executive apart from the Ulster Unionist Party, has allocated £14.5 billion in dayto-day public spending (DEL) in Northern Ireland, with an allocation of £1.8 billion for capital spending.

Although the Ulster Unionist Party voted against it, the Budget is expected to go forward ahead of a vote on 28 May 2024 in the Assembly, where the support of Sinn Féin, the DUP, and Alliance is expected to see the Budget pass with at least 68 our of 90 MLAs in favour.

The Department of Health (DoH) has been granted almost a majority of public spending, with the DoH to be granted a day-to-day spending allocation of £7.76 billion, which in fact marks a £500 million increase on the previous year’s allocation, making the DoH the department to receive the largest boost in spending.

The next largest allocation of spending is significantly less than that to the Department of Health, with the Department of Education being granted a day-to-day spending allocation of £2.87

billion. The Department of Justice has been allocated £1.26 billion.

Although the Budget can be allocated in the context of an increase in funding by the British Government, the Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald MLA has stated that “this has been a very challenging budget with funding requests from departments outweighing the funding available for allocation three times over for day-to-day funding (Resource DEL) and one and a half times for Capital DEL”.

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Archibald added: “Undoubtedly, this has meant difficult decisions. Providing additional funding for one area means less funding for another. As an Executive, we have had to make tough choices and prioritise the funding envelope we have. The scale of the challenges facing us [will not] be fixed by one Budget.”

Allocations for the departmental resource budgets include:

• £7.76 billion: Department of Health

• £2.87 billion: Department of Education

• £1.26 billion: Department of Justice

• £856 million: Department for Communities

• £766.6 million: Department for the Economy

• £577.3 million: Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs

• £559.5 million: Department for Infrastructure

• £208.1million: Department of Finance

• £183.2 million: The Executive Office

The capital allocations for the departments include:

• £820.1 million: Department for Infrastructure

• £416.8 million: Department of Health

• £254.3 million: Department of Education

• £221.9 million: Department for the Economy

• £133.4 million: Department for Communities

• £91.9 million: Department of Justice

• £95 million: Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs

• £38.9 million: Department of Finance

• £10.5 million: The Executive Office

Asserting that “no department has received the level of funding it has bid for”, the Finance Minister has stated that she will be will be making the case to the British Government that more funding to ensure that the region is financed sustainably.

Departmental budget outcome

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2024/25 Source: Department of Finance Non ringfenced resourced DEL £ million Capital DEL (net) £ million FT capital £ million Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs 577.3 95 Department for Communities 856 133.4 29.8 Department for the Economy 766.6 221.9 3.7 Department of Education 2,874.40 254.3 Department of Finance 208.1 38.9 Department of Health 7,759.80 416.8 Department for Infrastructure 559.5 820.1 Department of Justice 1,262.50 91.9 The Executive Office 183.2 10.5 7.3 Non-Executive departments Food Standards Agency 11.9 0.5 Assembly Commission 54.5 3.2 Audit Office 10.2 0 Authority for Utility Regulation 0.3 0.1 Public Sector Ombudsman 4.4 0 Public Prosecution Service 39.4 0.7 Total departmental planned spend 15,168.20 2,087.40 40.9 4

issues agenda

Executive departments budget allocations

Source: Department of Finance

Meeting demand

The Block Grant in Northern Ireland was 40 per cent higher per head of population than equivalent UK Government spending as recently as 2018/19, but has been declining quickly compared to England. On 20 September 2023, the Secretary of State noted that “the Northern Ireland Executive receives around 20 per cent more per head than equivalent government spending in other parts of the UK”.

Prior to the 2022 collapse of the institutions, the Executive had been close to agreeing a multi-year budget and this remains an objective. However, longstanding challenges throughout many sectors – arguably most pressingly health and education – have led to this single-year budget as a stopgap.

The Budget can be characterised as bridging a gap, in that all of the political parties are dissatisfied with the outcomes

owing to previous spending reductions by the UK Government which have contributed to worsening public finances.

The Windsor Framework states that the Executive should be introducing ‘austerity’ measures such as the introduction of water charges, raising tuition fees in line with the levels charged in England and Wales, and the privatisation of publicly owned institutions.

The UK Government, acting on advice from the NI Fiscal Council, has brought forward a fiscal floor which would mandate public spending in Northern Ireland to be £1.24 for every £1.00 spent in England. This proposal has received mixed reaction in Northern Ireland, with First Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA denying that revenue raising and servicing debt was part of the deal to return to Stormont.

The Northern Ireland Fiscal Council has

estimated that Northern Ireland needs £1.24 per head for every £1.00 per head spent in England. Currently, Northern Ireland is estimated to have fallen below that level to about £1.20 per head.

Writing in agendaNi prior to the return of the Executive, Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry MP argued that there is a need for a ‘fiscal floor’, and that this level should be £1.27 rather than £1.24.

Farry said: “Alliance is also concerned the 124 per cent measure may not be sufficient to adequately reflect our true underlying relative need.”

Servicing debt

As part of the return to Stormont, the Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris MP brought forward a £3.3 billion increase in funding from the UK Government, but overspends in previous Executives, and beyond that during the two-year absence of the Executive, have

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0.0 1,000.0 2,000.0 3,000.0 4,000.0 5,000.0 6,000.0 7,000.0
Agriculture, Environment
Communities Economy Education Finance Health Infrastructure Justice The Executive Office 2023/24 (£ million) 2024/25 (£ million)
8,000.0 9,000.0
and Rural Affairs

meant that a significant proportion of this money is being used to service overspends in this time.

£584 million of the offer to settle public sector pay claims, £34 million for tackling hospital waiting lists, and £15 million to help the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) with the impact of a major data breach.

Over the previous two financial years, the public overspend in Northern Ireland has amounted to an estimated £560 million.

The UK Government has agreed to pause debt repayments from 2022/23 and 2023/24 of up to £559 million to allow the Executive to stabilise services and begin implementing its plan to deliver sustainable finances.

It will no longer require these funds to be repaid if the Executive publishes a plan to deliver sustainable public finances and services by the end of summer 2024 and demonstrating implementation by May 2025.

However, the terms of the UK Government’s offer requires the Executive to “find” £113 million, a measure which is not in line with the measures outlined in the Budget.

In its assessment of the budget, the Northern Ireland Fiscal Council opines that “there is a medium-term budgetary cliff-edge facing the Executive” which “adds to the uncertain context in which current decisions are being made”.

On the conditionality of the Executive’s debt from historical overspends, the Fiscal Council states that there is a “difficulty” in meeting the conditions of meeting debt.

“The impact of having to repay the previous Reserve claims would be to bring forward the cliff edge by a year, into the 2025/26 fiscal year.”

Political fallout

In spite of the £500 million increase to the Department of Health, Minister Robin Swann MLA has threatened to walk out of the Executive, although he is already due to resign ahead of the next Westminster general election.

The Ulster Unionist Party was the only one of the four-party Executive to vote against the Budget, with Swann telling the Health Committee in April 2024 that “the Executive budget as it stands will make further industrial action in our health service all the more likely”. Swann denied before the Committee that he was “playing politics”.

Swann’s decision to vote against the budget was criticised by both the First Minister and the deputy First Minister.

Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly MLA said she understood Swann’s concerns but asserted that if he had received everything he asked for, “it would have consumed the entirety of what additional [funding] was available for the budget”.

SDLP Leader of the Opposition and chair of the Finance Committee Matthew O’Toole MLA has said that the Executive’s budget “fails to deliver meaningful change for people in Northern Ireland”.

“We knew that Northern Ireland is facing a tough budget settlement and the blame for that doesn’t lie solely at the feet of the Executive, but what was produced… shows no clarity around what the Executive’s priorities actually are and it is apparent they [the Executive] have no plan whatsoever for how we will rescue our failing public services,” O’Toole said.

The Budget has led to the unleashing of political tensions within an Executive which is under pressure from the opposition parties and civil society alike, and will do little to restore relations with a general election on the horizon.

Furthermore, the Executive has still not put in place a Programme for Government. With agreement for a new fiscal framework still facing a way to go, this Executive – which has passed little by the way of meaningful legislation in its first 100 days – faces an uphill task to provide funds for Northern Ireland’s ailing public finances.

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Environment Minister

Andrew Muir MLA: Towards

‘a strong, green economy’

Agriculture, environment, and rural affairs Minister Andrew Muir MLA outlines four key environmental commitments for his department, including the urgent delivery of an environmental improvement plan (EIP).

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Muir, who took up his first Executive post in February 2024 following the almost two-year long collapse of the Executive, recognises the impact that delayed policy delivery has had on Northern Ireland’s environment.

“We need to get our environment policy priorities right and we need to do it now,” he states, adding: “None of us can ignore the challenges that are ahead in terms of climate mitigation and adaptation, reversing biodiversity loss, improving air and water quality, and managing waste.”

The Environment Act 2021 mandated Northern Ireland to publish an environmental improvement plan (EIP) in 2023, a deadline that was missed due to the absence of an Executive. In April 2024, Muir indicated that submitting a draft EIP for Executive approval at the earliest opportunity was “my top priority”.

“I believe that the EIP forms the basis for the changes we urgently need to make, and it is essential that it delivers against ambitious objectives that work alongside other policies and strategies such as the Green Growth Strategy, the circular economy strategy, and the future agriculture policy framework,” he explains.

The Minister identifies tackling climate change as another top priority. Stressing the importance of “collective action” to address climate change, Muir says that a significant amount of work has taken place across the Executive, led by his department, to develop Northern Ireland’s first climate action plan, particularly on the identification of policies and proposals to reduce emissions across sectors.

“Achieving this is hugely challenging and requires significant transformation in the public services we deliver; how we do business and how we go about our daily lives. It requires a cross departmental approach on a level not seen before in Northern Ireland [Executive] government; working with delivery partners in public, private, and third sector to effect the changes required; building our understanding, knowledge, and expertise to devise creative and innovative solutions to the problems we face.

“I am determined that a credible draft climate action plan is published for consultation as soon as possible.”


Emphasising the interdependence of climate change and biodiversity, Muir welcomes the importance of natural environment improvement targets to 2030 agreed in December 2022 at COP15 and says that he is keen to ensure that Northern Ireland is as involved as possible.

To this end, he highlights DAERA’s work to develop the Nature Recovery Strategy, a new biodiversity strategy, which he explains is closely aligned with other departmental initiatives, such as agrienvironment policy and climate change.

“There is much to do over the lifespan of the strategy to put Northern Ireland’s natural environment in a better place than it is today,” he says, adding: “The Nature Recovery Strategy, like all major cross cutting departmental initiatives, requires agreement across the Executive, following an exhaustive public consultation exercise.

“To be successful, its actions will require commitment, possibly a change of approach going forward. For example, it will be important that nature-based solutions are an integral part of policy and decision-making going forward and my department is already leading the way on this through the strategic objectives in the draft peatland strategy.”

Importantly, the Minister outlines a need to assess the funds and sources of funding that are currently available to secure the greatest benefits for nature.

“Without a doubt, the success of these key strategies will require adequate finance and funding to deliver for nature restoration,” he states.


Firstly, as Minister, Muir has the responsibility of ensuring coherence between agriculture and environmental policy. Northern Ireland has a unique challenge in that almost 30 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions are emitted by the agriculture sector, compared to 10 per cent in Britain. It is also has much more heavily livestockbased agriculture system.

“Given that 73 per cent of land in Northern Ireland is in agricultural use, I recognise the important role farmers have to play in managing the land for the

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“I am determined that a credible draft climate action plan is published for consultation as soon as possible.”

environment,” he says, pointing to programmes already being delivered such as out the Farm Support and Development Programme, the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme, and the Beef Carbon Reduction Scheme.

Muir indicates that the proposed delivery of a farming with nature package (FwN) is a means to ensure that farmers receive appropriate levels of payment for the environmental benefits they deliver.

Setting out his intention to launch ‘test and learn’ pilots later in 2024 to help shape the overall design of the package, he says that farmers must also consider how agricultural activity affects air quality and the health of nature, given that the sector produces 97 per cent of ammonia emissions in the region.

“There is an urgent need to address ammonia emissions and the impact that these have on our sensitive habitats and biodiversity. My department is taking action on ammonia to deliver the measures required to support our local farm businesses and rural communities to thrive and be sustainable, while at the same time protecting our environment and meeting our legislative requirements.

“Therefore, I hope that, later this year [2024], I will be able to publish a reworked ammonia strategy and finalise a

new operational protocol to assess the impacts of air pollution on the natural environment.”

Air quality

Secondly, turning to his department’s development of a clean air strategy, Muir says: “It is my intention to closely consider current evidence, in conjunction with the findings of the 2021 Public Discussion Document consultation, to ensure that all policies and actions that should be taken forwards, are being included in the strategy and that these actions go far enough to secure a high level of protection for public health in Northern Ireland.

“I am aware of the challenges that lie ahead and that a number of these challenges are for other departments to take forward and I very much look forward to working with my ministerial colleagues, wider civil service, and public sector implementation bodies, to bring forward lasting improvement in the quality of the air that we breathe.”

Water quality

Thirdly, addressing the crisis and improving water quality in Lough Neagh is, the Minister affirms, one of the firstyear priorities for the Executive. Stating

the importance of correcting the contamination, he says that the need for collective actions expands beyond across government to also include the private and public sectors, as well as the wider community.

Setting out an intention to bring a report containing evidenced-based recommendations for action to the Executive “in the near future”, he explains that the report will support the actions relevant to improving water quality across Northern Ireland in the draft Environmental Improvement Plan.

Circular economy

The fourth and final commitment outlined by Muir centres on the delivery of a circular economy, with officials within his department continuing to work with colleagues in the Department for the Economy to deliver a circular economy strategy.

In addition to this, he says: “My department is currently taking forward a wide range of interventions, including financial support, policy, and legislation which will help to drive forward the circular economy.

“Proposals aimed at increasing the quality and quantity of our recycling which are currently being consulted upon, the introduction of extended producer responsibility and a deposit return scheme, and continued support for waste prevention programmes will all play a crucial role in developing the circular economy here.

“My department will also continue to support local councils through the £23 million Household Waste Collaborative Change Programme.”

Concluding, Muir says: “My vision for Northern Ireland is a strong, green economy which values its resources and actively closes the loop by putting as many of those resources back into the system as possible.

“It is imperative for us to work collectively, to lead Northern Ireland towards a healthy and thriving society with environmental protection, climate preservation, and nature restoration at its heart.

agenda issues

Covid Inquiry: Learning everything but lessons

Nominally intended to draw on lessons from UK administrations’ performances during the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK Covid Inquiry’s visit to Northern Ireland has largely failed to deliver comfort to the families of those who lost their lives in the pandemic, and has instead metamorphosed into a talking shop where forgotten ‘scandals’ have re-emerged.

The Covid Inquiry has been meeting across the UK since June 2023, and in its latest phase has been meeting in Belfast.

At the time of print, the inquiry has heard from the Chief Medical Officer, Michael McBride; the Chief Scientific Officer, Ian Young; as well as politicians.

While Young provided stark testimony, asserting that there was a “gap” in the Executive’s initial response to the pandemic, other dominant themes have included political gossip about the role of then (and current following his return to the role although soon to depart again) Minister of Health Robin Swann MLA.

The inquiry heard that now-Permanent Secretary of the Department of Justice, Hugh Widdis (at the time a legal adviser to the Executive), mooted the “radical” prospect of ousting Robin Swann MLA as the Health Minister and replacing him with a minister from the DUP or Sinn Féin.

This was rationalised by the then head of the Civil Service, David Sterling, who in an email to fellow officials quoted the then deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA telling him “we need to be driving this crisis, we need to be in control”.

At the time, Sterling wrote: “She [Michelle O’Neill] is clearly frustrated with being a first minister but actually having little power or influence over the health service.

“FM [Arlene Foster] is more circumspect, recognising the ‘operational independence’ of the health minister.”

On Swann’s side, however, was the Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride, who, it has emerged, described the Executive leaders as “dysfunctional bastards” [sic], further asserting to Minister Swann in text messages that there was “an enemy within”, giving him “a good mind to walk off and leave them to it”.

Other more absurd information to have

emerged include the fact that, in the stage prior to the first lockdown, tourists from Wuhan, China – where the virus is understood to have first emerged and which was the initial epicentre of the pandemic – were allowed to visit Northern Ireland, which may result in at one lesson being learnt from the inquiry.

Messages released through the course of the inquiry also reveals an apparent decline in relations between the then First Minister Arlene Foster and then deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA following the funeral of former IRA man Bobby Storey.

The messages also reveal some of the thoughts expressed through the pandemic by members of the Executive in the DUP, with the now speaker Edwin Poots MLA sending messages to his DUP colleagues referring to what he described as the “sour bake” of then Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon. These kinds of comments were mirrored repeatedly by then Education Minister Peter Weir, who said on 13 March 2020: “I see on PA, Archbishop Eamon Martin is writing to me urging me to close all the schools. Wasn’t aware of his qualifications in virology.”

A person whose name has been redacted said: “Write back and tell him we don’t live in the South and that his institution hasn’t the best track record of looking out for the welfare of kids.”

In the Republic, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD has outlined his support for an Irish Covid inquiry, but has asserted that it must have a different modus operandi from the UK Covid Inquiry, which he believes has effectively become a talking shop for political gossip.

With the narrative in Northern Ireland focused on stories such as the prospective ousting of Robin Swann MLA as Health Minister, grievances between the Executive and civil servants, personal conduct of MLAs during the pandemic, and the return of the Bobby Storey funeral to public discourse, it is difficult to envision any meaningful lessons being drawn on from this inquiry.

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Accelerating to net zero

joined by Chair of the newly appointed independent board, Peter McNaney, to discuss the importance of plan-led acceleration of a net zero electricity system.

In 2021, Northern Ireland reached a major milestone by becoming among the first power systems in the world to enable up to three-quarters of the electricity on the grid at any one time to come from variable renewable sources.

Credit for the engineering feat, which has served as an exemplar for neighbouring and global power systems, lies with the

System Operator Northern Ireland (SONI), and should be viewed in the context of major challenges posed to the safe, secure, and constant flow of electricity in the region.

SONI is responsible for balancing consumer demand with generation to ensure a constant supply of power in Northern Ireland, but also takes the lead

on planning for Northern Ireland’s future energy needs by developing projects to upgrade and enhance the high-voltage electricity grid.

As SONI’s Chief Executive Alan Campbell explains, there is no room for SONI to rest on its laurels, with less than six years left to meet the ambitious target set by the Climate Change (Northern Ireland) Act

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2022 of 80 per cent of electricity consumption coming from renewables by 2030.

“If Northern Ireland is to meet ambitious targets of the integration and use of significantly more renewable energy, the electricity grid, and how the system is operated, has to be upgraded in an unprecedented manner,” he states.

Recently, SONI published an update to Shaping Our Electricity Future, its longterm roadmap to balance increasing power demand with ambitious climate change policies.

Explaining the fundamental vision for the roadmap, Campbell says: “To achieve these targets by 2030, more energy from renewable sources needs to be connected to the power system. This means that the electricity grid will need to carry more power from energy sources that vary depending on the weather. This power will also need to be carried over longer distances. As a result, we need to make the grid stronger and more flexible.”

The appointment of a new independent board to SONI towards the end of 2023 marked a significant change in the governance and operations of the Transmission System Operator (TSO).

The operation and governance changes come at a critical time for the TSO, as it seeks to be an enabler of a net zero electricity grid in Northern Ireland.

The establishment of the board is one of a suite of changes being driven by the Utility Regulator’s license modifications to SONI, which has mandated greater managerial and operational independence from its parent company, EirGrid plc.

As well as transitioning from Managing Director of SONI to its new Chief Executive, Campbell also sits on the new board chaired by McNaney along with four other independent members, all of whom are geared towards meeting the challenges and harvesting the opportunities that exist in the creation of a fully integrated and decarbonised power system.

Discussing the implementation of the board, Campbell says: “At this crucial time in the energy transition, our team

“SONI’s direct cost to the consumer is on average only around 2 per cent of their electricity bill, however, our influence on the whole cost to electricity consumers is much more significant.”
SONI’s Chief Executive Alan Campbell

looks forward to working with the new board members, who each bring considerable expertise and experience, to drive forward our mission to deliver a cleaner energy future for everyone in Northern Ireland.”

Describing his attraction to take up the position as SONI Chair, the experienced Peter McNaney, a former chief executive of Belfast City Council and chair of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, explains that SONI has the foresight, opportunity, and talent to make a lasting change to the region.

“In the coming years, delivering the challenging ambitions set by the Northern Ireland energy strategy and Climate Change Act is going to require a step change in the intensity of ideas, collaboration, and delivery within the energy industry and beyond.

“Along with the other new members of the board, I look forward to working with the team in SONI to deliver its vision for the future and ensuring it can thrive as a successful TSO for the benefit of local communities, businesses, and farms across Northern Ireland.”

Campbell echoes McNaney’s sentiments that the largest upgrade to the electricity system since electrification itself is a defining topic of our age and welcomes the “fresh perspective and challenge”.

“While Northern Ireland’s 2030 renewable energy targets are very ambitious and challenging, the social, economic, and environmental opportunities afforded by this once-in-ageneration transition are huge,” he adds.

SONI and its board retain a close collaboration with their parent company EirGrid, however, the change has

enabled a restructuring of SONI’s leadership in Belfast, including plans to recruit four new directors. Additionally, the board has set about an engagement process with key stakeholders in the electricity system, not least the Utility Regulator and the Northern Ireland Executive.

SONI’s future vision for the electricity grid is being delivered in the context of challenging short-term delivery conditions. The Winter Outlook, published at the end of 2023, showed that SONI was cautiously optimistic that there would be sufficient electricity generation to meet expected demand in normal operating conditions.

However, the complexity of balancing supply and demand on a daily basis was evident in a warning that risk of supply had increased due to the “tightening of electricity buffer margins”. A similar theme was evident in SONI’s Ten-Year Generation Capacity Statement 20232032, an annual all-island study that sets out the likely balance between electricity supply and anticipated demand over the next 10 years, which pointed to challenges ahead.

The analysis was a clear signal to the electricity market that investment in new generation and the subsequent timely delivery of secured contracts will be required to ensure a stable and secure supply of electricity for consumers in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. As the System Operator, SONI relies on the market to deliver the required generation to plan the system to meet Northern Ireland’s energy needs.

Campbell is quick to point out that the short-term challenges associated with maintaining supply while also undergoing 4

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a significant modernisation process is not unique to Northern Ireland, but adds that SONI and all relevant stakeholders must work together to manage the reliable supply of electricity,

Acknowledging the scale of the challenge, McNaney says that evidence to date indicates that SONI is well-placed to meet the needs of the region.

“SONI’s Shaping our Electricity Future Roadmap, in its original form, predated the release of the Energy Strategy and the Climate Change Act and it is telling that the ambition already existed to reach those high 70 to 80 per cent renewable electricity targets.

“SONI is well placed to support the energy transition because the foresight enabled by their research and evidencebase means that the organisations are already turned in that direction. Their direction of travel is clear, concise, and well-documented, something that was very appealing to me when I applied for the post of chair.”

SONI’s Tomorrow’s Energy Scenarios research programme explores a number of likely scenarios to understand how much electricity we might need and how it can be provided, beyond 2030, up to 2050.

As Campbell explains, SONI’s scenario planning and forecasting is a critical part

of its role as an independent and trusted advisor to government energy policy, ensuring that decision-makers are best informed on the potential long-term implications of policy decisions.

This collaboration with decision-makers and key energy market stakeholders is something that must be fostered if Northern Ireland is to maximise the opportunities of a transition to a net zero future. Outlining that currently SONI must approach connections to the grid and plans to increase grid capacity reactively, in response to demand for developers, Campbell believes this approach to be inefficient and contributory to increased costs and timescales.

Instead, he has called for a shift to a more plan-led approach in collaboration with industry, government, and regulatory partners.

“SONI can increase grid capacity in a more strategic, proactive, and timely manner through more anticipatory investment while reducing costs and timescales for grid connections,” he explains.

Such collaboration is a crucial part of SONI’s forthcoming Transmission Development Plan for Northern Ireland (TDPNI), a 10-year roadmap for the strategic development of the electricity transmission network, for which consultation closed at the end of 2023.

McNaney explains that the Transmission Development Plan will also be critical to the delivery of SONI’s next price control submission out to 2030, work on which is already being undertaken.

However, SONI’s Chief Executive is insistent that transformational plans for the future grid must also acknowledge the short-term challenges of managing a power system in transition, highlighting that SONI’s priority must be to maintain security of supply of electricity for consumers. To this end, he welcomes the forthcoming delivery of a new renewable energy support scheme to increase renewable generation but stresses the importance of the appropriate market incentive mechanisms to ensure the “right generation is delivered in the right place at the right time”.

“SONI’s direct cost to the consumer is on average only around 2 per cent of their electricity bill, however, our influence on the whole cost to electricity consumers is much more significant. That is why it is so important that we strike the correct balance between increasing the levels of renewable electricity on the grid to meet demand but doing it in the most costeffective way which does not threaten security of supply.”

McNaney highlights that in recognition of the role SONI has in providing this balance, the grid operator launched a

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fundamental review of its engagement strategy in February 2024, with the aim of improving how it engages with local communities, businesses, landowners, and the energy industry, as it seeks to make fundamental changes to the electricity grid.

Technology solutions

Greater levels of renewables on the system also means greater levels of intermittence, and a geographic realignment of where generation must be transported from, if Northern Ireland is to transition away from on fossil fuel power plants. Campbell describes it as “vitally important” that the second North South Interconnector is built, to provide greater stability through the Single Electricity Market (SEM).

He indicates Northern Ireland’s planning system as a potential barrier regarding the need to double the amount of renewable generation connected to the grid by 2030 and questions the deliverability of a total overhaul of the planning system given the pressing timescales.

“Ultimately, the planning system needs to be appropriately resourced to meet the level of demand being placed on it, and the increased demand set to come forward. If planning authorities are going to deliver on tight timelines, then they must have the adequate resources to do so. I believe having that overarching plan-led approach to renewable development and grid expansion will be beneficial to allowing those authorities to prioritise.”

Alongside greater levels of interconnection, SONI is also engaged in several programmes of service development, integrating technologies that will help maintain stable supply. Four large battery sites in Northern Ireland have already been connected to the grid, and in October 2023, SONI published a call for evidence on the market procurement options for long duration energy storage.

McNaney illustrates that as well as managing and deploying those on-grid services, SONI also has a role in helping to shape behavioural change in relation to energy use and how consumers engage with the electricity grid.

“As we look to electrification as the primary driver of decarbonisation, there is a widespread recognition that keeping the same societal behaviours will result in higher and frankly unsustainable demand for renewable electricity. We need a smarter approach to our electricity use, so that we can minimise the amount of additional infrastructure required and the technology that will need to be deployed.

“The Department for the Economy is set to develop a plan for the implementation of electricity smart meters and systems, and this is a welcome step to encourage and incentivise households to engage with and help manage the electricity grid.”

He continues: “As a board, we are very mindful of the need to ensure the energy transition is affordable to the consumer but we are also keen to ensure that the actions being taken to reach the ambitious decarbonisation targets are being done with consumers, and not to consumers.

“SONI’s track record of community engagement to date is well

documented and has been successful, but as we move faster and further it is important that we build on those relationships and bring people along on the journey.

Concluding, Campbell says: “While Northern Ireland’s 2030 renewable energy targets are very ambitious and challenging, we know collectively what we need to do and we have a plan. The key challenge is time, and now is the moment to rise to that challenge.

“As an organisation, SONI is geared to help maximise those opportunities and our people are driven by potential to make lasting change to through world-leading engineering solutions and to benefit the consumer.

“The substantive policy direction and the required measures to deliver Northern Ireland’s renewable energy targets are largely in place. The key focus now needs to be on removing the barriers which risk falling short and proactively identifying opportunities to accelerate delivery. As Northern Ireland's Transmission System Operator, SONI is committed to working collaboratively to meet this challenge."

McNaney adds: “There is nothing I have seen in the past six months that causes me any concern about the ability of this organisation to rise and meet the challenges ahead, driven by the right values. As we stand at a historical point in time, SONI is well placed to ensure Northern Ireland, through its expertise in technology and engineering, can realise the opportunities and potential of this energy transition.”

Alan Campbell

Chief Executive, SONI

Alan Campbell was appointed Chief Executive in October 2023, having been the Managing Director of SONI since July 2020. He joined SONI in July 2017, as Head of Grid Infrastructure Projects and Connections moving from ESB, where he managed the Coolkeeragh Power Station. He is a mechanical engineering graduate from Queen’s University Belfast.

Peter McNaney Chair, SONI

Peter McNaney practised as a corporate lawyer for 20 years before serving as Chief Executive of Belfast City Council between 2001 to 2014. As a non-executive, he was chair of the governing body of Belfast Metropolitan College and served as a member of the board of Invest NI. He was also the senior independent director and chair of the audit committee of Northern Ireland Water and recently stood down as chair of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust after nine years.

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Re-examination of economic supports required

NERI research highlights increased policy decisions must match productivity goals to build a more competitive economy.

Within Productive Economy Series: Part 1

Transitioning to high value sectors, codirector of the Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI), Paul Mac Flynn, analyses how economic activity and employment, allocated to certain industries and sectors contributes to building a more productive economy.

Latest discussion on the cost of Irish unity sparked a debate surrounding productivity levels in Ireland – north and south, with prominent economists examining how integrating both economies may prove costly. NERI’s study reexamines the discourse on productivity and living standards, north and south.


Productivity is a fundamental metric for evaluating economic performance because it reflects the ability for an economy to provide adequate living

standards. High productivity is typically associated with higher wages, contributing to economic growth, and creating job opportunities. These factors thereby elevate overall living standards.

However, not all sectors are equally productive. Mac Flynn acknowledges that some industries consistently outperform others, and within those high-performing sectors, not all firms reinvest their profits into employee wages preferring to retain higher profits. In this context, there is a need for careful monitoring and appropriate regulatory frameworks to ensure economic productivity is improved.

In this regard, the study emphasises that a successful economy enables firms to offer wages that reflect their success in the marketplace. Firms that are efficient and well run are then in a position to provide employment which contributes to

a high standard of living for their employees.

Nonetheless, Mac Flynn outlines that overrepresentation in low-value sectors can also lead to a less productive economy, with these jobs characterised as “low paid, insecure, and with little or no career progression”.

Integrating economies and economic challenges

The productivity debate has extended to discussions about integrating the two economies in Ireland – north and south. While Northern Ireland has been facing productivity challenges for nearly two decades, the Republic’s productivity also faces challenges around the dominant role of multinational corporations and profit-sharing activities.

Mac Flynn’s research suggests that an

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attempt at integrating the economies may produce several challenges, given the differences in productivity levels and economic structures. According to Mac Flynn, to enhance overall productivity, the mix of economic activity and efficiency among firms is essential. Yet, despite this key factor, Mac Flynn also notes that it is not the sole contributor to improving overall productivity.

“A firm producing meat products can be extremely efficient, but it may never be able to match the value of the output that a software firm produced even if both use the same number of resources,” he outlines.

Figure 1, produced by NERI, illustrates variations in productivity across sectors, with finance and insurance, manufacturing, and information and communication consistently among the top performing sectors in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Conversely, arts, entertainment, and recreation, along with accommodation and food, are typically the least productive and lowest-paid. Despite this, lower wages do not necessarily reflect lower productivity, as other factors like bargaining power can also play a role.

Regarding employment allocation, the study reveals Northern Ireland and the Republic have a disproportionately high employment rate in the accommodation and food sector compared to other EU countries.

Mac Flynn explains that the hospitality sector’s overrepresentation may stem from policy decisions like reduced Value Added Tax (VAT) rates aimed at boosting employment during periods of economic downturn. However, these policies might also artificially inflate employment in certain sectors, leading to imbalances that affect overall productivity.

A re-examination of economic supports, including tax expenditures is necessary to build a more productive economy. Reflecting on the employment allocation within accommodation and food, Mac Flynn states, “we should ask questions about whether this is the appropriate allocation of economic resources”.

Figure 1: Productivity by sector in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland 2019 (%)

Source: Nevin Economic Research Institute

Addressing inefficiency

In a broad sense, the efficiency of firms is key to the delivery of living standards. Mac Flynn explains: “We need to address these policies in the light of these outcomes and the trade-offs inherent within them.”

While efficiency is crucial for delivering improved living standards, it is also important to ask whether the allocation of economic resources aligns with broader productivity goals.

“Productivity is about more than economic growth; it is about how efficient we are in achieving growth,” says Mac Flynn.

To avoid inefficient firms from dominating industries, therefore, Mac Flynn advocates for stronger enforcement of competition laws alongside greater unionisation.

“Strong unionisation and collective bargaining can tackle firms that seek excess profits and stronger enforcement of competition rules can prevent inefficient firms from dominating certain industries,” he states.


In light of its report, NERI suggests that policymakers should carefully consider whether current economic supports and tax expenditures are aligned with the goal of building a more productive economy.

While productivity is a significant determinant of living standards, Mac Flynn believes that policy decisions must balance productivity goals with other considerations, such as social, sustainable, or cultural objectives.

Ultimately, re-examining economic supports should ensure that policies are designed to create a more productive economy without sacrificing other important societal objectives. This balance is essential for fostering an economy that delivers high living standards while promoting sustainable growth and social welfare, NERI concludes.

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0 50 100 150 200 250 300 Information and communication (J) Manufacturing (C) Administrative and Support Service Activities (N) Financial and insurance activities (K) Professional, Scientific and Technical Activities (M) Wholesale and Retail Trade (G) Public Administration and Defence (O) Education (P) Human Health and Social Work Activities (Q) Transportation and Storage (H) Construction (F) Arts Entertainment and Recreation (R) Other service activities (S) Accommodation & Food Service Activities (I) NI ROI
The role of long-duration storage in a net zero future
Mutual Energy hosted a roundtable discussion with experts from across the industry to discuss the role of energy storage can play in decarbonisaing Northern Ireland's energy system.

How does long-duration storage have a role in delivering an integrated, decarbonised energy system for Northern Ireland?

Eimear Watson

Long-duration energy storage is a fundamental part of decarbonising the power system and has various benefits. One obvious benefit is the potential for SONI, as Transmission System Operator, to reduce the dispatch down of

renewable generation in times of high supply, while also minimising the use of fossil-fuelled peaking plants in times of low supply, particularly over prolonged periods, which will reduce costs and help with delivering a net zero carbon energy system. Another potential benefit is assisting with grid congestion and the challenges that come with the east-west imbalance of supply and demand that we have on the power system. Ultimately, if long-duration energy storage can be deployed quicker than grid investment, then it could enable the use of more

Round table discussion hosted by

renewable generation sooner and defer or potentially remove the need for some grid investment.

Wind and solar are the leading technologies for decarbonising our electricity network but the supply given by these technologies is not only intermittent, but also unpredictable. Ultimately, this leads to a mismatch between supply and demand. Modelling suggests that over the course of a year, with same levels of generation, and the same levels of demand, the mismatch is around 40 per cent. This is where the need for storage comes in. The benefits of increased wind generation are starting to be diminished because of the marginal cost of curtailment across the board. Developers are no longer going to absorb the risk factors of dispatch down and curtailment, so society and government

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will be required to take on that risk to enable the build out of the renewables needed.

David Surplus

Long-duration storage enables the management of intermittent renewables by providing instantaneous balancing of electrical load. A typical curtailment episode in Northern Ireland could last for 10 hours, which exceeds the capacity of conventional batteries being operated today.

Sean Kelly

For the past 25 years flexibility in the electricity grid has been afforded by generation from natural gas stations. Now, the reality is that climate change and low carbon targets mean that we need a new approach. The island of Ireland, as an islanded electricity network, albeit with some interconnection, is at the cutting edge of incorporating high levels of renewables and the means to tackle that lie in having flexible options including a mix of shortterm, medium-term, and long-term storage options.

Tony Roulstone

The future electricity system is going to be driven by supply rather than demand because of the level of variation on a grid fuelled by solar and wind generation. Our modelling for Great Britain indicated that in such a system, if you built renewable supply on a nominal basis, you would have a shortfall some 20 per cent of the time. If 20 per cent of your energy is mistimed or mismatched then you have a security of supply issue, and that is where energy storage comes in. Our research highlighted the requirement and importance of energy storage for different time periods. To move energy through time, the question is: How long does it need to be stored? We found most of the energy needed to be stored for days rather than hours, with 12 per cent only a few hours and balance for months or longer.

Peter Russell

I think it is important to note that the overarching aim is to decarbonise across power, heat, and transport – not just to decarbonise the energy sector. Northern Ireland has a lot of advantages, because of its size and agility while also already moving at pace across many different sectors to meet ambitious decarbonisation targets. We can get the right people in a room to discuss these challenges more easily that other jurisdictions. Long-duration storage is key to addressing the intermittent and

Round table participants

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is the transmission grid manager for the SSE Renewables 1500MW Coire Glas Hydro Pump Storage Project. He has been involved in this project since its inception in 2010 and led the project consenting phase achieving planning consent from the Scottish Government in 2020. Kelly is chartered engineer and IET Fellow.

Paddy Larkin

Paddy Larkin joined Mutual Energy (then Northern Ireland Energy Holdings) in 2007 as an Executive Director and Managing Director of Moyle Interconnector Ltd and, in 2010, took over as Chief Executive of the Group. Previously, Larkin was the Chief Executive of Premier Power, a subsidiary of the BG Group and owner of Ballylumford Power Station. He is an engineering graduate from Queen’s University Belfast, a fellow of the Irish Academy of Engineering and serves as a non-executive director of Northern Ireland Water.

Tony Roulstone

Tony Roulstone worked for Rolls-Royce for 20 years culminating in running a group of power businesses. He was a key contributor to the Royal Society’s 2023 study of long duration energy storage. Also, he established the nuclear energy master’s programme in the department of engineering at the University of Cambridge. He is also involved with the design of national energy systems for net zero in 2050 and the industrialisation and the economics of fusion. He is a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and a Fellow of the Nuclear Institute.

Peter Russell

Peter Russell has been the Utility Regulator’s Executive Director of price controls, networks and energy futures group since January 2024. Prior to joining the Utility Regulator, he was Director for electricity and security of supply in the Department for the Economy. Russell is an economist and has a master’s degree from the University of Glasgow and an MBA from the University of Strathclyde.

David Surplus

David Surplus is a chartered marine engineer and former Lloyd’s register surveyor who moved from offshore oil and gas into renewables 32 years ago to form the B9 Energy group of companies. B9 has developed wind farm, AD, landfill gas, solar PV, and power-to-X projects and is now focused on GW scale emethanol synthesis for the roll-on/roll-off freight ferry sector.

Eimear Watson

Eimear Watson is Head of Networks at SONI and is responsible for transmission system and connections planning, transmission infrastructure delivery and connections contract management. Watson holds a Master’s in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from Queen’s University Belfast.

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“A good mix of short and long-term energy storage options offers the greatest potential to maximise the renewable generation we have coming onto the system.” Eimear Watson

predictability challenges of renewable supply, while providing other system benefits, but it ultimately needs to delivered at a fair price for consumers and the technology options used need to be right for Northern Ireland.

Outline the long-duration storage options available that could suitably be deployed in Northern Ireland

David Surplus

The conclusion we came to with the Ballylumford Power-to-X project is that you can use the natural gas pipe network as a store. Gas infrastructure possesses five times the energy carrying capacity that the electricity grid has. Additionally, our research indicates the salt caverns at Islandmagee will be suitable for hydrogen gas storage. That would give us an almost infinite ability to put electrolyser load on to the grid and balance both wind and solar variation. Only around one-quarter of the fossil fuels consumed in Northern Ireland are for the electricity sector, as the majority are used to fuel both heat and transport. It must be recognised that as we increase renewable electricity generation, predominantly through offshore wind, not all of it will be used in the electricity

sector. Consequently, there is a real opportunity to address heat and transport emissions through various eFuels.

Sean Kelly

Northern Ireland’s electricity system is heavily dependent on fossil fuels for periods of low renewables. Therefore,

“It must

be recognised that as we increase renewable electricity generation, predominantly through offshore wind, not all of it will be used in the electricity sector.”

David Surplus
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storage considerations must prioritise decarbonisation. There are several options and technologies available but hydro pumped storage has been around longest and represents the most mature option, at the greatest scale to date. Hydrogen also presents great potential to ‘load shift’ renewable power. Looking beyond security of supply, energy storage presents a huge economic opportunity. The industrial revolution was built on the availability of cheap fuel. Ireland has the best renewables resource in western Europe and therefore the opportunity to capitalise on the growing demand for clean energy, not just through export, but through building the manufacturing and processes aligned with clean energy storage.

The options available can be categorised into three types of solution. The first is short-term, for a few hours – battery systems. The second are physical-based systems which are useful in the short-tomedium term up to a week and include the likes of pumped hydro, compressed air and liquid air energy storage. Finally, chemical-based systems such as hydrogen, ammonia and synthetic fuels cover longer storage timeframes beyond a week. Cost is important. Battery systems are cheap in terms of power capacity, but expensive when you consider energy volumes. Physicalsystems are between two and three times more expensive in terms of power but could be 10 times cheaper in terms of volume. Chemical systems are even more expensive when compared to batteries for providing power but can be vastly cheaper in terms of storing volume of energy. Governments need to support the demonstration of both physical and chemical storage systems, bringing them to the stage where they become replicable with supply chains that will bring down costs. While the initial cost estimates are high, replication can have a big effect as it has with wind turbines.

I believe all the options will be needed when you consider the scale of the storage requirement, which is around one month of energy. A completely decarbonised electrical network is likely to need some 600 GWh of storage. For context, Turlough Hill Power Station, the only pumped storage in Ireland, offers around 3 GWh, giving a sense of the scale needed. We need short-, mediumand long-term options and these options have three drivers: cost; turnaround

“An evident flightpath for energy storage volume for the near, medium and long-term is key to energising progress in this area.” Paddy Larkin

efficiency; and scale. The reality is that no option will provide all three and that is why it is important that there is a holistic approach. If we are focused on 2030 targets then batteries, with a 15-to-20year lifespan, are the best option for quick and fast deployment but if we are decarbonising our future, then we need to be thinking longer-term about what options will pay back over 100 years, rather than 20. In making those decisions, we need to have consideration for what works best in Northern Ireland’s

geology and geography, and what delivers the right value for customers.

Eimear Watson

As a Transmission System Operator we would like to see a diversity of energy storage options connected to the power system. A good mix of short- and longterm energy storage options offers the greatest potential to maximise the renewable generation we have coming on to the system.

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“Energy storage must be available to meet gaps in supply when needed, not run to maximise revenue.”
Tony Roulstone

Would Northern Ireland’s energy system benefit from selecting and supporting a single long-duration storage technology?

Peter Russell

Fundamentally, the technology requirements of long-duration energy storage in Northern Ireland will be defined by the parameters of what we, as a region, are trying to achieve. All options are on the table, but 2030 is not that far away and we need to consider what is best for the long-term, as well as realising the economic opportunity that exists. It is important to define what we need from the technology, and then let the market bring forward solutions.

Tony Roulstone

If the focus is on the short-term 2030 targets, then the solution will be driven by what is available and doable today, which will be battery systems plus carbon emitting gas turbines. Northern Ireland potentially will need between 200 to 300 GWh each year to balance supply and demand, while meeting its 2030 renewables target. Capital cost of batteries is estimated to be £10 billion per 100 GWh. This £20 to £30 billion is not feasible and it will not deliver net zero because of the continuing use of fossil fuel. The UK, as a whole, needs a

strategy for energy storage beyond nearterm targets and for the demonstration of longer term physical and chemical systems.

David Surplus

The deployment of windfarms in Northern Ireland effectively stopped in 2018 with the end of Renewable Obligation

Certificates and the rise of curtailment and constraint. That undermined investor confidence to build and that is a problem when you consider the targets for 2030 and beyond. Having that long-duration controllable electrical load, in whatever form that takes, is important as a basis for increasing generation.

Paddy Larkin

The scale of the storage required is so large that there needs to be a multitude of technological solutions coming forward, and it will require most of them. However, it is worth noting that long-term storage projects in Northern Ireland would be transformational in scale. With projects that size, comes an element of risk.

What are the existing barriers to the delivery of long-duration energy storage options?

Tony Roulstone

Market-based approaches that depend on subsidies needs to be rethought because the risks to security of supply are much too high. Long-duration storage needs are strategic. Energy storage must be available to meet gaps in supply when needed, not run to maximise revenue. With market base methods, either stores could be empty when needed, or for the longest durations they will never be built.

“The biggest barrier is the lack of investment signals for long-duration energy storage.” Sean Kelly
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Sean Kelly

The biggest barrier is the lack of investment signals for long duration energy storage. Currently, the drivers to develop storage are not great enough and whilst there is a recognition that while more operational storage on the grid will drive down peak costs for the consumer, the arbitrage for the developer will be lower. The question is how do we finance it in the longer term if there is no incentive for developers and manufacturers?

Eimear Watson

I agree, the main barrier to the delivery of long-duration energy storage is the missing money gap that comes from the existing market mechanisms. There is a renewables support scheme being developed by the Department for the Economy, should there equally be an energy storage support scheme developed to support these renewables connecting to the electricity system? Existing market mechanisms should be reviewed and new market mechanisms explored as well. SONI and EirGrid published a Call for Evidence on Long Duration Energy Storage in 2023 and are currently finalising our response.

Paddy Larkin

In current market mechanisms, security of supply provision through storage is not rewarded. Not only is the arbitrage ability very low, but there is no certainty around what the grid will require. If you consider these projects being long-life, what is the incentive for a developer to assume risk on what is going to happen in 40 or 50 years’ time? The introduction of interconnectors in Great Britain is a good exemplar of how other mechanisms were deployed in recognition that the market would not function if such high risk remained. The underpinning of risk by things like a cap and floor regime should be explored.

Identify one priority policy lever required to ensure that long-duration storage delivers a balanced and cost-efficient energy system?

Sean Kelly

The speed of the planning system is creating real challenges in delivering new infrastructure at the speed of change we need to meet decarbonisation targets. The planning system must be properly resourced, and planning polices aligned with climate policy.

“It is important to define what we need from the technology, and then let the market bring forward solutions.” Peter Russell

You cannot design long-term energy storage systems using one-year models of weather and demand. Current models are adaptions of power matching models. If we want to ensure security of supply for the long-term, we need to match long-term weather data (decadal) with long-term solutions.

Peter Russell

A good starting point is defining what type of a system we require and then fully assessing how that would operate. For example, how much risk does the government and the consumer take on these projects, and does there need to be a capacity requirement that is set aside as strategic reserve, rather than allowing them to fully arbitrage in the market, to ensure security of supply? A study of deployment of long-duration storage in other small countries could provide some insight.

Eimear Watson

If we can get the right people together in a room from across the industry and come up with a strategic spatial energy plan for Northern Ireland, which sets out what we need, the volumes required and suitable locations then I think we would have a strong basis to deliver a balanced and cost-efficient energy system.

David Surplus

My ideal policy lever would be to have some consideration of private wires and how they would be facilitated to enable a hydrogen network. If you now accept that the lifespan of an offshore wind turbine is 35 years and that the electrolysers are 35 years, then there is no such thing as an electricity price because you are not trading on any markets. We have a 35-year certainty on what our energy input costs will be, and that resource could be retrospectively available to the electricity market at a fraction of the cost of in-market conditions with legislative and system changes.

Paddy Larkin

A secure revenue stream is critical. Where risk is transferred to customers to ensure a secure revenue stream, it needs to be managed in a way that maximises the value attained, under normal circumstances, from a project that did not have that security. Additionally, as can be seen by the 80 per cent renewable consumption target for 2030, targets work to drive progress. An evident flightpath for energy storage volume for the near, medium and longterm is key to energising progress in this area.

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issues agenda

Managing cyber threats to public services

Jessica Figueras, Chief Executive of cybersecurity consultancy Pionen and Vice Chair of Trustees at the UK Cyber Security Council, talks about the challenges facing public sector organisations in managing cyber threats.

With significant increases in ransomware and phishing attacks, Figueras emphasises that all public bodies are targets of hackers.

“With the use of generative AI, attacks are becoming even more sophisticated. Not so far in the future, we are going to be having deepfakes which are going to make attacks much more sinister,” she says.

Speaking in the aftermath of an intergovernmental conference in early 2024 which focused on controlling the privileged proliferation of commercially focused bad actors, Figueras states that the main challenge is a new generation of hackers who “are being very entrepreneurial and selling the tools that they have developed and their services to other bad actors,” which she describes as “hacking as a service”.

“We are all in the firing line,” she observes, adding: “The harm to citizens that can come about as a result of these threats is something which we cannot ignore. In Australia, for example, there was a very significant breach of private healthcare data, which meant the private medical details of 10 million citizens were posted on the dark web.”

Contrasting the constant advancement of innovation among hackers, Figueras contrasts this with the pace of cybersecurity action from governments throughout the world.

“Governments and institutions do not tend to move fast,” she says, adding: “We are struggling with the inability to recruit enough skilled cybersecurity professionals we need to do to do the actual work.

“Cybersecurity in the public sector has often suffered from a very piecemeal approach which is inherently reactive. We need to think about a proactive capacity, which evolves each year and is insulated against the winds of change, through budget cycles, and through boom-and-bust economics. The way we are going to do that is by focusing on people, process, and technology.”


“Cybersecurity is primarily first and foremost a risk management discipline, Figueras asserts. “At the heart of risk management is the idea that we have to not only

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“We live in a world where it is a reality of when – not if –we will face cyberattack.”
Jessica Figueras, UK National Cyber Security Council

know what all of our risks are, we need to know which are most important so we can rank them.”

The main focus, according to Figueras, at the moment for public service organisations is the idea of being secure by design. Looking at new service development, she explains the nature of data-driven cyber defence which is driven by risk.

“It is about understanding intelligence and quickening the pace at which we can pull in information about threats and vulnerabilities and ensuring that we are prepared to respond more quickly.

“To ensure that there is an avenue for this, central agencies, such as the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, are going to be hearing from –and also increasingly between – governments and trusted international partners, sharing these insights working to defend as one.”


“Almost every large organisation that has been around a while will have accumulated an awful lot of technology over the years and a lot of security controls too,” Figueras contextualises.

With some public sector bodies holding more sensitive citizen data than others, Figueras asserts that there is a need for organisations to ensure that frameworks are developed in a way which is “very specific to the organisation”.

“We live in a world where it is a reality of when –not if – we will face cyberattack. We need to detect incidents and events as they happen so that we can respond to them in real time. We need to be able to recover data and we need to we plan proactively for what recovery means because the warning signs are there.”


Figueras says that, within the cybersecurity sector, there is a tendency to “fixate on technology” while not enough focus is placed on “the human beings who actually do the important job of protecting us every day”.

“Amongst cybersecurity professionals, there are high levels of stress of burnout. There are really high levels of mental health challenges. As a result, staff turnover in that sector is high and this is a big part of the reason why organisations in every sector find it really hard to recruit and hold on to their cybersecurity professionals,” she says.

Asserting that cybersecurity professions are often made “scapegoats” when major incidents occur, she argues: “Professionals need to be valued and supported because we need more of them.

“We need more upskilling, we need to build our capability, and we are not going to do that if we scapegoat, and leave them to their own devices.”

Concluding, Figueras states that adapting a working culture towards supporting people is the key to sustainable success in the cybersecurity sector.

“We are now in a place where we are starting to build security and from the start. To keep this momentum, we need engaged leadership which is accountable and interested in sustainable success while supporting its staff.”

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The case for mixed recycling

Joseph Doherty, Chief Executive of Re-Gen, explains why the fully commingled household waste collection system is the best option for Northern Ireland’s environment, economy, and society.

Back in the 1960s, engineers in the United States Navy came up with an acronym to describe a principle which has been at the heart of good design since the beginning of time: KISS.

It stands for ‘keep it simple, stupid’ and refers to the principle that designs or systems should always be simple and avoid complexity wherever possible. Keep things simple and you are more likely to design something that works, that lasts and, most importantly, is truly accepted and utilised by users.

When it comes to household recycling, the philosophy very much applies. Make the process easy for householders and they will recycle more; make it complex and they will recycle less.

The data bears that prediction out. In Northern Ireland, the council areas with the simplest recycling systems for householders have the highest dry recycling rate. In other words, they recycle more.

That system is known as fully commingled and sees householders sort their waste into just three wheelie bins: dry recyclables, including glass, in the blue or green bin; residual waste in the black or grey bin, and degradable and compostable material in the brown bin.

It is a simple system which makes life easier for householders.

At the other end of the scale are the council areas where recycling rates are

lowest. Householders there are faced with what is known as the kerbside sort or multiple box system, which essentially creates multistream recycling centres in every home. They are required to sort their waste into up to six separate bins: a brown wheelie bin for garden waste; a grey or black wheelie bin for all nonrecyclable waste; one caddy bin for cardboard and paper; one for aerosols, cartons, foil, metal cans and plastic and one for glass bottles and jars. A further bin is required for food waste.

Unsurprisingly, the complexity of this system produces the lowest levels of recycling.

Proof, if it were needed, that the simpler the system the higher the rate of recycling comes from the fact other commingled systems operating in Northern Ireland (either with a separate glass collection or with no glass collection at all) produce slightly lower rates than fully commingled, but more than kerbside sort.

Ironically, it is a simple argument but one which needs spelling out to ensure government opts for the best possible household waste collection system for the future.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has recently launched a consultation, Rethinking Our Resources: Measures for Climate Action and a Circular Economy in Northern Ireland.

The consultation is aimed at finding the best waste collection for all of Northern Ireland, rather than the divergent systems currently in place in different council areas currently.

We, at Re-Gen, believe the fully commingled system is the best option for Northern Ireland’s environment, the best value for the public purse, and best for the local recycling industry.

Because of the higher levels of recycling it produces, the fully commingled system helps prevent waste going to landfill and will be a key enabler in helping Northern Ireland reach its target recycling rate of 70 per cent by 2030, as set out in the Climate Change Act.

There is also an extremely strong economic argument for the fully commingled system.

If DAERA was to opt for the kerbside box system across all Northern Ireland’s councils, the cost of recalibrating the region’s waste system would likely be more than £1 billion over seven years. That will be needed to pay

for everything from new bin lorries, the bins themselves, education of householders, and a myriad of other costs. It is money which in these straightened times would surely be best spent on our hospitals and schools?

It is also worth noting that the recycled material which is produced from the commingled system is of as high quality, if not higher quality, than with the kerbside box system.

We, at Re-Gen, already supply many Northern Ireland-based companies which use our paper, carboard and other recyclate. At present we export glass for recycling to Great Britain and Belgium but, with minimal investment by glass recyclers in Northern Ireland, that too could be utilised here.

Our view is simple: Northern Ireland should opt for the fully commingled household waste collection system. Let recycling companies like us at Re-Gen, which are equipped with 20 years of experiencing in sorting waste using the latest technologies, sort dry recyclable waste.

It will be better for the environment of Northern Ireland, most cost effective for the public purse and will allow the circular economy in Northern Ireland to thrive.

T: 028 3026 5432



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PSNI accused of spying on journalists

Eight journalists working in Northern Ireland described as “troublemakers” have been under routine illegal surveillance by the PSNI, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) in London has heard.

On 8 May 2024, barrister Ben Jaffey, acting on behalf of two journalists in Northern Ireland, Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney, claimed that the PSNI used unlawful covert surveillance in an attempt to unmask journalists’ sources.

Birney and McCaffrey were arrested in 2018 in an operation led by Durham Constabulary which had been tasked by the PSNI to investigate how they obtained information for a documentary on the UVF Loughinisland massacre.

In 2019, the two journalists won a court case which found the search warrants used had been “inappropriate”. The

judge opined they had “acted properly” in protecting their sources in a lawful way and the PSNI later paid damages amounting to £875,000.

The journalists then filed a case with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) which examines complaints regarding covert surveillance and this has widened the story.

A Durham Constabulary minutes of a meeting with PSNI officers in November 2017, read before the tribunal on the 8 May hearing, states that the “unlawful disclosure” of PSNI information had been longstanding. The minutes files further

claims that in 2007/2008, “telephone billing” may have been applied for in an attempt to establish who was leaking to journalists who were “always looking for a story”.

The file lists the names of eight people whose names have been redacted, all run through a “stand alone intelligence system”.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) Editor’s Code of Practice, in Clause 14, states: “Journalists have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information.”

It is understood information suggesting RTÉ Northern Editor Vincent Kearney might also have been subject to surveillance emerged during the disclosure processes related to McCaffrey and Birney’s case.

The BBC has written to the IPT about Kearney, a former BBC journalist, who believes his phone was monitored in 2011.

A BBC spokesperson has said: “We have instructed lawyers to write to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal about the alleged PSNI surveillance of telephone data linked to the work of Vincent Kearney during his employment with the BBC, in connection with a BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight programme broadcast in 2011.

“We think that serious issues of public interest are involved, including in relation to the adverse effects that surveillance may have on journalistic investigations and freedoms.”

Chief Constable Jon Boucher spoke before the Policing Board on the matter on 15 May 2024 and confirmed that the PSNI intends to publish a public report on the extent of police surveillance of lawyers and journalists.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal case is due for full hearing in October 2024.

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Enhancing public sector communication: Diversity NI’s new secure online booking system for interpreting and translation services

In today’s globalised world, the need for effective communication across diverse linguistic backgrounds has never been greater, especially in the public sector.

Recognising this, Diversity NI, a leader in professional interpreting and translation services in Northern Ireland, has launched a significant upgrade to its client services with a new secure online booking system, committing £100,000 of investment over the next five years. This innovative platform promises fast, efficient, and secure access to translation services, significantly enhancing public sector communication.

The new system simplifies the process of scheduling interpreting services, enabling its public sector clients to book services effortlessly and securely. With the capability to handle over 100 jobs per day and a team of 10 dedicated full-time employees, Diversity NI offers rapid response times with no booking fees. The telephone interpreting platform provides immediate access to interpreters fluent in more than 200 languages, available

within just one minute of a request.

Paolina Hawthorne, Managing Director of Diversity NI, highlights the impact of this new technology: “We are proud to be possibly the first company in Northern Ireland to integrate such advanced technology in our operations.

“At Diversity NI, we deeply understand the critical importance of security and confidentiality for our clients, especially those within the public sector where sensitive information is frequently exchanged. Our new secure online booking system is designed with state-ofthe-art security measures to protect every interaction. This means our clients can focus on their essential work without concerns about the privacy and security of their communications. We believe this system not only meets but exceeds the rigorous demands for confidentiality in public service, ensuring peace of mind

and trust in our interpretation and translation services.”

In the past year alone, Diversity NI has provided interpreting services to 40,000 clients, illustrating its crucial role in facilitating key communications across multiple sectors. The introduction of this system is expected to further improve service delivery by reducing the time clients spend making bookings and providing instant confirmation of services.

The public sector, where clear and reliable communication is critical, stands to benefit significantly from Diversity NI’s services. Accurate and efficient interpretation is essential in medical and social service settings, where misunderstandings can have serious consequences. Additionally, in areas like insurance claim services, where clarity and accuracy in communication can expedite claims processing and enhance customer satisfaction, Diversity NI’s services are invaluable.

The new booking system is a gamechanger for public sector entities that require dependable and swift interpreting services. It ensures that no matter the language barrier, public service professionals can communicate effectively and fulfil their duties without delays.

For more information about Diversity NI and the innovative secure booking system, please visit

Paolina Hawthorne, Managing Director, Diversity NI

T: 028 9047 3737



Protecting the environment for future generations

Chief of Staff at the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), Richard Greenhous, outlines the organisation’s role in protecting and improving the environment in Northern Ireland at a “critical time”.

Describing the environmental protection and improvement challenges for Northern Ireland as “numerous and complex”, Greenhous believes that the return of the Northern Ireland Assembly presents an opportunity for progress at a time when urgent action is needed and tough decisions must be made.

With a mission to protect and improve the environment by holding governments and other public authorities to account against environmental laws and commitments, the OEP has been the independent environmental oversight body for Northern Ireland since 28 February 2022.

The OEP was established in England

under the 2021 Environment Act, and came into effect for England and reserved environmental matters on 24 January 2022. The extension of its functions to Northern Ireland was aimed at replacing the oversight of environmental protection that had previously been provided by the European Union. The OEP was never meant to play the role of an independent Environmental Protection Agency, which has long been lobbied for by some groups.

Greenhous explains that the OEP has not built separate Northern Ireland and England teams, but instead has built “one joined up organisation that delivers for both Northern Ireland and England”.

The “one organisation, two jurisdiction approach”, as he describes it, allows for the “most efficient use of all our resources to benefit both regions, while also remaining sensitive and responsive to their differences”.

“We are not an English organisation dabbling in Northern Ireland. We are one organisation, passionate about delivering our mission to protect and improve the natural environment by holding public bodies to account in both Northern Ireland and England.”

Greenhous explains that, through the OEP’s engagement to date, stakeholders have raised four major barriers to environmental protection: political

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instability; a lack of enforcement; low prioritisation for environmental issues; and the planning system.

“None are easy to address, but all are areas where progress is possible,” he states.


Greenhous describes it as “hugely regrettable” that Northern Ireland does not have an environmental improvement plan (EIP) in place. The independent assessment of the Government’s progress against an EIP is one of the OEP’s main functions and the Chief of Staff says that the organisation “have been clear to officials and now to the [agriculture, environment and rural affairs] minister, that an EIP must be in place as soon as possible”.

“The EIP will spur the action required to protect and improve Northern Ireland’s environment. It will focus activity on what is needed to deliver the positive changes sought. It will allow progress to be monitored, and amendments to be made as necessary to overcome all the barriers over time,” he states.

In the absence of an EIP, Greenhous says that the OEP continues to prepare for its implementation and points to its role in advising the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) on how its draft Environment Strategy could be improved as it is adopted as the EIP.

“We advised that the vision and targets should be clearer; targets needed to be strengthened; prioritisation needed to be better; the right policies, resources, and governance arrangements must be in place to support delivery; and a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation regime is needed,” he explains.

“We have also engaged persistently with DAERA on it meeting other important statutory deadlines. For example, the Nutrient Action Programme (NAP), which is so important to address the critical issue of nutrient pollution that is in part exemplified by the situation at Lough Neagh.”

Later in 2024, the OEP will publish its findings on an ongoing review of the drivers and pressures affecting biodiversity across Northern Ireland, with Greenhous indicating that the impact that land use change and pollution are having on nutrient enrichment set to be a large feature. In addition, the OEP is conducting research projects in relation to the regulation, management, and monitoring of waste; marine environment condition; and monitoring species abundance.

“We are particularly interested in looking at how various environmental policies and strategies interact – how they stack up – so we will also be undertaking a review of how coherent the EIP and climate action plans are,” the Chief of Staff says.

A second core function of the OEP is the scrutiny of environmental law, and Greenhous sets out that the OEP is preparing three reports which scrutinise the effective implementation of environmental laws in Northern Ireland. These include the design and management of protected sites (proposed publication in September 2024), the implementation of laws to support water quality, including an evaluation of river basin management plans (proposed publication in prior to summer recess), and the implementation of laws which protect water quality at bathing sites (proposed publication in October 2024).

Fulfilling a third function of government advisor, the OEP advised DAERA on its draft ammonia and circular economy strategies.

“On the Ammonia Strategy, we called for clearer targets, an action plan for delivery and evaluation, and for a clearer roadmap of how targets up to 2050 will be achieved,” Greenhous says.

“In September 2023, we advised DAERA on its draft Environmental Principles Policy Statement (EPPS). Once this statement has been finalised, ministers and their departments will have a legal duty to be guided by the statement when making policy. The potential here to drive environmental protection and improvement is huge. When the EPPS is in place, we will have a key role in monitoring its implementation.”

The fourth and final key function of the OEP is enforcement. Greenhous is quick to point out that the OEP is not “a front-line regulator”, but does receive complaints from the public about suspected breaches of environmental law by public bodies, which can inform its work.

“Our role is more strategic… What are the systematic issues that have led to the situation at Lough Neagh –which is itself an illustration of wider problems across Northern Ireland – and where can we play a unique role, given our specific remit, to make a difference?”

Concluding, Greenhous says: “We want to see good environment laws, well implemented and with high levels of compliance – the foundation stones for the progress to be made.

“The restoration of Stormont brings fresh opportunities; to progress the Environmental Improvement Plan, Environmental Principles Policy Statement, Nutrient Action Plan, River Basin Management Plan, the requirements of the Climate Change Act, and so on.

“These are the vehicles that can start to drive muchneeded progress in protecting and improving the environment here for future generations.”

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Investing in the future

As NIE Networks prepares to invest up to £4 billion upgrading Northern Ireland’s electricity network over the next decade, newly appointed Finance Director, Ted Browne, outlines the organisation’s role in delivering a reliable and sustainable energy system for all.

Browne brings over 25 years’ finance and utility experience to NIE Networks at a time when the organisation is embarking on one of the largest public sector investments in the history of Northern Ireland.

Having previously worked for the Republic’s electricity network owner, ESB, Browne has extensive experience in finance strategy and business

transformation, including responsibility for ESB’s international debt investors who lent £5 billion to ESB.

Recognising the transformational power of strategic investment, he believes that the opportunity presented by the journey to net zero for NIE Networks and Northern Ireland as a whole is one that must be fully grasped.

“As we approach a net zero future, the role of the electricity network will undergo fundamental reform involving the investment of billions of pounds into the local economy. We are at a critical point in time in the company’s history and we are working with a great number of stakeholders to ensure we get it right,” Browne explains.

The company collaborated with the Department for the Economy (DfE) and other stakeholders on developing Northern Ireland’s Path to Net Zero Energy strategy, which was published in December 2021. The strategy sets ambitious targets for net zero carbon energy, while seeking to maintain affordability, and key elements of the strategy are enshrined in the Climate Change Act (Northern Ireland) 2022.

NIE Networks is the owner of the electricity transmission and distribution networks in Northern Ireland, transporting electricity from generators to over 910,000 customers. Its employees maintain and extend the electricity infrastructure across Northern Ireland, connect end user and generation customers to the network and ensure that equipment is safe and reliable. It also provides electricity meters and metering data to suppliers and market operators and develops and reconfigures the electricity network to facilitate the connection of further renewable generation.

However, much of that is due to change according to Browne: “Our future network will need to not only deliver electricity to homes, farms, and businesses but also receive significant amounts of renewable generation from multiple sources across Northern Ireland. It is a large body of

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Delivering a sustainable energy system for all

work, one that will require a significant private sector investment in Northern Ireland and will see NIE Networks evolve to be a fully active Distribution System Operator (DSO).”

Interest to investors

Browne outlines how net zero is also an area of significant interest to investors:

“The production of green energy is a growing market and Northern Ireland is already of interest to those wishing to invest in this area. Wind farm investors, for example, are eager to avail of our ever-prevailing Atlantic winds. To date, NIE Networks has successfully connected around 26,400 renewable generators, significantly increasing the available capacity and resulting in approximately 1.8GW of renewable electricity connected to the network which supplied 47 per cent of Northern Ireland’s annual electricity consumption in 2023.”

The net zero target is to have 80 per cent of annual electricity consumption from renewable consumption by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2050.

“Helpfully, there continues to be interest from generators to connect potential further renewable capacity to the network. However, investors need to be assured that they will be able to connect

that generation to the network before they proceed. In order to provide the required assurances, we must ensure that the capacity to connect low carbon technologies is increased and that we can enable a net zero future.

“At the same time, NIE Networks needs to map the priority areas using data from the market and digital technology to efficiently plan network upgrades in such a way as to maximise the investment and renewable outputs possible,” Browne explains.

Many elements of NIE Networks’ own Networks for Net Zero report are mirrored in the DfE’s Path to Net Zero

Energy. There is strong alignment between the two strategies and NIE Networks’ draft Business Plan for the next seven years (RP7).

NIE Networks’ RP7 Business plan submission is currently with the Utility Regulator which requested an investment of approximately £2.6 billion over the next seven years. The plan outlines the investment required to facilitate the decarbonisation of society, maintain a safe and reliable network and ensure customers continue to receive excellent customer service. The Regulator’s final determination is due in October 2024.

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Delivering a sustainable energy system for all

Impact on society

Net zero will transform how the people of Northern Ireland live and work as the electrification of heat and transport will play a fundamental role in meeting the 2050 target.

Browne explains: “The challenge for NIE Networks is to make sure that customers are supported in their own efforts to cut emissions and live a more sustainable life. So, whether you wish to install an electric vehicle charger in Belfast or a heat pump in the Sperrins, NIE Networks needs to enable that to happen. That will be a significant challenge for us as society evolves to become overwhelmingly focused on renewable living.

“In years to come it is possible that we will begin to see communities introducing their own generation and, in addition to homes having electric vehicle chargers and heat pumps, it will become typical for a property to have battery storage facilities. Indeed, we are already seeing an increase in interest from customers connecting integrated micro generation and battery storage.

“Consumers will become more involved in managing their own electricity consumption. To support this, NIE Networks needs to increase digital visualisation on the network, particularly the distribution network, which did not previously require this level of monitoring. In turn, the people of Northern Ireland will be able to trust that the electricity network will continue to be reliable as they use electricity to replace fossil fuels in their homes, businesses, and transport.”

The company will evolve from a Network Operator to a Distribution System Operator (DSO) managing the two-way flow of electricity, supply of data, and digital mechanisms to facilitate consumers to manage their electricity consumption in a similar manner to their heating system.

In 2023, the board approved changes in the leadership team structure in readiness for RP7 and in recognition of the organisation’s transition to a Distribution System Operator (DSO). A Future Networks Director and business function was established along with the recruitment of a Chief Information Officer to give focus to the part that technology and data will play in the future.

Staffing and capability resource

The delivery of the increased level of investment will require a considerable increase in our workforce, contractors, and the development of new capabilities.

NIE Networks has already begun to recruit and enhance capabilities estimating an increase of 35 per cent in their current workforce to bring the total number of people employed to around 2,000 by 2030.

A recruitment drive for both newly qualified and experienced engineers closed on 6 May 2023. Browne explains that it is not solely related to electrical roles: “In addition to electrical skills, there is a considerable increase in the

supporting functions; surveyors, procurement, finance, IT and data specialists. To support our own efforts in sustainability, and ensure we have optimum reporting mechanisms for investors, there are also opportunities in sustainability and ESG roles.”

It is a major area of focus for anyone involved in the energy transition so the market is competitive – not just in Northern Ireland but across the world.

Vital talent pipelines for the company are their student opportunities; traineeships, apprentice academy, higher level apprenticeships and scholarships for undergraduates. NIE Networks has an employee retention rate of 98 per cent and considerable development opportunities for career progression. Several of the Directors started out their career as apprentices in the company and it is not unusual to meet employees with more than 30 years’ experience.

NIE Networks has plans to develop and expand these talent pipelines, alongside the learning and development function, over the coming years.

One key challenge for the green energy sector as a whole is the societal culture, as Browne explains: “The majority of young people are persuaded to follow a university route without considering alternative options that may be more appropriate for them. While highly skilled graduates will always be required, the industry will undoubtedly rely on young people coming through the traditional skills route. The challenge

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lies in persuading future talent – and their influencers – to realise the potential in the vocational route and take up traineeships and apprenticeship.

“Skills are a fundamental enabler for the net zero target. If we do not have enough people with the right skills it will not happen. The green energy sector has a hugely exciting future ahead but we need the best skilled talent to ensure the sector and the wider economy in Northern Ireland reaches its full potential. It is important that all employers within the sector, government and the education sector collaborate effectively and take ownership of developing the correct talent pipelines.

“It is the right thing to do for our people and for the planet.”

The finances

As a gateway for net zero the company is investing significantly in the electricity network to increase its capacity and resilience for the benefit of customers. Underlying capital expenditure was £219 million in 2023, up £32 million or 17 per cent on 2022. Supporting this investment, and future projected investment of up to £4 billion over the next decade, will require careful financial management to deliver and fund this investment cost effectively for the benefit of customers.

Browne is keen to emphasise the benefit to Northern Ireland: “Over £190 million was contributed to the Northern Ireland economy in 2023 and this will only increase as the years progress. NIE Networks will ensure that, through the right planning and investment, costs for customers are minimised and they are supported in their own efforts to cut emissions and live a more sustainable life.

“It is dependent on good partnership and collaboration with industry participants, customers, and other stakeholders.”

Browne concludes: “It is a once in a generation opportunity and we have a responsibility to get it right for the people of Northern Ireland and future generations. I am personally enjoying working with the capable and committed people in NIE Networks and key stakeholders to enable the delivery of a sustainable energy system for the benefit of Northern Ireland and its economy.”

“Over £190 million was contributed to the Northern Ireland economy in 2023 and this will only increase as the years progress.”
Ted Browne

Ted Browne was appointed Financial Director of NIE Networks in September 2023, having previously served in a variety of senior roles for ESB, including as Financial Controller of ESB’s Engineering and Major Projects division, and as Chief Financial Officer for ESB Networks. He began his career as a senior auditor for KPMG Ireland in 1988 and is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants.

Outside of work Browne is enjoying getting to know Northern Ireland and its people. He enjoys travelling, almost all sports, and spending time with his wife Deirdre and their four children, who he explains keep them busy in a good way.

NIE Networks


LinkedIn: NIE Networks

a sustainable energy system for all
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2030 target to be met by two

renewable electricity support auctions

An ambitious target of 80 per cent renewable electricity consumption by 2030 will need to be met by just two project auctions under the forthcoming renewable electricity support scheme (RESS).

Although not finalised, design considerations by the Department for the Economy for the RESS scheme suggest that only projects procured in the scheme’s first two auctions will be operational by 2030.

Currently, around 45 per cent of Northern Ireland’s electricity consumption comes from renewable sources, mostly onshore wind, and a significant gap exists in reaching the 80 per cent target mandated by the Climate Change Act in less than six years.

An estimated 3.5 TWh of generation are expected to require support if Northern Ireland is to meet the 80 per cent renewable electricity target and the Department’s proposed auction roadmap sees 1,000 GWh (~500MW), procured in 2025/26 for delivery in 2027. This means that auction one of the new support scheme is expected to

deliver around 30 per cent of the supported energy volumes required to meet the 2030 target, with the vast majority being from onshore wind and solar projects.

Auction two, therefore, which is set to be held in 2027 for project delivery in 2029 will need to procure around 70 per cent of supported energy needed, a volume of some 2,500 GWh (~1250 (MW).

The Department says that this second auction will be used to increase the procurement volume of other technologies beyond onshore wind and solar, but it is not expected to support offshore wind projects.

Interestingly, no timeline has been offered for offshore wind support, despite recognition of the critical role it is intended to play in Northern Ireland’s transition to net zero. The Energy Strategy Action Plan 2022 commits the

Department to a target of 1GW of offshore wind capacity from 2030 and the Department says that while it continues to “refine the timeline for offshore wind delivery, at this stage in development, it is not possible to confirm the scale and timing of offshore renewable generation deployment in Northern Ireland”.

The Department for the Economy first held a consultation on design considerations for a renewable electricity support scheme in February 2023 and in early April 2024, the Department issued its Proposed High Level Design on the RESS.

Calls for a renewable electricity support scheme had been longstanding with recognition that market conditions provided little incentive for developers to build further generation. The Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation (NIRO) was Northern Ireland’s last

42 energy report
a sustainable energy system for all

Delivering a sustainable energy system for all

Proposed auction roadmap


Source: Department for the Economy

support scheme for encouraging increased renewable electricity generation in Northern Ireland and successfully catapulted the region to a world leader in renewable electricity.

However, the scheme closed in 2016/17, with the substantial delivery of new clean energy development in the region largely ending with it.

Outlining the primary aim of the scheme as “to encourage investment in local renewable electricity projects whilst also protecting consumers from global price shocks”, the Department stresses that the high level design paper is a “preliminary proposition only” and that the detailed design will be developed throughout the remainder of 2024.

The Department’s high level design paper was informed by analysis carried out by Aurora Energy Research on its behalf, which included a range of preliminary recommendations.

The design proposes a contract for difference (CfD) scheme, based on successful deployment internationally, for a variety of eligible technologies ranging from onshore wind and solar through to tidal energy and storage infrastructure.

Importantly, the scheme is likely to be voluntary, recognising that a mandatory migration to a CfD scheme for legacy projects would significantly alter the financial business model. Additionally, potential delays caused by legal objections to inclusion in a mandatory scheme should be avoided. Finally, feedback suggests that a mandatory scheme could pose a barrier to


• Procure projects at advanced stages of development.

• Procure ~30% of the suppor ted energ y volumes required to meet 2030 target, mainly through Pot 1

• Procure remaining ~70% of suppor ted energ y volumes required to meet 2030 target.

• Increase procurement volume of Pot 2 to diversif y the supply mix

alternative routes to market, such as corporate power purchase agreements (CPPAs).

Subject to change is the proposal that the scheme proposes a minimum capacity for eligibility of 5MW, however, this is likely to be reduced following industry feedback. The Department notes no “broad consensus” for a dedicated support scheme for microgeneration, however, there is recognition that microgeneration could continue to make an important contribution to reaching targets, leaving open the possibility of delivery of a future scheme.

Also likely to be included in the final scheme is a community benefit fund, with the Department recognising widespread agreement that communities hosting renewable projects should benefit from the wider advantages gained by consumers in Northern Ireland.

The majority of feedback agrees that the optimal frequency for access to the scheme would be between one and two years, with a proposed contract length of 15 years. However, technologyspecific contract lengths are an option.

“A clear roadmap for upcoming auctions was also widely identified as critical to providing enough predictability for developers to manage risk,” the Department states.

On price, pay-as-clear stands out as the most suitable price clearing process, on the basis that auctions need sufficient competition for this approach to be effective. As expected,

strike prices are likely to be indexed to inflation, minimising revenue uncertainty over the lifetime of the contract for generators.

Finally, there is wide agreement that planning permission and a grid connection offer should be required for projects to be eligible. It is also noted by respondents that these requirements are essential to protect customers from non-delivery or overly speculative bids. However, it has been warned that a balance must be found, and that additional requirements beyond planning permission and a grid connection offer may deter achievable projects, resulting in reduced competition in the auction process.

This eligibility poses a challenge. The Department estimates that the 30 per cent contribution from auction one will be from projects already in the planning pipeline. The planning system in its current format has been criticised as slow and cumbersome, particularly when it comes to major infrastructure projects.

With only projects procured in the first two auction round of a new renewable electricity support scheme likely to be operational by 2030, meeting the ambitious 80 per cent electricity consumption from renewable sources target by that timeframe will require a substantial shortening in determination times for planning applications.

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Auction Auction Year Deliver y Year Volume Pot 1 & 2 Volume Pot 3
~2025/26 . ~2027 1,000 GWh (~500 MW) 0 GWh
~2029 2,500 GWh (~1250 MW) TBD

Calor’s renewable energy journey

Calor is pioneering sustainable solutions for Northern Ireland’s rural communities, writes Mary Coughlin, Calor’s Regional Sales Manager.

Calor has been a reliable supplier of energy solutions for over eight decades, particularly catering to rural consumers off the natural gas grid here in Northern Ireland.

Our product range caters to a wide array of sectors, spanning agriculture, hospitality, industrial settings needing high-temperature heat, and residential

properties. Deeply attuned to consumers’ and businesses’ unique needs, our journey to net zero is well underway and is committed to offering a variety of options to fulfil current and future energy requirements.

This commitment extends to our role in guiding them through the transition to more sustainable energy solutions. Still,

with this move, there is a necessity for robust governmental support and a collaborative approach to marketing efforts to ensure that customers are adequately informed about the available options, empowering them to make wellinformed decisions regarding their energy choices.

For the past 80 years, Calor has been synonymous with LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) supply, and in 2018, we introduced our first renewable fuel, BioLPG. This marked a significant milestone in achieving our aspiration of offering 100 per cent renewable and sustainably sourced energy, in line with our ethos of caring for future generations.

Our BioLPG is a significant part of this journey and delivers up to 80 per cent certified carbon savings compared to fossil fuels*, offering an environmentally conscious choice as a drop-in fuel compatible with existing infrastructure, simplifying the transition for users.

BioLPG can also blend seamlessly with LPG. This flexibility empowers users to dictate their own green trajectory while balancing the associated financial costs because they can blend from 10 per cent to 100 per cent BioLPG — the option is theirs.

BioLPG, while a massive part of our net zero efforts, will be one of many innovative products. As part of SHV Energy, a global leader in LPG, Calor draws on vast insight and experience, and we are proud that Northern Ireland is leading the way in our parent company’s broader adoption of BioLPG.

Since we introduced BioLPG in 2018,

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Northern Ireland has been among the earliest global adopters, driven by local businesses embracing our products.

Additionally, with our parent company, we are actively pioneering alternative fuels like renewable dimethyl ether (rDME) — a clean-burning fuel produced from renewable sources such as organic waste or biomass. Through the joint venture Dimeta, SHV aims to expedite rDME production, offering another clean fuel option while supporting local waste management.

At Calor, we believe partnerships play a crucial role in achieving our and society’s net zero goals. Our partnerships with leading universities, including Queen’s University Belfast, enable us to undertake groundbreaking research and development projects to meet the evolving needs of our customers and the environment.

Calor also adopts a mixed technology approach, which we know will be a valuable asset in the transition to more sustainable energy solutions. This combines traditional LPG and BioLPG with renewable energy technologies such as solar panels and heat pumps. It enables us to offer a range of economically viable solutions for off-grid homes and businesses, ensuring reliable warmth while cutting carbon emissions. Our ongoing exploration of hybrid solutions is another part of our commitment to meeting evolving customer needs and advancing towards a more sustainable energy future.

However, this energy transition comes with challenges, particularly in rural areas. Limited public knowledge and the upfront costs of transitioning remain significant barriers. Research carried out by Calor in March 2024 cited cost as the primary barrier in the shift towards lower carbon or renewable energy, followed by 38 per cent indicating a lack of access to infrastructure.

Educating consumers and providing financial support for equipment upgrades are essential steps in overcoming these challenges. Government policies that promote mixed technology solutions and support energy efficiency improvements can further facilitate this transition.

The survey showed that more than half (54 per cent) of respondents said the Government is not giving enough support in facilitating the transition to lower carbon or renewable energy sources. This highlights the need for government

leadership through policy to address this gap.

Four key challenges for the adoption of renewable liquid gases require collective action; firstly, the need for clear policy direction is crucial. The Northern Ireland energy strategy and subsequent yearly action plans by the Department for the Economy (DfE) is a promising step.

Secondly, as part of the broader LPG sector, collaboration with Liquid Gas UK is vital to address these challenges.

Decarbonising heat is another pressing issue to achieve net zero by 2050. It is essential to offer consumers a mixed offering rather than relying solely on one solution such as electricity. We can learn from neighbouring countries, where policies favouring one solution over others have proven ineffective, emphasising the importance of providing choice.

Lastly, time is of the essence, and adopting a multi-technology approach is paramount. We view LPG as the initial

step, followed by renewable gases, to tackle these challenges effectively.

As a business, Calor is committed to leading the transition to greener energy in Northern Ireland – particularly in rural areas. Through innovative products like BioLPG, ongoing research into renewable fuels like rDME and eventually Hydrogen, alongside our strategic partnerships we are helping shape a more sustainable future for generations to come.

Right now, Calor will continue to communicate and support people to join in using lower carbon LPG and BioLPG. We are aiming to invest, and we’ve taken this step and journey before there was a policy there and we will continue to work towards that to enable our customers to make lower carbon choices.


*BioLPG Carbon value of 65.2 gCO2 per kWh is based on actual BioLPG feedstocks and deliveries in 2023. All other fuel values reference DEFRA emission factors 2023. 45 energy report

Hydrogen and the future of energy in transport

Hydrogen use will become “an important lever” in the transport sector after projected advances in technology, production, and storage capacity, and will be particularly prominent in the decarbonisation of aviation, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Shane McDonagh claims.

Shane McDonagh, an IEA research analyst and former researcher at UCC’s MaREI, has outlined that by 2050, hydrogen will be in widespread use throughout the heavy-duty transport sector both directly and in the form of hydrogen-based fuels, and that the most significant scope for development is in the aviation industry, although there are wider roles to be played in maritime and to a lesser extent road transport.

McDonagh acknowledges that these are long-term aspirations as hydrogen production is “likely to be limited” prior to significant demand emerging in these sectors and before the introduction of

46 energy report
In November 2023, a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 became the first aircraft to complete a transatlantic flight powered by green hydrogen.
Delivering a sustainable energy system for all

Delivering a sustainable energy system for all

Hydrogen demand by sector in a net zero emissions by 2050 scenario


by sector in the NZE, 2021-2050

Source: IEA

Over 45% of hydrogen demand in 2050 in the NZE goes to support transport, either directly or in the form of hydrogen-based fuels

adequate storage and distribution capacity, which is not anticipated to happen prior to 2030. Furthermore, he indicates that as electricity becomes the dominant source of energy for road transport, the use of biofuels will shift to shipping and particularly aviation.

McDonagh says that the key lesson being drawn from IEA research thus far is that there is a need to “use electricity directly where possible”, suggesting where practical, direct electrification generally provides the lowest costs and carbon emissions of the competing solutions.

Given the current limitations of batteries, this still leaves significant room for hydrogen and in the IEA’s net zero emissions by 2050 scenario “electricity demand for hydrogen-based fuels production will increase total transport electricity demand by 6,000 TWh to reach a total of almost 17,000 TWh,” he explains.

Opportunities and limitations

Hydrogen is touted by McDonagh as having a “prominent” role to play in the reduction of emissions. However, in concluding, the analyst is mindful that hydrogen will play a role which is

“complementary” to wider electricity and bioenergy use in all transport sectors.

“In shipping, biofuels are increasingly used, reaching about 20 per cent of fuel demand, but due to limits on sustainable biomass availability and competition with the aviation industry, we could see green ammonia emerge as the most dominate zero emission fuel in 2050, meeting about 50 per cent of fuel demand.

“Hydrogen, which is not as well suited as ammonia and biofuels for long, transoceanic journeys, is used for shorter range coastal vessels.

Hydrogen could account for 15 per cent of shipping fuel demand in 2050; and the other 15 per cent of fuel will still come from oil.”

He concludes, rationalising: “One of the reasons for the slow transition of maritime shipping to zero carbon fuels is that for ammonia and hydrogen especially, new ship designs and standards will be needed.” Even once these ships are built, turnover will be low as “shipping vessels have lifetimes of 20 to 30 years”.

0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% 0 50 100 150 200 250 300 350 400 450 500 2021 2030 2040 2050 E l e c t r o l y t i c s ha r e M t H 2 Indus tr y Refi neri es Powe r Bui ldi ngs Tra nspor t ( dir ec t) Tra nspor t ( ammoni a) Tra nspor t ( sy ntheti c fue ls ) O ther Sha re o f H2 pr oducti on fr om electricity
47 energy report

ABO Energy’s £450 million investment plans

Patricia McGrath, Head of Project Development at renewable energy developer ABO Energy discusses Northern Ireland’s renewable electricity target and the opportunities presented by the need to decarbonise.

Whilst Northern Ireland has shown in the past that it has the expertise and ambition to meet and exceed renewable energy goals; a number of factors have slowed the delivery of new projects in recent years. However, a renewable electricity consumption target of at least

80 per cent by 2030 and recent announcements from the Department for the Economy mean the sector is focused and ready to deliver once again.

“There is no doubt the last six or seven

years have been frustrating when it comes to delivering new projects in Northern Ireland,” says McGrath. “Being the only region in the UK and Ireland without a government support mechanism meant we were effectively operating with our hands tied behind our back. Most of the financial investment went to other areas that were simply more attractive to investors.”

During those difficult years, most large renewable energy companies scaled back their involvement in Northern Ireland, with many leaving the region completely. However, ABO Energy continued to invest in its team and in new opportunities, which means it is now perfectly positioned to support the drive to 80 per cent by 2030.

“Our confidence in and commitment to Northern Ireland never wavered. Even when there was little cause for optimism, we focused on identifying opportunities, securing new sites and further developing our own expertise and experience. We are very proud of our fantastic team,” explains McGrath.

This approach has paid off. With a team of almost 20 full-time professionals in its Lisburn office, ABO Energy has expanded its interests here from its original involvement in onshore wind, to a portfolio of projects that now also includes battery energy storage, green hydrogen, and solar PV.

The company’s growing expertise in a wide range of technologies prompted a recent name change, having previously been known as ‘ABO Wind’.

“We had many successful years under our previous name, but ABO Energy much better reflects the breadth of skills and expertise we now have. A fundamental part of our approach is developing trusted partnerships with landowners and we want them to know from the start that we can work with them on much more than just wind energy projects,” says McGrath.

“Our new branding has been so well received but we are also very keen to emphasise that we are still the same

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Patricia McGrath, Head of Project Development, ABO Energy.

company with no change in ownership. Our ethos remains unchanged and everyone who deals with ABO Energy will see the same ambition, professionalism and respect they are used to from our team.”

The ambition McGrath refers to has made ABO Energy one of the most active developers in Northern Ireland, with a pipeline of developments that will make a substantial contribution to the 2030 renewable electricity target.

“As things stand we have achieved planning approval for over 375MW of projects in Northern Ireland. That includes wind farms, a green hydrogen facility and one of the largest battery energy storage projects consented on the island of Ireland,” says McGrath.

“We also have live planning applications for further projects totalling over 300MW and we expect this to grow further in the coming months. When built-out, our consented and currently proposed developments will involve an investment of £450 million.”

McGrath believes there are very few, if any, other industries that offer such significant promise across Northern Ireland: “As a sector, we are proposing generational levels of private investment here. It is Northern Ireland’s single biggest economic opportunity.”

Born and raised outside Dungannon, County Tyrone, McGrath studied at Queen’s University Belfast and now

lives with her husband and three young children close to where she grew up. “I particularly like the fact our investments create benefits across the region –mostly in rural areas that otherwise really struggle to attract funding and economic growth. That is important to me personally, as well as the investment needed to build and operate our projects, our community benefit funds will support local groups and organisations long into the future.”

ABO Energy has an extensive educational programme in Northern Ireland, where an experienced teacher, Mrs Pauline Davison works with local primary schools on renewable energy and sustainability classes. “We see such enthusiasm from the children who are not only very conscious of the need to look after our planet, but also enjoy learning about renewables as an industry that they might one day work in,” says McGrath.

Slow and inconsistent planning decisions remain a barrier to new developments, but it is hoped recent announcements about a new support mechanism will boost activity in the renewables sector further.

“The planning issues are well rehearsed and go beyond the renewables sector, but we need to see urgent progress in that regard,” explains McGrath. “On a more positive note, we very much welcome the Department for the Economy’s announcement that a

renewable energy support scheme is to be put in place, with the first auction –where projects can bid for contracts – to be held in early 2026.

“Although we feel the auction should be held sooner given the 80 per cent target date of 2030 is fast approaching, I do expect to see more interest across the sector in Northern Ireland now that we know the support scheme is on its way. It will help make new projects viable.

“That is good news for everyone, as ultimately the more locally produced green energy we can generate the less reliance we have on polluting and expensive fossil fuels.”

Concluding on whether she ever considers moving to ply her trade in another sector, McGrath, who holds an undergraduate degree in geography and a Master’s in environmental planning, responds: “No. I love the challenging nature of working on renewable energy projects, even after 12 years; and most importantly I believe we are doing the right thing.”

T: + 44 28 9099 6445

E: W:

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ABO Energy develops solar PV, energy storage, hydrogen and onshore wind projects.

Renewable energy and net zero in Northern Ireland

With the 2030 energy deadline fast approaching, several challenges, such as regulatory hurdles, energy price rises, and consumer affordability, are significantly stalling progress, MPs have been told.

These challenges are the focus of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC), aiming to evaluate Northern Ireland's strategy for meeting its 2030 and 2050 energy targets.

To help the UK Government fulfil its 2050 net zero commitment, Northern Ireland’s Executive set a target for 80 per cent of its electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030. Yet, latest statistics reveal that progress towards this ambition is regressing, prompting the committee to launch an inquiry into the issue in the absence of Stormont.

Ian Snowden, Permanent Secretary of the Department for the Economy, highlights: “There is a fantastic opportunity in Northern Ireland to

achieve energy self-sufficiency, possibly for the first time in history of the region... It will be extremely challenging to push all of that through in the timescale, but it is possible.”

However, Richard Rodgers, Director of Energy for the Department for the Economy, underscores the tight timeline, stating: “What we have done in 23 years now has to be done in six.” This urgency was echoed by Steven Agnew, Director of RenewableNI, who cited a report, based on the latest research from SONI in Tomorrow’s Energy Scenarios, indicating that Northern Ireland might not achieve zero carbon electricity until 2040 at the earliest.

50 energy report Delivering a sustainable energy system for all

Delivering a sustainable energy system for all

Renewable energy landscape and infrastructure

Derek Scully, Head of Corporate Affairs in Energia Group points out that Northern Ireland has made “exceptional” achievements, with up to 50 per cent of its electricity coming from renewables, primarily onshore wind.

“Some 40 per cent to 50 per cent of electricity in Northern Ireland is from renewables. We can look anywhere else in the world, and you will find higher renewable numbers, but you will not find it where it has been almost exclusively onshore wind.” However, Scully acknowledged that “the 80 per cent target by 2030... is going to be a real challenge”.

Other experts, like Professor David Rooney, who specialises at the Research Centre in Sustainable Energy at Queen’s University Belfast emphasises the need to speed up processes and planning, with James Richardson, Chief Economist of the UK Climate Change Committee, adding that several factors have been detrimental to progress, stating: “planning has been an issue, regulations have been an issue, connection charges have been an issue.”

To increase renewable energy generation, the committee acknowledges that expanding grid capacity and improving infrastructure are crucial. Agnew warns: “Business as usual will mean that we do not just miss our 2030 target, but miss it by a mile.”

Mark Fitch, Corporate Development Director at Transmission Investment, calls for stable policies and regulations to encourage investment. Furthermore, Fitch suggests that Northern Ireland could benefit from adopting practices that are already proven elsewhere, such as the UK and Republic of Ireland. This, in turn, would help speed up the planning process and therefore accelerate growth in relation to renewable energy within Northern Ireland.

Consumer energy prices and public perception

Affordability and consumer perception are significant barriers to achieving renewable energy targets. Peter McClenaghan, Director of Infrastructure and Sustainability at the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, notes that “97 per cent of people... are significantly worried about energy prices”.

Addressing these concerns requires clear data collection and a shift in energy pricing. Snowden explains that data collection is “key” in terms of “either a surcharge on those using fossil fuels or a discount on those using renewable energies”.

Investor confidence and support schemes

Investor confidence is essential for driving renewable energy projects forward.

Paddy Larkin, CEO of Mutual Energy, states: “We do not have a support scheme for renewable generation, so there is not any being built.” The absence of consistent support schemes has driven investment to other regions, such as the south of Ireland.

In February 2023, the Department for the Economy issued a consultation to gather insights for the development of a renewable electricity support scheme (RESS) in Northern Ireland, and subsequently a ‘Proposed High Level Design’ was issued in April 2024.

Fitch reinforces the need for stability during this time, suggesting that adopting established support systems would attract investors.

Grid connections

Agnew firmly believes that the status-quo in achieving 2030 targets will not achieve the renewable energy needed, stating: “You will not be connected (via grid connections) until 2030, no matter how quickly you can build it.”

James Richardson, Chief Economist at the UK Climate Change Committee believes that limited grid capacity is a key challenge in Northern Ireland: “It is mostly going to require upgrading the grid. There are certainly things that you can do, which mean that you do not have to upgrade the grid by as much as you are upgrading the use of electricity, by putting more flexibility into the system and shifting demand out of the peaks, because you have to build these grids for the peak. It is typically in the evening when you can shift demand for things like electric vehicle charging. Heat pumps are pretty flexible about when you can put them on.”

Rooney emphasises this point, stating, “I would agree. Large-scale investment in the main energy carriers in the future, which is electricity, needs to happen and needs to happen as soon as possible.”

Fitch suggests: “I would say, “Let us look at our close neighbours and what they are doing and seek to copy the mature things that are going on there to bring more people in to deliver it more quickly, cheaper, and better.”

David Blevings, Ireland Manager of OFTEC suggests a “fast, streamlined process for energy policy”, emphasising the need for government intervention to accelerate planning.

Journey towards net zero

Northern Ireland’s journey toward net zero and renewable energy is filled with challenges, from infrastructure to investor confidence and consumer affordability. The NIAC discussions highlight the need for a cohesive strategy, robust support schemes, and expedited planning processes. Without these changes, achieving the 2030 target could be an uphill battle.

51 energy report

Power-to-X and e-fuel synthesis

Managing Director of B9 Energy Storage

Ltd, David Surplus, outlines the opportunities of using the maritime e-methanol market to fast-track deployment of large-scale offshore wind.

It is important to mention that B9 Energy always supports direct electrification whenever possible because it is the most efficient route to decarbonisation. However, when industry sectors, such as marine transport need liquid fuel alternatives, then Power-to-X and e-fuel synthesis become a priority.

Ulster Hydrogen Valley

Decarbonising the Northern Ireland economy by 2050 will require the deployment of large-scale offshore wind farms. These will be additional to the existing onshore capacity and have both geographical and hourly correlation to the electrical loads being supplied.

The existing electrical grid network is not

capable, in the time and budgets available, of transporting such large amounts of power on its own but assistance can be provided by Powerto-X systems to allow crossover of hydrogen into gas networks.

The infrastructure map (figure 1) shows offshore wind, Power-to-X (P2X) electrolyser stations, dedicated sub-sea cables and pure hydrogen pipelines. It also shows the location of the proposed 500 million m3 salt cavern storage facility at Ballylumford, Islandmagee, which can store green hydrogen. The total system shown is 3.45GWe capacity, requires €9 billion CAPEX from private investors and is called ‘Ulster Hydrogen Valley’ 1

Routes to market for H2 gas include blending into natural gas pipelines and delivery to existing power stations to provide future security of supply during periods of low wind. Unfortunately, slow policy development in these areas means there is insufficient legislation or regulations to support the ambitious project development needed to solve the climate emergency.

A faster and larger route to market for green hydrogen is offered through the development of an e-methanol economy, particularly as it relates to the fastgrowing maritime fuel sector. Note that methanol is a chemical fusion of hydrogen and CO2

NI/GB Green Shipping Corridor Project:

B9 Energy Storage together with partners: DFDS Seaways, DFDS Logistics, Larne Harbour, JG Maritime Consultants, Mutual Energy and the Net Zero Industry Innovation Centre at Teesside University are being funded by Innovate UK and Department of Transport through the Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition round 4 (CMDC4) to carry out feasibility studies and pre-deployment trials in respect of a

figure 1 52 energy report

‘NI/GB Green Shipping Corridor’ between Larne in Northern Ireland and the north west of England (preferably Liverpool) using a ro-ro freight ferry design optimised for the carriage of unaccompanied trailers and powered by hydrogen reformed onboard from green methanol delivered in road mobile ISO tank containers.

The green methanol would be synthesised at Larne Harbour from green H2 and CO2 as an extension of the Ballylumford Power-to-X Project. The main innovation in the project is to capture CO2 from the onboard reformer and return it to the methanol synthesis plant in the same (now empty) tank containers that delivered the methanol, thereby setting up a circular CO2 economy that avoids the inevitable future supply constraint of green CO2

The port based flexible green methanol plant will use otherwise curtailed wind power to drive a PEM and/or Alkaline electrolyser that feeds green hydrogen to a catalytic reactor. The Domestic Green Shipping Corridor would have ‘true-zero’ emissions, would not be reliant upon limited supplies of bio derived CO2 or direct air captured CO2 and would not need any carbon offsetting to meet net zero objectives. The system diagram of Figure 2 relates to the recirculation of CO2 to enable scale-up of e-methanol as a marine fuel. It also shows the ‘linear’ application of


bar)Electrolyserat Ballylumford Power-to-X

captured green CO2 from biogenic sources (anaerobic digestion) and direct air capture (DAC) from the atmosphere to serve the linear end uses of emethanol, such as blending into E10 specification petrol, selling as pure methanol (M100) for spark ignition engine powered vehicles and for subsequent synthesis into Dimethyl Ether (DME), which is a substitute for LPG, and e-kerosene, which is a sustainable aircraft fuel. These linear CO2 applications end up with CO2 being vented to atmosphere and so they can deliver carbon neutral performance.

Direct air capture for supply of ‘linear CO2’

B9 Energy storage is hosting a DESNZ funded DAC demonstration project at its HQ office in Larne. The unit has been designed by CO2CirculAir for intermittent operation using wind power without the need for energy storage or forced draft fans. Deployment of DAC machines driven by off-grid single wind turbines, ranging in size from 250kW to 1MW, can usefully be carried out at up to circa 1,000 different farm locations in Northern Ireland.

Wind can be augmented with low-cost ground mounted solar PV arrays. In many cases these sites already have planning permission for wind turbines but no cost-effective grid connection

offer. Collection of the liquid CO2 would use similar logistics operations to bulk milk collections and animal feed deliveries. The DAC sourced CO2 is pure enough to be used in the food and drink sector.

There are several turnkey suppliers of methanol plants that have specifically designed for variable inputs of green hydrogen from renewable energy driven electrolyser installations. An example is ‘FlexMethanol’ from BSE Engineering which claims flexible operation in the range 10 per cent to 120 per cent in less than 15 seconds. Use of such a flexible system would remove the need for large scale hydrogen compression and storage, which are expensive operations.

B9 Energy Storage Ltd




CH3OHsupply LCO2 return CO2 liquefier 8 H2 FC M CH3OH reformer
Meat packaging
LCO2 supply LCO2 storage Bio CH4 AD biogas CO2 liquefier ‘SMARTDAC’ DirectAir Capture CO2 liquefier Greenpower from offshorewind H2 transmission pipeline(subsea) B9 CO2 Economy PV WTG c80
LCO 2 Collection Methanol (CH3OH) reactorat Larne Harbour Scrubber
x farms
x farms
C&I scale AD biogas CO2 liquefier
3%e-methanolblended intoE10petrol 100%emethanol (M100) Sourceof initialand top-upgreenCO2
Scrubber Figure 2.
53 energy report

Delivering a sustainable energy system for all

Oil and gas exploration to be banned

The Department for the Economy has announced plans to bring forward proposals that would ban all forms of petroleum exploration and production.

The Department for the Economy (DfE), which has responsibility for energy policy, currently has the power to grant licences to companies to search for and extract onshore oil and gas. If the DfE’s proposal is accepted by the Executive, the proposed changes will involve amendments to the Petroleum (Production) Act (Northern Ireland) 1964. The announcement, made by then Minister for the Economy Conor Murphy MLA, follows a consultation on the current petroleum licensing system, which was open between 15 January and 12 April 2024. Although the findings of the consultation are not yet public, Murphy stated that the “vast majority of respondents to the consultation supported the move away from fossil fuels”.

The Republic of Ireland and Wales have both banned all onshore oil and gas activity, and the Scottish Government has introduced a ban on hydraulic fracturing i.e. ‘fracking’.

There are currently no active petroleum licences in Northern Ireland with the last active one relinquished in 2020. However, the Executive has yet to issue decisions on two applications which cover Fermanagh, Tyrone, Armagh, and Antrim.

The DfE’s proposal comes in the aftermath of a two-year long campaign by pressure groups including LAMP Fermanagh, Friends of the Earth NI, and Frack Action, and has been supported by both Murphy and his predecessor Gordon Lyons MLA.

In January 2022, a Department for the Economy paper recommended that the Executive should agree a preferred policy option of a moratorium on all forms of exploration and extraction of oil and gas, to be followed by the introduction of a legislative ban.

Speaking in April 2024 on the proposal, Murphy said: “As climate change is one of the defining challenges of our time, one of the key objectives of my economic vision is to reduce carbon emissions. To meet our net zero targets, a priority will be to move away from petroleum to renewables.

“I intend to ban all forms of onshore petroleum exploration and production –including fracking. This will not only help us transition from fossil fuels to renewables but also towards a greener economy and more sustainable way of life.

“I will soon ask Executive colleagues to approve a ban and, if this is granted, I

will introduce legislation to this Assembly to ban onshore petroleum licensing. This will require amendments to the Petroleum (Production) Act (Northern Ireland) 1964 and other regulations.”

DUP MLA Phillip Brett described the proposals as “meaningless unless we offer an affordable and accessible alternative for households across Northern Ireland”, and called on the Minister to outline “how he plans to swiftly bring forward a strategy to enable households to make the transition to renewable energy as a means of heating their homes”.

The introduction of legislation will be a relatively lengthy process. If the Executive grants its support, there will be subsequent scrutiny to be taken by the Economy Committee, with the Minister outlining 2025 as a possibility for the introduction of legislation.

In the meantime, however, the Minister stated that the DfE will not accept or process onshore petroleum licensing applications.

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Market support a milestone opportunity

RenewableNI, the voice of the renewable electricity industry, is poised for growth in the sector following the announcement of plans for a new renewable electricity support scheme.

The organisation has doubled in size in under three years and has introduced new membership levels to reflect the diversity of companies represented.

Director, Steven Agnew, says: “We are delighted that many of our current members took the decision to upgrade to the new gold or silver tiers. This shows confidence in the value and engagement that RenewableNI has brought.

“Since the Executive returned, we have addressed the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Economy Committee and will be addressing the Infrastructure Committee and meeting the new economy and infrastructure ministers in May 2024.”

RenewableNI’s close engagement was highlighted in April with two sold out renewable energy seminars. The first with the chief planner and director of Department for Infrastructure (DfI) and the second with the Department for the Economy’s (DfE) renewable electricity team on the new renewable support scheme.

The always popular series set new records for the organisation booking up in under two hours. Representatives from SONI, Utility Regulator and NIE Networks joined DFE, DfI and Department of Finance, along with those from industry.

Agnew continues: “The new support scheme is a milestone for the sector. When surveyed, 82 per cent of renewables developers said Northern Ireland is an unattractive place to develop. A lack of market support is the number one reason given, followed by uncertain planning timelines and limited grid capacity.

“Every new wind turbine and every new solar panel connected to the grid will reduce consumer bills and lower our carbon emissions.

“As an organisation we have been advocating for an accelerating renewables taskforce to bring everyone together to ensure reform happens at the pace necessary.”

A valuable part of RenewableNI’s work has been the production of popular reports that are independently produced. The organisation also produces an annual pipeline survey in consultation with their members. This data has been shared with government departments, SONI and NIE Networks to help plan for future investment.

Northern Ireland has gone from renewable electricity leaders to laggers. In 2022, over half the electricity used was from renewable sources. In March 2023, as Great Britain and Republic of Ireland celebrated new records of renewable generation, Northern Ireland dropped by over 5 per cent.

Agnew explains: “Our current generation is from the success of 2010s when we last had a renewable electricity support scheme. Over 400MW of renewable electricity was connected in 2017 when the NIRO scheme closed to new generators. It came in under budget and overachieved; Northern Ireland was envied globally. Support stopped and new projects stopped – only 86MW of new large-scale generation has been connected this decade.

“The industry is ready to address the climate emergency. We need Executive Ministers to become champions of renewables and remove the hurdles to achieving a better future for Northern Ireland’s citizens.”

Contact Steven Agnew

T: 078 3729 1699

E: W:

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RenewableNI Director Steven Agnew with new Chair Tamasin Fraser (left) and Deputy Chair Sara Tinsley.

Heat pumps for decarbonisation and good jobs: A compelling combination

Marie Cowan, Director of GSNI, and Ulster University’s Director of the Centre for Sustainable Technologies, Neil Hewitt, outline the potential for heat pumps to reduce carbon emissions, explain how they work, and highlight a forthcoming event for this sector.

UK Context

The UK Government was the first major economy to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050. This approach was made legally binding through the Climate Change Act 2008 (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019 and commits the UK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 relative to 1990 levels.

Northern Ireland

Recent figures suggest that between 45 and 50 per cent of electricity consumption is generated from renewable sources however heat still represents over half of the emissions in the energy system with a heavy reliance on fossil fuels. The Climate Change Act (NI) 2022 now commits the region to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050

with an interim target of a 48 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030.

The potential of geothermal energy to support the emissions reduction targets through its direct use as a low carbon energy source is acknowledged in the Northern Ireland Executive’s energy strategy – The Path to Net Zero Energy – and associated actions plans 2022, 2023 and 2024.

Electrification of heating

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth assessment Report (March 2023) said that net zero energy systems will include the electrification of heating which will “rely substantially on heat pumps. Space cooling and water heating are expected to be largely electrified. Building electrification is expected to rely substantially on heat pumps, which will

help lower emissions both through reduced thermal requirements and higher efficiencies”.

In Northern Ireland, access to low carbon electricity provides a significant opportunity to electrify heat with heat pumps and heat networks set to play a foundational role.

Knowledge exchange and networking event

The Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, an office of the Department for the Economy (DfE), and Ulster University are hosting a Heat Pumps: Knowledge X-Change and Networking Event on the 20 June 2024. The aim is to support a cluster scale-up and will focus on innovation, entrepreneurship, standards, and skills.

This event is for SMEs, entrepreneurs, academics, policymakers, estate managers, corporates, investors and third sector participants involved and/or interested in the heat pump engineering, manufacture and installation supply chain.

This initiative is supported by professional scientific and technical advice from the NI Geothermal Advisory Committee (GAC).

NI Geothermal Advisory Committee

The purpose of the GAC is to inform and advance the development of geothermal as a strategic low-carbon source of heating, cooling, energy storage, power, and jobs in Northern Ireland.

One of its roles includes considering how to enable the growth of a geothermal sector, and the related jobs, productivity, competitiveness, and skills, and one associated action is to understand and communicate the needs of businesses and help identify critical policy levers necessary to establish a geothermal sector in Northern Ireland.

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The case for heat pumps

Jan Rosenow, Director of the European Programmes at Regulatory Assistance Project and Honorary Research Associate at Oxford University, regularly analyses the shifting running costs of heat pumps compared with gas boilers. In a paper for Carbon Brief in March 2024, Rosenow explained that heat

pumps have similar running costs to a gas boiler, even though electricity is more expensive than gas, because they produce heat at a more efficient rate: “It is also the high efficiency of heat pumps that makes them particularly interesting. You put in about one unit of electricity and get about three units of heat out of your heat pump. That is much more efficient than a typical gas boiler, which would usually have an efficiency of

How does a heat pump work?

A heat pump operates just like your refrigerator, i.e., in a fridge, heat is taken from an insulated box and releases it into your kitchen, whereas a heat pump takes heat from outside and releases into another insulated box i.e., your house. To do this, we take a refrigerant that boils at a lower temperature (and pressure) to that of for example outside air and compress that gas (typically with an electrically driven compressor) to a higher temperature (and pressure) above that of your home. Thus, the gas now condenses to a liquid, releasing its heat to the home, and the high-pressure liquid is expanded back to a low-pressure liquid to start the process again.

Geothermal heat pumps, also known as ground source heat pumps (GSHPs), utilise heat from the ground e.g., soil, rock, aquifers etc. as opposed to air source heat pumps (ASHPs) which utilise ambient air as a heat source. The advantages of GSHPs are that they typically provide higher heat supply temperatures in winter than ambient air, and the heat pump would require less electricity to run the compressor. Subsequently this has a lesser impact on existing electricity distribution networks. However, this does come at a higher capital cost of the options such as ground coils, vertical boreholes etc.

maybe 90 per cent. You have an efficiency of 300 per cent on average, which makes this a very compelling proposition and minimises the size of the energy system as a whole.”

Marie Cowan, GSNI and Professor Neil Hewitt, Ulster University.

Therefore, what sort of performance can be achieved? An ASHP heating a typical Northern Ireland home will experience a typical coefficient of performance (COP) of two to three i.e., for every KW of electricity consumed, the heat pump will deliver 2KW to 3KW of heat to the building. A ground source heat pump on the other hand will deliver 3KW to 4KW of heat for every KW of electricity consumed. Taking a typical home of 12,000 kWh of heating required annually, the electrification of heating with an air source heat pump will cost between £1,200/year to £1,800/year, a ground source heat pump will cost £900/year to £1,200/year, whereas an oil boiler running cost is £880/year and a gas boiler will cost £1280/year to heat this home. The carbon emissions are however radically different with heat pumps being able to reduce CO2 emissions by up to ¼ when compared to an oil boiler.

“Northern Ireland is blessed with an accessible geothermal heat resource, that when boosted with heat pumps can achieve a COP of almost nine. We will need low temperature (the so-called 5th Generation) heat networks to bring this valuable heat resource to our homes.

“Research at Ulster University has developed such heat pumps, that can also deliver much higher temperatures i.e., those required by the Northern Ireland dairy industry for example. Thus, pathways to decarbonisation of heating are opening, and while with many challenges remaining, opportunities for Northern Ireland companies to develop such systems is emerging,” explains Neil Hewitt, Professor of Energy and Director of the Centre for Sustainable Technologies, Ulster University.

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The role of long-duration electricity storage for net zero
Reaching and maintaining a net zero society may require market reform to incentivise the build-out of long-duration electricity storage.

A major academic study analysing the role of long-duration electricity storage in Great Britain reaching net zero could provide lessons for Northern Ireland in long-term planning for electricity grid stability.

Great Britain has a more ambitious target of decarbonising its electricity system completely by 2035, on the recognition that the electrification of heat, power, and transport will be main drivers of net zero by 2050. Although not as far-reaching, Northern Ireland’s target of 80 per cent of electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2030 is equally challenging.

To meet these targets, wind and solar, as the recognised cheapest forms of low-carbon generation, will lead the decarbonisation of electricity. However, the challenge lies in the volatility of

these two forms of generation and the need for this volatility to be complemented by other flexible lowcarbon sources and/or energy storage, if grid stability is to be ensured.

Large Scale Electricity Storage, a report compiled by the Royal Society, has modelled wind and solar supply against demand over an almost 40-year period, using real weather data, and highlights the significant gap that will need to be plugged if security of supply is to be maintained.

The report details how the availability of wind and solar power varies on time scales ranging from seconds to decades, depending on the weather. Demand is also variable, and mismatches between supply and demand occur on time scales ranging from milliseconds to years.

“As there are times when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing, wind and solar supply cannot meet demand directly on their own, however much generating capacity is installed,” the authors state.

In short, if relying on wind and solar generation, balancing supply and demand would require tens of terawatt hours (TWhs) for over several decades. While Northern Ireland’s storage requirement will not be as high, the underpinning need for storage beyond short-term balancing is recognisable.

As renewable generation from wind and solar has increased in recent years the need for storage capacity has been recognised, however, much of the focus has been on battery storage, in the context of stretching near-term electricity decarbonisation targets.

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Delivering a sustainable energy system for all

Delivering a sustainable energy system for all

While batteries will play an increasing role in providing short-term balancing, the costs of utilising batteries alone to bridge the longterm mismatch between supply and demand is unrealistic when considering the cost of investment in a technology with a lifespan of around 20 years.

The report groups storage technologies into three categories according to the typical time in which their contents must be cycled:

1. Minutes to hours: conventional (non-flow) batteries;

2. Days to weeks: flow batteries, advanced compressed air energy storage, Carnot batteries, pumped thermal storage, pumped hydro, liquid air energy storage; or

3. Months or years: synthetic fuels, ammonia, hydrogen.

Meeting the demands of net zero will likely require deployment of technologies within all three groups, and the implications on the cost of electricity will be determined by the scale of deployment. Renewable generation provided directly to the grid will invariably be the cheapest form of electricity, with electricity provided by storage costing more. However, meeting the need for long-duration storage will require very low cost per unit energy stored.

Market reform

As the report’s authors point out, in current wholesale electricity markets, both long-term investment decisions and short-term dispatch are largely governed by a single price signal and this is a challenge for long-term investment because of future price uncertainty.

“The large-scale long-term storage that this report finds will be essential, could never recover its capital costs in such a system since it will be idle much of the time. Existing markets and regulations will also not be able to deliver the operational coordination between wind and solar generators and operators of storage that will be needed to schedule the use of different types of store cost effectively and ensure that they do not become empty. There is an urgent need to recognise these problems and explore possible solutions.”

In short, the report finds that current market structures may incentivise the construction of significant amounts of short-term storage, however, new mechanisms, including forms of guarantees, will be needed to make investment in large-scale, long-duration storage attractive.

It adds: “To contain storage costs, generators and owners of storage will have to cooperate to an unprecedented degree in scheduling charging and dispatch of energy from different types of store. Ensuring this cooperation is likely to require radical reforms.”

While the report’s focus was solely on great Britain, correlations between Great Britain’s island electricity market, and the all-island Single Electricity Market (SEM) can be drawn. Northern Ireland’s demand and supply will ultimately be lower than that of Great Britain but will ultimately face the same challenges of addressing the long-term mismatch of supply and demand in an electricity system largely powered by intermittent wind and solar.

As the Department for the Economy prepares to publish a new renewable electricity support scheme (RESS), aimed at increasing levels of renewable electricity, increased use of battery technologies will be the leading technology in providing grid stability in the push to achieve the 80 per cent electricity consumption from renewables by 2030 target.

Increasing interconnection with the Republic of Ireland will be critical to maximising increased renewable generation across the island, and utilising storage options on a larger geographical area.

As to will policy decisions on the technologies which could and will be deployed to best meet the needs of Northern Ireland’s consumers. The Large Scale Electricity Storage report indicates the need for consideration of short; medium; and longduration storage options to meet the demands of net zero by 2050 and beyond. Incentivising these technologies will require significant market reform.

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Changing attitudes to the energy transition

Fulfilling our commitment to address climate change will significantly impact consumers in the coming decades. Just how the ambitious targets within the 2022 Northern Ireland Climate Change Act will affect society and consumers is yet to be fully understood.

To address this knowledge gap, the Consumer Council established an annual tracker survey. It is intended to provide policy makers and industry experts insights into consumers’ experience of the energy transition. The survey is now in its second year.

Peter McClenaghan explains how the survey is providing an interesting picture of consumer attitudes regarding the energy transition.

Peter McClenaghan is Director of Infrastructure and Sustainability. He is responsible for the strategic leadership of the Consumer Council’s statutory functions in the energy, water, and transport sectors.

The Consumer Council is Northern Ireland’s statutory consumer body, working to promote and protect the interests of consumers. The organisation’s statutory obligations in the utilities sector include consumer research, consumer empowerment, complaints handing, consumer advocacy, and the provision of guidance to public authorities.

The Consumer Council’s annual ‘Attitudes to the Energy Transition’ tracker research is designed to provide detailed evidence to underpin transition planning undertaken by policymakers and the energy sector.

Informed decisions

The second annual Consumer Council ‘Attitudes to the Energy Transition’ research study provides a contemporaneous picture of consumer experiences of one of the most important issues in our lifetime.

As experts in the field of consumer research, regularly carrying out research and face to face engagement with consumers, the Consumer Council is perfectly placed to undertake this work.

The energy transition will mean significant changes to how people live, eat, travel, and heat their homes. As significant barriers to individuals’ energy transition remain it is crucial that the annual consumer insights we capture are used to inform decision-making.

Growing knowledge of terminology

The Northern Ireland Executive’s Energy Strategy provides a strong grounding to address the needs of consumers’ during the energy transition. The strategy places consumer needs at the heart of the energy transition.

However, without understanding consumer needs and addressing them we will not meet Northern Ireland’s carbon reduction ambition.

The Consumer Council ‘Attitudes to the Energy Transition 2024’ demonstrates a welcome uplift in consumer understanding of key terminology. For example, more than seven in 10 consumers report understanding of the terms ‘decarbonisation’, ‘net zero’, and ‘greenhouse gas emissions’.

The survey also finds a year-on-year increase in understanding of each of these terms, with almost nine out of 10 consumers now expressing an understanding of the term ‘greenhouse gas emissions’.

Peter McClenaghan, Director of Infrastructure and Sustainability at the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland.
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Warning signs: Impact not understood

While consumer understanding of important terminology has increased, there has been no corresponding increase in consumer awareness of the technologies they may be asked to rely on to heat their homes in future.

More worryingly, the survey shows a year-on-year decrease (down to 52 per cent from 56 per cent) in awareness of the need for households to switch from fossil fuels to zero carbon alternatives to achieve decarbonisation targets.

As consumers first need to understand what is being asked of them, this lack of awareness demonstrates the need for better public information regarding the energy transition.

Consumers must be presented with simple information so they can begin to embrace the energy transition.

Warning signs: Lower support for renewables

Seven in 10 consumers indicate they support the use of renewable energy. Such support will be invaluable in driving forward with the energy transition.

However, consumer support must not be taken for granted. This is evidenced by the changes in findings since last year’s Consumer Council survey. The 2024 survey indicates a decrease (down to 70 per cent from 78 per cent) in the number of consumers who support the use of renewable energy for providing our power, heat, and transport.

The number of consumers who would support the construction of new infrastructure in their local area to aid the increased use of renewable energy has also decreased from 2023 to 2024 (down to 50 per cent from 58 per cent).

As the energy transition will necessitate significant infrastructure investment and potential in-home disruption, it is important that work is undertaken by government and industry to engender consumer support for the energy transition.

Consumer dislike of punitive measures

One means to negatively impact consumer support for the energy transition is to impose upon people measures they deem to be punitive.

“This lack of awareness demonstrates the need for better public information regarding the energy transition.”

Such measures should only come after providing adequate support to enable household’s carbon reduction activities.

This dislike of punitive measures is shown by lack of support for a ban on peat, coal, or oil for home heating. Only 25 per cent of consumers indicate they would support a policy of that nature to help Northern Ireland reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Affordability is key

Pleasingly, most consumers continue to support policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Northern Ireland.

However, the survey finds a reduction in consumer willingness to drive their car less, fly less, and use public transport more to reduce their own carbon emissions.

Consumers were also less concerned than a year previously about the how much energy is used in their home (down to 49 per cent from 62 per cent).

These factors could be due to an increase in environmental scepticism but are more likely to reflect a reduction in energy prices that were extremely high when the first survey was undertaken.

The cost of living challenges facing consumers may also be a reason for a reduction in consumer support for increased taxes on fossil fuels to advance carbon reduction initiatives.

The survey finds a year-on-year decrease in support for the use of carbon taxes to further develop new and clean energy sources (down to 57 per cent from 75 per cent); help pay for energy efficiency improvements in lowincome households (down to 68 per cent from 74 per cent); fund improvements to

transport infrastructure (down to 67 per cent from 74 per cent); and to fund programmes to help communities prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change (down to 62 per cent from 66 per cent).

There was also a reduction in support for government grants for electric vehicles, to install cleaner more efficient domestic heating systems, and to increase investment in public transport.

Empowerment is critical

It is essential that we achieve a just and fair transition by ensuring affordability, security of energy supply and protection for all consumers, particularly our vulnerable citizens.

Consumers play an essential role. Empowering individuals, and mobilising communities, to actively embrace Northern Ireland’s energy transition is critical.


T: 0800 121 6022



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Delivering a sustainable energy system for all

Renewable electricity from offshore wind expected after 2030

An indicative timeline contained within the first draft Offshore Renewable Energy Action Plan (OREAP) suggests that Northern Ireland’s first offshore wind farm will be operational shortly after 2030.

The indicative timeline published by the Department for the Economy correlates with the recently published proposed high level design for a renewable electricity support scheme for Northern Ireland, which suggests that offshore wind is unlikely to play a role in Northern Ireland’s target of 80 per cent electricity consumption from renewable energy sources by 2030.

The Energy Strategy Action Plan 2022 committed the Department to a target of 1GW of offshore wind capacity from 2030, with a view to accelerating deployment where possible.

While the contribution of offshore wind generation to Northern Ireland’s net zero by 2050 target has been acknowledged, the Department say it is not possible to confirm the scale and timings of offshore renewable generation deployment in Northern Ireland.

Therefore, a proposed auction roadmap indicates two auctions will take place to support renewable projects and enable operation before 2030, with offshore wind potentially featuring in a third auction, a timeline for which has not been set.

The draft Offshore Renewable Energy

Action Plan, for which submissions for the consultations process closed on 16 March 2023, has been developed with three proposed principles to guide the implementation of the action plan. These are:

1. sustainable development in the marine environment;

2. adaptive approach; and

3. collaboration and partnership.

The draft action plan states that four expert stakeholder working groups are to be established, which identify “key actions required to deliver offshore wind deployment in Northern Ireland waters”. The working groups are:

• planning, licensing, and consenting;

• network development;

• legislative powers; and

• sectoral growth.

These working groups are complemented by an Offshore Renewable Energy Action Plan Steering Group which aims to oversee the delivery of the action plan. The OREAP Steering Group also has the function of monitoring and ensuring that actions within the OREAP are delivered in an “environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable way”.

The offshore wind action plan outlines 2028 as a prospective timeframe for the issuing of offshore generation and transmission licencing.

Currently, Northern Ireland has no offshore wind generating capacity. However, potential scope for progress exists from a 2023 announcement on enabling the construction of offshore wind infrastructure.

In January 2023, a Statement of Intent between the Department for the Economy (DfE) and The Crown Estate was announced which commits towards establishing offshore wind leasing in Northern Ireland.

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Biomethane: A circular opportunity

firmus energy CEO

Niall Martindale outlines how Northern Ireland’s unique biomethane opportunity can deliver a low carbon future.

As the need to tackle climate change is being grappled with across the world, Northern Ireland is positioned better than most to address this challenge, and furthermore to take no-regret actions immediately which reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels and support the growth of a local, circular economy.

For firmus energy, and our peers within Northern Ireland’s gas industry, biomethane will play a critical role in delivering our collective ambitions for a lower carbon future and will contribute to achieving the goals set out in the Government’s energy strategy.

Biomethane will play its part alongside a suite of renewable energy sources, from more established technologies such as wind and solar, to those in a more developmental stage within Northern Ireland such as geothermal and hydropower.

Each of these sources of renewable energy will play its own role in a more diverse, regionalised yet collaborative energy landscape. Without doubt, the key to optimising delivery of our lower carbon energy future is collaboration within a clear policy context.

Biomethane is derived from organic waste materials such as agricultural waste, grass silage, and food waste through a process known as anaerobic digestion (AD). Biomethane is very similar to natural gas, and its introduction will be seamless for any customers connected to Northern Irelands’ gas network.

Using biomethane will not require any changes to heating systems or appliances for households or businesses

connected to the network, however unlike natural gas, biomethane is a renewable energy resource.

In Northern Ireland, where agriculture plays a significant role in our economy, biomethane presents a compelling opportunity to effectively utilise organic waste. Recent studies have quantified this enormous opportunity, with a case study in 2022 stating that within 10kms of the gas network, there is sufficient feedstock from underutilised silage and agricultural waste to satisfy 83 per cent of current natural gas demand in Northern Ireland1

Again, capturing methane emissions from agricultural activities and converting them into biomethane will not only reduce our carbon footprint but support the development of our circular economy, by re-purposing waste into a valuable energy resource.

Supporting investment in local biomethane production facilities is crucial. We have been greatly encouraged by the return of Stormont and the recognition for the potential of biomethane by both the Department for the Economy (DfE) and Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) ministers.

In particular, the appointment of Professor David Rooney as an expert advisor to support the ministers’ objective to reduce carbon emissions is laudable and represents a very important step towards delivering policy to support and encourage investment into our future energy landscape. The work being undertaken by Professor Rooney will also help inform and define

the collaboration required between energy companies, and indeed energy industries.

The gas industry has been helping to decarbonise energy in Northern Ireland since 1996, with every household moving from home heating oil to natural gas reducing their carbon footprint by 50 per cent2. The introduction of biomethane will increase these savings exponentially, and in doing so, reduce our reliance on imported energy, thereby supporting energy security and supporting the development of our circular economy, not least in the more rural regions of Northern Ireland. firmus energy and our gas network peers are firmly committed to a lower carbon energy future which optimises the enormous potential for local biomethane production, and we are excited at the prospect of collaborating with all energy stakeholders to deliver the benefits of a sustainable, affordable and lower carbon energy landscape to all homes and businesses across Northern Ireland.

T: 0330 024 9000



1. Evaluating the opportunity for utilising anaerobic digestion and pyrolysis of livestock manure and grass silage to decarbonise gas infrastructure: A Northern Ireland case study ( 2. Based on switching your home heating system from a 15-year-old, Sedbuk F rated oil boiler without controls, to a new Sedbuk A rated natural gas boiler with heating controls used correctly 63 energy report

Retrofit advice in Northern Ireland

A dedicated national advice service can support the delivery of a just energy transition for all by delivering comprehensive, impartial, and tailored advice, writes Darryn Mallon, Energy Saving Trust policy lead (Northern Ireland).

Decarbonisation in Northern Ireland

The Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) 2023 advice report, Path to a Net Zero Northern Ireland, strongly emphasises the need for an urgent “step change in action” to address declining rates of decarbonisation.

Whilst there has been a notable increase in activity related to development of energy policy since these warnings were issued, it is worthwhile considering how these resonate with consumers and how attitudes have changed since the UK Climate Change Act (2008) became law, when four-fifths of UK electricity came from fossil fuels.

We have been aware of the risks of dependence on imported fossil fuels for some time and a glance into our archives reaffirms this, with a feature from 2009 in agendaNi forecasting our dependence on imported fossil fuel was “an economic time bomb rendering us particularly vulnerable to the price and politics of fuel”.

A key focus should be the energy we use in our homes and businesses. Recent surveys indicate 78 per cent would welcome renewable energy in their home1 but 84 per cent reported having little to no knowledge of low-carbon heating systems. This indicates the challenge is no longer about raising awareness of the climate emergency but

empowering consumers with the knowledge and tools to contribute towards net zero2

The need to retrofit Northern Irish homes

Reducing immediate energy costs is crucial, but investing in permanent solutions is equally essential. With Northern Ireland homes among the least efficient in Europe, 60 per cent (50,000 annually) need to enhance their energy efficiency to meet emission targets3

Building emissions need to fall 33 per cent between 2020 to 2030, having increased by 1 per cent since 2009 and advice services can help accelerate proactive engagement necessary to achieve this.

Helping consumers navigate the energy transition is key to an effective enabling framework, such as effective awareness raising, entitlement checks, access to networks of exemplar homes, post installation support, and a single point of contact responsible for project coordination and redress if necessary4

Development of an advice service

Supporting access to impartial advice is vital when helping consumers understand how to decarbonise their homes.

However, as Shane Donnellan, behavioural scientist at Energy Saving Trust explains: “The complex and fragmented nature of energy advice is mirrored by varied and often contradictory sources of advice. The Utility Regulator recently reported an array of providers commonly considered by consumers. This causes confusion and impedes impact at scale, with the CCC’s estimate that 62 per cent of emissions reductions need to come from individual behaviour, emphasising the significance of centralised advice.”

Advice can also encourage social and private sector landlords to see the full property investment case for improving energy efficiency.

1. Attitudes to the Energy Transition | Consumer Council 2. Consumer attitudes to energy transition | Consumer Council 3. New Foundations – The route to low carbon homes ( 4. 5. The Path to Net Zero Energy. Safe. Affordable. Clean. ( 64 energy report

Current energy advice and support services

Multiple trusted local and national organisations currently offer discrete advice, which collectively contribute towards a just energy transition.

Domestic and commercial properties can access support through the Northern Ireland Sustainable Energy Programme (NISEP), which Energy Saving Trust administers on behalf of the Utility Regulator. Scheme managers registered under NISEP offer energy efficiency advice to consumers accessing fully and partially funded grants.

Beyond NISEP, the Department for Communities currently funds the Housing Executive to deliver a free tailored ‘Energy Advice Service’ to households. Additionally, the Housing Executive has partnered with Energy Saving Trust to create an online ‘home energy saving tool.’ This helps consumers determine the energy efficiency of their home.

Further advice is available from the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, which provides support for consumers related to gas and electricity supply.

However, more comprehensive, impartial and tailored advice is needed to make the key changes in our homes and businesses.

Progress on a centralised energy advice service

Since the Northern Ireland Energy Strategy – The Path to Net Zero Energy5 was introduced in 2021, the necessity for centralised energy advice through a onestop shop has featured prominently.

A public consultation on the development of an energy one-stop shop6 was launched in 2023, recognising: “Northern Ireland would benefit massively from an accessible, trusted organisation for consumers needing advice, information and support on energy matters.”7

Benefits of a one-stop shop

A one-stop shop can reduce costs, increase private investment, protect government schemes from fraud and inefficiency and boost the economy through job creation and energy security8

With over 25 years delivering energy advice, Energy Saving Trust has

extensive expertise supporting retrofitting through one-stop shop style programmes such as Home Energy Scotland, Business Energy Scotland and Local Energy Scotland’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme on behalf of the Scottish Government, NISEP on behalf of the Utility Regulator and NEST for the Welsh Assembly.

International approach to energy advice

In response to the energy crisis, there has been global recognition that tailored, impartial advice, is central to successful retrofit schemes.

Scotland and France’s major national retrofit programmes offered at local and national levels particularly stand out.

Scotland’s Home Energy Scotland service offers free, impartial, and customised advice over-the-phone, faceto-face or online to all householders. There were over a million interactions during 2022/23, saving over £1 billion on domestic energy bills since 2008. The Home Energy Scotland Grant and Loan scheme and other financial support, including the national fuel poverty programme Warmer Homes Scotland are also offered.

European Union – Recent policy updates

The EU’s recast Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, adopted on 12 April 20249, requires members to facilitate “the

rolling out of one-stop shops”. Northern Ireland’s pre-consultation on ‘energy efficiency requirements and related areas of building regulations’10 acknowledges the influence this could have here.


Northern Ireland is a major outlier regarding retrofit advice provision, with multiple disjointed services making it challenging to navigate. International case studies demonstrate that national advice services improve energy security, affordability and decarbonisation and will support the delivery of a just energy transition for all.

For more information on energy saving advice and tools:


E: 6. Energy “One Stop Shop” Implementation Plan - consultation on policy options | Department for the Economy (

7. Minister launches “One Stop Shop” consultation | Department for the Economy (


9. Energy Performance of Buildings Directive adopted ( 10. Review of energy efficiency requirements and related areas of Building Regulations

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Hydrogen: The future of net zero and the role of the UK

Chief Executive of Hydrogen UK Clare Jackson believes a rapid scale of production is essential to accelerate the UK’s efforts in developing the green hydrogen industry.

With renewable i.e. ‘green’ hydrogen emerging as a key player in the journey of net zero regarding the world shifting towards cleaner energy resources, it is significantly important for Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK to pick up momentum in this regard.

Green hydrogen is produced via the electrolysis of water, which splits a water molecule H2O into hydrogen with oxygen as the byproduct. For the hydrogen to be classified as ‘green’, the electrolysis process which powers the heating of the water must be powered by a renewable source.

With around 160 projects within the UK Hydrogen Project Directory in the UK project pipeline, and seven of those projects currently in Northern Ireland, Jackson highlights the importance of renewable hydrogen in the energy transition, the UK’s potential as a global leader, and the challenges that lie ahead.

Acknowledging the energy system is becoming increasingly complex and integrated, Jackson emphasises the need for collaboration across various sectors to achieve net zero. “It is important that all of the elements within the energy transition, that we are talking to each other, collaborating with each other, and we are doing it in a joined-up manner,” she explains.

Regarding the role of renewable hydrogen within the energy landscape, Jackson recognises the challenges that the UK will face in relation to emerging as one of the global leaders in the green hydrogen space stating: “It is not just the UK that has recognised the opportunity that hydrogen presents and there is a lot of excitement globally around hydrogen. It is pretty much impossible to look at any national net zero strategy without seeing hydrogen as a real key part of that.”

Global interest and UK developments

Regarding the role of hydrogen within the energy landscape, Jackson explicates that the US Inflation Reduction Act, with its generous tax credit for hydrogen production, has ignited a wave of investment and competition.

Jackson acknowledges the challenges that the UK will face in relation to emerging as one of the global leaders in the green hydrogen space, stating: “We have found in some areas such an offshore wind, we are the global leader in deployment – second only behind China – but when it comes to realising the economic value of the jobs associated with that, a lot of the high-tech resources are actually developed and manufactured elsewhere and we have not managed to capture that, not just in the deployment but also in manufacture.”

Despite the intense global competition,

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“It is absolutely imperative we are taking stakeholders and taking consumers along with us on this journey.”
Clare Jackson, Chief Executive of Hydrogen UK

Jackson believes the UK is wellpositioned to capitalise on the hydrogen opportunity, due to the UK’s early adoption of hydrogen technologies and mature project pipeline.

In light of this, Jackson highlights that the UK must act quickly to maintain its lead. “It is estimated that by 2050, hydrogen will be a $2.5 trillion global market and we want to make sure that we are identifying parts of the value chain so the UK can be a global leader,” she says.

The future energy system

Jackson outlines the key roles that hydrogen will play in the future energy system. First, hydrogen can provide long-duration energy storage to ensure grid stability. “We are moving from a system which is very dispatchable, where we can turn the energy on and off when we want to a system, to energy production that goes on and off with the weather,” she explains. In reflection of this, Jackson says that unlike many other renewable energies,

regarding long-term solutions, hydrogen can be stored when renewable energy is abundant and used when it is not, ensuring a stable energy supply.

Additionally, hydrogen is ideal for applications that are challenging to electrification, such as heavy industry and large transport sectors.

“Anything where you need high-grade heat similarly are larger transport things like aviation, maritime, things where it is very challenging to put a heavy battery in and the high energy density of hydrogen gives it a real advantage in that area,” she states.

Challenges and recommendations

Jackson addresses several challenges the UK must overcome to become a leader in the hydrogen industry. Rapidly scaling production, stimulating demand, and developing infrastructure and storage are among the most pressing challenges. Jackson points out that the UK has a 10GW production target for 2030 but currently has minimal hydrogen production. “We need to rapidly scale production,” she asserts.

Regarding infrastructure, the UK Government has committed to bring the hydrogen transport models forward by 2025, agreed to cluster sequencing programmes and further agreed to some blending into the GDNs. Jackson believes that the target for transport models is too late, due to long lead times. “We need the Government to show a little bit more flexibility to try and get some investment moving forward,” she states.

Furthermore, to deliver net zero, Jackson states the UK will need approximately 30-80GW of hydrogen production by 2050. With this figure equating to roughly size of UK electricity domain today, this large figure further emphasises the need for the UK to act at pace.

Another critical challenge is developing the skilled workforce required to support the hydrogen industry. Jackson cautions against complacency and emphasises the need to bring stakeholders and consumers along on this journey. “It is absolutely imperative we are taking stakeholders and taking consumers along with us on this journey,” she concludes.

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Source: Hydrogen UK

Moving into the future:

UK renewable energy


the future of renewable energy in the UK looks promising, there are complex risks

that need

to be navigated. Early engagement with renewable energy insurance specialists is crucial for the success of projects.

The UK is at a critical juncture when it comes to its energy future. With a clear goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, the nation is moving towards a future powered by renewable energy sources.

However, there are inherent risks involved in this transition. Unfamiliar technologies, volatile markets, and complex supply chains introduce uncertainties that could derail even the wellplanned projects. To navigate these challenges, a robust safety net and early planning are necessary.

“The renewable energy sector is not without its challenges in terms of, for instance, skill sets and supply of materials. However, particular to this sector, in terms of what businesses want to deploy; what is best suited for their business, and how do they start decarbonising their organisation to get on that green journey,” says Carl Gurney, Renewable Energy Director, Gallagher.

The UK Government has set ambitious targets for the closure of coal-fired power plants and the

transition away from fossil fuels. The contribution of coal to the UK’s electricity generation has already plummeted from 40 per cent in 2010 to around 2 per cent in 2020. The recent global energy crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine war has highlighted the vulnerabilities of relying on imported fossil fuels and the importance of seeking energy independence. Avoiding wholesale pricing volatility has become urgent.

To achieve the goal of net zero emissions by 2050, a full range of renewable and clean energy technologies will be required. Wind power is currently the dominant contributor, with offshore and onshore wind farms producing 80,000 GWh and providing nearly 60 per cent of all renewable power generation. Biomass power and solar energy also make significant contributions. Other renewable technologies like anaerobic digestion, hydro and tidal plants, and waste-to-energy generation are growing and expected to contribute more in the coming years.

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Chris Noah, Gallagher’s Renewable Energy Managing Director, explains:

“Long duration energy storage systems and EV charging stations need to be developed to meet demand, but these are huge infrastructure changes that require government impetus. Loss control for projects needs to be included in the build because retrofitting down the line is not only costly, the downtime causes business interruption.”

Government policies, such as the Climate Change Act and the Net Zero Strategy, are acting as catalysts for the development and adoption of renewable energy sources. Financial incentives and regulatory frameworks are being put in place to accelerate the transition. The Government has allocated significant funding to projects in the hydrogen sector, with the aim of achieving 1GW of electrolytic hydrogen production by 2025.

Government legislation is playing a significant role in shaping waste management practices. In England, separate food waste collections will become mandatory by 2026, as mandated by the Government. The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) has identified anaerobic digestion (AD) plants as the preferred treatment method for this waste stream. This legislation reflects the Government’s commitment to reducing food waste and promoting sustainable waste management practices. By implementing separate food waste collections and prioritising

AD plants, the Government aims to minimise the environmental impact of food waste and maximise its potential for energy generation through anaerobic digestion.

Stephen Skelly, account director, public sector, education and housing at Gallagher comments: “Local authorities are increasingly focused on climate change, clean air, and energy security. They recognise the importance of addressing these issues and are taking steps to prioritise them. This shift in focus aligns with the UK’s goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and transitioning to renewable energy sources. By prioritising climate change, clean air, and energy security, local authorities are playing a crucial role in driving the nation’s energy transition and creating a sustainable future.”

Technological advancements are also driving the renewable energy sector forward. Floating wind farms, which were once seen as a futuristic dream, are now a reality in the UK. The Kincardine wind farm in Scotland, the world’s largest floating wind farm, has been operational since 2021 and is generating enough electricity to power 50,000 households. Hydrogen, produced from renewable energy sources, holds immense promise and could revolutionise transportation, heating, and industry. The UK is a pioneer in leveraging this technology.

While the future of renewable energy in the UK looks promising, there are complex risks that need to be navigated. Insurers face challenges in underwriting risks associated with emerging technologies, volatile pricing, and a lack of historical data. The sector also faces a shortage of experienced engineering, procurement, and construction contractors, as well as supply chain issues. Securing essential materials and skilled labour can be a time-consuming and costly process.

A lack of historical data regarding the performance of renewable energy technologies has caused insurers difficulty in terms of pricing and risk profiling. With new technologies now entering the sector, such as LDES and hydrogen; coupled with larger more complex sites being developed, expertise and knowledge sharing is paramount to ensure long-term insurance security. Business continuity plans, contractual relationships with OEMs and system resilience will all compliment a robust insurance programme. This will in turn help mitigate supply chain constraints and ultimately protect your investment.

Early engagement with renewable energy insurance specialists is crucial for the success of projects. These

specialists can assess risks, provide mitigation strategies, and secure optimal insurance coverage. Gallagher, a global insurance brokerage and risk management company, has extensive experience serving clients in the renewable energy industry. Their team of experts understands the intricacies of the sector and can provide tailored solutions to mitigate risks.

“We love to get involved with clients as early as possible; help them build the necessary plans and loss controls into their designs. This ensures the projects are insurable and as such bankable and in addition, we can then provide longterm insurance stability. This coupled with fostering industry and client knowledge along with partnering clientwith the right cultural approach to risk makes projects attractive to a wider pool of insurers,” says Gurney.

In conclusion, the UK’s renewable energy sector is at a pivotal moment. With ambitious targets for net zero emissions by 2050, the nation is moving towards a future powered by renewable energy sources. However, there are inherent risks involved in this transition. Navigating these challenges requires a robust safety net and early planning. Insurance plays a crucial role in securing a sustainable future for the UK’s renewable energy sector. By understanding and mitigating risks, insurers can support businesses in reaching their goals and contribute to the nation’s energy transition.

Account director – public sector, education, and housing

T: +44 (0) 2890 897 393

E :


Stephen Skelly
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Smart meter rollout plan to

be finalised in


The Department for the Economy intends to appoint a contractor to develop and finalise a plan for the design and rollout of smart meters by the end of 2024.

The details were included in the Energy Strategy –Path to Net Zero Energy 2024 Action Plan, which also indicated that a final Smart Systems Flexibility Plan will be published in the same timeframe.

Consultation on design considerations for a Northern Ireland Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan (SSFP) closed in April 2024, with the Department stressing that the SSFP will not be a policy document in itself but will set out a roadmap for developing policy.

It is expected that the SFFP will largely follow the structure of the Great Britain Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan 2021, with a Northern Ireland focus.

The Department’s ongoing work to develop a plan for the implementation of electricity smart meters and systems has been informed by a cost benefit analysis published in June 2023 which suggests that smart meter deployment “can offer a positive net present value to the consumer, network companies, retailers, and wider society”.

The analysis was mandated by the EU’s 2019 Electricity Directive which seeks the introduction of smart meters across the EU and the UK’s Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener. The Department for the Economy opted to extend the legislative requirement for a cost benefit analysis beyond

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electricity smart meters to include gas smart meters.

In summary, the cost benefit analysis finds that all three scenarios considered in relation to electricity: 1) a fast rollout; 2) a phased approach; and 3) a hybrid approach, are viable in Northern Ireland and present a positive value for money outcome pending appropriate planning, specification, procurement, and delivery phases. An active rollout (scenario 1) suggested the highest value for money, but also required the largest capex investment.

The analysis concluded: “Whilst scenario 1 at a cost benefit analysis level presents the best value for money, future analysis should delve into the practicality of this type of deployment further. Considerations for nonquantitative market drivers, resourcing (network-side and government-side), and what is right for Northern Ireland should be made.”

In relation to gas, under a similar three scenarios, only a fast active roll-out indicated a material value for money. However, the analysis stresses the need for consideration to be given to the ability of pay-as-you-go meters to support smart services, and also suggests consideration of integration between the Gas Smart Service programme and an Electricity Smart Service programme.

Setting out some of the key considerations now facing the Department, the analysis further concludes that a successful smart service programme “will require significant management resource and capability to develop the programme and agree a funding, through to the delivery of key activities including smart service design, meter and associated technology procurement and through to roll out and the provision of smart tariffs”.

It adds: “Work to ensure alignment between all parties in order to bring smart tariffs to market and to protect consumers and their data from security and cyber threats are all essential. Consumers are the largest beneficiary of a smart service programme and consumer behaviour is the key driver to benefits overall. It is therefore critically important that an engagement campaign that informs, encourages,

“Consumers are the largest beneficiary of a smart service programme and consumer behaviour is the key driver to benefits overall.”

and educates consumers of all types and needs is developed.”

On 30 June 2023, the Department announced its intention to develop a plan for the implementation of electricity smart meters and systems, but will not proceed with smart gas meters.


The aspects of the SSFP design consultation are wide-ranging and pose a variety of questions, answers to which will be considered by the Department prior to publication of the final plan.

Some of the key issues being considered are consideration of whether a future systems operator (FSO), or similar organisation/arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland, as well as a TSO/DSO cooperation review to be developed by the Department and the Utility Regulator (UR), which will look at the state of current TSO and DSO cooperation, and whether further changes are needed.

In addition, the Department and the Utility Regulator are set to consider the need to develop a consumer protection and/or licensing regime for aggregation, data and flexibility service providers, and any subsequent legislation.

Other notable outputs include:

• the Department working with the UR, SONI, and NIE Networks to deliver the SOs’ mandates to digitalise their networks in accordance with the Electricity Directive requirements;

• the Department working with the UR to consider the need for a licensing regime, and code of practice for aggregators (either suppliers or third-party aggregators);

• establishing a working group to consider Northern Ireland requirements in terms of energy and network cybersecurity;

• a proposal to conduct a review with the UR on the appropriate enduring regime for licensing electricity storage;

• an analysis of the costs and benefits to Northern Ireland of different levels of interconnection in light of the likely changes in generation and demand in Northern Ireland and also in neighbouring jurisdictions; and

• development of a policy on digitalisation of the energy system in Northern Ireland.

The above list is not exhaustive, and all feedback is set to be assessed by a steering group consisting of the Department for the Economy and the Utility Regulator, which will set the scope of the SSFP.

The steering group will retain policy responsibility and make recommendations for final proposals to the Minister for the Economy or DfE senior management. Development of the SSFP will be overseen by the steering group and supported by a working group.

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for all
sustainable energy system

Boosting Northern Ireland’s green growth potential

A renewable electricty support scheme is key to Northern Ireland reaching its green growth potential and ESB have the expertise and experience to help drive capacity.

Net zero or carbon reduction aspirations are now ubiquitous across leading global companies. That means that regions with abundant and affordable green energy supply have an advantage in attracting investment. Northern Ireland, with a strong industrial heritage

and an educated workforce, has a great opportunity to capitalise on that natural advantage to facilitate ‘green growth’ –not to mention the opportunity this offers to capitalise on the supply chain opportunities arising out of the deployment of this technology.

Paul Lennon, head of offshore wind, hydrogen and long-term storage at ESB explains how three technologies –offshore wind; hydrogen; and the use of hydrogen in certain sectors – can play a significant role in boosting Northern Ireland’s green growth.

The island of Ireland has enough offshore wind potential to meet its 2050 electricity requirements many times over, however, renewables such as offshore wind are variable and intermittent. This is where hydrogen can play a vital role.

“Offshore wind can be converted to hydrogen and be used for those hard-todecarbonise sectors such as heavy transport, shipping, aviation, and agricultural sectors,” says Lennon. “It can also be stored and used for conversion back to electricity when the wind is not blowing”.

A net zero economy needs all three of these technologies to be progressed, not just offshore wind, and that is why ESB have decided to progress all three in parallel.

What does the future hold?

ESB has significant investment aspirations across a range of technologies and large-scale capital projects in Northern Ireland. “Since our first investment in offshore wind in Galloper in 2018, ESB has built a 2GW pipeline of offshore wind projects. We are one of Crown Estate Scotland’s largest tenants and are currently developing six significant offshore wind projects there, including Malin Sea Wind, an innovative 100MW floating windfarm under development 25km from the north coast of Northern Ireland, which represents circa £400 million investment,” explains Lennon.

As a pre-commercial scale development, the project will deliver key

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Paul Lennon, head of offshore wind, hydrogen and long-term storage at ESB.

enabling infrastructure and supply chain capabilities for the nascent offshore wind sector in Northern Ireland. A critical near-term objective of the Malin Sea Wind project is to establish the technical and economic feasibility of connecting to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has great potential signalled through the ambition from the Department for the Economy to have 1,000MW in development by 2030.

“We really welcome this and want to be part of developing this capacity,” says Lennon. “In addition, we would hope that Northern Ireland does not just stop at 1,000MW, and that additional sites are identified and progressed.”

ESB has been very active in investigating hydrogen production projects with the objective of developing energy ‘clusters’. An energy cluster colocates energy demand, hydrogen production, electricity generation, and energy storage. Decarbonising energy demand, through energy clusters, will not only help with security of electricity supply, but it will also accelerate local industrial decarbonisation in Northern Ireland, with the potential to increase industrial growth.

ESB sees a key energy ‘vector’ of the future as green hydrogen, where the electricity used is derived from renewable sources. This new use of renewable energy will enable the increased connection of further renewables and support industry decarbonisation to meet Northern Ireland’s 2030 targets. Green hydrogen effectively allows you to ‘store’ the energy from the wind for long-term uses, either to generate power, or to utilise in hard to abate applications.

In addition, ESB has built a significant fleet of grid-scale batteries and is exploring the possibility of similar investments in Northern Ireland, again to store renewable energy for times when the wind is not blowing, and the sun is not shining.

Since 2005, ESB has owned and operated the gas fired Coolkeeragh Power Station on the Foyle, which supplies 30 per cent of Northern Ireland’s electricity demand. Coolkeeragh contributes significantly to Northern Ireland’s security of supply and Lennon outlines how it is under consideration for ESB’s ambitious future investment plans for both a green hydrogen hub and a net zero (hydrogenfuelled) dispatchable electricity

“Getting a renewable energy support scheme on stream soon is key.”

generation plant: “We believe in cluster developments and renewable hubs. The area around the Coolkeeragh Power Station is therefore strategically well located from our perspective. The site has been identified as having a number of key requirements to successfully develop a cluster: access to potentially large volumes of offshore renewables, excellent transport links (port, airport, train, roads), and one of Northern Ireland’s largest industrial areas is adjacent to the power station.”

What can support

Northern Ireland’s green growth potential?

Lennon highlights that there has been great progress in recent times in Northern Ireland. “The Department for the Economy’s Energy Strategy Action Plan 2024 has key actions that will accelerate the development and delivery of renewable energy in Northern Ireland. In particular, the Regional Strategic Planning Policy, which will hopefully lead

to a faster planning approval process,” he says.

All other regions in UK and Ireland have a support scheme for renewables and Lennon believes that a revenue support scheme would certainly incentivise the development of renewables in Northern Ireland. The need for a new renewable electricty support scheme (RESS) was clear with only 86MW of new connections in Northern Ireland since 2017, compared to 400MW in 2016 when there last was a support scheme in place.

Indeed, Northern Ireland was blazing a trail with installation of renewables.

“With a 2030 target in place to deliver 80 per cent renewable electricity consumption as set out in the Climate Change Act, getting a renewable electricity support scheme on stream soon is key,” says Lennon.

For more information, visit:

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Coolkeeragh Power Station.

Energy Action Plan 2024: Final Fuel Poverty Strategy not expected until 2025

The Department for Communities (DfC) has set out its intentions to publicly consult on a new draft Fuel Poverty Strategy to support a ‘just transition’ by December 2024.

The details were included in the Energy Strategy’s 2024 Action Plan Report, published in March 2024 by the Department for the Economy (DfE).

Northern Ireland’s last Fuel Poverty Strategy was published 13 years ago in 2011 and the Department for the Economy’s Path to Net Zero Energy strategy identifies fuel poverty reduction as a key measure of its success.

In June 2022, in the face of rising fuel prices, fuel poverty charity NEA NI conducted a Northern Ireland-wide survey that suggested that at least 45 per cent of households are in fuel poverty (i.e. Spending more than 10 per cent of their total household income on their energy costs). Additionally, it found that one-in-10 households had admitted skipping meals to ensure they had enough money to pay for their energy.

Alongside the development of a fuel poverty strategy, the 2024 action plan

also indicates an intention by DfE to assess options to scale up the Northern Ireland Sustainable Energy Programme (NISEP) by augmenting its existing budget, while DfC says it will engage with stakeholders to inform the development of a replacement Affordable Warmth Scheme to enable public consultation in 2025.

The overriding objective of the action plan, which is the first to be published by a sitting minister, is to outline actions for 2024 which can reduce emissions from energy by replacing fossil fuels with indigenous renewables to decarbonise power, heat, and transport.

Alongside plans to launch of a public consultation on a new Fuel Poverty Strategy, key actions to be delivered in 2024 include:

• publication of a new Regional Strategic Planning Policy on renewable and low carbon energy;

• the delivery of an industry-led green skills delivery plan; and

• the development of a net zero accelerator fund;

Additionally, in 2024, the DfE intends to appoint a contractor to develop and finalise a plan for the design and rollout of smart metres, following a consultation on smart metering design. Similarly, the DfE says it will publish the Smart Systems Flexibility Plan consultation response, which will inform the finalisation of the plan.

With the objective of supporting decarbonisation, the action plan states that the DfE will publish a call for evidence for hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO) and biofuels in supporting the heat decarbonisation transition.

The DfE has also outlined an objective to “analyse the Biomethane Call for Evidence results and develop a plan for next steps”.

DfE has also announced that it will “commission research into the costs and benefits to the Northern Ireland consumer “for different interconnection scenarios, multiple energy storage options, and the 80 per cent renewable electricity target up to 2030 and beyond”.

The action plan further announces that the DfE intends to complete a strategic environmental assessment and habitats regulations assessment for offshore renewable energy in the marine area which aims to enable plans for potential leasing areas to be developed.

74 energy report Delivering a sustainable energy system for all

The future of the power grid has arrived. Smart Grid Ireland’s member network comprising industrial partners, local councils and utilities are responding to the challenges of the energy transition, in driving new innovations, modernisation and grid technology adjustments supporting the changing landscape and redefining how the system operates

The mission of Smart Grid Ireland is to actively support the urgent deployment of a highly integrated, decarbonised and flexible electricity grid on the island of Ireland promoting economic growth and the social wellbeing of citizens. We are an independent, industry led. not-for-profit networking organisation that aims to bridge the gap between policy, regulation, investment, and delivery.

With offices in both Dublin and Belfast we support our members in many ways including:

• The co-ordination of expertise in integrated energy systems.

• The prioritisation and promotion of smart grid solutions.

• All island representation and engagement in Smart Grid Developments.

• Thought leadership webinars and best practice networking

• SGI is a foundation member of the international Global Smart Grid Federation (GSEF) engaging in shared innovations, publications, policies and trends.

For more information contact

Bob Barbour Secretariat, Smart Grid Ireland

Ronan Staunton Policy Advisor, Smart Grid Ireland

Action needed to address renewable electricity 2030 target gap

A 5 per cent annual decrease in the consumption of renewable electricity in Northern Ireland has highlighted the need for the acceleration of offshore wind generation and grid storage if an ambitious 80 per cent target for 2030 is to be met.

Northern Ireland saw a decline in indigenous renewable electricity consumption in relation to total electricity consumed over the 12 month period, despite the 80 per cent 2030 target for renewable energy consumption.

Within the rolling 12 month average in 2023, 45.8 per cent of total electricity consumption in Northern Ireland was generated from renewable sources located in Northern Ireland.

The 2023 total renewable electricity consumption represents a decrease of 5.3 percentage points on the previous 12 month period (year ending December 2022).

Therefore, in order to meet targets outlined by the Climate Change Act and Path to Net Zero strategy, significant measures need to be taken to ensure that renewable energy consumption continues to increase consistently.

Northern Ireland, once a leader in renewable generation, has stagnated over the past decade, highlighted by the fact that only 86MW of new large scale generation has been connected in that time.

The Department for the Economy is expected to deliver a new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme, aimed at increasing levels of renewable generation, in 2024, while simultaneously producing an offshore renewable energy action plan. However, critical to meeting the target of 80 per cent renewable electricity consumption by 2030 will not just be increased generation, but also the electricity grid’s ability to store and balance renewables. Despite the annual decrease in renewable consumption, the report found that of all renewable electricity generated within Northern Ireland in the year ending

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Delivering a sustainable energy system for

Renewable electricity generation and electricity consumption volumes in Northern Ireland (GWh)

Source: Electricity Consumption and Renewable Generation statistics.

December 2023, 82.9 per cent is generated from wind. This compares to 85.3 per cent for the previous 12 month period, suggesting that there has been an increase in other sources for renewable generation.

The second largest renewable energy source in Northern Ireland is generated through biogas (6.6 per cent), followed by biomass generation (4.7 per cent), solar PV (3.7 per cent), landfill gas (1.5 per cent), and other (0.7 per cent).

For the year ending December 2023, non-wind renewable electricity generation in Northern Ireland was 571 GWh (17.1 per cent).

Furthermore, in December 2023 specifically, 59.5 per cent of total electricity consumption in Northern Ireland was generated from renewable sources located in Northern Ireland.

Annual volume generated and consumed

In terms of the volume of electricity consumption in the year ending December 2023, some 7,297 Gigawatt hours (GWh) of total electricity was consumed. Within the decade, total electricity consumption in Northern Ireland has fallen by 10.8 per cent.

Additionally, some 3,341 GWh was generated from renewable sources located in Northern Ireland. This equates to an increase of 135.4 per cent over the 10 year period.

Renewable electricity generation as a percentage of electricity consumption (%)

Source: Electricity Consumption and Renewable Generation statistics.

The Climate Change Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 outlines that “at least 80 per cent of electricity consumption” must be generated from renewable sources by 2030.

Furthermore, the Path to Net Zero Energy strategy aims to continue to drive short-term progress towards the ultimate goal of a decarbonised energy system in relation to all Northern Ireland’s heat, power, and transport needs.

Meeting long-term targets

Despite the variation of renewable electricity generation month-to-month,

the average of indigenous renewable electricity generation has been on a general decline since November 2022.

Therefore, irrespective of renewable electricity generation and electricity consumption volumes in Northern Ireland continuing on a general increase over the decade, there is still significant work to be done to continue to increase energy consumption on an annual basis, and thus meet its target of nearly double its current renewable electricity generation.

The next Electricity Consumption and Renewable Generation in Northern Ireland publication will be issued in June 2024.

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First steps on our pathway to a renewable future

Northern Ireland is well positioned to leverage its resources and geography to deliver green and sustainable growth, writes David Rooney, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Queen’s University Belfast, and academic director of CASE.

It has been almost a year since the Department for the Economy and the Centre for Advanced Sustainable Energy held the first Northern Ireland Energy Summit.

Ten recommendations, to set us on a pathway for a renewable future, were contained within the accompanying White Paper. These spanned a broad range of areas including governance, finance, technology, and cooperation. Since then, the Northern Ireland Executive reformed, and a new economic

vision was announced. This focused on increasing prosperity, balancing the economy, good jobs, and delivering all of this against the legal and moral obligations of net zero.

Central to the opportunity within the document was the intersection of renewables, agri-tech, and manufacturing. Together, these presented a nexus of immense potential for the UK’s agriculturally rich regions, in particular, Northern Ireland. While this nexus is not unique, Northern Ireland’s

commitment to net zero emissions and its established agricultural, manufacturing, digital, and fintech sectors create an ideal environment for innovation.

To realise its potential, an investment in whole systems thinking is needed, to leverage Northern Ireland’s resources and its existing skill base. Analysis suggests that success will transform the regional economy into one which can thrive in the years ahead, providing future generations with secure jobs whilst protecting the environment too.

Importantly, it can do this in a way which recognises and balances factors common across the UK and Ireland, with those unique to Northern Ireland.

The critical mass to deliver success is evident from the significant existing and planned investments across complementary areas. In November 2023, Science Foundation Ireland, DAERA and UKRI announced £60 million of funding to develop two collaborative all-islands co-centres focusing on climate change and sustainable and resilient food systems.

These co-centres build on the research excellence within the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB). Specific research will seek to develop just transition pathways, disruptive business models and agronomic practices that can restore biodiversity and diversify land use, while increasing value chains and sustaining rural livelihoods. None of this will be easy, but the research investment is timely and it can be leveraged.

Access to significant quantities of clean energy will be critical. Marine resources cannot be overlooked, and CASE funded innovations have enabled QUB and partners to advance wave energy converter arrays, to optimise commercial tidal turbines, and to develop novel

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underwater sensors which mitigate the risk of collision with marine fauna. These are all enabled through Northern Ireland’s geography, encompassing Portaferry and the Strangford Narrows.

Maximising the efficacy of existing technologies is also important. One of the most mature is anaerobic digestion (AD) which should be considered as a tool. Like all tools it will deliver a solution if it is used correctly, or it will lead to greater problems if it is misused. Viewing AD as a tool, allows it to deliver much more than biomethane to service the heating, power and transport sectors. Instead, it can be considered as supporting three different services to the regional economy and environment, namely energy, nutrient and carbon.

Energy services are obvious, given that biomethane is a direct drop-in replacement for natural gas. CASE research has already demonstrated that substantial resources exist and, in November 2023, the first direct-to-grid injection on the island of Ireland, occurred within the Evolve network. More connections are needed and, recently, the gas network operators jointly launched a collaborative request for information, to inform longer-term network planning.

Nutrient services are a direct consequence of the processing capabilities which support the concentration of nutrients into the digestate streams. To date, this has not been the primary focus, but it has become more important due to the ongoing environmental problems which were on show worldwide, because of Lough Neagh’s disastrous algal blooms.

AD can mitigate these issues when deployed in combination with improved land management and the use of multispecies swards. The economics and potential regulation of AD will be significantly easier for larger plants.

Balancing smaller on-farm units with larger regionally centralised processing akin to agricultural cooperatives or community owned energy enterprises is important, and more work is needed to incentivise inward investment and adoption. The recent announcements by DfE, DAERA, and the Shared Island Fund are welcome, as they aim to support clean energy, control nutrients and to develop new transformative bioeconomies. Work in this area needs to be accelerated.

Carbon services recognise that biogenic carbon has an increasing value. AD can

supply carbon in multiple forms including CO2 for the agritech sector and future efuel markets which strongly complements green hydrogen. CASE work has identified specific niche areas in the marine and aviation industries, where Northern Ireland could significantly contribute. Similarly, the carbon embodied in the digestate, can be converted and valorised to a range of products, including organic rich fertilisers or biochar to support the wider construction sector and its supply chain.

Inherent in all of this are the wider opportunities that arise from building capability in the measuring, validating, reporting and trading of energy, nutrients and carbon. Barriers to delivering net zero across the UK often arise from a poor evidence base. Good work in this area will quantify embodied carbon, as well as inform and communicate the interconnected business, financial, legal, political and regulatory decisions and frameworks needed for the transition. Tools which offer high levels of transparency and accountability for the carbon embodied in products and

services, will inform and accelerate decisions within business.

A global net zero future needs a CarbonTech sector to support decisions and to provide a blend of carbon, nutrient and energy services to industries and their supply chains. This nascent sector has echoes of Northern Ireland’s globally recognised FinTech capabilities that draw on an existing blend of talent, innovation and expertise. Northern Ireland could lead the way.

Since the summit, significant successes have been achieved and new opportunities have emerged. The central tenet remains – positioned correctly, Northern Ireland can leverage regional resources, in partnership with those in the UK and Ireland, amplifying the value of renewable and biogenic resources to deliver green and sustainable growth.

Let’s not miss the opportunity.


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Ed Hawkins, Reading; Yvonne Buckley, TCD; and Mark Emmerson, QUB of the recently launched Co-centre for Climate, Biodiversity and Water.

Northern Ireland Energy Forum 2024

Northern Ireland’s major annual energy conference...

Tuesday 17 September • Titanic Belfast

The Northern Ireland Energy Forum, now in its 23rd year, has firmly established itself as the annual conference for Northern Ireland’s energy sector and is a not-to-be-missed event for anyone with an interest in the local energy industry. The 2024 Forum will once again bring together all the key players, from Northern Ireland and further afield, to focus on the most important aspects of energy policy and the latest developments across the sector. It provides a unique opportunity for all those operating within the sector to come together for networking and discussion.

Key topics to be examined include:

• Decarbonising the Northern Ireland economy

• Regulatory outlook for the energy sector

• The future of the electricity grid

• Decarbonised and affordable heat as part of a just transition to net zero

• Planning and environmental aspects of energy projects

• The role of wind energy in achieving 80% by 2030

• Meeting the need for long term energy storage

• Developing a biomethane sector in Northern Ireland

• Case study: geothermal energy for district heating

• Developing a hydrogen economy

Sponsored by

Decarbonising the economy: electricity, heat and transport

Decarbonisation of energy use has become a priority for all governments amidst a worsening climate crisis. The market turmoil of recent years and the anxiety over energy security has only accelerated the drive towards developing indigenous renewable energy sources. A ban on oil and gas licensing will focus on the urgent need for delivery in electricity, heat and transport areas. In electricity, the first RESS auction is planned for 2025 with 2 GW needed to achieve the 2030 target of 80% of electricity from renewable sources. The reform of electricity connection policy is underway and the sector will see the introduction of smart metering.

The use of battery storage is also accelerating with utility scale storage projects now coming on stream. In heat, the focus for the sector is now on the development biomethane, heat networks and geothermal sources.

Transport will see an increase in electrification and the development of a green hydrogen sector offers scope to decarbonise the sector and to also deliver a long term storage solution for the energy system as a whole. The 2024 Forum comes at a time when developments are accelerating right across the energy sector and will bring together all these issues with a range of expert speakers.

Sponsorship and exhibition opportunities available

There are still a number of sponsorship and exhibition opportunities available at this conference. This is an excellent way for organisations to raise their profile with a key audience of senior decision makers from across Northern Ireland’s energy sector. For further information on the packages remaining and speaking opportunities at the event call Olivia Ross on +44 (0)28 9261 9933 or email

How to register

By email Online By telephone +44 (0)28 9261 9933
17 Sep Date for your diary!

Skills for the future report

Digital Events Publications

Evolution not revolution: A skills perspective on advancing net zero

Northern Ireland needs a ‘skills evolution’ rather than a ‘skills revolution’ amongst its current workforce, a report investigating the skills required for a transition to a greener economy has found.

Contextualising the publication of the skills perspective for transitioning to a greener economy, current plans to deliver a new renewables-focused regional strategic planning policy due for delivery in 2024 include:

• the delivery of an industry-led green skills delivery plan;

• the development of a net zero accelerator fund; and

• the launch of a public consultation on a new fuel poverty strategy.

Transitioning to a greener economy – a skills perspective, a research project led by Energy and Utility Skills aims to include the intelligence needed to ensure that all organisations involved in the advanced zero emission play their

part in delivering the required skilled workforce. Consequentially, it aims to maximise the benefits to all sections of the Northern Ireland population.

Covering eight relevant industries, the research outlines areas that are critical to the Northern Ireland economy moving forward. These are: large scale energy production, infrastructure, domestic low carbon technologies and energy efficiency, industrial processes, circular economy, transport, agriculture, and fisheries.

Industry-specific skills

Across the green industries and circular economy, the report states that there are industry-specific and generic skills that are growing in demand and will be

crucial to achieving the transition to a net zero economy in Northern Ireland.

“Business skills such as project management, business and commercial, customer/stakeholder engagement, risk management and data analysis will not only be essential to the development of these industries, but they will also be demanded by a wider range of job roles than ever before,” the research outlines.

Additionally, the report acknowledges that digital skills and multi-skilling are increasingly crucial in jobs across all sectors, including those in the field workforce.

To accelerate skills growth across all sectors and thus increase the pace of the green transition within the economy,

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existing education, skills, and training are crucial. Therefore, successful pathways to competency are essential across the relevant workforces.

Educational pathways

Regarding entry-level opportunities, current programmes such as traineeships and the Skill Up programme aim to offer entry routes within the green industries. Additionally, the research acknowledges that current apprenticeships should review what opportunities are currently available within green industries specifically.

The report also acknowledges that further and higher education in Northern Ireland, despite being highly regarded needs to deliver more within current courses to facilitate for the green industry.

Furthermore, there is recognition that due to there being no standalone geoscience degrees available (undergraduate or postgraduate level), current students are travelling outside the region to study within this field, thus potentially leaving further skills shortages amongst the green industries.

In reflection of this, the research identifies that instead of a “skills revolution”, Northern Ireland needs a “skills evolution” amongst its current workforce to achieve a greener economy. To achieve this, upskilling is crucial, with possibilities for micro-credentials and skills passporting acknowledged.

Transferable skills

To decrease skills shortages, the report highlights key areas within current industries that could use transferable skills to accelerate the transition to a greener economy.

Oil and gas are the first industry that has the greatest potential for the supply of skills into green industries, particularly within the offshore wind industry and tidal power generation. Currently, Northern Ireland does not have a historic legacy of offshore engineering. Due to this, it is likely that this would require attracting and retaining these skills from other parts of the UK, Ireland, and further afield.

Advanced manufacturing and engineering is another industry that the research establishes could be upskilled through tailored conversion programmes, due to the natural employment

projections suggesting the industries could lose around 14,000 jobs between 2020 and 2035.

Furthermore, fibre and telecom industries can facilitate the transfer of skills and therefore alleviate skills shortages.

The report establishes that on a broader basis, a “careers education, information, and guidance (CEAIG) needs to be reviewed in the context of better articulating up-to-date learning and careers pathways”, with the ultimate aim to “ensure all sections of the community are aware of and have access to meaningful employment in the green industries”.

Targeted promotion on transitioning skills for green industries is beneficial amongst focused groups within society, such as females, the long-term unemployed, those with physical or learning disabilities, or youth employment to further facilitate increased skills production. The research also encourages incentivisation and raising awareness through further educating the various groups in society.

Alleviating skills shortages

The research concludes that in order to alleviate skills shortages within the green industry, it will be important to consider “alternative routes to competence other than formal qualification structures”.

Furthermore, development is needed regarding clearer learning and career pathway opportunities. The report recommends that the Careers and Skills Portal for Northern Ireland should have a clear focus on supporting green industries and the circular economy. Employer input into curricula development is also essential to bring the current provisions up-todate.

Focusing on a legislative perspective, the research recommends that government stakeholders and industry representatives should reflect on other greener economies, such as those in Scotland and Wales to address common challenges. Moreover, current accreditation and certificates in other regions should be acknowledged to ensure a “ready transfer of skills”.

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Construction Futures NI Advancing Northern Ireland’s construction industry

Fionnuala McKenna, head of strategic engagement at Construction Futures NI, discusses how the organisation aims to enhance collaboration, streamline processes, and attract fresh talent to the construction industry in Northern Ireland.

Context and challenges

Construction Futures NI was created following last year’s EY Industry Skills Review. This is a company owned and operated jointly by the employers, through the Construction Employers Federation, CEF, and the employee representatives from the Unite and GMB Unions. The joint objective is to identify a range of challenges faced by the industry and to develop meaningful solutions to these. By focusing on informing, attracting, developing, and retaining talent, Construction Futures aims to push the construction sector forward in Northern Ireland.

The skills issues facing Northern Ireland’s construction industry are many and varied. The sector is complex with a broad landscape of employers and skills providers with limited points of coordination between them. It faces stiff competition for resources with the rest of

Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland, and at home competition is provided by existing and emerging sectors with retention of staff an ongoing challenge.

Government is the main source of pipeline for the industry, commissioned by various local departments (primarily health, education, communities, and infrastructure) with the Department of Finance responsible for developing procurement policy. The Department for the Economy owns the skills agenda for Northern Ireland, however, to influence the perception of construction in schools, the Department of Education has an important role to play.

The industry faces significant drivers for change; the green economy and net zero will influence the shape of construction for years to come and there is an increasing role for digitisation, AI and software development in construction and increasingly manufacturing processes.

The sector has recovered from Covid-19 but, with significant spending cuts this has weakened confidence in pipeline and future supply chain. This knock-on effect naturally impacts skills and apprenticeships. Issues include:

• an immediate shortage in core trades skills – A recent internal survey among CEF members revealed that 80 per cent of respondents had experienced a shortage of skilled labour in the past 12 months;

• competitiveness of reward packages vs the Republic of Ireland/UK/further afield;

• perception of construction as an attractive career path; and

• people not qualifying with the right skills needed by the sector.

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(L:R): Fionnuala McKenna (Construction Futures NI); Conor Murphy MLA (then-Department for the Economy Minister); Minister Caoimhe Archibald MLA (Department of Finance Minister); and Mark Spence (Construction Employers Federation).

Gender imbalance remains a persistent issue in construction; however, female representation has increased by 2 per cent over the past five years, with women now comprising 15 per cent of the workforce as of last year. While the gradual increase is encouraging, significant improvements are still needed. Given the ongoing skills shortage, the industry must aim to engage 50 per cent of the population more effectively.

Enhancing promotion and improving data collection on the presence of women already in the sector will help counter the perception that fewer women are involved than actually are, aiding in attracting more participants. Continuous collaboration with organisations like WomensTec, along with incentives, bursaries, and pilot programs, such as CITB’s Women in Plant Operator Programme, will further assist in increasing female participation.

Collaboration and people: The core of success

The Northern Ireland construction industry is undertaking several worthy initiatives, yet coordination could be greatly improved as organisations often work in silos, leading to a fragmented effort. The industry would benefit greatly with improved co-ordination and a simplification of the complex education and training structure that exists. Construction Futures’ objective is to assist with better signposting and encourage organisations to link up more effectively, therefore avoiding duplication of efforts and preventing eventual burnout.

Currently, the focus is on actively listening to the concerns of key stakeholders, including educational and government institutions, industry companies, community groups and representative bodies to get a clear picture of the current construction ecosystem and linking up on common objectives. Common issues raised include:

• the complexity of training and qualification frameworks, which can be challenging to navigate for those not familiar with the sector-specific language;

• the perception of the construction industry in schools;

• the need to promote vocational sectors alongside traditional academic paths;

• sufficient pipeline of projects to increase stability and ensure apprentices consistently have work through their employers;

• challenges in linking apprentices with main contractors and subcontractors; and

• the complex nature of the construction sector and a continuously mobile workforce across the region.

Addressing these concerns requires improved collaboration between the Department for the Economy (DfE) and the Department of Education (DE) to enhance the education and training system and streamline the careers service.

From an industry perspective, with a focus on social responsibility, the construction sector is exploring ways to improve the linkage between apprentices and employers and to ensure employment after apprenticeships. Currently, ranking third in higher level apprenticeship uptake, the industry aims to enhance this by collaborating with universities and further education colleges. The Skills Barometer shows a significant demand for education at all levels, with approximately 14,000 for higher education (levels 4-6) and 12,000 for levels 2 and 3. This also highlights the critical need for more investment in and recognition of vocational training.

Construction Futures initial focus aims to raise sector awareness through its NI Built Environment Careers prospectus and the launch of a ‘Gateway’ website. This site plans to simplify the complex construction ecosystem and streamline the qualifications and training landscape for construction careers. Serving as a central hub, the Gateway website will direct relevant organisations and stakeholders to relevant resources, training, education, and initiatives, while also facilitating data collection.

Adopting a data-driven approach will be an important aspect for the company in refining strategies and establishing a skills baseline, a vital measure to assess the effectiveness of initiatives. Enhanced by better technology and collaboration, these efforts signify the beginning of Construction Futures’ journey.

Further info can be found at

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Construction Futures NI celebrates career opportunities in construction with the winners of St Patrick’s College’s Construction Skill Builder Programme in Dungannon.

Closing the skills gap

Northern Ireland must tackle skills shortages locally to undergo economic growth, the Assembly’s Committee for the Economy has heard.

Speaking before the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee for the Economy in March 2024, then-Minister for the Economy, Conor Murphy MLA encouraged decision-makers to see a positive vision for the skills outlook in Northern Ireland, arguing that overemphasis on the well-documented skills gap in Northern Ireland is “actually under-playing what is the key focus” of the Executive’s job creation agenda, particularly regarding foreign direct investment.

Murphy, who has now been replaced by Deirdre Hargey MLA on an interim basis, said that “the primary thing that brings people here for foreign direct investment is the skills”, adding that to foster further

foreign direct investment, there is a need for “language that has positivity”.

However, Murphy also outlined the Department for the Economy (DfE) has had its overall budget reduced by £74 million since 2021, an equivalent of a 9 per cent real-term decrease, and stated that it was “not adequate enough to enable investment in skills which we need to grow the economy”.

The Minister highlighted the role of skills in ambitions to close Northern Ireland’s productivity gap: “Productivity is a fundamental driver of overall living standards… Investment in skills, research and development, and innovation will also drive better productivity.”

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Skills gap

Published in the Open University’s annual Business Barometer 2021 report reveals nearly three-quarters (69 per cent) of Northern Ireland businesses believe there is a skills shortage in their organisation. This percentage is the highest of any region of the UK (67 per cent in England, 60 per cent in Wales, 63 per cent in Scotland).

Northern Ireland has a much higher economic inactivity rate (26.3 per cent in September 2023) among the working age population than the UK average (20.9 per cent), largely attributed to long-term sickness.

Addressing the challenge, Murphy identified the better skills provision as a means of reducing the levels of economic inactivity.

Dual market access

The Minister highlights the potential for Northern Ireland to bridge the skills gap by utilising the dual market access Northern Ireland has acquired post-Brexit.

“If we want to try and achieve growth, if we want to take advantage of the dual market access, we need to make sure that we have sufficiently employed skilled people for employment to enable our local businesses to grow and to get into the export markets. Also, in terms of tracking foreign direct investment, we need to have people available for work,” he stated.

Apprenticeship programmes

According to a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) report published in February 2024, Northern Ireland has the lowest rate of apprenticeship participation per capita in employment (14 per cent) out of all four UK regions.

Responding to a question from Alliance MLA Sorcha Eastwood, Murphy acknowledged that there is financial pressure on DfE owing to the post-Brexit removal of “European funding which was

primarily used to support [skills funding] and that has not been replaced”.

With the committee meeting taking place prior to the announcement of the 2024/2025 Budget, Murphy stated that DfE had been bidding for additional funding for his department, including a further £78 million in resource funding and £360 million in capital funding.

“There is a recognition across the Executive that growing the economy is a priority. For us, this is a key component of growing the economy so we would expect broad support for those bids,” Murphy suggested.

Ring-fenced skills fund

Responding to an assertion by Sorcha Eastwood that there is a need for a ringfenced skills fund within DfE, Murphy acknowledged: “We cannot grow the economy unless we get more people with more skills into it. Other than that, it will stay still.

“The opportunities that exist now in terms of dual market access and our own business has been very ambitious… If our baselines were increased, you could be in the space of having a ring-fenced protected skills fund.”

Murphy further referenced discussions between the First Minister, deputy First Minister, and Finance Minister with the UK Government in relation to Northern Ireland’s fiscal framework, stating: “If we get the fiscal floor issue right, all of the departments will have more baseline money.”

2023/24 budget

In the 2023/24 Northern Ireland budget, the Departmental Resource DEL budgets includes £766.6 million for the Department for the Economy.

The Department’s reduction is 1.3 per cent against its 2022/23 year-end position, highlighting that DfE will face difficult decisions in the financial year ahead in bridging the skills gap in Northern Ireland.

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Open College Network NI: Empowering individuals and recognising achievement

In the dynamic landscape of education, where opportunities for learning are as diverse as the students themselves, Open College Network Northern Ireland (OCN) stands out as a beacon of innovation and inclusivity.

As the awarding body of choice for professional and technical qualifications, OCN is dedicated to empowering learners of all backgrounds and abilities, recognising their achievements, and fostering a culture of lifelong learning. Our mission is to develop and award qualifications which engage, enrich and equip learners for life.

Central to the ethos of OCN is the belief in the transformative power of education. By providing opportunities for personal and professional development, OCN enables individuals to realise their full potential, pursue their passions, and make meaningful contributions to society. Whether it is supporting adult learners in upskilling for new career opportunities or

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(L:R) John D'Arcy, Open University Ireland, Director and Martin Flynn, OCN NI, Chief Executive.

helping young people transition from education to employment, OCN plays a vital role in building a skilled, resilient, and inclusive society.

Contributing to the Skills Strategy for Northern Ireland

Earlier this year OCN launched its strategic plan which sets out our vision, mission, and values, as well as our key priorities and objectives for the next three years. This new strategic plan positions us as a key stakeholder in supporting and contributing to the Department for the Economy’s Skills for a 10X Economy Strategy which aims to transform the skills landscape in Northern Ireland and position the region as a leader in skills development.

One of the key ways in which OCN contributes to this strategy is by facilitating the development, delivery, and award of professional and technical qualifications. These qualifications are designed to meet the specific skills needs of the economy and industry sectors in Northern Ireland. By offering a wide range of professional and technical qualifications, OCN enables individuals to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in their chosen career paths, thereby aligning with the Government’s goal of developing a skilled and competitive workforce.

OCN offers a variety of qualifications and learning pathways, including traineeships, apprenticeships, professional development courses, and many other types of accredited

qualifications. By doing so, OCN helps individuals to reskill through achieving higher level qualifications and enhance their employability prospects.

Our vision is for a successful, inclusive society where every learner matters

By working closely with key stakeholders, OCN ensures that its qualifications and training programmes are relevant, up to date, and aligned with the needs of the labour market. This collaborative approach strengthens the connection between education and employment, facilitating a smoother transition for individuals into the workforce and supporting the overall goals of the prioritisation of skills development to meet the economic vision for Northern Ireland.

One example of this collaboration with key stakeholders in Northern Ireland was the recent signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with The Open University in Ireland. The MoU aims to establish a partnership between OCN and OU in Ireland to promote widening access for learners and create suitable progression pathways between OCN qualifications and OU higher education programmes.

Over the coming years, OCN will continue to award high-quality, industryrecognised qualifications and promote the value of lifelong learning to individuals throughout Northern Ireland.

T: 028 90 463 991

E: W:

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Unravelling the puzzle: Tackling Northern Ireland’s talent dilemma

While it is important that policy adequately plans for jobs in the future, it is equally as important to plan for labour market participation, explains Mark Magill, principal economist at the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre.

Skills challenges are never far from the top of the list of Northern Ireland’s key public policy challenges. However, over the past few years staff shortages have become a nuisance for local employers across all sectors. In the Q1 2024 NI Chamber of Commerce Quarterly Economic Survey, 77 per cent of manufacturers and 66 per cent of service firms reported finding it difficult to get staff.

Although the share of businesses reporting recruitment difficulties has eased over the past year, a significant majority continue to report that they are unable to get access to the skills required in order to grow their businesses.

The Ulster University Economic Policy Centre (UUEPC) recently published research concluding that Northern Ireland currently has the least spare labour market capacity amongst the UK’s 12 regions. This presents a major problem by limiting the potential growth rate of the economy. A legitimate question for local employers to be asking is ‘where have all the workers gone?’

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“Achieving success in raising participation is a key ingredient in both achieving more inclusive growth and to help fill existing and emerging skills shortages.”

Northern Ireland’s changing demographic profile provides a partial answer. Between 1980 to 2010 the local economy was supported by Northern Ireland’s demographic dividend, whereby the working age population (those aged 16 to 64) increased, on average, by 90,000 per decade.

In the 2010s it increased by just 22,000. Local employers did not immediately feel the pinch as there was plentiful spare capacity in the labour market following the global financial crisis. Over the coming decade, the working age population is projected to grow by just 3,000.

Local employers are turning elsewhere for talent. Non-UK nationals accounted for 63 per cent of the growth in payrolled employment in 2023. Over the past two years, migrant labour accounted for all employee job growth in health, hospitality, retail and more than half of job growth in manufacturing. However, the ability of firms to import talent from abroad will be constrained following the introduction of new visa rules introduced in April 2024, raising the salary threshold to £38,700. This is significantly above the Northern Ireland median salary (£32,900 for a fulltime employee) and prevents recruiting overseas labour for lower paid occupations.

The Northern Ireland unemployment rate is close to a record low, yet the number of people who are economically inactive remains higher than before the global pandemic. There are 312,000 people of working age who are economically inactive. For most of the group, work is not a realistic option. However, a number of the economically inactive ‘want to work’, and are known as ‘the hidden unemployed’. This is the largest group of unused labour in the Northern Ireland economy, numbering approximately 55,000 people.

While it is important that policy adequately plans for jobs in the future, it is equally as important to plan for labour market participation. Achieving success in raising participation is a key ingredient in both achieving more inclusive growth and to help fill existing and emerging skills shortages.

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However, this is a significant challenge, and previous attempts to move this group into employment have achieved limited success. Ulster University recently launched EPIC Futures NI, a new initiative aiming to provide research and policy advice to support the hidden unemployed into fair and meaningful work.

There are also several structural issues contributing to Northern Ireland’s skills challenges. On the supply side, educational attainment has increased significantly over the past 20 years. In 2003/04 only half of school leavers achieved five GCSEs A*-C (including English and Maths) compared to four-fifths today. This shift has led to a higher proportion of school leavers undertaking tertiary level qualifications, increasing the average number of years spent in full-time education before entering the labour market.

The smaller number of low achievers at school has driven a large fall in further education qualifier numbers. This has squeezed the skills pipeline for jobs that typically recruited non-tertiary qualifiers. Compared to many of our European peers, there are significantly fewer qualifiers from professional and technical courses. This creates a ‘missing middle’ in Northern Ireland’s supply of skills and is a function of a lack of clear pathways available to school leavers considering these types of courses.

At graduate level, a high proportion of qualifiers are concentrated within a relatively narrow group of subjects. Health related subjects account for over one in five HE qualifications. Business, management and social sciences account for more than one in four graduates. However, there is a low representation of some more specialised subject areas such as creative arts and design, mathematical sciences and some STEM subject areas.

The latest NI Skills Barometer reported that Northern Ireland’s largest skills shortages are in engineering and computer science, highlighting the importance of high-quality careers advice to ensure young people make informed choices.

Northern Ireland tends to underperform internationally on lifelong learning measures, recording the lowest proportion of employees receiving training or working towards a qualification of any UK region. In a rapidly changing world, skills during formal education or in prior employment become obsolete more quickly. Therefore, lifelong learning activities become an essential instrument in addressing Northern Ireland’s competitiveness challenges.

In summary, Northern Ireland faces two distinct sets of skills challenges. The first relates to the quantum of labour supply available. In the absence of a devolved regional migration policy the Executive has limited powers to alter the ability of local businesses to import overseas labour.

Therefore, supporting the ‘hidden unemployed’ into work is the key avenue through which Northern Ireland’s labour supply can be increased. This group face multiple barriers to employment, and no single initiative is likely to achieve success without an accompanying wrap around skills policy.

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Building your career in construction

Construction is an industry that provides many opportunities, and it has always been a sector where people can progress based on hard work and enthusiasm, but it is also beneficial for individuals to develop in their careers.

So, with the volume of construction in Northern Ireland predicted to grow by an annual average rate of 1.4 per cent between now and 2027 according to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), upskilling may not only benefit individuals, but also employers and the wider industry.

Why upskill now?

The skills and qualifications needed in construction vary by occupation and can range from apprenticeships and National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) to degrees and professional qualifications. However most aspects of construction relating to working on site require a minimum NVQ Level 2 or above.

In Northern Ireland you also need to be on the Construction Skills Register (CSR). The CSR is a register of construction workers who have

completed the industry approved health and safety training course. Once complete individuals gain a CSR card.

The CSR card is the equivalent of the CSCS card in the UK and it is worth noting that, to gain a CSCS card from 1 January 2025, construction workers will need a nationally recognised qualification or professional body membership. This qualification requirement does not currently apply to a CSR card, but it can still be beneficial to employees’ career development, help employers’ future-proof their workforce and maintain high quality standards.

Cementing your knowledge

A construction NVQ is a benchmark qualification that proves occupational competence to current and future employers. They are available at several

levels and the higher the level the more advanced the qualification.

John Crewdson, senior site manager at Bloor Homes, who recently completed his Level 7 in Construction Senior Management, says: “I would absolutely encourage people to join construction and build a career. House building is a great industry to work in as you get to work with a variety of people and every single day is different. If you work hard it is not just financially rewarding, there are also good opportunities to progress and to develop your skills.”

Some NVQs can also lead to membership of professional organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE).

NVQs with NHBC

NHBC offers NVQs from level 3 in Construction Contracting Operations or Occupational Work Supervision which are equal to an A Level, through to Level 7 in Construction Senior Management, which is equivalent to a master’s degree.

We have been delivering NVQs to the house-building industry for over 20 years. Our team of assessors have a wealth of experience and can offer support and guidance throughout the qualification.

To find out more about the NVQs offered by NHBC visit:

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Apprenticeships: Building the workforce of the future

There is strong evidence that apprenticeships lead to improved earnings in the future relative to classroom-based education of the same level.

Sandra McNally, an economics professor at the University of Surrey, outlines changes that have taken place in England and notes that the move from ‘frameworks’ to ‘standards’ is thought to have improved quality, although there have been various other reforms over the same period.

The frameworks model is the traditional model of apprenticeship which is primarily qualification focused.

Whereas the new apprenticeship model, known as ‘standards’ is occupation-focused, the main aim at the end of a framework apprenticeship is to have achieved a competency-based qualification, such as an NVQ, and a technical qualification, such as a BTEC.

Assessment for a frameworks apprenticeship takes place throughout the duration of study, whereas standards apprenticeships are work-

focused, and assessment takes place at the end of the programme.

Important changes in recent years also include the introduction of the apprenticeship levy and greater use of higher apprenticeships (i.e. equivalent to sub-degree or degree qualifications).

Initial challenges

Although optimistic on the prospect of apprenticeships, McNally outlines some potential challenges which could prevent the new model from fully meeting economic need.

“Higher level apprenticeships are much more expensive than lower-level apprenticeships because of their long duration,” she states. Also, the latter apprenticeships (at levels two and three) are more suitable for school leavers without very strong GCSE results.

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“What is very striking about Northern Ireland internationally is that it is very comparable with other countries in terms of the people with tertiary education, but it is really poor internationally – including by comparison with England – in the percentage of people with below secondary level education.”
Sandra McNally, University of Surrey

In England, the number of apprenticeships has declined in recent years.

“There was a big decrease in the number of apprenticeships towards the latter part of the 2010s when a lot of the policy changes took place in England. We also saw another drop over the Covid-19 pandemic, although things have since recovered a little bit.”

Furthermore, there is an open question as to whether the new model of apprenticeship is enabling school-leavers to enter the workplace.

McNally explains: “The total number of apprenticeships is much lower than it used to be, and a very high proportion are people aged 25 and over, so there is much scope for progress for apprenticeships to enable the school-to-work transition.

“Traditionally, apprenticeships were mostly for people from school entering the labour market. They should remain a pathway for young people entering the workforce as opposed to re-training older workers.”

In addition, McNally outlines her belief that there is scope for development for apprenticeships to be used as pathway qualifications.

“Progression is not built into the system explicitly in England,” she asserts. For example: “A kitchen assistant at level two may not be able to access a level three chef qualification, which should perhaps be seen as a natural pathway.”

Apprenticeships in Northern Ireland

Compared with the long-term decline of apprenticeships in England, McNally outlines that there has been a “vastly different picture” in Northern Ireland.

McNally’s work at the University of Surrey has not focused on Northern Ireland, as there is not enough data for an overall picture to be painted. However, using publicly available statistics, mostly from the OECD, she states:

“There was a decline in the number of apprentices over Covid, but there has been nowhere near the same level of decline as we have seen in England.

“There is a small share of apprentices aged 25 and over, so it is focused much more on young people in Northern Ireland which is in common with international standards.”

However, although there is cause for optimism, McNally cautions against complacency among decision-makers: “What is very striking about Northern Ireland internationally is that it is very comparable with other countries in terms of the people with tertiary education, but it is really poor internationally – including by comparison with England – in the percentage of people with below secondary level education.

“In terms of education and skills, that should be of concern for policymakers in Northern Ireland.”

Overall picture

“There are both positives and negatives about the apprenticeship models in both England and Northern Ireland,” McNally says.

The economics professor says that the focus of future studies will be “trying to better understand the skills which underlie economic need”.

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New All-Party Group for Skills launched

In April 2024, the newly established All-Party Group for Skills held its first meeting, having been founded in October 2023.

All-party groups are comprised solely of MLAs as members, and are often enabled through outside groups which attend meetings and inform and support the group’s work using its expertise in the topic.

Notably, APGs are not formal Assembly groups and do not possess any formal powers such as the ability to summon witnesses or documentation, or formally develop policy for the Executive.

APGs are, however, useful in that they inform MLAs and generally give the group of MLAs access to finance for further research to be conducted, and this can then be used for lobbying the Executive to enact policy with experts in the industry providing their backing.

The APG for Skills outlines its purpose as being: “To facilitate and enable discussion, engagement and action on the key policy issues impacting our skills system; drawing on the knowledge of policy experts, industry leaders, education and training providers, and those with experience of the skills system.”

Speaking at the new APG’s launch on 11 April 2024, Sorcha Eastwood MLA, the chair of the group, said: "Fundamentally, skills are about people, opportunities, and innovation.

“Skills policy is crucial to our society, and it is a major issue for every industry and every area of public services. For example, it is a top priority for businesses, the health and social care sector, the arts, agriculture, and our net zero energy transition.”

With Alliance MLA Eastwood as its chair, the APG for skills is vice-chaired by SDLP MLA Sinéad McLaughlin.

The groups other members are: Cathy Mason MLA, Sinn Féin; Diane Dodds MLA, DUP; Kellie Armstrong MLA, Alliance Party; Danny Donnelly MLA, Alliance Party; Claire Sugden MLA, Independent; Nick Mathison MLA, Alliance Party; Connie Egan MLA, Alliance Party; and Sian Mulholland MLA, Alliance Party.

The group has thus far received funding of under £250 by The Open University and has held one meeting.

John D’Arcy, Director of The Open University (OU) in Ireland, says that the OU “look forward to engaging with sector bodies, providers, and government to gather evidence, views, and ideas for the All-Party Group to consider as its work programme rolls out”.

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Future proofing the construction industry: Building skills for the next generation

Almost without exception, every sector of the industry is struggling to recruit good talent and young people which we are seeing across all sizes of employer and all sectors of the industry, writes Chief Executive of CITB NI Barry Neilson.

Despite the construction industry experiencing good levels of growth, the industry faces a range of ongoing and emerging challenges: an ageing workforce; declining numbers of new talent entering the industry; technological advances in IT; the drive for energy efficiency; and a net zero carbon society.

No single organisation, government department, or educational institution can deliver the change or support needed to build a secure construction workforce for the future. However, we can combine to take discrete but significant steps to influence the longterm stability and competence of the workforce.

It is essential that we start to re-think how we attract new entrants into the construction industry and look at equality, diversity and inclusivity in its true form and seek talent from all sources incorporating other sectors and making the industry even more accessible for those with disabilities.

At CITB NI, we have been working with industry employers and federations through the Department for the

Economy’s Built Environment Sectoral Partnership (BESP) to review and refresh the apprenticeship frameworks, engaging directly with employers.

We are also working with the Green Skills Delivery Group, which has been tasked by the Northern Ireland Skills Council to develop proposals on how to meet the skills challenges, not only within the construction sector, but also the energy generation and infrastructure sectors which are inextricably linked. The first outcome of this work is a partnership with the NIE Networks and other utilities providers to develop a new entry level programme for long-term infrastructure needs.

In terms of widening the potential entry routes to construction, CITB NI have been working with Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO) to develop interventions that encourage progression from the justice system into the construction sector, providing benefits for the individual, the economy and our industry. This has led to the development of virtual and augmented reality interventions that, now tested, can be developed and used in other areas

such as careers information and taster sessions.

Through our ‘Build Your Career – a Future in Construction’ programme for schools and students we have been delivering construction ‘bootcamps’ for schools on our inhouse simulated site to provide meaningful experiences to those who have not yet decided on their career path. This has been trialled with the support and feedback of our School Teachers Forum who deliver GCSE in construction, which CITB NI supports through the development and provision of the course textbooks to participating schools. This initiative has the potential to be replicated across the province as a collaboration with construction companies, local partners and councils.

Our ongoing ‘Adopt A School Programme’ provides opportunities for construction companies to build relations with post primary schools, in their local area of work, and we work with a team of careers ambassadors programme to help promote construction careers in schools, careers fairs and conferences.

Partnerships with W5 and Cool FM help to provide interactive job sampling onsite for year 10 and 12 pupils from across Northern Ireland as well as link in with younger people highlighting pathways into apprenticeships and promoting apprenticeship employer opportunities.

CITB NI in partnership with CITB GB also deliver the annual SkillBuild NI Regional Competition, which showcases some of the brightest talent in construction and gives them a pathway for competitions on a national and international level.

There is still much to do in joining up the various initiatives that support individuals in their progression into and throughout a career within the industry. As demands on infrastructure and energy efficiency rise, we must upskill existing workers and prepare new entrants for future challenges, both known and unknown.


Nutts Corner Training Centre 17 Dundrod Road Crumlin, Co Antrim, BT29 4SR

T: 028 9082 5466



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CITB NI Chief Executive Barry Neilson.

Skills-shortage vacancies

double between 2019 and 2022

The Employer Skills Survey 2022 indicates that skillsshortage vacancies have more than doubled since 2019, with one-in-10 establishments experiencing at least one such vacancy.

Published in December 2023, the survey reveals significant challenges faced by employers in Northern Ireland regarding skills shortages, internal skills gaps, and underutilisation of staff.

The survey highlights a notable increase in skills shortage vacancies (SSVs).

According to the data, 20 per cent of establishments had at least one vacancy at the time of the survey, with a total of 39,500 vacancies reported. Of these, 13,700 were identified as SSVs, more than doubling since 2019. This surge in SSVs reflects a significant challenge for employers, impacting their ability to find candidates with the necessary skills, knowledge, or experience.

Skill-shortage vacancies varied by region and sector, with the highest rates in transport and storage (60 per cent),

construction (56 per cent), and the primary sector and utilities (52 per cent).

In contrast, SSVs were less prevalent in health and social work (14 per cent) and public administration (17 per cent). The prevalence of SSVs also increase with establishment size, ranging from 5 per cent among establishments with between two and four employees to 47 per cent among those with 250 or more employees.

Skills gaps and underutilisation

In addition to SSVs, the survey reveals a significant presence of skills gaps among individuals within the workforce. Approximately 11 per cent of employees (36,700 individuals) in Northern Ireland were identified as having skills gaps in

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Density of skill-shortage vacancies by occupation, 2022 compared with 2019 (%)

2022. Skill gaps exist when an employer thinks a worker does not have enough skills to perform their job with proficiency. This increase from 26,300 in 2019 (3.3 per cent) reflects growing challenges in retaining and developing a skilled workforce. Causes of skills gaps include factors such as new hires requiring training, staff lacking motivation, and inadequate training provision.

Moreover, the survey finds a high rate of underutilisation of skills, with 37 per cent of Northern Ireland employers reporting having staff with qualifications and skills exceeding their job requirements. This underutilisation is most common in the health and social work (48 per cent) and arts and other services (46 per cent) sectors, indicating a mismatch between employee skills and job requirements.

Impacts of skillshortage vacancies and skills gaps

The presence of SSVs and individual skills gaps has a tangible impact on business performance. Nearly all establishments with SSVs (96 per cent) reported adverse effects, such as increased workloads for other staff (90 per cent), difficulties in meeting

customer service goals (62 per cent), and increased operating costs (59 per cent). These impacts underscore the importance of addressing skill shortages to ensure an organisation’s efficiency, productivity, and economic competitiveness.

Additionally, skills gaps affected performance in several ways, with 68 per cent of employers noting a negative impact. Challenges included decreased productivity, quality issues, and a strain on existing staff. This highlights the need for effective training and workforce development strategies to bridge these gaps and improve overall business outcomes.

Training, apprenticeships, and HPW practices

Examining employer training practices, the survey reveals that Northern Ireland organisations are less likely to provide continuous training compared to those in Scotland, England, and Wales. However, nearly two-thirds of employers expect to need to upskill their workforce in the next 12 months, indicating a growing recognition of the importance of ongoing training and development.

Apprenticeships also play a role in addressing skill shortages, with one-


in-seven employers in Northern Ireland offering formal apprenticeships in 2022. The manufacturing sector is most likely to offer apprenticeships (32 per cent), followed by education (27 per cent), and hospitality (20 per cent). Notably, nearly one-third of employers indicate plans to offer apprenticeships in the future, suggesting a positive outlook for workforce development.

High-performance working (HPW) practices, designed to nurture and harness employee skills, were adopted by 6 per cent of employers, with the most common practices being equal opportunity policies (83 per cent) and on- or off-the-job training (60 per cent).

Evolving economic landscape

The significant increase in SSVs since 2019 underscores the need for employers to invest in training, apprenticeships, and HPW practices to bridge skills gaps and improve business performance. Addressing these challenges is crucial for ensuring a skilled and proficient workforce, promoting business growth, and maintaining competitiveness in a rapidly evolving economic landscape.

professionals Admin Skilled trades Caring/leisure services Sales and customer services Machine operatives Elementary Managers Professionals Associate professionalsAdmin Skilled trades Caring/leisure services Sales and customer services Machine operatives Elementary 2022 27%32%42%35%53%20%31%53%33% 2019 15%36%41%10%49%20%17%30%8% 2022 2019
Managers Professionals Associate
the Economy. 99 skills for the future report
Department for

Digital skills in Northern Ireland

Despite a basic level much higher than the European average, Northern Ireland has significant disparities in digital skills competency.

The Digital Skills in Northern Ireland report indicates that efforts to improve digital skills must focus on specific groups, including the elderly, those in deprived areas, and those with lower qualifications.

A recent survey reveals that 80 per cent of the Northern Ireland population aged 16 and over have at least basic digital skills, significantly higher than the European average. However, the survey, issued by the Northern Ireland Research and Statistics Agency (NISRA), highlights several significant trends that suggest a need for targeted action, particularly among specific demographic groups.

The NISRA survey, which draws data from the Continuous Household Survey (CHS) for the period from April 2022 to March 2023, provides a snapshot of digital competency across Northern Ireland.

Comparatively, 84 per cent of adults in the entire UK have basic digital skills, while only 56 per cent of the EU population aged 16 to 74 have achieved this level, based on 2023 data from Eurostat.

These figures suggest that Northern Ireland is outperforming many of its European counterparts in basic digital proficiency. However, deeper analysis reveals significant disparities within Northern Ireland itself.


The NISRA report reveals striking variations in digital skills based on age, gender, and socioeconomic status. While 44 per cent of people aged 16 and over in Northern Ireland had above basic digital skills, one-in-five had no digital skills at all. The disparity becomes even more pronounced when examined through societal lenses.

Almost half of those aged 65 and over had no digital skills, compared to less than 10 per cent among those aged 16 to 49. This suggests a significant generational gap, indicating that older adults require additional support to develop their digital skills.

Furthermore, females are more likely to have no digital skills (21 per cent) compared to males (15 per cent).

The report highlights a stark contrast between the most and least socioeconomically deprived areas. Only 34 per cent of people in the most deprived areas have above basic digital skills, compared to 58 per cent in the least deprived areas. This disparity underscores a critical link between digital literacy and socioeconomic status, emphasising the need for policy interventions to address digital inequalities.

Use of online services

While around 71 per cent of respondents purchased goods and services online, only 25 per cent sold online. This imbalance suggests that while people are comfortable using the internet for personal purchases, fewer are leveraging it for entrepreneurial or business purposes.

Moreover, there is a noticeable gap in the use of online learning resources, with only 10 per cent of those aged 65 and over using them compared to almost 60 per cent of people aged 16 to 49. This trend indicates a need for more accessible digital learning platforms for older adults.

Finding information online

The most common online activity is finding information on non-public goods or services, with two-thirds of respondents engaging in this activity. However, the report shows a significant gap based on qualification levels.

Two-thirds of those with no qualifications report not using any online information-finding functions, in stark contrast to those with degree-level or above qualifications. This discrepancy suggests that education level plays a pivotal role in digital competency.

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Usage of online functions, aged 16 and over, Northern Ireland, April 2022 to March 2023 (%)

Identifying secure websites

Setting privacy settings

Recognising suspicious links

Telephoning/video calls

Participating in social networks

Sending/receiving emails

Seeking health-related info

Reading newspapers or news websites online

Finding info non-public goods/services

Selling online

Used online learning resources

Internet banking

Online purchases

Communicating online

Sending and receiving emails is the most common method of online communication, with 74 per cent of respondents regularly using this feature. However, age-based disparities are evident in broader online communication, with only 25 per cent of those aged 65 and older participating in social networks, compared to 80 per cent of those aged 16 to 49. Therefore, additional support is needed amongst older people to engage with modern communication tools.

Using the internet safely and securely

With regard to cybersecurity, the most commonly used safety feature is recognising and avoiding suspicious links. However, there are notable differences across the various cohorts, for instance, those with no qualifications have a lower incidence of recognising suspicious links (22 per cent) compared to those with degree level or above qualifications (81 per cent).

The least common function for majority respondents is identifying secure websites, with those aged 65 and over also less likely to adjust privacy settings.

Addressing the digital divide

The Digital Skills in Northern Ireland report illustrates that while Northern Ireland is ahead of the European average in digital skills, there are

significant gaps within the population that need addressing. The generational, gender, and socioeconomic disparities in digital skills require targeted action to bridge the digital divide.

Efforts to improve digital skills must focus on specific groups, including the elderly, those in socioeconomically deprived areas, and those with lower qualifications. By providing accessible

Source: NISRA

digital training programs, fostering inclusive digital education, and encouraging technology adoption across all age groups, stakeholders can prepare the population for a digitally connected future. This, in turn, has the potential to foster greater social inclusion, economic opportunity, and resilience in the face of rapid technological change.

Digital skill level, aged 16 and over, Northern Ireland, April 2022 to March 2023 (%)

skills Basic skills Above basic skills

Source: NISRA

Digital skills

• No skills: not having accessed or performed any of the listed online functions.

• Basic skills: having used the internet for at least one of the listed functions in communicating online, finding information, using online services or understand internet safely but not more than one in all.

• Above basic: having used the internet for more than one of the listed functions across all sub-groups (communicating online, finding information, using online services and understanding internet safety features).

18.1 38.3 43.6
Communicating online Finding information online Safely and securely Use of online services
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Northern Ireland Environment Forum

The Northern Ireland Environment Forum 2024, in association with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and sponsored by Carson McDowell, took place on Thursday 18th April at the Europa Hotel, Belfast. The Forum brought together 150 key stakeholders for a day of discussion and networking. The Forum focused on environmental policy and management, along with the challenges currently facing the environment both locally and globally.

Delegates heard from speakers, both visiting and local including Andrew Muir MLA, Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs; Richard Greenhous, Office for Environmental Protection; Jane McCullough, Climate NI; Debbie Caldwell, Belfast City Council; David Greenfield, Circular Economy Institute; and Lorna McAdoo, Version 1.

Dickson, Department of Agriculture, Environment and


Faye Phillips, Carson McDowell; Sarah Jennings, Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru/Natural Resources Wales; Richard Greenhous, Office for Environmental Protection; Louise Cullen, BBC News NI; Lucy Gaffney, Business for Biodiversity. Louise Cullen, BBC News NI; Jane McCullough, Climate NI; Neil Rowland, Queen’s University Belfast; Angela Halpenny and Dymphna Gallagher, NI Water. Fiona Rural Debbie Caldwell, Belfast City Council and Max Bryant, NI Environment Link engage in the panel discussion. Debbie Brown and Sara McGuckin from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency talk to a delegate at their exhibition stand. Michelle Billham, InterTradeIreland and Helen Tomb, Northern Ireland Resources Network. Minister Andrew Muir MLA addresses the audience.
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Sarah Kelly, National Biodiversity Data Centre and Liam McAleese, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
Order your organisation’s copy! Tel: (028) 9261 9933 Email: • government departments • local council listings • election results: NI Assembly, councils and Westminster • your local MLA/MP • health and education bodies • housing organisations • charities and NGOs • the Northern Ireland economy • justice agencies • tourism bodies and conferencing The essential guide to the public sector in Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Yearbook 2024

What Northern Ireland’s new boundaries mean for future elections

agendaNi examines the implications of the new electoral boundaries for Westminster and Assembly constituencies.

In January 2024, Sky News published a vote breakdown of all of the 650 constituencies in the United Kingdom, outlining the hypothetical results of the 2019 general election if the new boundaries had been in place. From this, it is possible to understand future trends in the new constituencies. The work was carried out by Rallings and Thrasher, with Nicholas Whyte of BBC News Northern Ireland supplying the work in the 18

2019 general election: actual result

Northern Ireland constituencies. The new boundaries apply to both Westminster and Assembly constituencies.

The boundary review only creates one new constituency, now renamed Belfast South and Mid Down. While it is likely there will be little by the way of aberrant trends resulting in unexpected seat changes in the upcoming Westminster election, the results in some constituencies paint an interesting picture

Newry and Armagh

ahead of the next Assembly election, which is due to take place by May 2027.

These figures should be noted in the context of 2019 being a generally poor election result for both the DUP and Sinn Féin, with Sinn Féin having grown from a popular vote share of 21 per cent in 2019, to as high as 30 per cent in the 2023 local elections. Alliance has also seen growth, while the SDLP and UUP have experienced a decline in vote share and Assembly seats. Small parties such as the Green Party and People Before Profit have also experienced vote declines, while the TUV has experienced relatively strong popular vote results while not growing in terms of seats.

Newry and Armagh’s redistricting has resulted in only minor changes between the actual and notional results. In the Assembly, the constituency currently has three MLAs from Sinn Féin, one from the DUP, and one elected as an SDLP candidate. However, results will vary here as the last Assembly election saw strong results from the TUV candidate and an independent candidate, although the independent, former Newry councillor Gavin Malone, has since left politics. 2019

Belfast North

These results should be noted with the caveat that the SDLP stood aside for Sinn Féin’s John Finucane MP, while the Ulster Unionists stood aside for DUP candidate Nigel Dodds. However, the new boundaries will be met positively among Sinn Féin, as they result in a decrease in the size of the DUP vote. Furthermore, the subsequent Assembly election resulted in the loss of the only SDLP MLA, with the Assembly constituency now balanced with two from Sinn Féin, two from the DUP, and one from Alliance.

Belfast South and Mid Down

The only constituency with a new name following re-districting, Alliance will be the party which is most pleased with this change, with a section of the old Lagan Valley constituency which has voted heavily for Alliance, even before the ‘Alliance surge’ of 2019, since being added to the constituency. In 2019, Sinn Féin and the Green Party stood aside for Claire Hanna MP for the SDLP. However, the subsequent Assembly election saw a decline of the SDLP, with the party being outpolled by both Alliance and Sinn Féin, meaning that this will likely be a highly competitive race for both Westminster and Assembly elections.

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notional result
40% Sinn Féin 41% DUP 21.7% DUP 20.7% SDLP 18.6% SDLP 19.4% Alliance 8.3% Alliance 8.4% UUP 8.3% UUP 7.7% Others 3.2% Others 3.3%
general election:
Sinn Féin
general election: actual result 2019 general election: notional result Sinn Féin 47.1% Sinn Féin 48.1% DUP 43.1% DUP 40.3% Alliance 9.8% Alliance 10.6% SDLP
2019 general election: actual result 2019 general election: notional result SDLP 57.2% SDLP 53.3% DUP 24.7% DUP 25.4% Alliance 14.3% Alliance 15.4% UUP 2.7% UUP 3.6% Others 1.2% Others 2.1% Sinn Féin N/A Sinn Féin 0.5%

Belfast West

The new west Belfast constituency will likely maintain Sinn Féin’s dominance, but for Assembly elections, the DUP will be pleased with the prospect of a 5 per cent swing to the party before polls begin, with a large section of the Shankill Road being added to the constituency from north Belfast. The redistricting paints potentially bad news for People Before Profit’s Gerry Carroll MLA, whose vote declines by almost one-third. Coupled with a significant decline for the left-wing party in the last Assembly election, there lies the prospect of a battle for a final seat between the DUP and People Before Profit, unless there is a future swing against Sinn Féin.

Belfast East

Already a marginal constituency between the DUP and Alliance, the new east Belfast constituency sees areas of Ravenhill added, and a huge section around the Hollywood Road removed. The gap between the DUP and Alliance remains similar, although the section of Ravenhill encompasses a small but notable SDLP vote. In this constituency, Sinn Féin and the Green Party stood aside for the Alliance candidate, Naomi Long MLA in 2019.

North Down

Arguably the most difficult of the 18 constituencies to analyse, North Down has had an independent MP or MLA in its constituency since 2010, and the scale to which it swung to Alliance in 2019 is among the largest swings in political history. The Green Party, Sinn Féin, and the SDLP stood aside here in 2019, and Alliance now holds two of the MLAs, with one independent unionist, one DUP, and one UUP.

South Down

Aside from a small swing to the DUP, the changes here are marginal. Furthermore, subsequent developments in South Down have seen a swing from the SDLP to the Alliance Party, resulting in the SDLP only winning one MLA in a constituency in which it was once dominant.


Strangford maintains its name, but this is a new constituency characterised by major shifts. The DUP will be looking over its shoulder here if Alliance manages to build on recent election results, and the combined vote of Sinn Féin and the SDLP could result in a nationalist MLA being elected here in 2027.

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affairs agenda
4 2019 general election: actual result 2019 general election: notional result Sinn Féin 53.8% Sinn Féin 48.5% DUP 13.5% DUP 18.2% Others (PBP and Aontú) 20.2% Others (PBP and Aontú) 14.1% SDLP 7.7% SDLP 7.5% Alliance 4.9% Alliance 7.1% UUP N/A UUP 0.9% 2019 general election: actual result 2019 general election: notional result DUP 49.2% DUP 47.9% Alliance 44.9% Alliance 42.1% UUP 5.9% UUP 5.7% SDLP N/A SDLP 4.3%
2019 general election: actual result 2019 general election: notional result Alliance 45.2% Alliance 44.9% DUP 37.9% DUP 38.7% UUP 12.1% UUP 11.9% Conservative 4.8% Conservative 4.6%
2019 general election: actual result 2019 general election: notional result Sinn Féin 32.4% Sinn Féin 30.8% SDLP 29.2% SDLP 27.2% DUP 15.3% DUP 18.1% Alliance 13.9% Alliance 13.8% UUP 6.6% UUP 7.7% Others 2.5% Others 2.4%
2019 general election: actual result 2019 general election: notional result DUP 47.2% DUP 40.5% Alliance 28.4% Alliance 26.2% UUP 10.7% SDLP 10.1% SDLP 5.3% UUP 9.2% Sinn Féin 1.5% Sinn Féin 7.6% Others 6.8% Others 6.0%

public affairs agenda

East Antrim

While the DUP remains in pole position, there will be a flicker of nervousness for the unionist party as Alliance closes the gap after re-districting. Coupled with its strong performance here in the Assembly election, Alliance will be hoping for an upset victory unseating DUP veteran Sammy Wilson MP. There is also potentially promising news for nationalist parties, with the changes showing the possibility of a nationalist MLA being elected in the constituency when the Assembly is up for re-election. 2019

South Antrim

There is little change in South Antrim, where Robin Swann MLA is hoping to unseat Paul Girvan MP of the DUP. The subsequent Assembly election result differs markedly from this election result, however, with nationalist parties winning almost 29 per cent of the combined vote, the DUP only winning 25 per cent, and the presence of the TUV, which won 10 per cent of the vote here.


North Antrim

There have been no major changes in North Antrim, where the DUP remains dominant in the constituency of its founder, Ian Paisley. Robin Swann’s popularity propelled the UUP to a respectable result in the Assembly election, but with Swann standing in another constituency in the Westminster election and the TUV not strong enough to mount a considerable challenge, Ian Paisley MP will likely have a comfortable path to reelection.


On paper, the redistricting of Foyle looks like good news for the SDLP, increasing the overall nationalist vote even more in the heartland of John Hume. However, in subsequent Assembly and council elections, the SDLP has been outpolled by Sinn Féin, and the personal appeal of leader Colum Eastwood MP will be the most important factor if the SDLP is to hold Foyle. 2019

East Londonderry

Little by the way of changes in East Londonderry, where Gregory Campbell is the incumbent MP. Aside from boundary changes, however, East Londonderry is a constituency where there have been significant demographic changes, and unionist parties no longer garner a majority of support. In addition, in the last Assembly election, Sinn Féin vastly outpolled the SDLP, winning 26 per cent of the vote to the SDLP’s 8 per cent.

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general election: actual result 2019 general election: notional result DUP 45.3% DUP 41.9% Alliance 27.3% Alliance 26% UUP 14.7% UUP 16.6% Sinn Féin 5.7% Sinn Féin 7.8% SDLP 2.4% SDLP 3.6% Others 4.6% Others 4.2%
2019 general election: actual result 2019 general election: notional result DUP 35.3% DUP 36.2% UUP 29.0% UUP 29.1% Alliance 19.1% Alliance 18.4% Sinn Féin 11.4% Sinn Féin 11.4% SDLP 5.3% SDLP 5.0%
general election: actual result 2019 general election: notional result SDLP 57.0% SDLP 58.2% Sinn Féin 20.7% Sinn Féin 21.2% DUP 10.1% DUP 8.7% Others 7.1% Others 4.4% Alliance 2.7% Alliance 2.7% UUP 2.3% UUP 2.0%
general election: actual result 2019 general election: notional result DUP 47.4% DUP 50.8% Alliance 18.5% Alliance 16.9% UUP 14.1% UUP 14.3% Sinn Féin 12.8% Sinn Féin 11.3% SDLP 6.7% SDLP 5.9% Others 0.6% Others 0.6%
2019 general election: actual result 2019 general election: notional result DUP 40.1% DUP 40.0% SDLP 15.7% SDLP 16.4% Sinn Féin 15.6% Sinn Féin 15.4% Alliance 15.1% Alliance 14.5% UUP



DUP 43.1% DUP 43.4%

28.8% Alliance 27.1%

19.0% UUP 18.5%

Sinn Féin 3.9% Sinn Féin 4.4% SDLP 2.4% SDLP 4.1%

Others 2.8% Others 0.7%

Fermanagh and South Tyrone

Fermanagh and South Tyrone is a constituency where fine margins matter, and this redistricting will be seen as good news for Sinn Féin, which expands its slight majority, a factor which will be essential as locally popular incumbent Michelle Gildernew MP may be in the European Parliament from June 2024 onwards. In 2019, the DUP stood aside here for the UUP’s Tom Elliot MLA. The DUP has not stood a Westminster candidate here since 2005.

West Tyrone

Sinn Féin will likely continue to be the dominant party in West Tyrone, a seat which it has held since 1997. Alliance’s relatively strong performances here in recent Assembly elections gives the party an outside chance of gaining an Assembly seat here in the future, while the UUP obtained a derisory vote in the last Assembly election, with its vote being more than doubled by the TUV.

Mid Ulster

Mid Ulster sees minimal changes, meaning Sinn Féin has a pathway to continue its dominance in the constituency at both Westminster and Assembly levels. The redistricting is not kind to the SDLP, which faces the longterm challenge of maintaining a presence here beyond the personal regard held by constituents for Patsy McGlone MLA.

Upper Bann

Upper Bann is a constituency which can be classified as ‘likely DUP’ in the next general election, but in which it is plausible that another party can emerge victorious. There have been some interesting boundary changes, but these deliver broadly similar electoral outcomes.

Lagan Valley

One of the most fascinating constituencies, and it is one where re-districting does not make Sorcha Eastwood MLA’s dream of winning Jeffrey Donaldson’s seat any easier, with some key ‘Alliance areas’ now forming part of the new Belfast South and Mid Down constituency. Unionism remains strong here, but the slight increase in the nationalist vote could mean that, in the long-term, at least one nationalist MLA may be elected to Stormont here.

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public affairs
general election: actual result 2019 general election: notional result Sinn Féin 43.3% Sinn Féin 42.5% UUP 43.2% UUP 41.6% SDLP 6.8% SDLP 7.2% Alliance 5.2% Alliance 5.4% DUP N/A DUP 1.7% Others 1.5% Others 1.4%
general election: actual result 2019 general election: notional result Sinn Féin 40.2% Sinn Féin 40.1% DUP 22.0% DUP 21.7% SDLP 17.8% SDLP 18.5% Alliance 9.7% Alliance 9.6% UUP 6.7% UUP 6.6% Others 3.5% Others 3.7%
general election: actual result 2019 general election: notional result Sinn Féin 45.9% Sinn Féin 45.7% DUP 24.5% DUP 23.7% SDLP 14.3% SDLP 13.9% Alliance 7.9% Alliance 13.9% UUP 5.9% UUP 7.5% Others 1.5% Others 1.6%
2019 general election: actual result 2019 general election: notional result DUP 41.0% DUP 40.8% Sinn Féin 24.6% Sinn Féin 24.7% Alliance 12.9% Alliance 12.7% UUP 12.4% UUP 12.5% SDLP 9.2% SDLP 9.4% Others N/A Others 0.1%
general election: actual result 2019 general election: notional result

Having joined Young Fine Gael at 16, Simon Harris later dropped out of DIT in the first year of his degree to pursue a career in politics. In fact, his first ever job was working for former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald MEP – regarded as an early mentor – who was then opposition leader in the Seanad.

Having attracted the greatest percentage of first preference votes of any local election candidate in the State when he was elected to Wicklow County Council in 2009, two years later he was elected to the 31st Dáil to represent Wicklow at the age of 24, achieving 8,726 first preference votes or 12.4 per cent of the total.

Famously, he was selected by the party to nominate Enda Kenny for Taoiseach, utilising his maiden speech in the Dáil on 9 March 2011 to do so. “It is a great honour, as the youngest Member of the 31st Dáil, to rise formally today to nominate Deputy Enda Kenny as the next Taoiseach of this country,” he said, adding: “Deputy Kenny will bring to the office of the Taoiseach integrity, honesty and a work rate which simply cannot be surpassed.” Thirteen years later, he would be elected Taoiseach himself.

From college dropout to Taoiseach: Simon Harris TD

For many northerners, the new Taoiseach, Simon Harris TD, is an unknown entity relative to his party colleagues Leo Varadkar TD and Simon Coveney. Ciarán Galway tracks the rise of the most powerful man on the island.

First tenure as Health Minister

Having previously been appointed as Minister of State at the Department of Finance with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Public Procurement, and International Banking in 2014, Enda Kenny then selected Harris as Minister for Health in May 2016. At just 29 years old, he is still the youngest person to have held that office.

Succeeding Leo Varadkar – a qualified doctor – in the portfolio, it was a decision which blindsided almost everyone. He had not been involved in the drafting of his party’s health policies or the health component of its programme for government.

From the outset, Harris was regarded as an archetypal ‘blue shirt’, something which was not always assumed of Leo Varadkar. Similarly, a devoted follower party dogma, he has studiously avoided the sort of off-piste remarks which typified his nonconformist predecessor.

However, his performances as a member of the Public Accounts Committee and Minister of State in the Department of Finance distinguished him. While broadcaster and former Fine Gael frontbencher, Ivan Yeats, described him as “Fine Gael’s shooting star”,

suggesting that his performance during the 2014 European Elections “marked him out from other backbenchers”.

2017 leadership contest

During the previous Fine Gael leadership election, in May 2017, Simon Harris endorsed Simon Coveney TD in his contest with Leo Varadkar – one of just 10 Fine Gael TDs and the only cabinet member to do so. Despite this, after his triumph over Coveney, Varadkar reappointed Harris as Minister for Health in his cabinet – allegedly at the petitions of Coveney.

Second tenure as Health Minister

In early 2020, independent TD for Cork South-West, Michael Collins, proposed to move a motion of no confidence in the then-Minister for Health, Simon Harris, by 5 February.

Five days later, on 14 January, thenTaoiseach Leo Varadkar visited Áras an Uachtaráin and signed a request that President Michael D Higgins dissolve the 32nd Dáil. The proclamation of dissolution was duly signed, and a general election date was set for 8 February.

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General election

While Varadkar regarded summer 2020 as “the right time” for a general election, he was forced to “acknowledge that circumstances had changed”. Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1’s This Week in advance of the dissolution, he said: “The arithmetic in Dáil has changed and that is the reality of that. So, I have made a decision.”

In that moment, it appeared as though the health portfolio minefield had finally shredded the wily Harris, who had made several commtiments for policy delivery which did not transpire – not least the delivery of the national children’s hospital.

Covid pandemic and caretaker minister

Incredibly, while performing disastrously and winning only 35 Dáil seats in 2020 –compared to 50 in 2016 – both Simon Harris and the caretaker Fine Gael Government had a Lazarus-like revival, with the popularity of each (initially alongside then then-Taoiseach) soaring during the early months of the Covid pandemic.

Harris himself so successfully cleansed his image during the early months of the pandemic – in the time between the general election in early February 2020 and the formation of government in late June 2020 – that the role of his underperformance provoking the dissolution of the Dáil was effectively obliterated from popular memory.

Life after health

Following the tri-party government’s formation, Harris moved into a newly created portfolio at the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science where he sought to advance education, skills, and lifelong learning as “the most robust, transformative and lasting means to future-proof our country’s economic and social wellbeing”.

For a seven-month stint from December 2022 to June 2023, he served as Justice Minister in place of his long-time rival, Helen McEntee TD during her maternity leave. A competent performance enhanced his public persona and was in stark contrast to McEntee’s perceived handling of the portfolio.


Unlike in 2017, the 2024 Fine Gael leadership contest was a one-horse race. Upon Varadkar’s shock retirement on 20 March 2024, only Harris was ready, and he burst out of the traps. In a masterful shock and awe blitz, he surpassed even Varadkar’s pre-emptive strike in 2017, rapidly accumulating the public endorsement of most of the Fine Gael parliamentary party within 24 hours of announcing his candidacy on 21 March.

By the nomination deadline on 24 March, Harris was the only candidate, and he was confirmed as leader at a party meeting in Athlone, County Westmeath.

Fine Gael’s electoral trend is not good. It has retreated from 76 seats in 2011, to 50 in 2016, to 35 in 2020. In terms of total first preference votes this is a dramatic decline from 36 per cent, to 26 per cent, and then to 21 per cent.


In his own address at the Fine Gael ard fheis, his first as leader – replete with obligatory Seamus Heaney quote – Harris asserted that it was “the honour of my life to lead this great party”. In keeping with the conference theme – ‘a new energy’ –he insisted that he would “bring energy and renewal to this party”. It was hard to avoid the implication that Fine Gael itself is cognisant that it has either run out of energy or is in possession of the ‘wrong’ energy at this moment in time.

Once the Dáil reconvened after its Easter recess, Simon Harris was nominated by deputy leader, Heather Humphreys TD, and elected Taoiseach on 9 April 2024, winning by 88 Tá to 69 Níl. In replacing Leo Varadkar TD as leader of Fine Gael and Taoiseach, Simon Harris also unseated his predecessor as the youngest ever Taoiseach in the history of the State.

“My message is simple: I want to work every day to improve the lives of all in this country,” he declared.

The following day, his absence –ostensibly to conduct phone calls with national leaders – from Leader’s Questions in the Dáil was widely criticised by the opposition. “In his first day on the job he is a no show. He is as láthair,” Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD observed.

Policy platform

Faced with the challenge of reestablishing Fine Gael in the European centre-right Christian-democrat mould and redressing the party base – the fiscally conservative middle classes. To date, his stated policy priorities exhibit classic Fine Gael tendencies.

A relative unknown entity in the North, while supportive of Irish unity, he remarked: “It is a legitimate political aspiration for people,” before adding: “That is not where my focus priory is now, quite frankly I don’t believe it is where our focus and priority should be.”

On the North generally, he also suggested that he was “of a generation where people are more familiar now with London and Berlin and Paris than they might be with Belfast or Derry,” before advocating that “we actually make sure people on this island and these islands get to know each other better”.


Having assumed the reins of power with around 11 months until a general election must be held in March 2025, eyes will be on Fine Gael’s performance in the June 2024 local and European elections.

Despite his protestations to the contrary – “to anybody who thinks this party is tired, to anyone who thinks this party lacks energy, you ain’t seen nothing yet” – after 13 years in power, Fine Gael is unavoidably running out of political dynamism.

To date, 11 of the party’s sitting TDs have confirmed that they will not contest the next general election. For party veterans and those with ambitions outside of parliamentary politics, the prospect of languishing on the opposition benches for five years is too unpalatable.

Having said that, aggregated opinion polling published by Ireland Votes suggests that Fine Gael will achieve around 20 per cent of the vote, and seat projections based on those figures indicate that the party could stand to gain several seats compared with 2020. Harris’ mettle is set to be tested, quite possibly as soon as November 2024.

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Who picks co-opted MLAs?

The co-option of Andrew McMurray MLA following the resignation of former Alliance Party MLA Patrick Brown marks the fourth co-option of the seventh Assembly term (May 2022 to date), but what is the process behind cooption in the Northern Ireland Assembly?

The Assembly is unusual compared to other legislatures in that, when a vacancy arises due to the resignation or death of an incumbent MLA, for instance, there is no byelection to fill in the vacancy, as takes place in the House of Commons or Dáil Éireann.

Co-options take place in the European Parliament, but the Assembly also differs from those in that there is a ‘reserve list’ of MEPs in the event of a resignation from the European Parliament, meaning that there is, in essence a mandate (albeit an indirect one) for the representative.

In the Assembly, however, there is no such mechanism, and when a vacancy arises, the decision rests with the relevant party alone.

In the case of McMurray, his place in the Assembly was awarded by his party which, it is understood, held an open selection convention to decide who would become the party’s new MLA in South Down. The party was required to ensure that its nominating officer submitted its nomination for the vacancy to the Chief Electoral Officer within seven days of the vacancy arising.

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The co-option process creates one fundamental question for democracy in Northern Ireland: Does the electorate vote for the party, or for the individual?

While this is a topic of academic debate, the answer, at least as far as the co-option process is concerned, is simple. Seats in the legislature belong to a given party rather than an individual candidate.

The legislation which pertains to co-option is Section 6B of the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Amendment) Order 2009.

The legislation provides that if an MLA dies while holding office or resigns from the Assembly, the party to which that elected member belonged nominates their replacement, even in the event that the member no longer belongs to the party with which they were elected.

Parties have different internal processes for deciding who can be co-opted, with the Alliance Party and Sinn Féin normally using selection processes. The DUP notably nominated Emma Little-Pengelly MLA to replace Jeffrey Donaldson as MLA in Lagan Valley after a decision taken at party leadership level, rather than a selection convention.

The legislation further sets out that if a prospective member does not formally accept the nomination from their party, the party must then nominate a new candidate.

Strategic ambiguity

List systems are commonplace across democracies, including in some countries in the European Parliament. For instance, before Brexit, British political parties would include a list of prospective replacements for their elected MEPs, who would assume the role of MEP in the event that their party colleague resigned or died while holding office.

A list system was mooted and existed at the time of the first Assembly election in 1998,

and under the original system, the onus was placed on a party candidate to nominate their list. According to a source close to the establishment of the legislature, one of the reasons for the decline of this system was that a particular party’s candidate died shortly after assuming office, and their list was entirely comprised of family members of the deceased due to the party leadership not taking an interest in the list system.

Furthermore, the prospect of byelections is viewed by smaller parties as undermining proportional representation, as it could logically result in a small party losing all of its Assembly representation.

One further caveat pertains to the nomination of a co-optee who is not a member of any party. Although the legislation does not indirectly account for the co-option of independent MLAs, there is a precedent for this, as David McClarty died in office when he was an independent MLA in East Londonderry, and before his death had stated that he wished for Claire Sugden to take his seat.

Although there is no formal process as the legislation pertains to political parties, a source told agendaNi that there is a de facto list system applied for small parties and independents, whereby the MLA must contact the Chief Electoral Officer in a process which is formally overseen by the Secretary of State.

Ultimately, although there are some legal frameworks, the co-option process is one of strategic ambiguity. Though political parties are all understood to be satisfied by the level of control they have over the Assembly with the co-option process.

If the question is ‘who nominates a cooptee?’ The answer is simple; a party’s nominating officer. If the MLA is an independent or a member of a single-MLA party, then the incumbent MLA collaborates with the Chief Electoral Officer to decide a replacement.

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The Troubles(ome) history of British policy in Northern Ireland

As an academic historian, I have serious reservations about the socalled ‘public history’ of British policy in Northern Ireland announced recently by the British Government, writes Marie Coleman, Professor of 20th century Irish history at Queen’s University Belfast.

An Expert Advisory Group (EAG) has been appointed to oversee the process and hire five historians to write this history. The absence of leading scholars of ‘the Troubles’ from the EAG is notable. None of the authors of recent books on subjects including negotiations to end the conflict, government censorship of media coverage, and the role of the British army, are on the EAG. If they were not invited it begs the question ‘why not’? If they were asked and turned it down that is a significant vote of no confidence in the project.

There are no academics currently working in Northern Irish universities, nor any from a northern Catholic and/or nationalist background, on the EAG. If the experts so far have refused to take part how much success will the EAG have in recruiting

suitably qualified candidates to fill five posts?


A glaring error of omission in the published Terms of Reference of the EAG is any reference to ethics. To comply with standard norms of ethics and integrity in research, academics are expected to “keep clear accurate records to allow for verification”. This project will have “the opportunity to access otherwise closed materials which may never be released”. In such circumstances, how can any of the work be verified if nobody else ever sees the documents again?

Ethical approval would also be required if any oral history element is involved, which

would be an expected methodology in such a contemporary subject. The controversial ‘Boston College tapes’ project is a spectre that haunts research into ‘the Troubles’ and is now widely used by those of us who teach ethics to university students as an example of how not to conduct research.

‘Public history’

The project calls itself a ‘public history’, but it is no such thing. ‘Public history’ is a recognised subdiscipline of academic history, defined by the United States’ National Council on Public History as ‘the many and diverse ways in which history is put to work in the world. In this sense, it is history that is applied to real-world issues’.

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“The EAG and the Northern Ireland Office are at pains to point out that this project is not part of the Legacy Act... It is undeniably part of the legacy process.”
Marie Coleman, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, QUB

For this project to qualify as a ‘public history’ one, it would need to embed a public history element, such as close collaboration from the outset with an institution like a museum, in its core methodology. Plans to engage ‘with media outlets, community groups, and the wider cultural sector to promote public awareness and understanding of the period of the Northern Ireland conflict’ does not qualify this project to call itself ‘public history’.

‘Official history’

If this is not a ‘public history’ what is it? It is an ‘official history’, part of a long-standing British government series dating back to 1908. The EAG has asserted its independence and intention to reject any efforts of government control. Yet, there are ways in which governments exert control over official histories about which the group can do little.

The publication of Michael Howard’s official history of strategic deception in intelligence operations during the Second World War was held up on security grounds by Margaret Thatcher and could not be published until after her resignation as Prime Minister. If the Northern Ireland project were to encounter a similar obstacle a scholar could be left with no published work after five years of research, with seriously adverse effects on career advancement.

Governments can also control the narrative through restrictions on the time period studied. Keith Jeffery’s official history of MI6 concluded in 1949 because the head of MI6 considered the Cold War too sensitive to cover. Conveniently, this avoided any serious discussion of the defection of the Cambridge spies. It is notable that the Terms of Reference of the EAG

refer only to studying British policy ‘during the conflict in Northern Ireland’, with no definition, chronological or otherwise, of what that means.

Legacy Act

The EAG and the Northern Ireland Office are at pains to point out that this project is not part of the Legacy Act. Yet during the debate on the bill in the House of Lords in May 2023, Dean Godson (Lord Godson) sought to have it included, a move supported by Paul Bew (Lord Bew), current co-chair of the EAG. The project was announced publicly in the same week that the Legacy Act came into force. It is undeniably part of the legacy process.

Many academics are dubious of the EAG’s confidence about being given “full and unfettered access to all materials”. Even if this is given, the Legacy Act’s denial of the same access to the families of victims is deeply problematic and in the view of some scholars at least, unethical.

The British Labour Party is likely to repeal significant sections of the Legacy Act and the current government is trying to have much of its infrastructure in place to make that task difficult. It is hard to escape the sense that this project has been rushed through hurriedly to get it set up in time. Little else could account for how poorly thought-out its provisions are.

If it is to continue, action is required immediately to clarify its title, delineate its chronological coverage, and produce a robust ethical framework. Then it will be matter of individual choice for scholars whether the lure of privileged access to archives outweighs qualms about the concurrent denial of that access to the families of ‘Troubles’ victims.

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Saving the Assembly Rooms

A Belfast building which was the scene of the courts-marshal – prior to their execution – of the United Irish leaders and later redesigned by Charles Lanyon must be secured and brought back in to public use, writes John Gray, Chair of Reclaim the Enlightenment and Convenor of the Assembly Rooms Alliance.

The Assembly Rooms located in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter is the city’s most historic building. Originally built as a single storey market house in 1769, an additional storey was added in 1776 transforming it into the Assembly Rooms. As such, it lay at the very centre of the 18th century town.

It was also central to the cultural life of the town during its enlightenment era. It was here that Henry Joy McCracken ran a short lived Sunday school for destitute children, here too that in 1786 the proposal to set up a Belfast-based slave trading company was defeated. In 1792 it was the venue for the last assembly of

the blind harpers of Ireland, an occasion on which, famously, Edward Bunting transcribed their music, a source even today for the repertoire of traditional music. It was here that the Ballast Board, forerunner of Belfast Harbour Commissioners was established. Here too in 1798 the United Irish leaders, including Henry Joy McCracken, were court-martialled prior to their execution.

Now it lies empty and acutely endangered by years of rampant dry rot and water ingress. As the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society says: “It is shocking that such an architecturally important and historically significant

building… can come to be treated as a mere derelict eye sore.”

How did this sorry state of affairs arise? True its role as the Assembly Rooms ended when the building was converted into a bank in 1845, but the conversion was undertaken by Charles Lanyon, Belfast’s leading 19th century architect. His intervention has left us with a magnificent banking hall.

But the bank closed in 2000 and the building has been vacant ever since. Despite its grade B1 listing it had to be placed on the ‘at risk’ register in 2003. Even in deteriorating condition, it was used in the early years of this millennium

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Ulster Architectural Heritage

by theatre companies, for concerts, and exhibitions, an indication of its future potential if only it can be saved.

Latterly, the Assembly Rooms became part of the wider Tribeca project promoted by developers, Castlebrooke. It proposed that this historic building should become a boutique hotel, in any case a truly inappropriate use.

As with the rest of the properties embraced by the Tribeca scheme, nothing has been done. Instead, according to a survey undertaken in January 2024, the Assembly Rooms are now in a close to catastrophic condition.

What is staggering about this sorry tale is that for almost a quarter of a century now there has been no public intervention to secure the building and for public use.

The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society suggests that: “The situation may be seen to indicate a lack of awareness of the value of Belfast’s historic assets, on the part of the governance of the city.”

Yet, Belfast City Council has intervened positively in respect of other important buildings and notably at the fine former bank at 2 Royal Avenue and that other Art Deco bank at the top of Royal Avenue which is destined to become home to The Belfast Story. If that has been possible, why not the Assembly Rooms? That is even more the case when one considers that The Belfast Story is costing £100 million while a rough estimate for restoring the Assembly Rooms and bringing them into public use is between £8 million to £10 million.

The City Council should use its powers immediately to intervene to ensure that remedial action is taken.

Castlebrooke is in the process of submitting an application for renewal of its existing planning permission. Given its failure to date this must not be passed on the nod.

Far better that Castlebrooke should donate the Assembly Rooms to the people of Belfast.

Failing that, the City Council must intervene. It has indicated an intention to acquire the Assembly Rooms sooner rather than later whether by vesting or by purchase. This is a welcome development provided that it pursues appropriate future uses for the building.

If the Council fails to act then others of us will seek to act independently.

Belfast City Council did not respond to questions in relation to its intentions towards the building.

The campaign to save the Assembly Rooms has been mounted by the Assembly Rooms Alliance which was established in February 2023 with the objective ‘to preserve the Assembly Rooms and to secure them for public use as a facility for arts and heritage purposes and for other community uses’.

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Henry Joy McCracken

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Political Platform

Eóin Tennyson MLA
Eóin Tennyson is the Alliance Party’s finance spokesperson and in 2022 became the first ever Alliance MLA in Upper Bann.

Outline your background and career to date

I grew up in Maghery on the south shore of Lough Neagh. My dad worked as a bricklayer and my mum as a carer. I am the baby of the house and have two older sisters and an older brother. We were not a political family at all – so you can imagine their surprise when I told them I had joined Alliance.

At school, I always had an interest in business and went on to study accounting at Queen’s University Belfast and later at University College Dublin for my master’s. When I left university, I began training as a chartered accountant in Belfast. I became a councillor for the Alliance Party somewhat unexpectedly in 2019 and became the first Alliance MLA for Upper Bann in May 2022.

What inspired you to get into politics?

Politics first entered my purview in 2015 when the DUP vetoed a motion on marriage equality in the Assembly. I recall feeling a burning injustice that a mechanism designed to protect minority rights in the Good Friday Agreement had been turned on its head and abused.

The vote for Brexit in 2016, alongside the collapse of the Assembly in 2017, made me gravely concerned that the main parties were gambling with the progress we had achieved since 1998. After writing a few blog posts and letters to newspapers, I decided to step forward, join the Alliance Party, and make a contribution to building a truly shared and progressive society.

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“We are a diverse society and I believe that diversity should be celebrated.”
Eóin Tennyson

MLA, Alliance Party

Who do you admire in politics or public life and who are your political role models?

It is hard to look beyond a politician like John Hume, who had a very clear vision and was a key architect of the peace which my generation is now lucky enough to enjoy.

In terms of contemporary role models, I really admire the steely determination of Naomi Long. She is a big part of the reason why I am now in active politics, and I have been genuinely inspired by her leadership on progressive causes and commitment to building a truly shared and vibrant community.

What drew you to the Alliance Party?

University was my first experience of being educated in an integrated environment. It struck me at that stage that whilst we had achieved relative peace, I had still grown up in a society that was deeply divided. Up to that point, my community background had largely dictated what street I lived on, where I went to school, who my friends were, and even which sports teams I could support.

It struck me as totally bizarre and unacceptable that we had not made the progress on shared housing and integrated education that was desired. I also have never subscribed to this idea that Northern Ireland is simply two communities that never meet in the middle. We are a diverse society and I believe that diversity should be celebrated.

Ultimately, I wanted to join a party with a genuine commitment to working for everyone, to promoting equality and good relations, but also to reforming Stormont so that it is stable and inclusive of our entire community.

What are your key priorities for your constituency?

Like most areas, the state of our health service and the cost-of-living continue to weigh heavily on many of my constituents – and so those issues are undoubtedly my top priority.

With stop-start government over five of the past seven years, we now have the highest spend per head on healthcare in the UK and the worst outcomes. We desperately need progress on the delivery of the Bengoa review and wider healthcare transformation.

We have also seen a deterioration of pay and conditions and a lack of progress on childcare which is weighing heavily on many working families. There is much work to do, but it has been heartening that some progress on public sector pay and childcare has been made and that parties are making these issues a priority. I am also really proud to have played a small role alongside colleagues in negotiations with the UK Government to secure additional funding for pay and public service transformation.

Of course, if we are to make the progress that is needed, all of that must be underpinned by stable government. As such, my number one priority is securing reform of Stormont so that never again can it be collapsed by a single party.

What are your interests outside of work?

I am a music fan and big concert and festival-goer. In my school days, I was involved in musical theatre, and still enjoy going to support local productions in my spare time.

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East-West Council holds its first meeting

A new institution established under the Safeguarding the Union Command Paper, the East West Council, held its first meeting in March 2024.

The stated purpose of the Council is to strengthen cooperation between Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK by advising on “shared challenges and opportunities with an east-west dimension”.

The first meeting, chaired by British Secretary of State for Levelling Up and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations Michael Gove MP, was held on 26 March 2024 in Dover House, London.

In attendance for the inaugural meeting were First Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA, deputy First Minister Emma LittlePengelly MLA, Gove, and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris MP.

Describing the meeting as a “useful engagement”, First Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA stated that a “range of matters” were discussed between Executive ministers and the British Government, including funding streams, legacy legislation, and Euro 2028 and Casement Park.

Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly MLA welcomed what she described as “progress” made at the meeting.

The council will play a vital role, enhancing the links between the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK Government and providing a forum for us to work together on a wide range of issues across trade, transport, education, and culture to deliver real benefits for everyone in Northern Ireland.

The East West Council was proposed by then-DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson MP in October 2023 as part of a framework to “bring together representatives from across the United Kingdom”, on a “regular basis" to "discuss and collaborate on opportunities for enhanced cooperation”.

The Safeguarding the Union Command Paper states that the objectives of the council are:

• to provide regular, sustained engagement between UK Government and Northern Ireland Executive representatives, businesses, and university representatives in areas such as trade, transport, education, and culture;

• to establish Intertrade UK to promote trade within the UK;

• to take forward the Council’s missions below, addressing risks and opportunities, to find solutions to shared challenges;

• to raise the profile of the opportunities Northern Ireland offers by supporting connectivity between business, skills, trade, and innovation within the UK, and connections across other parts of the UK to Northern Ireland;

• to drive UK-wide engagement on the development and sharing of existing clusters of excellence; and

• to ensure the profile of Northern Ireland is appropriately considered in business and government decision-making.

Speaking after the meeting, Secretary of State Chris HeatonHarris MP was optimistic: “I am a glass half full man, and from the meeting we have just had, my glass nearly overfloweth because the prospects look really, really good.”

Although Heaton-Harris insisted that the council is “not a talking shop”, the vagaries of its stated purpose of “enhancing connections” between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK call into question whether it is an institution being taken seriously by decision-makers.

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Dover House, London, played host to the inaugural meeting of the East-West Council.

Pandemic highlighted absence of government’s real social engagement TRADE UNION DESK

As the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted, it is not enough for government to put in place mechanisms to receive the views of representative bodies such as unions, writes the ICTU’s John O’Farrell.

The UK Covid Inquiry arrived in Belfast in April 2024 and heard evidence from politicians, senior civil servants, health officials, and ‘ordinary’ people affected by the pandemic. According to NISRA’s figures, over 4,000 people died of Covid-19 related illness in Northern Ireland between February 2020 and October 2021. About 10 per cent were of working age.

These were the people for whom the ICTU’s Assistant General Secretary Gerry Murphy gave evidence on the second day of the public hearings in Belfast.

Murphy noted that the highest proportion of the 391 deaths of people of working age was amongst process, plant, and machine operatives (12.91 per cent), whereas professional and technical occupations had the lowest rates (4.5 per cent).

A great many in frontline and essential work were in lower paid roles, who could not safely work from home, and were already suffering health disadvantages. That included many who worked in health and social care, but also those who kept transport moving, who cleaned public spaces, who worked in food processing, and manufacturing.

This was acknowledged by the Chief Medical Officer, Michael McBride, who said: “With Covid-19 those at increased risk of infection included those at greater occupational risk in public facing roles; those who were unable to work from home; those from lower socioeconomic groups living in crowded or multiple-occupancy housing, who often in addition found it difficult to work from home or self-isolate for financial reasons.”

Those who had no choice but to continue to attend workplaces were at greater risk of catching the virus and passing it on to vulnerable relatives and into those

communities already suffering health disadvantages.

There is never a good time to have a pandemic, but there was a confluence of circumstances which made things incontrovertibly worse. The Northern Ireland Executive had just returned after a three year suspension, and the legacy of Gideon Osborne’s austerity had reduced the capacity of public services to cope.

Nor had the refusal of NIO ministers or the devolved Executive to engage with trade unions on anything like the level seen in the devolved administrations in Cardiff and Edinburgh.

“For instance in health, the Bengoa report which was delivered in late 2016 set out the context for the transformation of health services that was required to put the services on a sustainable footing given demographic and other pressures,” Murphy said.

“The report noted that additional funding would be required to transition services to this new approach. The report recommended a ring-fenced transformation fund. The collapse of the Executive meant that none of this work was undertaken before the pandemic took hold in 2020.”

Richard Pengelly, then-Permanent Sectary of the Department of Health, stated: “The problems that were experienced during the pandemic involved the increase in the number of patients already waiting for elective procedures due to the need to divert service delivery from routine primary care and elective care in order to provide the services required to treat Covid-19 patients. This problem had its roots in the combination of under-investment in elective care and reform to clear the backlog before the pandemic.”

The constructive engagement of individual

ministers in departments such as health and education, this was not sufficient in the context of the Covid-19 crisis. The Covid19 pandemic impacted on all aspects of government; piecemeal social partnership was not sufficient to address the allencompassing nature of the crisis.

The primary mechanism through which the Executive sought to engage with representative bodies during the pandemic was through the Strategic Engagement Forum, formed at the outset of the pandemic and brought together employers, trade unions, and statutory bodies including the Public Health Agency (PHA) and Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI). After a good start mitigating the initial impact of Covid on workplaces and keeping essential commercial and public services going, the ICTU’s Murphy added that “the forum was unfortunately largely ignored by the Executive”.

“The strength of consistent and embedded social partnership is demonstrated by the tripartite arrangement which exists between the Fire Brigades Union, employers, and Chief Fire Officers, which involved considered consultation and co-working from all three sides. It is notable that not a single firefighter died of Covid-19.

“We all need mechanisms for meaningful social engagement in advance of any crisis. It is not enough for individual ministers to meet with stakeholders. It is not enough for government to put in place mechanisms to receive the views of representative bodies such as unions.

“Social partnership must be a part of the culture of government and the way in which it carries out business – embedded in advance – if the steps taken to respond to a crisis are to be effective on the ground.”

public affairs agenda
public affairs agenda 119

Complex planning for border poll must ‘begin immediately’

Subvention describes the gap between government spending allocated to Northern Ireland and the amount raised in taxes paid to the UK Government by its residents and businesses. The issue of subvention is often raised in the context of the Irish unity debate as the cost of administering northern institutions and services that is likely to transfer to the Irish taxpayer in the event of Irish unification.

The most recent estimate of pre-Covid subvention for 2019 was £10.7 billion (FitzGerald and Morgenroth, 2024). Depending on assumptions made around areas – including Northern Ireland’s pension bill, its share of UK debt, public sector pay, and welfare levels – estimated costs that would transfer to the Irish Government, following reunification, vary substantially from €2.8 billion to €23.8 billion per annum (Doyle 2021, FitzGerald and Morgenroth 2024).

However, these studies implicitly assume that following a border poll ratifying reunification, reunification effectively takes place instantaneously. They also fail to account for the possibility that reunification could result in changes in the North’s economic performance.

It is not realistic to assume that any Irish Government would allow for a border poll to occur without appropriate prior planning that would include a transition period during which both operational and fiscal responsibilities would be transferred from the UK to the Republic. The objectives of border poll planning

Only border poll planning can clarify the likely costs and benefits of Irish reunification write Séamus McGuinness, research professor and research area coordinator, and Adele Bergin, Associate Research Professor, with the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

should be to maximise the benefits and minimise the costs of reunification and ensure a smooth transition to constitutional change.

Planning for a border poll should focus on how to address the cause of Northern Ireland’s subvention requirement – low productivity – in the period including and beyond any transition, which, if successful, would effectively reduce subvention requirements.

Productivity levels in Northern Ireland were broadly similar to those of the Republic in 2000; however, a 40 per cent gap had emerged by 2022 as a consequence of a slight upward productivity trend in the Republic and declining productivity in the North.

Bergin and McGuinness (2022) highlights the causes of Northern Ireland’s productivity problem as a combination of relatively poor educational attainment, low levels of investment, and a lack of export intensive firms. The factors driving this low productivity can potentially be influenced by changes in policy. As a result, key objectives of border poll planning should seek to identify the optimum changes in educational, industrial, and infrastructural policy that will generate the most effective improvements in productivity. Improvements in productivity will have the impact of lowering subvention requirements.

Of course, effecting change in educational provision, improving investment levels, and reforming

industrial policy in Northern Ireland will be extremely costly. It is reasonable to expect that external actors, such as the EU, the USA, and potentially the departing UK administration, will play some role in financing structural reforms. However, it is likely that such commitments will only transpire postreferendum and will be difficult to quantify in advance.

Detailed planning is an essential component to ensuring that voters are reliably informed of the potential costs and benefits of Irish reunification in advance of any border poll. The generation of partial or static estimates serve limited purpose as they do not reflect the dynamic nature of any future reunification process.

Necessary planning and preparation goes well beyond the use of such frameworks; it requires the use of macroeconomic and microsimulation tools to model the impacts of various productivity enhancing policy changes over a number of time horizons, incorporating various tax and welfare scenarios adjusted for expected demographics and including sensitivity estimates that account for potential unknown factors. Such a complex planning process can only be effectively commissioned and managed by the Irish Government and given the levels of uncertainty around the timing of a future border boll, it is prudent for the process to begin immediately.

120 public affairs agenda public affairs agenda
Adele Bergin Séamus McGuinness
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