Unionists object to sale of NIE to Irish Republic's ESB

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Unionist leaders have written to the Irish government objecting to the Republic's main electricity supplier buying Northern Ireland Electricity.

The DUP's Peter Robinson and the Ulster Unionist's Sir Reg Empey said the £1bn deal has major political implications.

The UUP's Tom Elliott said the sale posed problems because the ESB is owned by the Irish government.

But the SDLP said the deal was a good one and should be free from political interference.

Mr Elliott, who is a candidate for the UUP leadership, said he was concerned the sale would create an "imbalance of investment" in Northern Ireland's utility market.

"Obviously, what we could then have is total reliance on the Northern Ireland power supply coming wholly from the Irish Republic," he said.

'Independent'

However, the SDLP's Alban Maginness, who chairs the Assembly's enterprise committee, explained: "What is being sold off is the grid and we need a tremedous amount of investment in the grid.

"ESB are prepared to put that investment in."

He added that that although the Electricity Supply Board is owned by the Irish government, it remained independent of it.

The SDLP MLA also pointed out that the ESB already operates in the Northern Ireland gas and electricity markets, under different names.

It has a presence through the Coolkeeragh power plant near Londonderry.

When the deal was announced in July, the Energy Minister Arlene Foster said she had "received assurances from ESB on a range of issues relating to the transaction".

However, the DUP MLA said she would "keep a close watch" on the deal to ensure the interests of electricity consumers in Northern Ireland were properly considered.

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