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Pipeline plan could bring gas to thousands

Natural gas could soon be available to the vast majority of the Northern Ireland population...

Natural gas could soon be available to the vast majority of the Northern Ireland population, after the Executive yesterday gave the go-ahead for the development of a multi-million pound gas network.

The Irish government and the Executive announced the joint venture by Bord Gais/Questar to provide gas throughout Ireland and a link-up with the European energy network at a briefing at InterTrade Ireland in Newry.

Enterprise Trade and Investment Minister Sir Reg Empey and Finance Minister Mark Durkan joined the Republic's public enterprise minister Mary O'Rourke to formally launch the initiative.

The decision also opens the way for the building of a new electricity power station at Coolkeeragh on the outskirts of Londonderry - a joint venture between ESBI and Coolkeeragh Power.

Sir Reg said the two projects would attract well in excess of pounds 250 million of investment in the Northern Ireland economy over the next four years and had the potential to make natural gas available to 75 per cent of the population.

The project represents the creation of a long-term energy infrastructure which will link the networks in Northern Ireland and the Republic while integrating both systems fully into the European gas market, he said.

In turn, this will enable access to alternative sources of supply and stimulate greater competition between gas suppliers in an all-island context.

Sir Reg also said the proposed pipeline from the south to the north of Ireland would facilitate the development of gas distribution networks to towns on its route and boost the prospects for inward investment in areas of high unemployment.

The Executive decision to provide financial backing for the proposal, he claimed, would be widely welcomed by industrial, commercial and domestic consumers.

Mr Durkan said: "The project represents a strategic investment in the future of this region and will provide the necessary energy infrastructure we need for the 21st century.

The public money being provided shows the Executive's determination to make natural gas more available and represents a long-term commitment over a period of years.

Mrs O'Rourke described the development as a potent symbol of co-operation.

She said the Dublin government's decision to make an pounds 8 million grant available for the project recognised that the development of the gas network in Northern Ireland would bring wider developments in facilitating improved energy supplies to the Republic's neighbouring Co Donegal.

The pipeline is due for completion by late 2004 with supply beginning to flow at a still to be designated later date.

The project involves the construction of a transmission pipeline from Gormanstown in Co Meath to Antrim where it will connect with a transmission pipeline from Belfast to Londonderry.