Changes foreshadowed in the integrated energy and agriculture markets, leaving Stormont behind

The local vacuum of practical debate over Brexit continues, while real events move on..

I confess I hadn’t  heard of “the Celtic interconnector “ before coming across it in a story  in the Financial  Times. The EU commission made  this  announcement  at the end of June.

A project to build an interconnector linking for the first time the French and Irish electricity systems will today be awarded a €4 million grant from the European Commission…

At 4 million euros, it seems a bargain.

The FT story adds:

Gas is currently imported via a pipeline under the Irish Sea from Moffatt in Scotland, while electricity flows through an interconnector from Wales. The Republic of Ireland also benefits from a UK electricity interconnector between Scotland and Northern Ireland because the island of Ireland has had a single power market since 2007. Integration of the island’s electricity system was one of the most concrete examples of cross-border economic co-operation to emerge from the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland in 1998. London and Dublin have both signalled their desire to maintain current arrangements but that could prove tricky if the UK left the wider EU internal energy market.

What will be the impact on NI’s high energy prices in the future? The province is part of a single market through the north-south interconnector. This recent article in the Bel Tel emphasises its importance.

 The most important element of this is undoubtedly the controversial North-South Interconnector. Even optimistically, this would be unlikely to be online much before 2020 and if the Northern Ireland grid is to be able to accommodate substantial new generation without constraint, this infrastructure is absolutely vital. This is a project that must go ahead to ensure the viability of future large-scale renewables.

So what is its future after Brexit? We should be told. At least, somebody should inquire.

The same applies in spades to the future of farm pricing after Michael  Gove’s  confusing little stopover at Antrim show.

Last week Mr Gove said that farm subsidies will have to be earned rather than just handed out after Brexit – but he also sought to reassure farmers in Northern Ireland about the level of subsidies they will receive.

Cross-border trade in agri-food products will not be affected by whatever final Brexit agreement is struck between London and Brussels, according to the Environment Secretary.

On a surprise visit to the Antrim Show at Shane’s Castle Estate on Saturday, Michael Gove said: “A pragmatic approach will be required to reach a final settlement.

“However, the British Government fully recognises the importance of the long established trading arrangements that are a feature of the farming and food sectors on the island of Ireland.

“These must be retained.”

How will that work if north and south operate different subsidy regimes?

 

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London