North-South Interconnector crucial for Ireland, public inquiry to hear
A new interconnector linking the electricity infrastructure of Northern Ireland and the Republic will be a "catalyst" for economic improvement here, it has been claimed.
The coalition of business groups, including the Federation of Small Business, CBI and the Institute of Directors (IoD), called for "urgent delivery" of the North-South Interconnector as a public inquiry into the proposal begins in Armagh today.
According to the System Operator for Northern Ireland - which runs electricity infrastructure - the interconnector will help reduce the costs of electricity for consumers.
The proposal from SONI would see an overhead line running through counties Tyrone, Armagh, Monaghan, Cavan and Meath.
Kirsty McManus, head of business development at the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, said delivering the interconnector was a "top priority" for its membership.
"Businesses and employers need access to electricity in the most cost efficient manner possible, and the proposed interconnector is key to achieving this.
"It is an essential piece of infrastructure which will allow the all-island electricity market to do what it was designed to do - achieve savings for all consumers, north and south.
"This has real value to business and therefore to our members and we will continue to vocalise our support."
The statement comes as the support of Newry and Armagh's six outgoing MLAs is cited in a full-page advertisement in local newspaper the Ulster Gazette from community pressure group Safe Electricity Armagh and Tyrone (SEAT), which has called for greater scrutiny of the interconnector proposal.
The advertisement states: "SEAT is not opposed to the North South Interconnector.
"Along with landowners and thousands of affected residents on the proposed route, we are however opposed to the use of dangerous, very high voltage overhead power lines."
The group calls for examination of the need for an overhead connector and "far greater scrutiny of the real potential to underground the cable".
SEAT says that placing the cable underground will "reduce health and numerous other risks to local people, and maintain our beautiful and unspoilt rural countryside".
In the Republic, planning authorities have already granted planning permission for the Republic of Ireland side of the interconnector.
This week, a group which is representing about 190 land owners affected by the interconnector secured leave from the Republic's High Court to challenge An Bord Pleanala's permission for the project.
The detailed grounds of challenge include claims of failure by the board to properly address the potential impact of Brexit on the project and to consider environmental issues.
Angela McGowan, regional director of the CBI in Northern Ireland, said that it supported SONI's proposal.
"A secure, sustainable and cost-efficient electricity supply is absolutely essential for large energy users and potential investors looking at Northern Ireland as somewhere to do business.
She added: "As things stand, there is a threat to security of electricity supply from 2021 onwards.
"No modern economy can thrive without an affordable, guaranteed, supply of electricity.
"Therefore, we need to see the proposed North South Interconnector delivered as soon as possible."
Robin McCormick, general manager of SONI, said that it was in Northern Ireland's interests that the project was allowed to progress.