| 10°C Belfast

Foster 'informed of' controversial negotiations to sell NIE

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster was informed that negotiations were taking place about the possible sale of Northern Ireland's electricity infrastructure to a company owned by the Irish government.

However, the Minister has declined to comment on concerns raised by Sir Reg Empey about whether such a sale is appropriate or whether she had been consulted on the deal.

Viridian, the owner of NIE's transmission and distribution business, this week confirmed it is in talks with ESB, the state-owned operator of the Republic's electricity network. Employment Minister Sir Reg subsequently wrote to Mrs Foster and Taoiseach Brian Cowen to say the sale of such a significant strategic asset would be contrary to European policy which is urging member states to divest of owning energy transmission systems.

A Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment spokesman said: "The department has been informed Viridian Group Holdings Limited is in discussion with ESB on a possible conditional sale of NIE transmission and distribution. It would not be appropriate to comment further on a possible commercial transaction. The department has received a letter from Sir Reg Empey and it will be responded to in due course."