Councils urged to follow Newry's lead in divesting pensions from fossil fuels
Other local authorities have been urged to support a council that wants its workers' pension fund to stop investing in fossil fuels.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has become the first council here to urge the body overseeing the main public sector pension fund to disassociate itself from oil and gas companies.
The Northern Ireland Local Government Officers' Superannuation Committee (NILGOSC) administers the fund for 118,000 public sector workers, including civil servants, teachers and council employees.
But it has been criticised over some of its investments, including tens of millions pumped into companies like BP and gas firm, with a further £193m indirectly invested in fossil fuel interests.
Yesterday the Belfast Telegraph reported how NILGOSC has millions of public sector workers' retirement money tied up in controversial investments under the Local Government Pension Scheme.
The scheme invests in the arms trade, tobacco and companies which have been criticised for their tax avoidance policies.
It has been defended by NILGOSC, which says it is acting in the "best interests" of its beneficiaries.
On Monday night Newry, Mourne and Down District Council passed a notice of motion urging the committee to withdraw millions of pounds invested in oil and gas companies within the next five years. Environmental campaigners have claimed the committee has directly invested around £155m BP and Centrica, with an additional £193m invested indirectly in fossil fuel interests.
Alliance's Patrick Brown, who brought forward the motion, said yesterday he hoped the remaining 10 councils would follow the example set by Newry, Mourne and Down.
"One of the main reasons I brought forward the motion was to encourage the other councils to adopt the same position," he said.
The decision has been welcomed by campaign group Fossil Free South Down.
It has been lobbying NILGOSC to completely divest the pension scheme from fossil fuels by 2022.
"This is a huge step forward for Fossil Free NI and we hope other councils follow," it said in a Facebook post.
Mr Brown also claimed there was evidence that shows investments could be made by the body in companies which were not involved in fossil fuels that would give its pension holders a bigger return on their investments.
"I think if the other councils followed, NILGOSC would have to take notice," councillor Brown added.
In response, NILGOSC said: "We wait to hear from the council formally and look forward to a dialogue with it about our investment strategy."