Cross-border power takeover snubbed
Unionist leaders have written to the Irish government objecting to the Republic's electricity provider ESB buying Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE), it has been confirmed.
The protest over the £1billion deal came from DUP leader Peter Robinson and Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey in a letter to Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
They claimed the business deal had major political implications, and said it amounted to the purchase of "a key component of our national infrastructure".
This comes despite comments by Energy Minister Arlene Foster who said she had received assurances from her counterpart in Dublin, Eamon Ryan, that the status and identity of the Northern Ireland company will be protected.
Similar pledges were made by both companies who said the business deal was subject to monopoly reviews and other tests in the Republic and the UK before the sale, which is due to be completed by the end of the year.
But Mr Empey and Mr Robinson indicated that they had serious concerns over the issue, and their intervention was praised by would-be Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott.
Their letter added: "We firmly believe the two networks, north and south, can operate successfully together and bring economies and efficiencies but it is entirely inappropriate, while ESB remains an Irish state asset, and beyond the reach of any private intervention, for it to acquire the Northern Ireland grid.
"I am sure you will appreciate the political outcry that would have emerged if the Northern Ireland Executive, or the UK government, sought to acquire the entire network of the Republic of Ireland."
Tom Elliott said he had monitored the issue and shared the concerns of the unionist leaders.
He said: "I'm just not prepared to have the Northern Ireland commercial sector subjected either to that sort of constitutionally invasive deal."