Irish PM presses UK on renewable energy

Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, Enda Kenny
Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, Enda Kenny

The United Kingdom needs to increase its investment in renewable energy, Ireland’s Prime Minister has said.

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny met face-to-face with his British, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh counterparts during key talks today.

The British-Irish Council meets once per year, and today it was held in Cardiff Castle.

Key items on the agenda were kick-starting the economy, and Europe, as well as education.

During a press conference, Mr Kenny said energy and the environment would be the big topics that would need to be discussed in depth next time the home nations’ political leaders got around the table.

He said: “The issue of energy will be a direct focus of the next British Irish Council.

“We believe there is great potential for renewable energy, particularly from onshore wind.

“There is a real possibility for the direct sale of renewable energy generated in Ireland to a British market.

“This is against a background of where we need to move on at European level.

“The Union is losing out in terms of real investment- where major energy costs are 300% dearer than they are in the United States, which is moving to self-suffiency with enormous potential from the sale of shale gas.

“Between our two islands having these strategic partnerships, this is an area that has great potential.”

Today’s British Irish Council was the third time the body has met in Wales since it was set up as part of the Northern Ireland peace process in 1998.

It brings together ministers from the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments, the Northern Irish executive, Guernsey, Jersey, and the Isle of Man, as well as the Republic of Ireland.

Officials say its purpose is to promote positive and practical relationships between each nation.

Representatives of each government discussed the role of infrastructure in helping economic growth.

Wales’s First Minister Carwyn Jones chaired today’s talks, which saw Cardiff Castle heavily guarded by officers from South Wales Police.

He said: “A number of items were discussed today: the economy, as you might expect given the situation that exists around the world; early years policy, which the Welsh Government is taking a lead on; as well as youth unemployment.

“This summit is exceptionally important, as it provides a framework to discuss ideas and policy initiatives and to learn from each other.”

A statement from the British Irish Council read: “The council discussed the current economic situation in the different administrations with a particular focus on the important role of investment in capital infrastructure to support and promote economic growth.”

While the issue of the economy has been a hot-topic for each representative at the summit, it has been particularly a pressing one in Wales.

Last week steel giant Tata announced that it would be shedding almost 600 jobs in Wales.

First Minister and Welsh Labour leader Mr Jones, who has on several occasions criticised the UK Government’s budget cuts policies, said: “With Tata of course, it’s very difficult news - but it has not affected their investment plans - particularly at Port Talbot where the new blast furnace, when it comes online, will be make a considerable difference to the future of the plant itself.”

But with private sector activity not as high as it would otherwise be, the public sector had a strong role in financing projects that will create jobs.

Welsh Secretary David Jones, who was also at the council meeting, appeared to defend the Tory-led coalition’s economic policies.

He spoke about the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill, which will see the UK Government provide a guarantee of £40 billion of investment in infrastructure and up to £10 billion in new homes.

He said: “It’s important that all the administrations should come forward with well-pitched planning policies to take advantage so houses can start to be built again.”

Northern Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Martin McGuiness said capital investment in his homeland was something which needed to be addressed “as a matter of urgency” - especially as more than a fifth of young people in the country now find themselves without a job.

He told reporters: “The construction industry has taken a hammering over the course of these times and it’s absolutely vital that the Westminster administration realises the importance of supporting us as we try to come out of these unacceptable unemployment levels.”

That sentiment was echoed by Nicola Sturgeon - Scotland’s deputy First Minister and SNP member Nicola Sturgeon.

She said: “I agree with Martin and Carwyn’s point of the role of public sector is also absolutely fundamental. The Scottish government capital budget is reducing by a third over the spending review. This has very serious implications for us.

“I very much welcome the infrastructure guarantee scheme, we’ve introduced a similar system in Scotland.

“But I do believe in addition to that, there’s a very strong case for a capital stimulus for further capital spending to boost the economy.”