16 November 2006 Edition
Anybody but the ESB
Economic sectarianism reared its head this week as the ESB denied it was seeking to buy out the Irish operations of Viridian, the main Northern Ireland electricity provider, though the claim made in the news media last weekend prompted Ulster Unionist leader and former Assembly Enterprise minister Reg Empey to attack the proposed merger.
It seemed that for Empey NIE being owned by Aracpital Bank, A Bahrain-based investment company who will look to recoup their €2.4 billion take over costs by a quick turn around in asset stripping, is preferable to having a state owned Irish electricity company.
It was though only a question of which state would own the Six County electricity network. Empey wants the British Government to block any ESB bid and warned that in the current "politically delicate" climate, an ESB buyout would be "potentially damaging.
It is more of the same from Empey, who just two weeks ago, after the launch of joint British-Irish study on the all-Ireland economy, attacked its publication saying that it had the potential to "poison relations" between the Six and 26 Counties.Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin responding to Empey's comments on the ESB said that the UUP leader was "misguided" and that Sinn Féin would welcome any move that takes us closer to a single electricity market" and that the party, "would also look favourably on any move that brings a public utility out of private ownership and back into public hands so that decisions can be made in the interests of the consumer".