The prospect of gas provision in the west of Northern Ireland was warmly welcomed in the Assembly Chamber during today’s Questions to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster. The Utility Regulator launched the competition for bringing gas to the west in February 2014 and expects to award a licence by autumn 2014. This should bring “a more efficient, lower carbon and potentially cheaper choice of fuel” to consumers in the west. It is anticipated that construction work will begin in 2015 and the first customers will be connected to gas in 2016. The efforts of the Minister in bringing gas to the west were commended by Ian McCrea who pointed out the benefits it could have for local businesses – Dale Farm predicted that the availability of gas could save them as much as £1m. The Minister also revealed that domestic consumers will also be able to benefit from the new energy source as it will be possible to retro-fit existing homes to allow them to receive gas.
During regular Question Time the Minister also answered questions on the tourism industry in Northern Ireland. The Minister discussed the upcoming review of the tourism strategy and the efforts that have been made to make the most of the tourism opportunities provided by the Giro d’Italia, the 2015 Irish Open at Royal County Down and the production of ‘Game of Thrones’.
During topical questions, Kieran McCarthy asked the Minister if she had reviewed the business case for redeveloping Exploris submitted by Ards Borough Council. While the Minister recognised the Portaferry aquarium as “an important facility and key visitor attraction” however she views the proposed one of capital grant of £914,000 as a problem as the Northern Ireland Tourist Board has no capital funds available. She offered her support in every other way but the capital funds cannot be met. Other topical questions were asked regarding the benefits of the Giro d’Italia, Invest NI and the living wage, and the latest update on job creation.