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Irish minister warns EU must keep UK on side in energy crisis


Minister of State Ossian Smyth. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Minister of State Ossian Smyth. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Minister of State Ossian Smyth. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Ireland has urged the EU not to alienate the UK in its drive to control energy prices, in case it harms Irish supplies.

Ossian Smyth, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, said the bloc should avoid a “confrontational stance” with the UK in any planned overhaul of its gas and electricity markets, as Ireland is dependent on the UK for much of its energy.

“We need to maintain good relationships with the UK,” he told reporters in Luxembourg on Tuesday. “We’re so tightly enmeshed. That’s why we need to cooperate closely and why we don’t want to have a confrontational stance with the UK.”

His comments come as tensions continue to flare over the Northern Ireland protocol to the 2019-EU-UK exit deal, with the UK’s Brexit minister calling for wholesale changes to the agreement.

Ireland is dependent on the UK for all of its gas supplies and a much smaller percentage of its electricity imports.

Ireland’s electricity grid, which distributes power around the country, is also fully connected to Northern Ireland’s.

The Government has joined eight other EU countries - including Germany, The Netherlands and Luxembourg - in opposing Spanish and French-led moves to overhaul the bloc’s energy market, including via joint gas purchasing and de-linking electricity and gas prices.

“As the price spikes have global drivers, we should be very careful before interfering in the design of internal energy markets,” the nine countries wrote in a paper ahead of an emergency EU energy ministers’ meeting on Tuesday.

Mr Smyth said Ireland was in favour of joint gas procurement, as long as it was not mandatory, but said better energy connections with continental Europe and increased renewable generation would solve the energy crisis in the long term.

In the short-term, he said the Government was in favour of subsidies for the most vulnerable rather than “cutting taxes across all energy sources at the same time which then gets spread out across everybody”.

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France and Spain put their ideas to EU leaders during a summit last week, while countries including Poland, Hungary and Czechia blamed the EU’s carbon trading system and future climate targets for driving up energy prices.

The European Commission has said it will gather more evidence before making any moves to change its energy rules.

Commission energy chief Kadri Simson said on Tuesday that it was “not fully clear” how the French and Spanish ideas would work.

“This is also behind the arguments of those member states who are strongly supporting the current electricity market design, because changing the current model poses risks to market predictability, competitiveness and our clean energy transition,” she said.

She said the current market, which matches supply and demand, “has avoided the situation where we really do have risk for blackouts”.

Mr Smyth said any future moves by the Commission should “take into account that some countries are dependent on third countries for their gas supplies”.

Wholesale prices for gas and electricity have risen exponentially due to post-Covid demand surged and bad weather, which has depleted gas reserves and hampered renewable electricity generation.

All of Ireland’s 14 energy companies have raised their prices this year, with comparison site bonkers.ie estimating a €700-800 add-on to customer’s yearly bills.

Earlier this month the EU published a ‘toolbox’ of measures that governments can use to beat the energy crisis, including reduced Vat and energy taxes, fuel vouchers, deferred utility bills and bans on grid disconnections.

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