The Irish and British governments today agreed a formal arrangement which paves the way for the flow of natural gas into Northern Ireland.
Communications and Natural Resources Minister Dermot Ahern and the British Ambassador Sir Stewart Eldon signed the agreement to transmit gas by a second pipeline between the UK and Ireland.
The agreement, while designed to allow the pumping of gas between the two countries on the second sub-sea interconnector, also puts in place the framework to allow the transmission of gas on a new pipeline between Belfast and Gormanstown, Co Meath.
The new pipeline, expected to be constructed in 2006, will link the gas networks north and south for the first time.
Mr Ahern, speaking at the signing ceremony in Co Meath, said: “This agreement allows for natural gas to be pumped across the border from the second interconnector.
“It puts flesh on the bones of a framework which both British and Irish governments have been working steadily on to bring about an all-Island energy market.
“Along with increasing north/south electricity links, the fact that we will be linking the two separate gas networks provides even greater security of supply and will ultimately provide for larger joint markets for consumers.”
The Irish Government has provided €12.7m toward the cost of building the gas network in Northern Ireland.
Mr Ahern said that while energy was not one of the cross-border issues outlined in the Good Friday Agreement there had been significant progress made in securing the aim of an all-island energy market.
The first gas interconnector between Ireland and Scotland was built in 1993.
Mr Ahern said that because of forecast demand the two governments pressed ahead in commissioning the second sub-sea pipeline which ensures security of supply until 2025.
The €308m pipeline runs almost parallel to the first gas interconnector and links Beattock in Scotland and Gormanstown, Co Meath.
The establishment of an all-island energy market was a key priority of former Stormont Enterprise Minister Sir Reg Empey when the powersharing administration was operating.
Sir Reg welcomed today’s development saying it would give greater security of supply to gas users in Northern Ireland.
With plans to develop a gas field in the south west of Ireland in the next few years, Sir Reg said this would open up the possibility of cheaper prices in Northern Ireland.
“Offshore fields are notoriously difficult but it is regarded as one with significant potential.
“It would link straight into this pipeline eventually, giving us multiple sources of supply, which can only be good,” he added.