Northern Ireland news

Authors of energy report may be quizzed by Stormont scrutiny committee

Remarks that were critical of Diane Dodds' department were removed from a report it funded. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

THE authors of a report on Stormont's energy policy may be quizzed by MLAs about the removal of remarks that cast Diane Dodds' Department for the Economy (DfE) in a negative light.

The deputy chair of the assembly's economy committee has asked that University of Exeter academics Dr Richard Lowes and Prof Catherine Mitchell be invited to address it about their report's contents.

SDLP MLA Sinead McLaughlin's call for the authors of the DfE-funded research to give evidence to the scrutiny committee comes after The Irish News revealed that a number of critical remarks that appeared in an earlier draft were missing from the final report.

A line highlighting perceptions around weak leadership and claims that “party political issues affected governance” did not appear in the final report published by the University of Exeter earlier this month.

A reference to the RHI Inquiry being established “over concerns around potential fraud and abuse of positions of authority” also disappeared.

While a number of negative remarks were omitted from the final draft, the report was nonetheless critical of current energy-related policy across no fewer than five Stormont departments.

It recommended the creation of a single department to oversee delivery of energy policy.

DfE, which is in the process of drafting its own energy strategy, has sought to distance itself from the research that it had initially planned to publish last September.

It described it as an "independent research think-piece" and said any changes to the text were "matters for the authors".

Ms McLaughlin told The Irish News that the report's findings chimed with many of her own conclusions about energy governance.

The Foyle MLA said there have been a series of controversies over energy policy, from the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme to issues over wind turbines and subsidy of the gas industry.

"It is essential to get energy policy under control - at present it isn't."

Green MLA Rachel Woods said it was "disappointing" that Mrs Dodds had as yet failed to address the recommendations contained in a report her department funded.

"It's a waste of time and money to produce this kind of research and then seemingly ignore its findings," she said.

"Indeed, the report came back with several important recommendations around making the just transition to a low carbon economy."

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