Northern Ireland news

Diane Dodds' department thanks The Irish News for highlighting energy report error

Diane Dodds' department thanked The Irish News. Photo by Aaron McCracken

DIANE Dodds' department has thanked The Irish News after the newspaper highlighted misinformation published by her officials.

The Department for Economy (DfE) has since corrected the error, which seemingly went unnoticed for nine months.

It relates to series a report on the energy sector which was critical of Mrs Dodds' department and governance of the north's energy sector.

The report by University of Exeter academics Dr Richard Lowes and Prof Catherine Mitchell shone a critical light on the disparate delivery of current energy-related policy across no fewer than five Stormont departments. The Irish News reported in March how some of the most scathing lines from the report had been altered or removed following discussions between DfE officials and the authors.

A line that implied weak leadership and said “party political issues affected governance” did not appear in the final version.

In response to a series of queries, the department has consistently insisted that while it funded the report, it did not commission it.

Emails secured under Freedom of Information, show DfE had originally planned to publish the critical report but decided against it, again insisting that it had not commissioned the research.

However, an e-bulletin penned by DfE officials and posted on the department's website in June last year said: "External academic research has already been commissioned to broaden the evidence base", before citing the aforementioned piece of research.

When the contradiction was brought to DfE's attention, officials were grateful the error had been highlighted and quickly corrected it.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Thank you for highlighting this. A clarification has now been made to the e-bulletin on the website.”

Stormont economy committee deputy chair Sinead McLaughlin said given DfE and its predecessor Deti's role in Renewable Heat Incentive and the Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation scheme it was little surprise that the University of Exeter criticised the department and energy policy governance.

"What is surprising is that the department did not have the commitment to transparency to publish the report and also that its discussions with the report's authors led, it seems, to criticisms being toned down," she said.

"It is almost funny that the department was unsure whether it commissioned the report, or merely paid for it – either way, it should have published it, along with other external reports that it has paid for that examined energy policy."

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