Energy Market

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly am 3:00 pm ar 11 Mehefin 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of David Honeyford David Honeyford Alliance 3:00, 11 Mehefin 2024

I beg to move

That this Assembly recognises the cost-of-living crisis is exacerbated by the cost of energy; further recognises that this constitutes the direct cost of a reliance on fossil fuels in an increasingly unstable world; endorses the concept of energy transition proofing for all public policy and legislation, including development rights for green infrastructure; acknowledges the value of constructing and retrofitting houses and offices, prioritising renewable energy sources; and calls on the Minister for the Economy urgently to introduce the necessary legislation emerging from the current energy strategy, including to alter the terms of the Utility Regulator to incorporate oil within its role and to carry out its functions with due regard to the need to meet net zero targets.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech. As an amendment has been selected and is published on the Marshalled List, the Business Committee has agreed that 15 minutes will be added to the total time for the debate. David, please open the debate on the motion.

Photo of David Honeyford David Honeyford Alliance

In proposing the motion, I tell you what: I accept the SDLP amendment. You would almost think that it had been copied and pasted from Hansard. I have already said every word that is in the amendment in the Chamber, so I am happy to support it, and I am even more delighted that the SDLP listened to what I said. I welcome the Minister back to office, which I have not had a chance to do yet. I wish him well into the future.

Alliance is delighted to bring forward this motion, which reaches to the heart of providing solutions to help to reduce energy spend from household budgets and seeks to prevent a situation in which the recent massive increase in energy costs could ever happen again. Energy is central to all our lives: it is the cost of heating our homes, of boiling the kettle and of putting fuel in our cars. We live in an exciting time of opportunity, transition and change. At this time, we must position ourselves to take full advantage of that and deliver the benefits directly to every household.

Addressing this issue continues to require an all-island approach. We live on an island in the Atlantic Ocean. We have all the natural resources at our disposal, so we must tackle the climate emergency and protect our environment, not only for ourselves but for future generations. We must create the circumstances to enable us to quickly move away from reliance on fossil fuels. Unfortunately, the pace of transition is stalling. Alliance tabled the motion in order to bring attention to that and to provide solutions to help to bring us back on track and deliver secure, cleaner, fairer, safer and cheaper energy for every household. Alliance believes in that, and we will continue to strive to become an ambitious world leader in energy efficiency and clean, net zero technologies, creating new highly skilled jobs locally.

With technology advancing quickly, we must seek to develop our capacity to the point that we can export surplus electricity as well as investing in the progressive technologies of biogas and hydrogen. Waiting or stalling are simply not options. Any delay to developing and constructing our major infrastructure builds on a financial problem that will end up costing every one of us in the long term. The Alliance Party will not stand back while the public sleepwalk into further and higher costs. As energy comes under my role as economy spokesperson, I raised this matter early in the term and am committed to working to try to eliminate and eradicate fuel poverty. Alliance believes that that is the energy target that we must work towards delivering.

Insulating our homes and upgrading them to be airtight would reduce the amount of warm air that leaks out and drafts of colder air that come in. Fitting smart meters is another measure that we can easily introduce into all our homes. Those are measures that we can and should help with, and they will drastically reduce the amount of energy that is needed to heat homes in the first place and protect the most vulnerable. A new fuel poverty strategy would ensure targeted delivery for those who are most in need, making sure that they are supported first. Alliance proposes that we start with those homes. Homeowners in our constituencies also need our support to transform their home heating from oil to a more sustainable energy method, be that biogas, heat pumps or solar panels.

The initial capital outlay to upgrade a property is a major barrier that the Assembly can help with through a mixture of grants and interest-free loans to allow delivery. A cost-neutral facility such as interest-free loans would enable people to spread the cost over several years and thus to see the savings as they use less energy. By helping families to better insulate their homes and providing grants to help to upgrade our social housing stock much faster, we would drive down the cost to our constituents by reducing the volume of energy used to heat homes in the first place, while we also work to address energy transformation away from fossil fuels.

This is an issue for all Departments. I stress that every Department must be accountable for meeting net zero targets and facilitating the transition to renewable energy. Offshore wind, onshore wind, solar, biogas and hydrogen are all areas in which we must invest now, in order to create the conditions for those technologies and industries to flourish and create new, green jobs. I stress this point in the Chamber, again: our green industry continues to be held back by an outdated and under-resourced planning process. Reforming our current planning process must be an absolute priority if we are to deliver.

I have said before in the Chamber that every business should make a profit, but the other side of profit is taxation: we should redistribute wealth to support low and low-to-middle earners. Alliance wants to build a region where everyone thrives — a united community in which no one is left behind. We cannot sit back when ordinary people on ordinary incomes are hurting while oil and gas companies continue to make hugely exaggerated profits that go to a few. There must be a rebalancing. Taxation is a Westminster issue, but I stress again that, for Alliance, taxation must be progressive and must redistribute wealth fairly to protect our most vulnerable.

With 70% of households currently reliant on home heating oil, we must help local families and households to deal with the price of oil. Alliance therefore calls for the regulator to be given control over costs, placing home heating oil within the remit of the Utility Regulator to bring the market in line with gas and electricity to ensure price transparency for our consumers. Alliance also calls for a change to the Utility Regulator's functions to include meeting net zero targets. That will help to protect consumers through energy transition and drive down the cost of energy into the future. From speaking to energy specialists, we must start the process of building our main electricity infrastructure now to allow for the expansion and connection of solar and wind energy across Northern Ireland. The days of our network being based on three power stations are over; the planning and building of our new electricity infrastructure must happen now. The regulator has a key role to play, and the net zero targets must be added to its functions if we are serious. We must develop the network over the next decade rather than leaving a huge void and building up a huge cost in the future. The problem is in front of our eyes. The Assembly should act now to prevent playing catch-up in the future.

Be in no doubt: Alliance will always stand up for ordinary people and, equally, for the planet and our local environment. Alliance calls for action against climate change and is tabling the motion to set out and reinforce a delivery path to net zero in order to deliver a green new deal, support green new industries and create highly skilled new jobs. Importantly, and central to those objectives, Alliance will also stand up for our constituents from every background and every social group. Alliance will always stand up for equality and justice for the better.

Photo of Sinéad McLaughlin Sinéad McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party

I beg to move the following amendment:

At end insert: ‘; and further calls on the Minister to work with the Minister for Communities to agree a large-scale social housing retrofit programme to reduce domestic fossil fuel consumption and increase energy efficiency, starting with communities in highest disadvantage, and to make a statement to the Assembly on the progress of this programme within six months.’

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Sinéad, you will have 10 minutes in which to propose the amendment and five minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who are called to speak will have five minutes. Sinéad, please open the debate on the amendment.

Photo of Sinéad McLaughlin Sinéad McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party

Thank you, Madam Principal Deputy Speaker. I welcome the motion and thank those who tabled it. It provides an important opportunity in the Assembly to discuss one of the most pressing aspects of the Minister's economic strategy, namely our energy policy. There can be no doubt that we must take advantage of the huge opportunities in our energy market across this island. It is a crucial part of our economic potential and a vital piece of the jigsaw in combating the climate emergency. In particular, I welcome the motion's focus on the regulation of oil. The motion is right to call attention to the interdependent relationship of the cost-of-living crisis and the cost of energy. More than two thirds of people here use home heating oil. I wholeheartedly agree that the transition to net zero means that, in future, hopefully, oil will be phased out altogether. The reality, however, is that many thousands of people in Northern Ireland still use it, and it must be regulated.

Regardless of the benefits of any fossil fuel regulation or, indeed, the transition to renewables, if homes are not made to be energy-efficient, we will never make the progress that we need to make in bringing down costs to consumers. As has been said many times, the cheapest form of energy is the one that you do not use at all. Simply put, if heat is leaving through the windows and doors of our houses because of energy inefficiency, we can never expect success from the energy strategy. I have visited constituents who are simply pumping money into an inefficient property through no fault of their own. Our amendment is therefore intended to place the retrofitting agenda at the front and centre of our discussions on the energy market, where it belongs. We have championed that cause repeatedly at councils, in the Assembly and at Westminster, where my colleague Claire Hanna MP has worked as part of the all-party group on the green new deal to bring forward proposals and support legislation to create a universal basic energy allowance and a retrofitting strategy.

That cause, however, has been significantly undermined by the Conservative Government's actions at Westminster. The Tories cut energy efficiency programmes way back in 2013, and, 10 years later, those programmes stood at a figure that was 10 times lower than that of 2010. In its plans to form the Government, the British Labour Party stated that it would give devolved Governments and local authorities powers and resources to upgrade cold and draughty homes in their areas. In Westminster, the SDLP's MPs intend to hold the next Government to account on that pledge. In addition to the work at Westminster, we can take some crucial steps in the Assembly, which include the Minister for the Economy working with the Minister for Communities to agree a large-scale social housing retrofit programme in order to reduce domestic fossil fuel consumption and increase energy efficiency, starting with communities that are in the areas of highest disadvantage.

We all know that retrofitting makes sense. It makes sense for the environment and for reaching our net zero targets, especially given that we need to deliver energy savings of 25% from buildings and industry and that 27% of our emissions come from domestic sources. SSE called for a framework to be put in place to foster the development of a deep retrofit market in Northern Ireland, including a public body with responsibility for running retrofit schemes. SSE also stated that achieving the higher energy efficiency band across building stock would amount to energy savings of up to £700 per household and reduce each household's carbon output by 3·7 tons. It also makes sense for our economy, since the ambition to retrofit our homes will drive innovation and a new generation of green jobs with increased demand for technical skills that can align with such a programme. Those skills will primarily be found in our further education colleges, representing a significant opportunity for that sector. We also cannot overestimate the health benefits of such a retrofit programme. Our cold draughty homes drive illness and chronic pain across all our communities. I have come across more people than I care to who have bronchitis or are suffering from asthma because of the mould in their home. Our health service cannot cope with that, and it can least afford that demand on it at this time.

In May 2023, the Forum for a Better Housing Market published research that found that Northern Ireland lags behind other regions in decarbonisation. That was found to be partly because a lacklustre approach has been permitted to be fostered, thanks to a fragmented policy landscape with a lack of agreed targets and associated milestones. The progress on that has also been frustrated by the constant instability of government here. In 2020, a report was produced to inform the evidence base of the energy strategy. It found that we need to drive the retrofitting of more than 50,000 buildings per year in Northern Ireland, which was more than treble the rate at the time, and that a dramatic change in policy extent and funding levels is required.

I welcome hearing from the Minister that departmental officials are preparing a public consultation on the low-carbon heat support scheme in line with action 8 of the energy strategy action plan. It is also good to hear recently from the Minister about a consultation on evidence-based options for a domestic energy efficiency programme in line with action 7 of the same action plan. Many people were rightly concerned by the closure of the boiler replacement scheme last September due to budgetary constraints. I hope that it goes without saying that new schemes must be targeted at disadvantaged areas.

In response to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee's inquiry into renewable energy and net zero, Queen's University Belfast has said that concentrating home retrofitting in those areas with the lowest incomes initially can help to tackle fuel poverty, reduce emissions, produce positive health outcomes and offer new forms of social and economic regeneration.

If we are to reach our net zero targets, however, we need to take really bold steps, including some on a cross-departmental basis, particularly given the Department for Communities' lead on the residential building section of the climate action plan (CAP). We need to step up and lean into the retrofitting agenda without delay and end the lack of urgency that has characterised the issue.

The proposal is ambitious by its nature, but ambition is sorely needed. We have the least energy-efficient homes of any country in western Europe. I will say that again: we have the least energy-efficient homes of any country in western Europe. Houses here lose heat up to three times faster than those of our neighbours. Changing that in the North will require us to look at our regulations and the housing that we invest in. We all heard the worrying evidence last week that the Budget will allow for just 400 new homes to be built, half the number that the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations views as the worst-case scenario. We are building nowhere near the number of homes that we need, and the homes that we are building are not fit for purpose from an energy-efficiency standpoint. We support the call from the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations for a ring-fenced section of the Westminster social housing decarbonisation fund of £3·8 billion to help to deliver that transition. The federation has been clear that it is a fundamental requirement of the Executive to develop a plan to improve energy efficiency, including through funding areas that can demonstrate need.

I acknowledge that social housing can be only the start of our efforts. While 79% of social housing has an energy-efficiency rating between A and C, only 43% of private-rental dwellings share such a rating. We cannot limit our ambition to social housing. We need to consider how to retrofit our schools, hospitals and other public buildings. We can start with our social housing, and we can start now. By working together across the Chamber, we can deliver change, make progress on energy efficiency and bring costs down for our consumers — our constituents.

Photo of Phillip Brett Phillip Brett DUP 3:45, 11 Mehefin 2024

I pay tribute to my Committee colleagues for tabling the motion and to Ms McLaughlin for proposing her amendment. We will support both.

The Committee has considered a number of the issues to be discussed this afternoon, and we are likely to discuss more of them as the Committee's attention turns to energy matters including climate change and our just transition. In that regard, the Committee strongly and unanimously felt that the most vulnerable consumers should be at the centre of consideration by the Minister and the House, as part of that important transition work.

The motion refers specifically to the role of the Utility Regulator, which the Committee has discussed on numerous occasions. The Committee unanimously felt that, when compared with its equivalent organisation — Ofgem — our Utility Regulator appears to lack the essential vires to effectively support transition while ensuring consumer protection and protecting security of supply. I know that the Minister will introduce legislation on that matter.

Members clearly indicated that it was entirely reasonable for the Utility Regulator's legal powers to be enhanced in order to allow it to usefully regulate consumer redress and provide an alternative energy dispute resolution channel, as the Energy Ombudsman does in the rest of the United Kingdom. Legal powers could also be extended to include the regulation of local community benefits from renewable energy developments, hydrogen heat networks and, crucially, the home heating market.

As the Minister will be aware, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has suggested that specific consideration be given to so-called off-grid consumers and household users of home heating oil in order to address the lack of consumer protection that those people face. The CMA argued to the Committee that there is a strong case that such consumers would benefit from similar regulatory protections to those covering on-grid households and that the Department could therefore bring some of those provisions within the scope of regulations in Northern Ireland. I submitted a question for written answer to Minister Hargey, when she was in post, on whether the Department had any plans to regulate that sector. The then Minister said that the Department was not exploring that option, but perhaps Minister Murphy could clarify whether the Department intends to look at that matter.

In respect of heat networks, the CMA contends that Northern Ireland consumers should be given protection comparable to that of consumers of gas and electricity. The organisation has called for the sector regulator to be given formal powers to introduce regulation and to monitor and enforce compliance. It is therefore hoped that, when the Department launches its anticipated consultation on heat networks, it will include consideration of those matters.

Finally, the Committee was briefed on the Utility Regulator (support for decarbonisation preparation) Bill, and members noted with some surprise that the Bill dealt only with interactions between the Economy Department and the Utility Regulator. The Committee was further surprised to learn that the Economy Department had no plans at that time to include provisions dealing with other Departments. The officials assured us that it was up to those Departments. I am sure that the Minister can give us an assurance that his Department will work with Executive colleagues to ensure that the Utility Regulator has the support that it needs from all Departments. The Utility Regulator is clearly critical to the delivery of a regulated and fair energy transition, and extra legal powers are certainly needed. The Committee is ready to scrutinise and support the Minister constructively as he brings forward his legislation.

Speaking as an MLA for North Belfast, I am keen to hear more from the Minister about his ongoing work on green jobs. The Minister has, on a number of occasions, given a commitment to the House that the focus of the enhanced investment zone in Northern Ireland will be on that very factor. The Minister is working hard with his critical friends to progress those matters. I am keen to get an update on the issue, if the Minister has time.

I will follow up on some of the remarks made by Ms McLaughlin. The retrofitting of homes across my constituency of North Belfast is a major issue. Those of us who are privileged to represent North Belfast will know of the fuel poverty inflicted on our constituents. The retrofitting schemes that have taken place have made a huge difference to the most vulnerable and those on the lowest incomes. For me, the private rental sector still has a long way to go. We have families who are forced to pay huge rents but do not want to raise the issue of energy efficiency in case they are evicted by the landlord.

I support the motion and the amendment.

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin

Following on from the Chair of the Committee, I think that it is important to say that the members of the Economy Committee have had a good working relationship, as is reflected in the numerous motions that we have debated in the Chamber that were within the Economy Minister's remit and focus. There has been broad consensus, and I do not expect that to differ today. I thank the Alliance Members for tabling the motion, which is on an important subject that is worthy of discussion.

Undoubtedly, the significant increase in the cost of energy has had an adverse impact on many households and businesses and deepened the cost-of-living crisis. While there have been global factors at play, our over-reliance on fossil fuels has made the North particularly vulnerable to price rises and put us at the mercy of major corporations. Those corporations, while claiming that market volatility meant that they had to cover their increasing costs, have managed, year-on-year, to make record profits while families struggled to heat their homes, fill their cars and keep the lights on.

Short-term interventions, such as the energy support payments, which were necessary, are not sustainable in the long term. As we look to address growing fuel poverty, with the ultimate ambition of its eradication and meeting the targets in the Climate Change Act and the path to net zero energy strategy, it is clear that we need to progress at pace towards clean, renewable and affordable sources of energy. That will not only assist us to protect and improve our environment but provide us with reliable and sustainable energy. It will also allow us to strive for energy independence, which is particularly important, taking power out of the hands of the profiteering corporations and putting it into the hands of ordinary people, potentially through initiatives such as community energy projects, co-ops and microgeneration. Additionally, a wealth of opportunities can be found, as others have said, in the green energy sector, and, with proper investment, some of the recognised challenges can be addressed, such as planning, storage and capacity. On this island, we have the potential to become leaders in the field. We are known for our innovative engineering and manufacturing capabilities, and we need to harness and maximise the benefits for the environment, our citizens and the economy.

The transition to renewable power must be a just one, however. Workers in energy-intensive industries must be protected through initiatives such as upskilling and retraining. Lower-income families must not be penalised. The public should be encouraged and, through grants and other schemes, supported when it comes to adopting such schemes. Ultimately, the cost of moving towards renewable energy sources should fall not on the shoulders of ordinary people but on the industries and companies that use the majority of energy here.

The motion's ambitions to achieve net zero and energy security go beyond the remit of the Economy Minister. Others have clearly indicated that, and I know from discussions in Committee that we need to look at the planning process and at how it can be adapted to assist with those ambitions. The motion also references the Utility Regulator, which certainly has a key role to play in ensuring that the transition to net zero is a just one. If we can increase the scoping powers to allow it to do that, we should do so.

The amendment calls for:

"a large-scale social housing retrofit programme to reduce domestic fossil fuel consumption and increase energy efficiency", which would clearly be beneficial, although the short timeline, such as the six-month deadline included in the amendment, could mean rushed, high-level proposals rather than costed, achievable solutions. On the whole, however, we are content to support the overall principles of the motion and the amendment.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

The Ulster Unionist Party will support the motion and the amendment.

The climate emergency is an accelerating problem, and it is not just to do with the environment, as we have seen recently with high temperatures and high seawater temperatures and the impact that both are having on our climate as we speak. It is also about what is happening internationally: what is going on in Russia and its attacks on the Ukraine; and what is happening in the Middle East as a result of destabilisation and attacks by Iran. It is about the implications that those situations are likely to have on the supply of energy, not just across the world but in Northern Ireland. As has been said on several occasions, Northern Ireland is particularly susceptible to problems with fuel oil and its uses, particularly for heating.

One of the major things that we need to look at as we move towards a just transition and rapidly towards net zero carbon — something that we have to do — is to make sure that we deal with the potential problems of fuel poverty. Some think about how they will manage themselves out of this problem. They talk about solutions that include heat pumps, photovoltaic (PV) panels and extra insulation. Some will find those easier to do than others, but a lot of the housing stock across Northern Ireland needs to be retrofitted, There needs to be support in order to do that, because, if there is not, we will never achieve it. The return on such investment may, in some cases, take 10, 20 or 30 years to materialise, and we need to make sure that our most vulnerable are not left out.

We have to be aware of other significant issues, such as what is going on in the energy market in Northern Ireland. We have talked about the Utility Regulator, which has a vital role to play. As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, one of the biggest problems that we have is a near-monopoly that has been supported by EirGrid and the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), aka the System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI) and Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE). A lot of the things that they have been doing in the market have been, to be frank, uncompetitive, forcing many in the renewable energy sector to move out of Northern Ireland and not invest here. It is not just a planning issue but about grid connection and how that is managed.

On many occasions, we have heard stories about onshore wind. One of the big issues with offshore wind providers — this is the reason that we do not have offshore wind in Northern Ireland — is that the likes of SONI and NIE would not let them connect to the grid when that was first proposed nearly a decade ago. Here we are, a decade on, in a situation in which we are not able to benefit from offshore wind. There has to be substantial change, and the Utility Regulator has an important job to do.

As has been said, however, it is not just an all-island issue but an all-islands one.

Ofgem has an important role. It has managed to transform the GB market. Scotland and Wales come under Ofgem. There are many things that the industry is doing there right now that we should be doing here and, indeed, across all these islands. Our Utility Regulator and our regulations need to ensure that we are adaptive to what is happening in GB. It is vital, through interconnection, that we have that link to Ofgem. The links that we have with the rest of this island are also vital, but it is not going to work unless we build a North/South interconnector. That needs to be moved on at pace.

Minister, I have mentioned before that we need to consider reviewing the integrated single electricity market (ISEM). Is it fit for purpose? Will it be able to deliver for the people in Northern Ireland and get us to where we need to be when it comes to our goal of net zero carbon? The climate emergency is getting worse. We have gone beyond the time of sitting and talking about it. We need to engage and get moving now. We have had the warnings: it is warming up. We are not in a position to hold back any further. The changes that we need to make need to be made now. We cannot sit around and wait any longer.

As I said, we will support the motion and the amendment.

Photo of Nicola Brogan Nicola Brogan Sinn Féin 4:00, 11 Mehefin 2024

As Sinn Féin spokesperson for climate and the environment, I am happy to speak here today in support of the motion. Whilst the move to net zero will, no doubt, bring challenges, we should be aware of the very many opportunities that it will also bring. The shift to renewables brings enormous potential in energy security, stability and independence. The development of the green economy here is an exciting environmental and economic prospect. In addition to creating good jobs and generating income and investment, it will play a huge role in helping us to meet our climate targets.

There are further advantages to moving to renewables. Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels will massively improve our air quality. That is an issue that currently leads to around 1,700 deaths across Ireland every year. Cleaner air and water will help us to restore our ecosystem and halt the biodiversity crisis that we are experiencing. That crisis is linked to climate change, drops in food production and increases in infectious diseases, pests and pathogens. Transitioning away from fossil fuels and towards renewables will give us a fighting chance of keeping global warming below the 1·5°C threshold. That threshold represents the tipping point at which certain aspects of climate change become irreversible and we condemn not only our children and grandchildren but their children and grandchildren to dealing with those. It is crucial for not only us but those future generations that we embrace the transition to net zero. However, it must be a just transition. Livelihoods must be protected, rural communities must not be vilified, lower-income families must not be left behind, and the bulk of the burden for the change must not fall on the backs of ordinary workers and families. Protections, supports, incentives and grants must be put in place to ensure that people not only are capable of making the changes necessary to reach net zero but can benefit from the environmental and economic advantages that it provides.

The task that we face is enormous, but we should not lose sight of the incredible gains and opportunities that are available to us if we can rise to it. I am happy to support the motion here today.

Photo of Sorcha Eastwood Sorcha Eastwood Alliance

I echo what my colleague David Honeyford said so well and what many Members right across the House have said during the course of the debate: we find ourselves at a moment in time when the goal of net zero is, unfortunately, being undermined by some. However, I am proud to have put my name to this motion, especially now.

I understand that terms such as "green energy", "net zero" and "just transition" can, at times, be wide-ranging, and that people find it difficult to feel that they resonate with them. Therefore, it is essential that, as we push for the transition to renewable sources of energy, including the retrofitting of our housing, we discuss more openly why we are doing it. What we are really talking about is lower energy bills, ending fuel poverty, and making homes warmer and more comfortable for people. So many Members have mentioned their constituents who are struggling in homes that are inadequate at the moment. I am thinking of the people who are going in to the likes of B&M and constantly buying wee dehumidifiers and wee things to sit on their windowsill because they have water or condensation running through the inside of their homes, and it is making their clothes smell and their children ill. However, we have an opportunity before us today. We are talking about job opportunities, cleaner air and, of course, climate change. However, we cannot allow people, businesses and organisations to, again, be exposed to the price increases that we have suffered because of conflict or crises. Indeed, Mr Aiken referred to the many and varied geopolitical crises that are having an impact on prices.

I fully accept that achieving a transition to renewable energy and reaching net zero will take a huge amount of investment, but we simply cannot afford not to do it. In the midst of the incredibly difficult financial position that we find ourselves in, and with all the challenges that we face, from healthcare to education, what the public want most from us is to know that things will get better. A key element of that is doubling down on our ambitions to transform our energy sources. That can offer new and secure jobs, opportunities to gain new skills, warmer homes, lower bills and cleaner air.

Achieving those ambitious goals means front-loading as much work as possible. We need to give ourselves the best chance of reaching net zero by 2050, and the next five to 10 years will be crucial in achieving that. The Climate Change Committee has outlined just how difficult that is going to be. For example, by 2030, for homes that are off the gas grid, all new heating appliance installations should be zero carbon. For homes that are on the gas grid, it is 2033. As we know, that will have huge implications for our electricity networks, and we have spoken about the importance of planning in that area. Industry will also need to reduce fossil fuel use by 45% by 2030, which will require huge efforts to switch to low-carbon energy.

Underpinning the actions that we need to take are policy decisions. Our motion touches on a number of the key ones, which my colleagues will focus on, such as planning reform, which others have mentioned; cross-departmental working; and the role of the Utility Regulator, which has been mentioned by most people. I will focus on something that is not explicitly mentioned in the motion but is fundamental to all that we are discussing — people and skills. My colleagues on the Economy Committee know that I sound like a broken record on that issue, but improving our skills policy is key because we can have all the plans that we want, but unless we make sure that there are people to do the jobs, they will not happen.

Now is the time for a complete step change and an urgency that is currently lacking. Whilst I acknowledge that the Minister has outlined some plans, much greater clarity on actions and timelines is needed, as that is how we can all measure success and hold the responsible Departments to account. For example, we need to understand what reforms to our education sector will take place in light of the 14-19 strategy, the independent review of education and the research into our FE delivery, which, as Ms McLaughlin mentioned, plays a crucial role. I am glad to see that the green energy skills industry reference group is in place and am delighted that it will deliver an action plan, but that should be brought forward and fully costed. We need much greater ambition in the promotion of apprenticeships, something that I am very passionate about, and the number of people choosing that training route. Indeed, I was delighted to recently visit Northern Ireland Electricity Networks' training facility in Lurgan and get an overview of its training. The people training were of all different ages and backgrounds and were clearly incredibly capable and fully aware that the careers that they were undertaking would be of huge importance to our community.

The motion is about placing the focus of the Assembly back on one of the absolutely essential policy and legislative areas for the mandate. If we are to achieve our targets, now is the time to start. I encourage everybody to fully get behind this.

Photo of Andrew McMurray Andrew McMurray Alliance

Green energy production is a key Alliance policy, and it is one that I am driven to speak on in the Chamber and will seek to progress during my time in the Assembly. Energy is central to all our lives — that is a given — but, as obvious as it seems, we cannot rely on a finite resource to supply our energy needs into the future. We need sustainable forms of energy, not just for ourselves but for our children, our environment and our planet. To do that, we must remove ourselves from the old fossil-fuel based ways of energy production.

Northern Ireland can and should be an ambitious world leader in energy efficient, clean and net zero technologies. Indeed, as one economist put it, what Saudi Arabia is to oil production, Ireland has the potential to be to offshore wind energy production. We are an island nation, and we have many industries that are built upon engineering and getting to sea. We are also adept at developing and maintaining industries that are based at sea. We need to see a focus from the Assembly to assist us in that regard. By working alongside established industries and further and higher education institutions, there will not just be a reduction of emissions, which will be of benefit, but an upskilling of our workforce and development of our economy. I thank my colleague for highlighting that.

Unfortunately, we also have to deal with the legacy of a failed renewable energy scheme that has seen, albeit understandably, institutional reticence to support new schemes focused on renewable energies. While I accept that there is an element of renewables being developed because it is the right thing to do, the brass tacks of it are that financial incentives are needed in order to expedite the development of renewable energies. Quite simply, the costs are prohibitive to many who want to make that change.

I appreciate that the Minister for the Economy is in the Chamber. Ultimately, there has to be empowerment at the front of this. I appreciate the statement that the Minister has put on record and the work that officials in his Department have already put in. However, it requires action and direction, which a strategy will provide. As with so many issues, though, that requires cross-departmental thinking and actions if we are to see demonstrable solutions and changes in the sector.

All Departments should be accountable for meeting net zero targets and facilitating the transition to renewable energy. That requires focus and direction. As such, it should be a central function within the Executive to ensure that each Department is meeting required targets. That will require a governance framework to be put in place. It is not just Departments that need to work together. The planners, energy producers and network operators need to be working together on this. These are large issues that affect the whole of Northern Ireland and will require a desire and strategic approach from the Assembly.

Points have been made, all of which I concur with, but I just want to put into practical terms how this affects my constituency of South Down. South Down does not have the infrastructure to take on renewable energy sources. Indeed, as one engineer put it to me, if the go button were to be pushed on developing renewable energy in South Down, it would be four to five years between the process starting and getting renewable sources of energy production up and running. Likewise, there are projects and solutions in my constituency that cannot get operational as there is not the infrastructure. That needs to be addressed in any forthcoming strategy. As such, it must be reiterated that cross-departmental working must be to the fore in order to achieve a transition to cleaner energy. There are solutions — solar farms, wind turbines, potential for off-shore development and battery storage solutions — but all those need the grid infrastructure to support them, and, at the moment, that is lacking.

I am happy to support the motion and look forward to working to see it progressed.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Thank you, Andrew. It is time for the Minister for the Economy, Conor Murphy, to respond. Minister, you have 15 minutes.

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

[Translation: Thank you, Madam Principal Deputy Speaker.]

I thank the Members for bringing the motion to the Floor. It is an important issue, and I very much welcome the opportunity to speak on it. I am moving quickly to deliver on the economic plans that I set up when I took office. The plans have our energy ambitions at their core, obligations that are moral as well as legislative.

The cost-of-living crisis is exacerbated by the cost of energy, and that reflects the direct cost of reliance on fossil fuels. That cannot be allowed to continue; hence my focus on reducing our carbon emissions, as a key objective of my economic plans, and a move to sustainable renewable energy sources. The Consumer Council recently confirmed that the biggest issue facing 31% of all households was the cost of their energy bill. The research estimated that 51% of households here were in fuel poverty. A move to local, clean energy supplies will help us to break a chain that tethers us to global factors. I am keen that we become self-sufficient in our energy market, using the natural resources that we have in abundance on this island to generate affordable renewable power for local people and businesses.

I support the concept of energy transition proofing for all public policy and legislation. I support the inclusion of the development rights for green infrastructure, which rests with the Department for Infrastructure. Minister O'Dowd's Department and mine are already working closely. Yesterday, we met our respective officials to discuss a number of issues, including how planning and development can support the delivery of green infrastructure. I would expect all Departments to prioritise environmental issues, and the Executive are behind that approach.

The delivery of net zero, affordable energy is a key action for all Ministers as outlined in the energy strategy and the subsequent Climate Change Act. My Department is playing its part in making that ambition a reality and seizing the economic opportunities that transition into net zero will provide. Since taking office, I have introduced a moratorium on onshore petroleum licensing, which will be followed by a legislative ban. I have launched a five-year capital energy efficiency and renewable energy support grant for local businesses.

I have committed a further £25 million to energy invest-to-save projects across the central government estate. I have published a call for evidence on biomethane, with another publication that is focused on biofuels to come shortly as we assess the potential alternatives to fossil fuels for heating. Invest NI is developing a net zero accelerator fund to provide government support for the development and delivery of innovative renewable technologies. My Department is also planning two major consultations on the support that people should get to help them through transition: one is on the future of low-carbon heat support; and the other is on the future of energy efficiency support.

The move to decarbonise our economy and to net zero more broadly is a transition that we all need to embrace, and it will present opportunities to further my wider economic plans. The scale of the technological revolution that is required to deliver net zero is immense, and if we harness the ingenuity and renowned technological capacity of our workforce in response, we can become a world-leading exporter of skills, expertise and net zero solutions. If we successfully build a green economy, we can go beyond self-sufficiency and become a net exporter of affordable renewable energy. In doing so, we will create good jobs and support a better standard of living. We will also raise our productivity, which currently lags behind that of the rest of these islands.

Plenty of companies across the island are seizing opportunities for innovation and carving out a piece of the market for themselves. Whether it is Wrightbus in Ballymena, Ionic Technologies in Belfast, Octopus Energy and Plaswire in mid-Ulster, Glen Dimplex in Newry, or Mannok's pioneering green hydrogen valley in Fermanagh, our businesses are already rising to the challenge and meeting it head-on.

The motion acknowledges:

"the value of constructing and retrofitting houses", and the amendment references the need for a

"large-scale social housing retrofit programme".

While I agree that it is important to acknowledge that responsibility for social housing lies with the Department for Communities, my Department co-chairs a residential decarbonisation coordination group along with the Department for Communities, and that group has set out a high-level pathway for policy that is related to decarbonising homes, in line with each Department's area of responsibility. The Housing Executive has a responsibility, as the home energy conservation authority, to promote high standards of new housebuilding and to provide social housing whilst targeting social need.

My Department continues to work with colleagues in the Department of Finance on the reform of building regulations to produce a series of net zero-ready building standards, and I will ensure that that cross-departmental working continues to deliver on our collective responsibility. I will also ensure that lead Departments are afforded the opportunity to progress and report on important issues that are relevant to their own business areas, such as retrofitting, which is referenced in the amendment. Of course, the Departments themselves have to lead on that. Part of the amendment suggests that I lead on reporting, which is not possible, but I will certainly play my part in supporting that. Sinéad McLaughlin made a point about retrofitting. As part of a policy development process, officials have established stakeholder groups to support understanding the constraints that industry faces, particularly in heat and energy efficiency.

The motion calls on me:

"urgently to introduce ... legislation ... including to alter the terms of the Utility Regulator to incorporate oil within its role".

The proposer of the motion spoke to that, and I will make a few points about it. It is vital that any regulation that we bring forward benefits consumers, protects the vulnerable and is not rushed. We must avoid potential negative impacts on market conditions and available prices. It is worth noting that price controls will do little to tackle the underlying causes of oil price fluctuations. That is because the price regulator would have to allow the pass-through of legitimate input costs, most notably crude oil prices. In addition, the costs of regulation, including administrative and other indirect costs, could add further upward pressure on consumers' bills, and we want to avoid that at all costs.

The Department will continue to work with the Utility Regulator to understand what legislation is required in order to deliver our future net zero requirements. An important first step is a Bill enabling the Utility Regulator to support my Department in the development of low-carbon energy policies, and the Executive have recognised the importance of that legislation and have agreed that it should issue for consultation. My Department also has plans to bring forward detailed legislation on a number of other areas during the mandate. We will succeed only by continuing to show leadership and collaborating strategically on the opportunities and investments that are needed to achieve our goals. By co-designing our policies along with those who are involved in a significant transition across multiple sectors, we will make sure that businesses and consumers are at the heart of this important change.

Contributors to the debate made a number of important points. The Committee Chair raised the issue of the regulator, which I have addressed. We have worked collaboratively with him over the 18-month period to develop a legislative solution that will support the Department in its obligations under the Climate Change Act and the Executive's energy strategy. That will provide a power whereby the regulator may provide information, advice and assistance to the Department to support the development of essential low-carbon energy policies and a qualified duty that it must, so far as reasonably practical, comply with any reasonable request that is made. The Executive have agreed that a public consultation will take place on the Bill. The Department for Infrastructure and the Department for Communities have expressed an interest in the Bill's being widened to support the decarbonisation of areas that are under their remit. That engagement will take place between officials in the coming week.

Steve Aiken mentioned the issues of the single electricity market and interconnection. The SEM is connected to Britain via two interconnectors: the Moyle interconnector between the North and Scotland, and the east-west interconnector between the South and Wales. However, as a result of EU exit, Britain is no longer part of the internal energy market, which has impacted trading across those interconnectors. The loss of efficient trading is a suboptimal position for the SEM and can contribute to higher prices. Transmission system operators (TSOs) and interconnector owners in the EU and Britain have been working on the development of new trading procedures, as required by the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, to address the issue. However, it is anticipated that it could be around four years before they are implemented. Officials will continue to monitor the progress of that important work and provide assistance and support, as required, to the British Government, TSOs and interconnector owners.

Steve Aiken mentioned offshore wind. An update of the previous strategic environmental assessment is in progress. We intend to consult soon on potential areas for offshore development.

Another area that was mentioned by a number of Members, including Sorcha Eastwood, relates to skills. The Department has established an industry-led green skills delivery group. That group will look at skills across several areas in energy transition. The green skills action plan is due to be ready by September. We hope to be able to report on that. A number of other issues were mentioned with regard to skills, which I hope that I have addressed and will address by having that action plan ready by the end of the summer.

I agreed with a range of other contributions that were made. I will not repeat them, suffice to say that there are some points, certainly in relation to the Utility Regulator and oil, that we need to consider. I am not averse to doing that, but it needs to be considered in the round. There are more issues at play there than, perhaps, appear on the surface. On my leading on some of this, that will be a challenge because it covers other Ministers' responsibilities, but I am happy to support the spirit of what was intended through collaboration.

Collaboration across Departments will be key to all this. We have already started work with Infrastructure. Yesterday, I had a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. We had a discussion across the entire area with regard to green energy, environmental matters and net zero targets. Of course, we will work with Communities, Finance and other Departments as well. The best outcome that we can have, because it is an Executive-wide priority, is to ensure that Departments harmonise the work that we need to do in order to achieve this, and, as has been said many times during the debate, supporting people to be part of this in their transition will be key to ensuring that nobody is left behind. I am very happy to acquiesce to the motion and the amendment.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin 4:15, 11 Mehefin 2024

I call Mark Durkan to make a winding-up speech on the amendment. Mark, you have five minutes.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

[Translation: Thank you, Madam Principal Deputy Speaker.]

I must say that it is heartening to hear that parties are on the same page on energy transition, reducing costs for people who face financial hardships and recognition of the need to create a cleaner, greener energy market. As Mr McMurray said, in recent years, following the fallout from the RHI scheme, renewables in Northern Ireland have almost become the "He who must not be named" of the energy sector. Now, with broad recognition of the need to move away from our reliance on fossil fuels and harness the opportunities that are offered by our unique position on renewable energy, I am hopeful that we can deliver a more magical outcome.

As outlined by contributors this afternoon, households and businesses alike are shouldering the financial burden of high energy costs, limited competition, sub-par infrastructure and reliance on fossil fuels. That is unsustainable and requires urgent attention. We must deliver a viable, long-term renewable energy plan — one that provides security of supply, ensures affordable renewable energy for all consumers and supports the transition to net zero. The rapidly growing sector has the potential to create thousands of jobs here, guaranteeing the improved health of our economy and our environment. The financial and practical benefits of a shift towards clean energies are clear-cut: that is why Governments everywhere are investing in home-grown renewable industries.

As other Members said, we need a whole-system approach to decarbonisation. It is clear that planning is an integral cog in the machine of decarbonisation. There must be collaboration between Departments to ensure that all the intricate parts work smoothly to drive us towards a more sustainable energy market. It is frustrating to see inefficiencies plaguing the planning system, with unnecessary delays, applications stuck in bureaucratic limbo and an apparent lack of will to do things differently. Much of that is caused by a lack of resources, be it in planning or across statutory consultees.

One solution lies in adopting a provision in the planning system for prioritising climate-friendly projects. That approach, which is akin to systems that have been implemented in Norway and Scotland and whose progressive policies appear to be light years ahead, allows for the expedited processing of projects that are aligned to net zero goals. I am cognisant, however, that that necessary shift from fossil fuels will not happen overnight, nor can it happen without adequate regulation.

That is why one of the core issues that we must address in any energy policy is energy efficiency in homes. I concur, therefore, with my colleague Ms McLaughlin that the retrofitting agenda must be front and centre of our discussions. The leaking of heat and money, pouring from homes across the North, is one of the most important infrastructure priorities that we face. Addressing that concern would save hard-pressed families across the North hundreds of pounds every year on their energy bills, helping to end fuel poverty once and for all.

To date, schemes, including the Housing Executive's cavity wall insulation action plan, have borne little fruit. Only a fraction of properties have benefited from that initiative. Devastating cuts as a result of DFC's capital budget, which have been imposed on such upgrade and energy-efficiency schemes, including the affordable warmth programme, fill me with apprehension, not to mention the many tenants who are desperately awaiting energy-efficient measures.

Implementing a comprehensive housing retrofit programme in Northern Ireland is not merely a matter of improving energy efficiency; it is an investment in the health, comfort and financial well-being of the public. It would help to address the pressing need to upgrade ageing housing stock, reduce energy bills for households and be a step towards decarbonisation. By retrofitting homes with better insulation, efficient heating systems and renewable energy technologies, we can alleviate fuel poverty, improve indoor air quality and enhance overall living standards for generations to come. I am glad and grateful for the support that has been indicated for our amendment.

In conclusion, if we hope to achieve climate action targets for 2030 and 2050, a collaborative, cross-border and all-islands approach, and wider joined-up efforts with Europe, will be vital. We need a change in attitude from all politicians, energy suppliers, businesses and consumers. The building blocks for change are there: it is about knowing how to construct them effectively. Tús maith leath na hoibre.

[Translation: Well begun is half done.]

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Abair sin. Go hiontach.

[Translation: You can say that again. Great.]

I call Peter McReynolds. Peter, you have 10 minutes to make your winding-up speech.

Photo of Peter McReynolds Peter McReynolds Alliance

Thank you, Madam Principal Deputy Speaker. I thank the contributors to the debate for their input. It touched on not only the challenges posed by the cost-of-living crisis faced by households across Northern Ireland and the climate emergency but the potential solutions that could lie out there, including a greener and more sustainable economy.

I will take this opportunity — my first — to welcome the Economy Minister back to his post.

Members will no doubt have read the briefing document circulated by National Energy Action in advance of today's debate. It sets out the importance of today and the potential next steps from the Assembly, as well as the impact of energy prices on households here from a recent survey. We already heard that 41% of households spend at least 10% of their outgoings on energy costs, with 19% just coping with those costs, because they have not been able to afford the costs of energy. Grimmest of all, we heard that one in 10 households is skipping meals to ensure that they have enough money to heat their home. When I read that last statistic just last night, I was reminded of a film that I saw eight years ago, 'I, Daniel Blake', and of the young mother in the film who skips meals so that she can feed her children. Those particular statistics are not from a film, however. Rather, it is real life that many here face, so it is essential that we as an Assembly and an Executive take the necessary steps to deliver energy that is sustainable and affordable and that we ensure that no gaps exist for people to fall between. It also shows me, as a new Member, the importance of having an Assembly again so that, when there are problems in our society, the mechanisms are there to address them, Ministers are there to take the necessary steps and we have a strategy or framework in place to work towards collectively for the benefit of everyone here.

The motion and the amendment contain key asks and set a direction that, I hope, the Minister will take us in, specifically when it comes to addressing our reliance on fossil fuels, energy transition and development rights for green infrastructure. As a member of the Infrastructure Committee, however, I think that it is also important to highlight the gaps that exist in our planning system, as has been mentioned in the debate, in order to achieve an increase in the renewables sector, a reduction in our reliance on fossil fuels and a rapid expansion of the domestic energy market. That is because, from April 2023 until March this year, less than half of total electricity consumption in Northern Ireland was generated from renewable energy sources. We can and must do better. There is significant untapped potential in renewable energy generation, especially from wind, in Northern Ireland, with here being one of the best places in the world to harvest the benefits of wind-generated energy. We truly could be a market leader in that space. To do that, we need to take urgent measures to speed up the consenting of renewables and permitted development rights for green infrastructure and to give priority to projects that deliver renewable and low-carbon energy in the planning system.

As I have said before in the Chamber, 82% of renewable energy developers do not see Northern Ireland as an attractive place in which to invest, and, on average, it takes over three years for a wind farm application to be determined, with data from July 2023 showing that 125 applications for wind and solar farms are pending, the earliest of which was submitted in November 2012. That is important, because we will meet neither our "80 by 30" target nor the aims of the motion if we do not urgently address the gaps in our planning system. We need a planning system that has everyone singing from the same hymn sheet about what needs to be done to improve it and to deliver on the potential that we have in Northern Ireland. If we get that right, we can stimulate the green economy and deliver for all the people who live here, while also addressing fuel poverty.

I will now turn to this afternoon's debate. As I said, we welcome the amendment from Ms McLaughlin on the need to increase retrofitting of social housing, and I welcome the consensus around the Chamber on the topic. It is such motions and amendments that got me involved in politics, as I want to make a difference and ensure that we reach everyone across our society, regardless of their community or class. I acknowledge that there is an ambition in the Chamber today, and I always remember speaking at an event while I was Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast. An esteemed environmentalist, Sir Jonathon Porritt, talked to me about the need to be ambitious in everything that we do and to go from there to see where we end up. I try to apply that in all the approaches of my politics and to do my best for everyone.

I will not run through all the contributions from Members, as I think that we have all been pretty engaged throughout. Two things, however, jumped out at me that were highlighted by a number of Members. The first was the figure cited by David Honeyford and by Sinéad McLaughlin that 70% of houses here are reliant on home heating oil and that we have the least-energy-efficient homes in Europe. I have been aware of that via a handful of oil clubs in East Belfast, where I am an MLA, that seek to buy oil in bulk in order to drive down the cost. Similar to Ms Eastwood, I have stood in too many homes in East Belfast that have walls painted black by damp, homes that have children living in them who cough from the damp in the air or homes that have residents wearing extra layers just to get by each day. Today's debate can go some way to making sure that such situations never happen again.

Secondly, as a member of the Infrastructure Committee, it was welcome for me to hear the Chair of the Economy Committee, Phillip Brett, and Philip McGuigan talk about the good working relationship on that Committee on such matters. I am sure that the Infrastructure Committee will be keen to work jointly with that Committee when it comes to planning issues and the necessary reform of the system to support our net zero targets. It was good to hear the Minister for the Economy mention that he has been engaging with Minister O'Dowd on those issues in recent times.

I welcome the motion and the amendment. I welcome the goals and the ambition to secure a situation where fuel poverty is simply not allowed to happen again in Northern Ireland. It is crucial, however, that we work together to deliver a domestic renewable energy market for the benefit of our people and the planet.

Lastly, I welcome the fact that the Minister has accepted the need to work with the Utility Regulator — something that David Honeyford commented on — and note that his Department is exploring biomethane in particular, which is something that I was hearing about from Minister Muir today. He was energetic in his support for it, so my interest piqued when the Minister mentioned it.

I commend the motion and the amendment to the House.

Question, That the amendment be made, put and agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to. Resolved:

That this Assembly recognises the cost-of-living crisis is exacerbated by the cost of energy; further recognises that this constitutes the direct cost of a reliance on fossil fuels in an increasingly unstable world; endorses the concept of energy transition proofing for all public policy and legislation, including development rights for green infrastructure; acknowledges the value of constructing and retrofitting houses and offices, prioritising renewable energy sources; and calls on the Minister for the Economy urgently to introduce the necessary legislation emerging from the current energy strategy, including to alter the terms of the Utility Regulator to incorporate oil within its role and to carry out its functions with due regard to the need to meet net zero targets; and further calls on the Minister to work with the Minister for Communities to agree a large-scale social housing retrofit programme to reduce domestic fossil fuel consumption and increase energy efficiency, starting with communities in highest disadvantage, and to make a statement to the Assembly on the progress of this programme within six months.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin 4:30, 11 Mehefin 2024

Members, just take your ease for a few moments.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Dr Aiken] in the Chair)

Motion made: That the Assembly do now adjourn. — [Mr Deputy Speaker (Dr Aiken).]