Ireland could face being cut off if the UK experiences a gas shortage this winter, a leading MEP has warned.
The UK’s energy regulator Ofgem has warned of a “significant risk” of natural gas shortages due to the war in Ukraine, and that has caused alarm in Ireland, which imports around 70% of its gas from Scotland via the Moffat Interconnector pipeline.
“We’re at the mercy of British companies in terms of supplying gas,” said Billy Kelleher, Fianna Fail MEP for Ireland South.
“I mean, clearly we have to have some form of agreement with the UK government and with UK gas suppliers that in the event of there being a shortage that we would still be supplied gas. And that clearly makes us very vulnerable.”
Ireland‘s sole source of natural gas, the Corrib gas field off the Co Mayo coast, supplies around 30% of the country’s needs, and is forecast to dwindle over the coming decade.
The Irish coalition government – especially the Green Party – opposes the importation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) over links to fracking, and Ireland has no LNG terminals or storage capability.
“We do need an awful lot of work to be carried out in terms of gas storage and our ability to import gas by other means,” Mr Kelleher told Sky News.
“Primarily LNG, so we are not dependent on gas companies from the UK and on the British government itself, who are finding it difficult to source enough gas for their own country.”
The concerns over Ireland’s security of gas supply comes against a cost of living crisis and worries about already rocketing energy prices.
An hour’s drive from the Bellanaboy Bridge gas terminal, where the Corrib gas is piped ashore, is the town of Ballina.
In the town’s community centre, Olive O’Donnell is busy overseeing the Meals on Wheels service volunteers, preparing dinner for around 40 users.
As the bacon, cabbage and turnip dinners are shrink-wrapped, and the apple pies are plated up, Ms O’Donnell reveals their energy costs have risen by around €300 (£264) a month.
More importantly, she can see the impact the hikes have had on their mostly elderly users.
“They’re really, really worried,” she tells Sky News. “They’re stretched to the limit. And the fear, the fear is in there.
“When you speak to them, they say, ‘oh will we survive the winter, will we have the heat? Will we be able to keep ourselves warm?’.”
Across the River Moy, 88-year-old Helen O’Connor receives her meal from one of the voluntary drivers. Originally from Yorkshire, she’s been living in the west of Ireland town since 1985, and is worried about the cost of staying warm.
“I don’t move about very fast, therefore, I don’t keep warm very quickly,” she said.
“So I tend to put on an extra one [layer of clothing], and an extra one, and then a blanket. It’s not that easy.
“I’m trying to be very economical on myself from every point of view, not just for my bill, but for the planet’s sake. Not to use more fuel than I must.”
The town’s mayor, councillor Mark Duffy, says there’s “huge worry and concern in the community”.
“Ireland is a very open economy, so we are exposed to the vulnerability of energy supply. But that’s why we need to focus on a future where we are self-reliant, that we have sustainable solutions, but it is of course a shock, and a concern for people that we have such a reliance on the UK supply,” he said.
The Irish government is keen to downplay the risk.
A spokesperson for Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said that in the event of a supply emergency in the UK, “the Moffat Interconnector will be treated the same as the distribution network in Great Britain” – something that the National Grid in the UK has also indicated will be the case.
And any move to cut off gas supply to the Republic of Ireland would be complicated by the fact that the state-owned, Gas Networks Ireland, owns and operates two pipelines supplying much of Northern Ireland’s gas.
Adjunct professor of economics at Trinity College Dublin and a former member of the Northern Ireland Authority for Energy Regulation, John FitzGerald told Sky News: “Continuing supplies to Northern Ireland would require the cooperation of the Irish government even if supplies to the Republic were cut off.
“Thus I would anticipate a cooperative solution to any – unlikely – need to ration gas.”
But the alarm highlights an urgent need for Ireland to diversify its energy supplies, particularly as the yield from the Corrib gas field is predicted to dwindle over the coming decade.
Until a greater harnessing of alternative energy, or a change in policy to embrace the importation of LNG, Ireland will remain highly dependent on British gas supply to meet its crucial energy needs.