Investing In Electricity Grid Urgent To Meet Climate Change Goals

By Brian Alexander, Renewables Business Development Manager, PAC Group

Northern Ireland stands on the cusp of major changes in how we generate our power, as global forces converge to shape a very different way of how we produce electricity for our homes and businesses. 

A legacy of under-investment has created problems that put at risk the ambitious aim to generate 80% of our power from renewable sources by 2030 and have a net zero economy.

Support from the Executive is desperately for NIE to have the resources and capacity to deliver on their own targets for upgrading and improving the infrastructure of the grid countrywide.

As well as the upgrading of the infrastructure at PAC we would be calling on NIE and the Executive to create a regulated industry body that protects not only the consumers but the companies providing the services. As with all innovative developments in industry it is important the regulations and guidelines are put in place, at present there are none in Northern Ireland. Whilst at PAC Group we operate very strict testing and quality control processes to ensure the longevity of a healthy operating system.

However, these are issues that can be resolved relatively easily with investment and education if the will is there from all.

The Ukraine crisis and other factors brought the price of energy into sharp focus for everyone, including individuals, investors, and business owners. At PAC Group we’ve seen an 80% increase in enquiries for both commercial and domestic applications and installations. The days when you could get a grant to assist with installing a solar photovoltaic panel are long gone. However, return on investment is now down to five-six years from what it would have been more than a decade ago with panels having a standard 25 year guarantee.

Of course, the rise in energy prices has been a factor in those applications, and while the energy cap will have helped to a degree, the reality is that power remains an expensive component in costs. At PAC Group, we have seen the difference it can make, with one recent installation reducing monthly bills by more than half, and sometimes even more.

While there is much discussion around the System Operator for Northern Ireland, NIE and politicians about interconnectors bringing in power from Scotland and elsewhere, with a combination of solar and wind we generate we can work towards almost complete self-sufficiency.

With a willingness amongst consumers, combined with the targets set in the Climate Action Plan, we need a serious discussion about the capabilities of the existing grid and when the Executive will offer support to NIE to deliver on the plan. Even NIE would agree that Belfast and Greater Belfast is desperately needing switchgear upgrades, and they are dealing with poor overall fault levels.

As a result of the difficulties NIE is being forced to tell some installations that whilst they are fully installed they cannot be switched on until 2025. This is unacceptable and we cannot expect our national grid operator to be able to provide a service to the country under these extreme resource and capacity constraints.

It is not the only case, unfortunately. There are other major sites facing similar problems. The need for investment in the grid as well as having the staff in place is clear to everyone involved. If the Climate Action Plan is to become more than a piece of aspirational paper, there will be an urgent need for significant investment.

There also needs to be a re-examination of the application process and the consideration of specific sectors, such as agriculture. Many farmers have a single-phase system when they need a three-phase with a higher-capacity inverter. It is clear that if a business has electricity bills in excess of £700 per month there should be allowances made to enable them to install the appropriate equipment and connect to the grid. For the agricultural sector to be competitive within the market they must find a solution to continually rising energy bills.

NIE are aware of these issues, however, they are hamstrung by the need for a financial injection from the Executive to jump start even more sustainable solutions into life.

The willingness is there, the understanding is there, but action is not being taken by our elected representatives who are still not working after nearly a year.

Where there is this vacuum, more people are involved in installing systems, and some companies say that they can install a PV system without the need to go to NIE. If you are storing all that is generated, that may be fine, but for all others, the connection to the network is needed. If NIE is not aware, the local grid may not be capable of taking over-generation.

Worse still, it can raise safety issues. For example, if there is a power cut and NIE is not aware of a property that is generating power the repair teams’ lives will be at risk. That is why the application process has to take place.

There is a way that this confusion can be avoided, with the creation of a feed-in tariff that is higher than the current rate. That would create an incentive to comply and reduce the need to seek electricity from outside Northern Ireland.

We can solve the various conundrums. We can move the climate agenda beyond the lofty statements and plentiful printouts of policies. Yes, it will require money, and it will require effort by all in the sector.

We may not be the ones sitting around the decision making tables, but we can become energy self-sufficient, we can be economically stronger, and we can play our local part in reducing carbon levels.

Celebrated artists to take the stage in Derry for Walled City Music Festival 2023

The 14th Walled City Music Festival is taking place this week, and will bring an international line-up of guest artists to perform in Derry~Londonderry’s Christ Church venue.

Raphael Wallfisch, one of the most celebrated cellists performing on the international stage, will open the Festival along with Derry-born pianist Cathal Breslin (also co-artistic director of the Festival). Raphael and Cathal performed the very first Walled City Music Festival together in 2009, so this concert will be a special occasion. Their performance will include music by Brahms, Franck, Schumann, and Debussy.

Irish artists, mezzo-soprano Sharon Carty and pianist Fiachra Garvey join forces on Friday 24th, bringing a programme of beautiful art songs by Grieg, Debussy, Stanford and Elgar.

In the final evening performance of the Festival, Belfast-born pianist Barry Douglas will perform a programme of Schubert and Beethoven for solo piano. Barry has established a major international career since winning the Gold Medal at the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition. As Artistic Director of Camerata Ireland, the only all-Ireland orchestra, and the Clandeboye Festival, he continues to celebrate his Irish heritage whilst also maintaining a busy international touring schedule.

During the week of Festival, Walled City Music will bring together Young Artists from Northern Ireland Opera, the Royal Irish Academy of Music and Walled City Music Piano Festival to take part in a series of education projects, culminating in a Festival-closing performance by the students in the beautiful surroundings of the Great Hall, Ulster University Magee. This concert will continue the Festival’s tradition of inspiring local young musicians, and placing upcoming Irish talent at the heart of its programming alongside established, world-class artists.

Cathal Breslin, Co-Artistic Director of the Festival, said “The 14th  Walled City Music Festival will be one of the most special Festivals so far. It is all about returning home, but now returning in-person and musically is especially important post-pandemic. The theme of “return” is marked from the Festival opening with incredible cellist Raphael Wallfisch, who performed with me to open the very first WCM Festival in 2009. The theme continues with pianist Barry Douglas returning to the Festival to perform a solo recital. Our ongoing promotion of great Irish artists is represented by singer Sharon Carty and pianist Fiachra Garvey, and we are delighted to continue our ongoing collaboration with NI Opera, and to combine that with a pianist from our Piano Festival is our opportunity to showcase some of the best young talent in Ireland. It will definitely be one of the most memorable Festivals we have ever experienced in Derry.”

Full details of the Walled City Music Festival programme can be found on the WCM website. Tickets are available on Ticket Source. Keep an eye on the WCM social media channels for updates.

Intergalactic Weekend of Music and Arts to Celebrate the Final Weekend of Our Place in Space

Oliver Jeffers book signing, art and Minecraft workshops, samba band performances and a two-day showcase of artists and composers in Bangor’s The Court House will mark the closing weekend.

Our Place in Space, a recreation of our solar system as an 11.8 km sculpture trail designed by artist Oliver Jeffers, astrophysicist Professor Stephen Smartt and a creative team led by Nerve Centre, will conclude its year-long UK tour this weekend (25–26 March) with an epic programme of free events.

Central to the celebrations is a two-day showcase of Constellations of Noise, a programme of artistic intervention delivered across Northern Ireland by Dumbworld as part of the Our Place in Space project.

Constellations of Noise saw eight musicians, including Rory Friers, Áine Mallon, Dee Isaacs, Steve Davis, Rose Connolly, Úna Monaghan, Aidan O’Rourke and Jamie Thompson, work with a diverse range of communities to create a cosmos-crossing set of sound and visual experiences. Traditional music, opera, free-form improvisation, film, song, extraterrestrial radio, poetry and theatre have collided for this unique spectacle.

For one weekend only, the artists’ work will go on display at The Court House in Bangor, featuring alien language radio stations, immersive sculpture and audio installations, film screenings, interactive operetta, and live music. The venue will be open from 11am–6.30pm on Saturday 25 March and from 11am–5pm on Sunday 26 March for the public to visit.

A free evening of live music featuring Rois, Steve Davis and Shane Latimer, and Aidian O’Rourke and Brìghde Chaimbeul will also take place at The Court House on Saturday 25 March.

Elsewhere, Oliver Jeffers will take part in a free book signing event at the Ulster Transport Museum on Saturday 25 March from 1pm where fans can meet the author and get their favourite book signed. Copies of Meanwhile Back on Earth, the intergalactic new book from Oliver Jeffers and inspired by Our Place in Space, will be available to purchase on the day.

Bangor will also play host to a programme of workshops during the closing weekend including Minecraft adventures with Nerve Centre’s Creative Learning Centres, Messy Mornings with Boom Studios, postcard creation with Seacourt Print Workshop and samba performances with Beat n’ Drum.

For more information and to secure free tickets for any of these events visit:

The weekend is also the final opportunity to visit the complete Our Place in Space sculpture trail which has already been experienced by more than 1 million people across the UK. Free to visit and beginning in the grounds of the Ulster Transport Museum at Cultra, the trail weaves its way onto the North Down Coastal Path and ends at Pluto in Bangor.

Stretching over 11. km, the installation features scale models of the Sun and planets, recreated as contemporary art sculptures. Colourful arches house each planet with an arrow and the name of the planet lit up in Las Vegas style lights. At a scale of 591 million to one, the Sun is 2.35 metres across, Earth is 2.2 centimetres and Pluto just 4 millimetres.

Our Place in Space invites participants to consider how we might better share and protect our planet in future and what is the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’? The project aims to bring our solar system down to Earth and send us soaring into the stars to find new perspectives and reconsider what it means to live life on our planet.

The trail is accompanied by the free Our Place in Space augmented reality app, available on Apple and Android, which allows users across the world to take a journey through the solar system, experiencing the planets in augmented reality and considering 10,000 years of human history on Earth. On the trail, users are invited to collect space souvenirs, including characters from the world of Oliver Jeffers, as well as launch a personalised star into space.

After 26 March, the first half of the sculpture trail will remain a permanent fixture at the Ulster Transport Museum where visitors will still be able to journey from the Sun to Mars. The Our Place in Space app can be used by visitors to complete the journey along the coastal path using augmented reality to view the outer planets as they journey through space.

David Lewis, Executive Producer at Nerve Centre, said: “The public response to Our Place in Space during the last 12 months has been extraordinary — from those visiting the trail and gaining a sense of perspective to an epic events programme featuring leading voices in STEAM and digital and creative workshops for tens of thousands of young people across the UK. We’re excited to mark the final weekend with the opportunity to experience the work of artists from the Constellations of Noise music programme and to cap off a truly cosmic year of activity.”

Our Place in Space is commissioned by Belfast City Council. Led by Nerve Centre, the project is a collaboration between Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast, National Museums NI, NI Science Festival, Big Motive, Taunt, Microsoft, Jeffers & Sons, Dumbworld, Live Music Now and Little Inventors.

Our Place in Space was originally conceived through a research and development project and presented as part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, co-commissioned by Belfast City Council. UNBOXED was designed to celebrate creativity and innovation, with funding from the Northern Ireland Executive, UK Government, Scottish Government and Welsh Government.


Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas & Politics Begins!

­-One of Belfast’s most innovative and thought-provoking festival returns this week


The Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas & Politics kicks off this week (20th – 26th March) and will explore the theme, ‘Brain Food: A Feast of Ideas for A Better World’ with a programme of film, humour, talks, music, poetry, theatre, exhibitions, tours, discussion and workshops.

Now in its ninth year, the week-long festival has over 130 in-person and online events. Most events are free and will take place online and in venues across the city.  Keynote speakers include the world-renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky; American political scientist Francis Fukuyama; British environmentalist Jonathon Porritt; Belfast poet Medbh McGuckian; campaigner George Monbiot; visual artist Colin Davidson: journalist Sally Hayden and satirist Oliver Callan.

Commenting on this year’s programme, Festival director and founder, Peter O’Neill said: “This year’s programme is jam-packed with a diverse range of events that will cater to a variety of tastes.  Our events will nourish the mind and provide food for thought in this volatile world. We aim to put the fun into politics with lots of humour, performance and discussion, so please join us for this feast of ideas and view the events at”

There are many notable events in the programme including a politics quiz, a poetry and politics pub tour, and a special ‘Poetry and Politics’ performance, hosted by William Crawley, where local politicians will talk about their favourite poems.  Owen McCafferty’s new play, ‘Agreement’ premieres at the Lyric Theatre and examines this landmark moment in the history of Northern Ireland.  Other new productions include Five Days – a new play by Joe Nawaz, and the premiere of Reunion by Julie Dutkiewicz and Kabosh Theatre.

Musicians include legendary performer, John Otway; alternative punks, Wood Burning Savages; the acclaimed Australian song writer, Robert Forster; and a talk by Paul Gorman on the rise and fall of the music press. Comedy is well represented with Tiff Stevenson and Fin Taylor alongside poets such as Henry Normal, Luke Wright, and Clare Pollard taking to the stage.

Tickets and further info are available from:

Belfast Festival of Learning returns to the city

The Belfast Festival of Learning makes a welcome return to the city with a week-long programme of free interactive and engaging events.

Promoting lifelong learning for people of all ages, the festival will take place in venues across Belfast from Monday 20 until Sunday 26 March.

Events will include cookery classes, science demonstrations and the opportunity to learn a new skill such as crochet, knitting and coding.

Reminding residents that there is no age limit to education, Deputy Lord Mayor Councillor Michelle Kelly said: “Learning opportunities should be available to everyone, whether you’re aged 5 or 75, and The Belfast Festival of Learning is testament to that ethos, with the wide range of activities and events on offer over the course of the week.

“Within The Belfast Agenda, we have a vision that our city should be a great place for everyone to live – and providing lifelong learning opportunities is a core part of this. Learning has the potential to transform lives for the better- it can build better relationships and help enhance quality of life for everyone in our city.”

Belfast is part of UNESCO’s Global Network of Learning Cities and was awarded a UNESCO Learning Cities Award for outstanding learning milestones in 2021.

Councillor Kelly also spoke about the importance of continuing to build on Belfast’s Learning City status and said: “In 2018 when we joined the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities, we committed to tackle inequalities and barriers to education with our city stakeholders. It’s incredibly encouraging that following the pandemic, we are now able to host this wonderful festival again and extend learning opportunities to all citizens, regardless of age or background.”

Chair of Belfast Learning City, Danny Power said: “Belfast continues to play its role as a member of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities and as a member of an all-island network of Learning Cities.

“Improving accessibility to learning opportunities is crucial to help people maintain active lives and build strong and sustainable communities for all. We hope everyone thoroughly enjoys the festival and that the activities on offer will inspire you to continue your learning.”

For more information on the festival and a full list of activities on offer, visit


Terra Nova Productions, Ireland’s intercultural theatre company, return to Armagh’s Market Place Theatre with their new production, ‘The Trumpet & The King’.

In the late 15th century, John Blanke, a young black musician of exceptional talent left the ancient city of Granada and made his way to the court of Henry VII of England. There he forged a surprising musical bond with the child who would become the infamous Henry VIII.

These two extraordinary young men scramble their way to adulthood full of feeling, often outrageously funny, as they try to figure out love, sex, politics, and what it means to be a man.

Performed by two outstanding young actors, who effortlessly create all the characters of their Tudor world, ‘The Trumpet & The King’ is a play about music, belonging and friendship across religious and cultural divides, which will draw you effortlessly into the dramatic world of the early Tudors.

Meticulously researched, written and directed here in Northern Ireland by playwright Andrea Montgomery, who is known for her giant Northern Irish Shakespeare projects.

‘The Trumpet & The King’ will take place on Wednesday 22 March at 8pm. Tickets priced £15 and £13 (concession) can be booked online at or through the Box Office on 03300 561 025.


Receive Royal correspondence from King Charles III and the Queen Consort when you register for the Coronation Big Lunch

Streets, schools, groups and whole communities across Northern Ireland choosing to be part of history and celebrating the Coronation of His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Queen Consort, will receive a special letter from The King and Queen Consort commemorating their participation and could be in with a chance of winning a Community Garden specially designed and planted by the award winning Eden Project, £2,500 towards your next project and a special Big Lunch hamper from Eden Project Communities supported by National Lottery.

Portadown woman Elaine Livingston and other community activists visiting Eden Project Cornwall, funded by National Lottery. Elaine has been a Supporter of The Big Lunch over many years.

All Northern Ireland residents can register at and download your letter and free resources. You can also choose to nominate your area for the competition which rewards the friendliest streets, estates, schools and community groups that demonstrate friendliness and positive connections where they live. As well as crowning an overall winner, gifting them with a special garden in honour of The King and Queen Consort’s passion for communities and the environment, Eden Project Communities will reward three finalists with £1,000 each and Coronation Big Lunch hampers to help bring their communities together.

Grainne McCloskey, Regional Manager at the Eden Project, which is behind the Coronation Big Lunch said: “We want to raise up and celebrate those people who support each other and shape better futures together where they live but rarely get the recognition they deserve. There are so many heartwarming stories from those making a difference in Northern Ireland and we want to place their community spirit at the heart of this historic occasion.

“Our rewards are open to everyone until 30 March so there is still plenty of time to apply. Don’t be shy! If you’re a group of chatty neighbours or you’re part of a school community or a local group, we want to hear from you!”

The Coronation Big Lunch will form part of the celebrations for His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Queen Consort’s Coronation Weekend between 6-8 May 2023. Tens of thousands of events are expected to take place across the United Kingdom, bringing neighbours, communities and the nation together in celebration and friendship, and raising community spirits as part of this historic occasion.

Her Majesty The Queen Consort has been Patron of the Big Lunch since 2013.

The Big Lunch is funded by National Lottery and is the UK’s largest annual community celebration for neighbours and communities bringing millions of people together in a nationwide act of community friendship since 2009 and will again this year kick off the Month of Community in June, a time to come together to celebrate everything that makes our communities great!

It’s an idea from the Eden Project made possible by The National Lottery and is supported by PG Tips, Iceland and The Food Warehouse and the Julia and Hans Rausing Trust.

To apply for the rewards and find out more about the Coronation Big Lunch or Month of Community, go to

NW200 to go Ahead!

The Coleraine and District Motor Club is delighted to announce this year’s fonaCAB and Nicholl Oils North West 200 will take place as planned on May 7-13


As has been well documented over the past month, this year’s event had been thrown into jeopardy by a huge increase in the cost of public liability insurance.

A new insurance deal has finally been secured and the crucial intervention of Co.Tyrone businessman, Derek Keys, with a generous donation from his company, Euro Auctions, has ensured the 2023 NW200 can go ahead.

“March 2023 represents the 25th anniversary of Euro Auctions and helping the North West 200 gives us the ideal chance to thank all of those people who have supported us over that 25 year journey.” Mr Keys said.

“The event sees over 195,000 people visit the region and many businesses, both large and small, depend upon events like this to bring trade and prosperity into the North West area. This event is part of our region’s heritage and I am delighted that with a little help from Euro Auctions, the event can now proceed this year.”

“We are very grateful to Derek Keys and Euro Auctions for this very generous support.” the NW200’s Mervyn Whyte, said.

“In the absence of any financial assistance from government, the sport has been left to its own devices to deal with the insurance crisis. Mr Keys intervention has been crucial in saving this year’s North West 200. We also wish to express our gratitude to the many members of the motorcycle racing community who donated so generously to the crowd funding initiative launched by the Motorcycle Union of Ireland, Ulster Centre.”





Bushmills, Co Antrim: Looking for an extra special gift to celebrate with on St. Patrick’s Day?

The Bushmills® Irish Whiskey 10 Year Old Single Malt is an exquisite Irish single malt whiskey that has been triple distilled, matured, married and bottled at the world’s oldest licenced whiskey distillery in Bushmills, Co. Antrim.

Bursting with notes of zesty citrus fruits, honey, milk chocolate and toasted wood, Bushmills 10 Year Old Single Malt boasts the same unwavering quality renowned by Bushmills whilst its chic design will stand out at any occasion.

Whether it’s straight up, neat, on the rocks or in a cocktail, at the heart of a perfect serve, there is always Bushmills 10 Year Old Single Malt.​ Below we share one of our most popular cocktail serves which embodies Bushmills’ rich heritage and tradition, coupled with a contemporary and approachable twist.

Enjoy St. Patrick’s Day. The Bushmills Way! 🥃

Bushmills 10 Year Old Single Malt RRP €46 / £32



A guaranteed crowd pleaser to kick off your celebrations this St. Patrick’s Day. Made to sip, savour and enjoy with friends.


  • 2 parts Bushmills 10 YO
  • 1 part fresh lemon juice
  • ½ part sugar syrup
  • ½ part egg white
  • Few dashes of orange bitters
  • 1 part lime juice
  • Lemon peel


Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake for 10 seconds and strain into a rocks glass over ice and garnish with a lemon peel. Enjoy!

For exclusive news, private events and limited-edition products, join the Bushmills Giant community  

Jacqueline shares her pick of what’s on this week across NI


Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the heart of Lisburn at a special tea dance event at Market Square on Friday 17th March.

Find out more HERE


Join Lurgan Action Cancer Community Group on Sunday for a 5K Mother’s Day Walk within the beautiful surrounds of Lurgan Park on Saturday 18th March, both an uplifting and tranquil experience.

Find out more HERE


Check out the The 2:19 Blues Band, St Patrick’s Day with support from The John Andrews Band Live at The Pavilion, Belfast . These gigs sell out FAST

Find out more HERE


Enjoy a St. Patrick’s Day Treasure Trail in search of mischievous Leprechauns at Montalto Eastate. You will receive a pack from our Ticket Office which will include a map to help you with your search.

Find out more HERE


The St Patrick’s Day Fringe events take place at various venues across Enniskillen, 16th and 17th March.

Find out more HERE


Celebrate the arrival of Spring in all its colourful splendour with a magical programme of music, dance, food and folklore this St Patrick’s Day at the Spring Carnival Derry 2023.

Find out more HERE

St Patrick’s Day family fun at the Hill of the O’Neill in Dungannon. Come along to our FREE celebrations on the Hill from 1pm – 4.30pm! (No booking required).

Find out more HERE