The European Investment Bank, the European Union's long-term lending institution, is financing the reinforcement and modernisation of Northern Ireland's electricity transmission and distribution with a £100 million (EUR 160 million)(1) loan. The finance goes to Northern Ireland Electricity plc, part of the Viridian Group.

EIB President and Chairman, Sir Brian Unwin said: "By making this large loan to Northern Ireland Electricity the EIB will help to improve the quality and security of electricity supply in the province, and thus further encourage its overall economic development. I am particularly pleased to be able, as a European institution, to demonstrate our confidence in the future of Northern Ireland in this practical way as the Peace Process takes such a major step forward."

NIE's overall programme, costing some £235 million, comprises some 3,000 smaller schemes to extend and refurbish the electricity network, helping to reduce technical supply losses and provide infrastructure for new customer connections. The works form part of NIE's three year investment commitment to improve supply reliability by 20% and cater for about 7,000 new customers a year.

The loan was signed in Belfast today by Thomas Barrett, EIB Director for the United Kingdom and Ireland and by Mr Nigel Wilson, Group Finance Director of Viridian and NIE.

The European Investment Bank, the European Union's long-term lending institution, finances capital investment furthering EU integration, in particular: regional development; trans-European networks in transport, telecoms and energy; industrial competitiveness and integration; SMEs; environmental protection; and energy security. It also operates outside the EU within the framework of the EU's co-operation external policy. Owned by the Member States, the EIB raises its funds on capital markets (AAA issuer). Sir Brian Unwin is the first British President of the institution and assumed office in 1993. In 1998, the EIB lent some EUR 30 billion, of which £2 billion in the UK.

(1) EUR 1 = GBP 0.647500, FRF 6.66957.