By Fiona O’Cleirigh | 2 August 2011

Huge Libyan investment to develop Northern Ireland’s oil industry was part of a possible set of reparations under discussion between the UK and Libya.

The idea was one option given to Libya as part of reparations over its past supply of Semtex and other explosives to the IRA.

A senior Ulster Unionist peer, Lord Laird, a former MP at Stormont, saw such an investment as a key part of reconciliation for the past actions for Libya’s leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

“No one is likely to blow up Northern Ireland if they have a major investment there” – Lord Laird

“Gaddafi wanted to be brought back into the family of nations,” Laird told Exaro. “The money was to be given without prejudice. He didn’t accept that he was guilty. He was going to start a fund and a second pot of money would be used for industrial projects. It was this industrial pot that we were going for.”

Laird’s proposals included Libyan investment in a Northern Ireland oil refinery. “We wanted the money invested, not given,” he said. “No one is likely to blow up Northern Ireland if they have a major investment there.”

Offshore oil prospecting in the mid-1970’s by BP revealed oil and gas reserves off the North Antrim coast. However, it was then neither technically possible nor economically feasible to extract the oil, but that is thought to have changed.

The oil and gas was found in two areas in the waters between Northern Ireland and the west of Scotland.

The hydrocarbon belt is likely to extend south to the waters of the Irish Republic, which would offer large revenues for Ireland, said Laird.

The port of Belfast is also geographically well placed, if it were developed, to attract business as a result of oil tankers travelling from the Russian and Arctic Circle regions.

Lord Bew, who was part of the parliamentary delegation to Libya in October 2009, discussed the investment project with Laird, shortly after that trip.

The trip came amid media speculation that BP was seeking entry into Libyan oil markets. Two months earlier, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, was released.

Bew said: “The Libyans were supposed to be close to BP, if reports in the press were true, so maybe if there is something off the coast, maybe there was some possibility.”

Bew was sceptical about whether Libya would take up the proposal: “I did not necessarily think that Libya was going to say, ‘We have heard your cry of pain,’ regarding the Semtex.”

British negotiations with Gaddafi ended this year, when civil war broke out in Libya. But the opposition National Transitional Council has signed an agreement over the issue of Irish terror victims.

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