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Snippet Contents:

I thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue and supporting the rights of the workers in the Littleton Bord na Móna plant. I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, who apologises that he cannot be present to take it.
Bord na Móna is a commercial State company operating in accordance with the Turf Development Acts 1946 to 1998. While operational matters such as this are the responsibility of the board and management team and not matters in which the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment has any direct role or function, the Government is nonetheless conscious of the impact the recent decision has had on the employees of Bord na Móna. It is facing significant business challenges in the context of the deregulation of the electricity market and an increasingly competitive and challenging environment across all of its business areas, not least its fuels business. Its fuels business in general, including the briquette business, has been operating in recent years at a level significantly below existing capacity. The fall in sales is driven by a range of factors, including increased competition, consumer trends, carbon tax, mild weather and low oil prices.
Arising from the reduced demand and in line with the normal process of the ongoing review of each sector at Bord na Móna, the fuels business undertook a comprehensive review of current briquetting operations, with the intention of identifying a solution to sustain the business and jobs in the long term. The review concluded that in order to sustain the business into the future, the Derrinlough factory, employing 61 people, would be the optimum location for future investment to secure the future of the fuels business. The report also concluded that the company's facility at Littleton should continue production for the coming season and should permanently cease production in April 2018. There are 69 permanent employees at this facility.
I understand that, having received the review conclusions, the company has begun a process of engagement with the group of unions and employees. It has confirmed that no redundancies in this area are being contemplated in the current year. While the Minister has no direct role in the matter, he has held a series of meetings with affected stakeholders. He has called for engagement and imagination from all sides - I accept many of the points raised by Deputy Alan Kelly - in order to come up with a range of solutions for the employees. He has urged Bord na Móna to consider all opportunities for redeployment, a phased reduction in employment numbers and any other renewable technology opportunities which may arise in respect of its investments.
As part of Bord na Móna's general strategy to move towards sustainable businesses based on renewable energy sources, pilot trials for the production of a biomass briquette have been conducted. The development of the biomass briquette represents a significant investment by the company which has confirmed its intention to begin large-scale production of the product. This will be a critical step in future-proofing the fuels business as it offers the potential of sustainable and quality regional employment.
In addition, the Minister will bring a memo to the Government to establish a new entity, BioEnergy Ireland, focusing on the development of the biomass sector in Ireland. It will assist farmers in establishing a new source of income and secure existing regional employment levels by transitioning staff away from milling peat to harvesting biomass in a fair way.