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 Header Item Occupational Therapy (Continued)
 Header Item Bord na Móna

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 950 No. 3

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  6 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath] We are trying to encourage them to come home. One resignation was in the social care area. As I mentioned, this position has been for the backfill and is going through the recruitment process.

It is also important to remind people that there are service locations and that the Meath occupational therapist services are delivered from five network bases. They are: network 1 - Navan and surrounding areas; network 2 - Kells and Kingscourt; network 3 - Trim and Summerhill; network 4 - Dunshaughlin, Ashbourne, Dunboyne and Ratoath; and network 5 - Laytown and Duleek.

In terms of investment in occupational therapy services, the last investment in primary care services was in 2013 when 52.5 posts were approved. In addition, under the progressing disabilities services for children and young people aged 0 to 18 years programme, 64.5 occupational therapy posts were approved in 2014. We have to rebuild and invest in services.

A service improvement initiative has been established for the national occupational therapy service to review the existing model of care and develop new models that will be standardised across CHOs to improve waiting times. I will, of course, make this a priority issue when talking to the HSE.

Bord na Móna

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly I find it incredible that a Minister of State at the Department of Health who is from inner city Dublin, although, in fairness, originally from Galway, as I found to my cost in a recent national league final, is dealing with this question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl He is multi-talented.

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly Surely one of the Ministers was available from the appropriate Department. I ask for the indulgence and support of the Government for the workers in the Littleton Bord na Móna factory.

A political charge was made against me on the floor of the House today by the leader of Fianna Fáil which was, frankly, childish. I know that he wants to run away from discussing the Garda Commissioner, but his remarks were childish. He was aided by his deputy leader, my colleague, Deputy Jackie Cahill. If he wants to take the stabilisers off the Deputy and let him come out and play, he should do so because it was one of the most childish things I had seen in my time in politics.

We met the workers in Littleton. Until today, the five Deputies involved were playing a very good game and trying to ensure we achieved the best outcome for the workers. We had worked together and met the Minister. I have spoken to the CEO of Bord na Móna. We have tried to work out the best way forward for the workers who have seen significant restructuring in the past few years which has affected 122 people, between full-time and part-time workers.

When we met the Minister last Friday week, it was quite an emotional meeting because some of the workers' grandparents had worked in the factory which goes back generations and it is not just about the work. It is also about minding the bog and ensuring production levels are maintained. It is a way of life. The decision of Bord na Móna, with which we disagree, has been made and e have been told it will not be changed under any circumstances. However, we need to fight to try to get the best deal for the workers.

There are four issues, the first of which is the peat which remains, how it can be used and whether there is capacity for it to be used for export purposes, in particular, in order to maintain and, it is to be hoped, generate some employment into the future. It is a distinct possibility with markets looking for peat.

Second and most important, we need to secure an extension of the closure date. April 2018 is far too soon. We need at least two more seasons in order to ensure the peat can be used and the workers will have a fair length of time to plan their exit and futures. We also believe there is a demand for their produce. There is a dividend payment of €10 million a year from Bord na Móna. Surely it could be used to facilitate the extension of time required for the workers.

Third, we need to renegotiate the redundancy package because the one in place is awful. To be frank, if somebody has worked at the plant for 30 or 35 years, he or she is being penalised. The longer someone has worked there, the worse off he or she will be by comparison. Therefore, we need to get a better deal for the workers.

Fourth, we need to have hope for the infrastructure and plant in place. The connection to the grid is nearby and facilities are in place. What incubation or other services could we plan for if we were to secure an extension of the closure date to ensure there will be some employment on the site? I am not referring solely to harvesting and exporting the peat but to other renewable energy sources that could be developed in the area, given the infrastructure in place and scale of the facility.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath 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.

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