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Bord na Móna (Continued)

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 966 No. 9

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin] I cannot overstate the importance of Bord na Móna to County Kildare on many levels. They include the heritage and ecological system of the bog, horticulture and the employment the company has provided in the past eight years. Only last week, at a meeting of Rathangan Tidy Towns committee, we discussed celebrating the heritage and employment benefits delivered by Bord na Móna. People moved from other parts of Ireland to work for the company and settled in places such as Timahoe, Kilberry, Coill Dubh and Allenwood in County Kildare. Their families have become part of the area.

  The Rathangan poet William A. Byrne has written many poems about the bog, including the following four lines:

I was the broom and crooked heather,

I was the moss that grew,

But time has moulded us together,

Beneath the years of dew.

While I accept that Bord na Móna is operating in a challenging environment, we must also ensure the company's long-term viability. Not only is it facing a challenging business environment, it is also in transition. It currently supplies peat to the three power stations in the midlands. I understand the plant in Edenderry has reduced its use of peat by 40% under a carbon neutral initiative while maintaining the same number of jobs, which is crucial.

  Does the Minister support the concept of co-fuelling, an approach that certainly appears to make sense? Does he continue to support a managed transition from peat to other fuels in the period to 2030? Such a transition period will be important because it will give Bord na Móna an opportunity to enter new areas of business.

  Yesterday evening and this morning we received word that there were to be job losses at Bord na Móna. I understand 45 jobs will be lost in ten locations, including seven in Newbridge and four in Lullymore, both of which are in County Kildare. I invite the Minister to visit the Lullymore Heritage Centre close to the Bord na Móna operation in the area to show him what a wonderful job people in the area have done to celebrate the importance of the bog.

  To address the more important matter of job losses, it is fine if it suits people to take a redundancy package or leave the company. However, there are many Bord na Móna employees who are not in a position to do so. I call for consultation on the job losses and a commitment to be given to sustain the company's other jobs in County Kildare.

  My colleague, Deputy Barry Cowen, and I have been calling for funding raised by the carbon tax to be ring-fenced and reinvested in renewable energy technology. This would give Bord na Móna a future and ensure continued sustainable employment in County Kildare and the midlands generally.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Denis Naughten): Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I will not recite poetry, although I will declare an interest to the extent that I have been eaten out of the bog by midges on many occasions. The village in which I was born is surrounded by bog. Incidentally, I hated every day I spent on the bog.

Bord na Móna employs approximately 450 people in County Kildare. The company has a long association with the county, which historically centred on peat harvesting operations across bogs in the north and west of the county. Bord na Móna's 450 County Kildare based employees are located at a number of centres, including the company's head office which has been located in Newbridge since 1994. The head office provides the location for most of the group's central support services. It also houses many of its business unit headquarters, including those for the fuels, horticulture and resource recovery businesses. The resource recovery business headquarters also incorporates the call centre for the AES waste collection business. Other significant Bord na Móna centres across the county include the horticulture facility in Kilberry, the resource recovery facility in Drehid and peat harvesting operations across a number of bogs.

With the exception of the fuels business, none of these areas is affected by yesterday's decision. It should be noted that the decision does not affect the approximately 120 people who are involved in the manufacture of the company's peat briquettes at Derrinlough, County Offaly. Yesterday's decision by the company to cease operations in its coal business will affect 11 of the 450 employees in County Kildare, of whom seven are located in Newbridge and four at a convenience fuels facility in Lullymore. The company is engaging with the affected employees and will consult them on possible outcomes, including redeployment.

Bord na Móna informed employees yesterday of the decision to exit the coal business for a number of commercial and regulatory reasons. As the Deputy will be aware, Bord na Móna is a commercial semi-State company and while operational matters are the responsibility of the board and management team and do not come directly within my area of responsibility or functions, I am nonetheless acutely conscious of the impact of the recent decision on employees of the company. The underlying reasons for the move away from coal form part of the company's transition from its traditional business activities towards a business model that is sustainable in the long term. This includes the coal-firing of the peat-fired power stations in Edenderry, Lanesboro and Shannonbridge.

To answer the Deputy's question, I support the company's transition and attended the public consultation days in the parochial hall in Shannonbridge and St. Mary's Hall in Lanesboro, at which we engaged with members of the community and explained what we were planning to do to transition from peat to biomass in the next decade or thereabouts. My priority is to ensure biomass is generated and grown as close as possible to the three peat-fired power stations. The intention is to maintain and, I hope, enhance current employment levels in Bord na Móna. I am acutely conscious of the importance of the employment provided by the company across the midland counties, extending from east County Galway to counties Roscommon, Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Kildare. I am determined to put in place a sustainable transition and maintain the maximum possible number of employees in the areas in which the company currently operates. The same types of equipment and skill sets will be used to bring biomass into the peat-fired power stations.

Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin I am reassured by the Minister's commitment to sustain employment in Bord na Móna. As I noted and he acknowledged, many towns and villages in County Kildare and the midlands owe their development to the company. Many families depend on the continued viability of Bord na Móna. When we consider that the company provides 450 jobs in County Kildare, its contribution to employment in the county is substantial. I know that the Minister shares my concerns in that regard.

This is not the first time the Minister and I have discussed Bord na Móna in the Chamber. Last year I raised with him problems being experienced in Kilberry. At the time he kindly agreed to arrange a meeting with the then chief executive of the company, Mr. Mike Quinn. While a meeting took place, unfortunately, Mr. Quinn did not attend. I understand a new chief executive officer, Mr. Tom Donnellan, will start work on 18 April. I ask the Minister to use his good offices to ensure a meeting will take place between Mr. Donnellan and Deputies and Senators from the counties impacted on by Bord na Móna. It would be good to have a meeting with Mr. Donnellan early in his tenure to assure him of our support and raise our concerns about individuals in our counties.

Will the Minister give a commitment to ring-fence revenues from the carbon tax for investment in renewable energy resources? I thank him for his time and positive response.

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