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Bord na Móna (Continued)

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 974 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley] The effects of job losses and the closing of the bogs in the midlands are going to be devastating. I was in Edenderry last night, and people there are very concerned. People are also very concerned across County Laois, as are those who work with Bord na Móna in County Offaly, and indeed those who work in south Kildare. There is huge concern locally about this move. The Edenderry plant in west Offaly will have to switch to biomass. The Cul na Móna plant depends on horticultural peat, and it will also have to change due to the demands of retail chains in England, which want peat-free compost by 2020 or 2021. Where is the Government's plan on this? It is the shareholder and it acts on behalf of the people. Bord na Móna was established with a clear mandate to create jobs in the midlands and to develop our indigenous resources and industry. It has certainly fulfilled that brief; it has transformed the midlands of Ireland, in particular Laois-Offaly, parts of Kildare and other counties.

We need to move quickly now. We have to make up for lost time. We have sleepwalked into this situation. I have been highlighting the fact that we need to put other resources in place for a number of years. We must now quickly develop biomass crops and wood products, and moving to renewable gas, solar and biogas. Bord Na Móna can do that, and we have to put those green industries in place now.

Deputy Martin Heydon: Information on Martin Heydon Zoom on Martin Heydon I thank the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment for taking the time to discuss this very important topic. My thoughts are with the staff of Bord na Móna and their families on what has been a very difficult day for them. Many of these people are my constituents. Many people hear the words Bord na Móna and think of bogs in Offaly, but there are 330 administrative and management staff working in the biggest town in my county, in Newbridge. It is one of the biggest employers there. There are also 70 or 80 people working in Kilberry at the peat moss plant. Those people knew that this day was coming, but it has still been a difficult week. Part of my frustration is the fact that there was an announcement of job losses yesterday without news of the package that would be available to those taking voluntary redundancies. I would have preferred if people going home last night who were going to be sitting down with their families to talk about their future had that level of detail, because it is a very difficult time. Some of those people will be thinking about taking a package, and others will want to be a part of Bord na Móna's next phase as it moves towards an economically and environmentally sustainable future. We want these redundancies to be voluntary, but for that to happen the package has to be generous, in line with redundancies in other semi-State agencies such as RTÉ and An Post. It must be worth taking, and it should take into account the service staff have given to the company and the upheaval they will face in trying to change roles.

Can the Minister touch on the supports it will make available to the company and to the staff who are thinking of leaving? In terms of support from Europe and the just transition to a low-carbon economy, what supports are there for the Government to help it ensure the future viability of the company as it seeks to move from brown to green?

Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen I spoke on this matter during Leaders' Questions. The Tánaiste responded in fairly general terms. His response was commendable in the sense that he reiterated the commitment of Government to making various State supports available to staff of Bord na Móna in the short-term. Perhaps the Minister can deal more extensively with the two questions I asked this morning. Can he confirm to the House that ESB will proceed with co-fuelling at Lanesborough and at Shannonbridge, having received confirmation from the Government last Monday that it is Government policy? I hope that planning application caters for such arrangements up until 2025, as well as an extension at Edenderry from 2023 to 2025. It would guarantee what remains in the peat harvesting sector. Over 900 staff are from my county, notwithstanding the others.

The Tánaiste said that the Government was open to suggestions and recommendations from the House and beyond. The various local authorities are meeting next week to formulate a response and to prepare a mechanism they believe would best serve their own regions. I wrote to the Taoiseach, and he informed me that he forwarded my correspondence to the Minister. I made a proposal for a just, sustainable transition forum which could be put in place to address these issues and make recommendations on innovation and enterprise to support the region with alternative forms of employment. Is funding available for such a forum? Other Deputies have spoken about the EU's globalisation fund, but I would also like to see the Government inject cash into this, perhaps using revenue from the carbon tax. The public service obligation payment to the ESB for those power plants expires next year, which will represent a saving for the Government. A portion of that money could be given towards this area; it would show the community that there is a willingness and commitment to helping the people and a pathway to assisting the region.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Richard Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I thank the Deputies for raising this matter. I recognise the concern that all Deputies have expressed about the potential impact of this on affected families. Bord na Móna is a commercial State company with a mandate to develop the midlands region, and I believe it is taking the appropriate steps now, in a timely way, to set out a strategy that takes into account its obligation to operate in a decarbonised economy. It has recognised this need, and is taking the necessary steps to ensure there will be employment opportunities and that it will continue to be a driver of economic development in the midlands. It has recognised the obligation to decarbonise. The decisions it is taking mean that it will reduce its carbon footprint by more than 90% by 2030. It is a very major step. It also recognises the inevitability of the decisions it had to make.

Bord na Móna has set out in its strategic plan the opportunities it believes it can develop that will provide secure employment opportunities with good prospects for the future. Those opportunities lie in the areas that Deputy Stanley and others have mentioned and include expanding its interest in renewables, expanding its activities in the area of resource recovery and identifying new export growth markets where it can use its very significant assets and strengths to develop new trading opportunities that will deliver employment. I can confirm to Deputy Cowen that the ESB will be submitting a planning application; it is expected in the next couple of weeks.

The other issue raised by Deputies was support for workers who are directly affected. I can absolutely assure the Deputies that not only will Bord na Móna be putting in place its own programme, which it has worked out with its trade unions and has used before, to support workers, to assess their skill base and to support them in finding new opportunities, but all the machinery of the State, whether through the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the education and training boards, ETBs, or re-skilling opportunities will be made available to the workers. I assure the Deputies of that.

On the issue of the redundancy terms and the need for voluntary exits, Bord na Móna has signalled that it intends that this will be a voluntary exit programme. It is consulting with the representatives of the workers about the terms of that programme; it will of course require approval from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. In terms of ensuring that the State does everything possible to support the building of the future economy in the midlands, I assure the Deputies that Bord na Móna will be working with the implementation committee of the midlands regional action plan for jobs.

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