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Bord na Móna (Continued)

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 985 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice: Information on Michael Fitzmaurice Zoom on Michael Fitzmaurice] For about 30 years this hot water has been going into the river. As has been pointed out, this licensing debacle has been ongoing since 2013. Why, all of sudden, have we decided to shut it down and create more unemployment when it is because of the Government, through Bord na Móna, that 400 jobs have already gone and there will be 200 more now. The vision was supposed to be to 2027 and that it would then take two more years to use up the peat held in stock. Unfortunately, there is something that does not look right about this. Yesterday we listened to Deputy Dooley speak about the closure of the Moneypoint plant and now we have the closure of the power station in Lanesborough. What will be next? Is there an underlying trend or desire on the part of the Government and semi-State bodies to get rid of the power stations in the likes of Lanesborough, Shannonbridge and Moneypoint? We understand, as rightly pointed out, that there is a need for a just transition, but there is nothing about the 200 workers who had jobs a few days ago in an area that has not been focused on to ensure other employment will be created. Bord na Móna brought people to meetings who spoke about different ideas. They are five and seven years away, but to put food on the table the families in question need work. They deserve answers and want them now.

Deputy Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy A total of 150 jobs are gone and it is a total shock. None of the Oireachtas Members or councillors knew anything about this until the news started to filter out this morning. It is deplorable and unacceptable. We might be talking about the hot water coming from the power station in Lanesborough, but by God, the Government is in hot water over this decision. As Deputies Fitzmaurice and Naughten pointed out, it is all very strange. Certain questions have been asked of the Government by the previous speakers and we have more. Before I get into them, I want the Minister to realise this is not just about 150 people. Today I was calculating with my brother who is a councillor and we estimated that 600 or 700 people would be affected by this decision. Think of the poor students who are trying to raise a few bob to go back to college. Think of the part-time farmers and others in part-time work who for years have relied on Bord na Móna and were taken on, as they thought in good faith, this year, but all of sudden - bang - they have been taken out of the equation. That is not acceptable in anybody's terms and it will not be accepted by the people of the region or their representatives. As Deputy Naughten pointed out, the decision affects counties Longford and Roscommon. What is the status of the planning application submitted to Longford County Council to extend the life of the plant for a period of years? We all know that there has to be change, but change can only come over a period of years with co-operation and assistance and everyone working together. Like Deputy Fitzmaurice, I have grave doubts about this story and how it is being developed. Honest and direct answers are needed without delay.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy The decision this morning to lay off 148 people will have a devastating impact on those to be laid off, their families, the community of Lanesborough and much further afield. To my mind, the State bodies, comprising the ESB, the EPA and Bord na Móna, have been negligent in their attitude in dealing with these employees. They have failed them. They have failed loyal employees who have worked hard for the State; many of their families have done so for generations.

The ESB was first made aware of the change to the regulations on water discharges back in 2013. Why did it only recently submit an application to the planning authority? Will the Minister confirm whether it was withdrawn and had to be resubmitted because the first was not of good enough quality? We know that there has to be change, but the employees were promised, as some of the previous speakers said, a just transition to 2027. This is far from a just transition. There is a fear that there is a sinister attempt to use the EPA to close down the plant. The people want the truth and they deserve it. What is the bigger picture for the plant and the employees? When was the Minister made aware of this decision? What has he done to date to try to prevent the decision from becoming a reality? This morning the Minister was asked by two of my colleagues to bring the three organisations together to see whether the matter could be resolved in a timely fashion. Has he done so and, if not, why not? When will he bring the three organisations together? What supports are being put in place today for the affected families?

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 issue. I understand the concern expressed locally. It is an appalling shock for workers to receive notice that they have been put on protective notice as a result of decisions made. As the Deputies know, last month the ESB shut down the Lough Ree power generating station to carry out planned maintenance. The generating station was due to return to service last weekend, but the decision was taken on Friday, 5 July, to defer this for up to a three-month period in order to address environmental and legal issues. As a result, Lough Ree power generating station does not require peat supplies from Bord na Móna. This has had an immediate and adverse knock-on effect on Bord na Móna which has been left with no choice but to cease all operations at the Mount Dillon bog and place the 72 permanent fuIl-time employees and 76 seasonal employees on protective notice. The 148 impacted on staff will remain on a temporary unpaid lay-off from Thursday, 18 July, until Bord na Móna is informed by the ESB that Lough Ree power generating station will return to normal operations. This is expected to take a period of between four and 12 weeks

Bord na Móna fully acknowledges the impact the decision will have on employees, their families and the wider community. The company has arranged a meeting tomorrow morning with the group of unions to work through the process and review all options. I am sure some of the questions raised about stocks will be answered at that meeting. Bord na Móna has committed to ensuring a range of supports will be available for the affected employees. All relevant State supports will also be made available to the workers impacted on by the announcement.

The situation has arisen from an issue with the integrated pollution control licence issued to Lough Ree power generating station. In 2018 the ESB applied to the EPA for a licence review for the station. A key facet of the application relates to amending the conditions imposed by the EPA in 2013 on the cooling water discharged by the station. The ESB has sought the amendment as monitoring of the river profile has shown that the station cannot comply with the new conditions during the summer months when river levels are lower. I understand that because it is a full licence review the EPA has had to have full consultations, which has meant that the application has taken some time to process. The EPA is considering the application and has requested a time extension of a further three months for its deliberations. I understand that last year, on foot of emissions in the summer of 2018, legal proceedings were issued against ESB in respect of the operation of the plant. It is in that context that the ESB has made the decision to keep Lough Ree power generating station shut down to avoid leaving the company open to the risk of further prosecutions over the operation of the plant. The ESB has its responsibilities, but I am nonetheless monitoring the situation closely. The EPA is an independent body that must make its decisions based on the processes set out in law.

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