Peat workers demand proper funding after ‘livelihoods destroyed’

Unions call for Government to lay out ‘clear roadmap’ of just transition from peat production

The Edenderry peat-driven power station in Co Offaly. Bord na Móna announced in November that peat production at its plants in Shannonbridge, Co Offaly, and Lanesborough, Co Longford would end by the end of 2020. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The Edenderry peat-driven power station in Co Offaly. Bord na Móna announced in November that peat production at its plants in Shannonbridge, Co Offaly, and Lanesborough, Co Longford would end by the end of 2020. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The scale of job losses already affecting the Midlands underlines the need for the Government to properly fund a “just transition” for the region as Bord na Móna gets out of peat production and the ESB closes two peat-fired power stations, according to unions representing energy workers.

The first report of Just Transition Commissioner Kieran Mulvey has set out the urgent need for Bord na Móna and the Government “to accelerate job creation and for replacement measures” but the issue of inadequate funding for transitioning away from fossil fuels had to be addressed, the unions said in a joint statement.

The Congress Energy Sector Group, which includes both Bord na Móna and ESB workers, said the Mulvey report contained “many positive recommendations that could contribute to the delivery of a genuine just transition in the Midlands”.

The group welcomed its recommendation for the creation of a dedicated new forum under the auspices of the Midlands Regional Transition Team (MRTT) involving unions, employers and other parties to focus on employment, training and reskilling. “This new forum should be established as a matter of priority,” it added.

The report called on Bord na Móna to outline plans on alternative employment for jobs threatened by the transition process and recent planning decisions, along with a new stimulus package for the Midlands.

“Such a stimulus was a clear recognition of the large and very damaging impact of the transition process in the Midlands to date, with several hundred jobs already lost and livelihoods destroyed,” it pointed out.

Bord na Móna announced in November that it was exiting peat production at its two peat-powered generating plants at Shannonbridge, Co Offaly, and Lanesborough, Co Longford, by the end of this year.

The group welcomed the report’s emphasis on fast-tracking job creation projects and the need to develop greater clarity and efficiency around planning regulations, especially relating to peat harvesting.

‘New opportunities’

Willie Noone of Siptu and chair of the Bord na Móna Group of Unions, said the company and Government must now set out a clear roadmap for the region’s transition.

He added: “We know where we are. We know where we want to go in terms of decent jobs and new opportunities. What we don’t have is a clear roadmap that sets out how and when we move from one to the other. This report can help create that roadmap, if the company and Government respond positively.”

Peat harvesting should be happening, Mr Noone said, as he believed “there is no legal or planning reason why workers cannot be actively engaged in harvesting at this moment, or starting the obligatory bog rehabilitation and decommissioning work. Unless this happens we will be looking at even more job losses.”

Ed Thompson of Unite welcomed the report’s emphasis on the need to inject both urgency and adequate funding into the process, “both of which have been sadly lacking to date”.

In Spain, a just transition plan for the coal regions was backed by €250 million in government funding. “We need to see the same level of commitment in the Midlands,” he said.

Congress representative on the MRTT Pádraig Mooney said: “The creation of a new forum for union employer engagement on job creation is a critical piece of the jigsaw . . . In addition, the recommendations relating to the West Offaly (Shannonbridge), Lough Ree and Edenderry power stations have considerable merit and could help secure their future.”

He called on political parties involved in government formation talks and any incoming government to endorse these key recommendations and help deliver for workers and communities in the Midlands.