Scores of jobs at remaining Bord na Móna facilities across the midlands could be lost if a new legal challenge to the company’s remaining turf operations is successful.
The harvesting of peat by Bord na Móna was permanently ceased in January 2021 as the company moved towards its “brown to green” bog rehabilitation and new green energy business plan.
The cessation of harvesting also followed a High Court ruling in 2019 that large-scale peat extraction, which requires an environmental impact assessment (EIA), also requires planning permission.
Since then, Bord na Móna has been using stockpiles of peat to supply the professional horticulture industry, to make briquettes and to fuel remaining power stations which continue to burn peat.
However, solicitors for environmental group Friends of the Irish Environment, which took the 2019 case, have warned Bord na Móna that planning permission, including a period of public consultation, is required before the stockpiles should be used.
The solicitors claimed the peat was extracted without the required planning permission, and without an EIA or appropriate assessment. “Bord na Móna now seeks to profit from this unauthorised development by using the material unlawfully extracted. The excavation and removal of peat stockpiles amounts to ‘works’ within the Planning and Development Act 2000 that itself require planning permission and may also require EIA and/or appropriate assessment,” the group said.
It said its action had been prompted by a revelation that Bord na Móna had 950,000 tonnes of peat stockpiled. If the company did not consent to seeking planning permission, the organisation would seek a High Court order compelling movement of stockpiles to stop, a spokesman said.
Bord na Móna has already shut down its two major peat-burning power plants in the midlands, at Lanesborough, Co Longford, and Shannonbridge, Co Offaly. It has also closed a briquette factory in Co Tipperary.
The company still supplies stockpiled peat to the Edenderry power plant in Co Offaly, where it is burned with biomass. Bord na Móna previously said it would cease supplying peat to Edenderry in 2023. The plant will then run on biomass alone. The plant employs about 60 people and is worth €15 million annually to the midlands economy.
Bord na Móna’s last remaining peat briquette factory, at Derrinlough, Co Offaly, is scheduled to continue until 2024. It also employs about 60 people.
Stockpiled peat is also used at the Bord na Móna plant at Kilberry, Co Kildare, where fertilisers, limes and nutrients are added to peat to make premium compost.
Further stockpiles are earmarked for a new venture by international composting company ICL, based at Cúil na Móna in Co Laois. ICL has leased the premises for an initial three years, to produce “growing media” for the professional horticultural industry. Bord na Móna will supply peat from its stockpiles for use in the process.
In a statement to The Irish Times, Bord na Móna said it had been advised that the movement of milled peat stockpiles did not require planning permission. The company said it operated under Environmental Protection Agency licences that regulate peat stockpile management, including weather protection, loading and removal from its lands.
A spokesman for trade union Siptu said news of the legal challenge to the use of stockpiles was “the first we have heard of it”. He said such a move would be a cause of concern.