The Government has acknowledged the fear and frustration of ESB and Bord na Móna workers set to lose their jobs as the ESB ceases peat-fired power generation at its plants in the midlands, but insisted that the decarbonisation agenda would continue.
“As you can imagine there’s a lot of frustration,” Minister for Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton told journalists at the Lanesboro power plant in Co Longford, due to close next year, after a meeting with workers on Monday afternoon.
“These people have given their life to these power plants and you can well understand how they feel,” he said.
“We did have a very good discussion. I think it was very respectful but very firm – people setting out their worries and their concern for the future. We’re here to try and develop an alternative future for people because although we would like it otherwise, we have to exit peat much earlier than we had planned, and we now have to make sure that we have alternative employment for people.”
“There’s a lot of food for thought from what people said,” he said.
He said that the Government understood the need to have job opportunities for people in the near future, with the plants due to close next year.
Mr Bruton said the Government is “determined to create an alternative future for people”.
“There will be alternative job opportunities that will be sustainable,” he insisted.
Ministers have promised a “just transition” and unveiled a number of initiatives to provide employment and rejuvenation for the midlands areas affected by the end of peat-powered generation.
The Department of Climate Action and Environment has said the plan includes an €11 million “just transition fund” to retrain workers, €5 million for bog restoration and rehabilitation and €20 million for a scheme to retrofit houses in the area to make them more energy efficient – a scheme the Government says will provide 400 jobs.
Mr Bruton also said there were opportunities to develop tourism in the area and “a food hub here in Lanesborough”.
Mr Bruton, along with ministers Paschal Donohoe, Josepha Madigan and Kevin Boxer Moran were in the midlands for a series of meetings with management, staff and unions at the industries affected by the proposed closure of the plants.
The Government was keen to stress its plans to replace the jobs that will be lost but locals were sceptical that the funds and jobs promised will materialise.