Bord na Móna’s decision to cease peat extraction on 17 of its 62 active bogs immediately, and cease all extraction sooner than expected, is very painful for the rural communities affected. Up to 500 jobs will be lost.
Chief executive Tom Donnellan based the decision on Ireland's international obligations, and national necessity, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He described decarbonisation as "the biggest challenge facing this planet." It is refreshing, though it should not be remarkable, that the head of a fossil fuel company should so bluntly acknowledge its role in the climate crisis.
It is also notable that no local community or union spokesperson has questioned this rationale, though they are rightly determined to see job losses minimised through effective retraining.
The climate crisis would be much easier to manage if all those responsible took their responsibilities as seriously as Bord na Móna has. Indeed, it seems unjust that workers in very disadvantaged areas should take such a big hit when other sectors continue to increase emissions with impunity, often with the Government’s blessing.
Donnellan points out that decarbonisation is also “a national opportunity”. Many jobs can be created in renewable energies, and in recycling.
However, there is also a golden opportunity for the company (and for Coillte, the State's other mega-landowner) to reimagine their roles, and become restorers of healthy environments rather than simply resource extractors. There is a significant double benefit here: jobs can be created in managing landscapes for biodiversity, with tourism bringing added value. But restored peatlands and woodlands can also sequester and store carbon, thus significantly mitigating climate change.
Bord na Móna has an honourable record as a social employer in rural areas, and this role must find new expressions along these lines. But to underpin this kind of evolution, it is vital that the Government has an overall vision for transforming jobs in all sectors while urgently mitigating climate change. Sadly, the last budget showed no real evidence that it does.