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'Bittersweet' Announcement As Derrinlough To Stay Open With Littleton To Close

Thursday, 11 May 2017

IT was a mixed bag of emotions when Bord na Mona confirmed the closure of its peat briquette factory in Littleton, Co Tipperary and that the semi-state company is to concentrate all manufacturing at its plant in Derrinlough last week.
Following a review of its briquette production operations, Bord na Mona announced last Thursday that Littleton will close by April 2018 while Derrinlough was chosen as the 'sole location' for future peat briquette production and a new biomass briquette. A total of 69 people are employed full time at Littleton and dozens more are employed at the nearby peat-harvesting operation, which will also be affected by the move while the 61 staff at Derrinlough were told their jobs will remain.
This week, representatives of the Bord na Mona Group of Unions met with management on Monday and informed them they will not engage with the company until it removed a threat to close its peat briquette plant in Littleton. BNM Groups of Unions Secretary and SIPTU Organiser, John Regan, said: 'The meeting in the Tullamore Court Hotel, Tullamore, this afternoon followed a meeting between BNM Group of Unions shop stewards and officials earlier this morning.'
'On behalf of their members, the BNM Group of Unions representatives expressed to management their disappointment at the disgraceful manner in which the company had last week announced its decision to close the Littleton plant. In particular, they highlighted the unacceptable failure of management to engage with the BNM Group of Unions in advance of the decision to close the plant. The BNM group of Unions representatives told management that they were not prepared to engage with it on its agenda if it does not remove the threat to close the Littleton plant in March 2018. The meeting concluded with management being informed that it will have to report back to the Board of the company and tell it that it must make a decision on this core issue for our members.'
Mr Regan continued: 'Management was also informed that the BNM Group of Unions intends to meet with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten, to discuss the threat to close the Littleton plant. This meeting is expected to take place at the Just Transition Climate Change seminar taking place in the Communications Workers Union conference centre on Wednesday, May 10th. The BNM group of Unions representatives added that their members will consider industrial action in order to prevent the closure taking place.'
In a statement to the Tribune, Bord na Mona stated the review into peat operations was prompted by the 'very significant decline in sales over the past few years. Increased competition, consumer trends, low oil prices, carbon tax and other factors have all resulted in a fall in sales in the past four years. This fall in sales prompted a review in briquetting operations that has mandated to identify a solution to the challenges that would sustain the business and jobs for the long term.'
On Thursday last, employees of both briquette factories were briefed on the details of the review conclusions by Head of Bord na Móna Fuels, Eddie Scaife. Speaking after the briefing Eddie Scaife said: 'This has been a very difficult decision following a period of uncertainty for employees. We took a great deal of care with this review to ensure that a wide range of factors were taken into account. Briquette sales have declined significantly in the past few years as we have encountered unprecedented market, financial and regulatory challenges. Ultimately we had to make a decision that ensured we had a business that could survive these challenges and safeguard the biggest number of briquetting jobs.'
Regarding the closure of Littleton, Independent TD for Tipperary, Michael Lowry said it was a 'really bad and sad day' for the dedicated workforce at the Littleton Plant and their dependent families. 'It's yet another hammer blow for rural Tipperary. This decision wipes out a traditional industry, with all its financial reward, its rich history and its tradition. This decision in respect of Littleton is greeted with anger and despair. I have previously in the Dail raised serious concerns and questions regarding the independence of the internal decision making process within Bord na Mona.'
Offaly/North Tipperary TD and Minister for Health Promotion, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy welcomed the confirmation from Bord na Mona that peat briquette production in Derrinlough will continue and that a new biomass production plant will be developed at the site.
'This is welcome news for the skilled workforce in Derrinlough after a very stressful period of uncertainty for them and their families. It is great to see Bord na Mona diversifying and creating a new biomass briquette that will be more sustainable and which will secure the future of production at Derrinlough. This is a clear indication from the company that they are innovative and responding to Ireland's responsibility to address climate change and reduce our carbon footprint.'
'Notwithstanding the relief felt by the workforce in Derrinlough, it is a very sad day for the company and the workers at the Littleton facility with the decision to cease production there next April. I regret that Bord na Mona had to come to this decision in order to secure the viability of its briquette production business. I welcome assurances from the company that they will be establishing a long term resource plan for the workers. It is incumbent on the company to look after this loyal and skilled workforce. I look forward to the development of the new biomass facility at Derrinlough. The company has confirmed that intends to seek planning approval for the new facility in the coming months.'
Meanwhile, Fianna Fail TD, Barry Cowen described Bord na Mona's announcement to retain its briquette production plant at Derrinlough was a 'bittersweet moment' for Offaly. The Offaly TD said the closure of the Littleton plant was a 'setback for the wider Midlands region' and highlighted the need for new investment opportunities to secure the long-term viability of Bord na Mona.
'The people of Offaly will be relieved to learn that the briquette production plant in Derrinlough is set to remain open, but nonetheless it's deeply disappointing that Bord na Mona has been forced to close the Littleton plant due to falling demand. The Derrinlough plant is a significant employer in the region and contributes a great deal to the local economy. I have been aware that Bord na Móna has been considering the future of its briquette production plants in recent months. I have met with workers and management at the company on many occasions with the aim of keeping both factories at Derrinlough and Littleton open. It's now apparent that the company has decided to cease production at Littleton while keeping the Derrinlough plant open. It's a bittersweet moment of the people of Offaly.
'Bord na Móna has been a significant employer in Offaly down through the years and remains an important part of the local economy. The Government needs to step in and help the company diversify to ensure it can remain a significant employer in the years ahead. A new enterprise fund is needed to help Bord na Móna, and the companies dependent on it, to diversify into new forms of energy production.  It's positive to see Bord na Móna commit to constructing a new biomass plant at Derrinlough and I'm hopeful that this will lead to increased investment in the area over time.
'I have been raising this issue with Minister Denis Naughten in the Dáil and have made the case for part of the revenue raised through the carbon tax to be ring-fenced for investment in the Midlands region. The purpose of this investment is to allow Bord na Móna to pump more resources into new forms of energy which in turn will help safeguard the future of the company in the years ahead. This is something which I will continue to push both within my own party and with the Government,' he added.

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