The crisis in Bord na Mona has reached a “critical stage”, according to unions representing workers at Bord na Mona as calls are made for immediate escalation of promised national 'Just Transition' strategy to avert jobs threat.
At a meeting last week with the Chief Executive Officer of the company, Tom Donnellan, the Group of Unions (SIPTU, CONNECT, UNITE) was informed that unless a “sense of urgency” was injected into the concept of a “Just Transition”, accompanied by real support for the stakeholders, the future of the Bord na Mona appeared “dire”.
According to Willie Noone, the secretary of the GOU, Mr Donnellan said that if nothing changes with the next month a “seismic decision” will have to be made and it will not be “good news” for workers.
“Concrete and real solutions are now required while the Government must urgently establish its promised national 'Just Transition' taskforce to deal with the issues affecting Bord na Mona workers and their communities and to avoid catastrophic jobs losses at the company.”
Independent TD, Carol Nolan said she was seeking an “immediate meeting” with Mr Donnellan, following the alarming news last week of an overwhelming threat to the entire workforce of the company.
Deputy Nolan stated: “In May of this year, I described the government's delay in accessing significant amount of EU funding to assist job creation and investment for the midlands region as lethargic and disjointed. This was against the background of the government’s failure to apply in a timely manner to the EU Commission’s Coal Region in Transition Platform, launched in early 2017, a full year before Bord na Mona made its original announcement of the 430 job losses.”
“The midlands membership of the platform was only confirmed to me in August when I pursued the matter yet again with two separate government Ministers. We can now see the devastating impact of this kind of sluggish commitment by government to tap into EU funds-funds that could have escalated the implementation of the Just Transition strategy.”
“I am therefore renewing my call to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Richard Bruton, and indeed the Minister for Business, Heather Humphries, to urgently engage with the concerns expressed today not only by the GOU, but also by the CEO of Bord na Móna itself.”
Concluding, Deputy Nolan said: “We cannot tolerate any further delay in terms of a move toward a Just Transition especially since it is now absolutely clear what such a delay entails.”
The Chairperson of Offaly County Council, Cllr. Peter Ormond along with Cllr Eamon Dooley met with some employees of Bord Na Mona on Thursday last in Ferbane Business Park. The councillors were informed by employees that representative of workers met with Tom Donnellan, Managing Director and CEO on Thursday morning last and that a decision was imminent from the board within a month.
At the meeting with Employees, Cllr Ormond and Cllr. Dooley informed the employees that Cllr Dooley had proposed a motion at the July meeting for the council to meet with Tom Donnellan and senior management to discuss the future of Bord Na Mona. This meeting was due to take place with the Management of Bord Na Mona on Monday next in Mount Lucas. However in recent days it emerged that Tom Donnellan was not available to meet with the councillors. Cllr Ormond took the decision after consulting with other members to defer the meeting with Bord Na Mona until they received further clarification and Tom Donnellan was available to meet.
In 2015, Bord Na Mona announced that the harvesting of peat for power generation was to be phased out by 2030 at which point the company would complete its transition to new sustainable businesses located across its bogs and landholdings.
“This quickly became 2027, then 2025 and now it could be all over by the end of the year. The transition was supposed to be nearly ten years and this would also allow employees to retrain and gain new skills. The employees who have provided many years of loyal service to Board Na Mona have been kept in the dark until now. The employees are important stakeholders in this process and until this week, they have not been hearing anything from management regarding their future. Now, it emerges that they are been warned by management that if nothing changed within a month, they would have to make a seismic decision that would not be good news for workers.”
Following the announcement by the unions on Friday, Cllr Dooley stated there was a serious doubt and uncertainty over the future of employment at Bord Na Mona in Offaly. “There is over 2million tonne of peat harvested in the bogs in Offaly and the very least we need to hear from Government and Minister Bruton is that the PSO be extended until the end of 2020 and use the existing peat to fuel the power station. This would only be a short term solution, but it would give a small window of opportunity for the transition team to progress their agenda.”
Cllr Ormond stated that serious questions needed to be asked about the finances of the company. “The employees need to know if their pensions are safe and that they will receive their pensions when due. This could have devastating effect on current employees as well as former workers who depend on the Bord Na Mona pensions.”
“When Bord Na Mona was originally set up in 1946, its aim was to provide economic benefit for Irish Midland Communities and achieve security of energy supply for the country. It is important that they continue with their aim and provide the families and communities in Offaly with valuable employment opportunities.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy held intensive discussions with Minister Donohoe and Minister Richard Bruton seeking a urgent response to the accelerated decarbonisation in Offaly.
“In light of the decision in July by An Bord Pleanála to refuse the application by the ESB to co-fuel the Shannonbridge power station with biomass, I highlighted to Minister Donohoe and Minister Bruton the need for an urgent response from Government to revise the timelines and bring forward a financial package immediately for the Midlands peat region, in particular in Offaly.”
“During our discussions, I called on Ministers Donohoe and Bruton to ensure that a specific fund to support the workers and communities is put in place between now and the budget on Tuesday week, 8th October. For some time, I have called on carbon tax revenues to be directed towards this fund and I welcome positive sounding from my Government colleagues on this proposal.”
“The transition from peat mining in the Midlands has been flagged for many years and it has been accepted by Bord na Móna and the ESB, its biggest customer that it would be peat free by 2028.”
“The managed transition out of peat has been significantly impacted and complicated by An Bord Pleanála decision’s to refuse planning for the West Offaly Power Station beyond the end of 2020. The expectation was that from early 2020 the plant would operate by gradually reducing the volumes of peat and increasing volumes of biomass so that by the end of 2027 the station would be fuelled exclusively by biomass.”
“I demand that this matter is resolved for the protection of the workers and their families, a solution must be found. The Government and the EU institutions have all committed to a ‘Just Transtion’ for workers and it is an imperative that action is taken on this immediately.”
“As the Government TD in Offaly, I am absolutely determined to fight tooth and nail to work towards a solution to this matter that will protect the workers, their families and the local communities. I take heart from the Taoiseach’s commitment to ensure a just transition for the midlands region. I emphasised to my Government colleagues that it is now time to put meat on the bones on the package that is needed to deliver a just transition for workers and the local communities.”