A MAMMOTH €31 million “Just Transition Fund” for the midlands to offset the move from fossil fuels and its impact on Bord na Mona and its workers has been unveiled in Budget 2020.
The package contains a range of range of measures aimed at allevitating pressure on Bord na Mona, its employees and their families, said local Fine Gael TD, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy.
Her constituency rival, Deputy Barry Cowen, who was a member of the Fianna Fáil negotiation team in the pre-Budget talks, said his party had secured the key fund in Budget 2020.
“We fought long and hard to ensure that the transition to a green economy in the midlands is given the support it needs. I am happy to confirm that after direct talks with the Minister for Finance over the past number of weeks Fianna Fáil has secured a new fund for Offaly and the surrounding counties,” stressed Deputy Cowen.
Deputy Corcoran Kennedy emphasised the Midlands region “has been specifically catered for by Fine Gael in Budget 2020 to help mitigate the impact on moving away from fossil fuels for Bord na Móna workers.”
“Since Bord na Móna announced its decarbonisation transition last October, I have been to the forefront of campaigning for a ‘Just Transition’ for Offaly and for the region with my Government colleagues. I have consistently raised this matter with my colleagues in Government to ensure that workable solutions are delivered for all the affected stakeholders,” she outlined.
The new fund will be focused on social housing retrofits, peatland rehabilitation and the local economy. It will have an independent Just Transition Commissioner to oversee the fund.
The main aim will be to plan, invest and implement a transition to alternative and sustainable jobs in different sectors that will protect and enhance the economy of the region, said Deputy Cowen.
He continued: “The Midlands has a proud tradition of work with Bord na Mona that stretches back for decades and across countless households. We now need to prepare for the transition to a green economy that promotes employment and invests in communities. This is a key test for our state to show that we can change to a green pathway while protecting jobs and communities affected by that transition.”
Deputy Corcoran Kennedy recalled that “in August, my colleague on Offaly County Council, Cllr Noel Cribbin brought a proposal to me to prioritise the retrofitting of properties in Offaly and other midlands counties impacted by the transition away from peat harvesting for energy generation.
“Cllr Cribbin suggested the establishment of a specific fund by Government to carry out much needed retrofitting on local housing stock and generate significant economic activity for the region. I brought this proposal to my colleagues, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Richard Bruton TD and the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe and intensive discussions were held in recent weeks in advance of the Budget to devise the scheme.
Stressed the Offaly Government TD: “The transition away from peat, towards more sustainable, renewable energy sources, will have a significant impact on the Midlands and Bord na Móna in particular. Minister Bruton will shortly announce further details of a comprehensive, all of government response to support the region through the transition.”
Among the new measures introduced in the Budget include:
• €6m Just Transition Fund targeted at the Midlands. This funding will support retraining and reskilling workers and assist local communities and businesses in the midlands to adjust to the low carbon transition. There will be further consultation with the structures in place in the Midlands, including the Midlands Transition Team, on the application of the funding.
• €5m for bog restoration and rehabilitation which will restore bogs to their natural habitat and become sinks that absorb carbon. This programme will support the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to restore 1,800 hectares of bog in 7 counties, resulting in 28m tonnes of carbon stored over the next 5 years. It will create 70 jobs in year one rising to 100 as the programme develops.
• €20m to deliver new model to group housing upgrades together as set out in the Climate Action Plan. Targeted at the Midlands, this will support an estimated 400 jobs directly and indirectly, as well as significantly upgrading the social stock in the region during 2020.
Deputy Corcoran Kennedy said “investment of this scale in energy efficiency will support over 400 environmentally sustainable jobs, with up to 100 more jobs through expanded peatlands rehabilitation.”