Council to establish working group to ensure 'life after peat production' for Offaly workers
In light of Bord na Mona's long-term plans to end peat producton across the country in the next decade, Offaly County Council have passed a motion to establish a working group to ensure the future employment options for workers set to be affected by the business shift.
Bord na Mona has been an historical employer in Offaly but Cllr Eamon Dooley tabled a motion seeking action from Offaly County Council on sustaining a future for their workers beyond the peat production era, be that within Bord na Mona's ever-changing businesses or in other industries.
The motion said: "In light of the decision by Bord na Mona to cease peat production within the next decade, I call upon this Council to develop an Economic Strategy for the County, to address the employment needs of the workforce, provide training and employment opportunities for those entering the workforce, and protect the economic and social fabric of vulnerable rural communities."
Introducing his motion to members at the May meeting of Offaly County Council, Cllr Dooley said, "If we don't do something soon, we're going to be in trouble, jobs wise. It will be too late for us then."
He posed the idea of establishing a working group made up of the council and various stakeholders, including Bord na Mona, to assess the future employment options for the county, while also stating, "we need an investment fund." He suggested funding for a future-proof employment strategy within Offaly could be attained by taking a small percentage of the carbon tax paid through the county.
He estimated that approximately €10 million could be raised over the next decade to invest in job creations tactics, education and training measures, and future councl strategies to avoid large numbers of unemployed.
Cllr Declan Harvey supported the motion, adding, "it'll [peat production] will be gone before we know it. It's time to get cracking at it." Cllr Dervill Dolan echoed those sentiments by saying, "it's something we need to do sooner rather than later."
Cllr John Leahy also spoke in favour of the motion for a working group to look at ways of "keeping jobs in Offaly," going on to say, "the big picture is being looked at through a motion like this and I welcome that." Cllr John Foley made similar remarks, claiming, "a working group will help all of Offaly."
Cllr Eddie Fitzptrick expressed his hope that Bord na Mona would be involved in such a process along with the "communities that supported them for years." Cllr Dervill Dolan posed the idea that some premises being made available thorugh Bord na Mona's move away from peat could be used as apprenticeship of training hubs.
Cllr Noel Cribbin also welcomed the motion and suggested that some land currently owned and used by Bord na Mona could be re-purposed or sold to facilitate the likes of data centres which have the capacity to create jobs in Offaly.
Responding to the members' remarks, Cathaoirleach Liam Quinn said the Council must first find out what Bord na Mona's exact plans are now that they are planning to halt peat production. He suggested "joined up thinking" was required to create the best possible outcome for Offaly workers into the future.
Offaly County Council Chief Executive Anna Marie Delaney also supported the concept, suggesting Offaly County Council was "best placed to head up just such a working group." She said that contact has been made with new Bord na Mona Chief Executive Tom Donnellan to establish the company's plan. "We will be engaging with them on this," she added.
Delaney also suggested that Offaly County Council and councillors be joined on the steering group by the likes of the Laois Offaly Education and Training Board, The Department of Social Protection, th eRegional Skills Forum, as well as Bord na Mona itself.
It's thought that these stakeholders could be involved in any upskilling or re-training neccessary to ensure long-term employment in Offaly after peat production is ceased in the coming years.
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