Local TDs differ on benefits of Budget 2020 for Offaly
Offaly and Laois TDs have expressed differing views on the expected impact of Budget 2020 on Offaly and the wider Midlands area.
Although he criticised Fine Gael for perceived "mismanagement" during their term in Government, Offaly TD Barry Cowen did welcome the announcement of a new Just Transition Fund for the Midlands as part of Budget 2020.
A total of €31m in funding will be focused on the midlands region. The new fund will be focused on social housing retrofits, peatland rehabilitation and the local economy. It is seen primarily as a reaction to the continued decarbonisation and job losses at Bord na Mona.
"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," Deputy Cowen explained.
“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.
“€20m will be dedicated to the creation of a new energy efficiency scheme targeted, initially, at the social housing stock in the region. This will create new, sustainable employment in the region. €5m for peatland rehabilitation and €6m to a flexible fund to be focused on those local priorities.
“It is estimated that this new investment will support over 400 environmentally sustainable jobs, with up to 100 more jobs through expanded peatlands rehabilitation.
“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 Cowen concluded.
Elsewhere, Laois Sinn Féin TD and future Laois/Offaly election candidate Brian Stanley criticised the Government's 2020 budget for "failing to protect the Midlands."
"Despite an increase in carbon tax by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil which will bring in €550m next year, a miserly €6m has been allocated to a Just Transition fund," he claimed.
“Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s budget has failed to adequately address the need for a Just Transition plan for Bord na Móna and the midlands.
“Despite the fact that this Government has taken the cruel decision to increase the carbon tax by an additional €6 to a total of €26 per tonne, only a fraction of this will be re-invested in climate action.
“We all accept that Bord na Móna must transition away from peat, but if we are serious about climate action then we must put in place a transition for the workers and the local communities," Deputy Stanley continued.
“What we should be doing is transition workers in Bord na Móna from brown jobs in peat to green job in clean energy like biomass, biogas, solar and other renewable energy industries.
“The Government has also allocated a miserly €6m for Bog rehabilitation.
“These bogs could serve as carbon sinks, for tourism, educational purposes and horticulture. €6m just won’t cut it.
“This Government's budget represents little nothing more than a drop in the ocean when it comes to the financial investment which is needed and deserved in the midlands.”
Offaly TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy welcome what she described as "special measures to help the Just Transition in the Midlands."
"I am delighted to see that Budget 2020 includes a raft of measures aimed at alleviating pressure on Bord na Móna, its workers and their families," she said.
"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.
"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 claimed.
"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.
"I want to thank Minister Bruton and Minister Donohoe for their assistance and understanding of the impact that the transition away from fossil fuels will have on the Midlands region.
"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.
"To help communities determine the most pressing priorities Minister Bruton will shortly appoint a Just Transition Commissioner.
"The Commissioner will engage with all relevant stakeholders in the Midlands, including Bord na Móna and the relevant unions, and will work closely with the National Economic and Social Council and with the local taskforce.
"Investment of this scale in energy efficiency will support over 400 environmentally sustainable jobs, with up to 100 more jobs through expanded peatlands rehabilitation.
"I will continue to keep both the Taoiseach and Government informed of the measures taken and what needs to be done for the Midlands region," Marcella concluded.