The issues dominating General Election 2020 for Offaly voters
The 2020 general election takes place on Saturday, February 8. Offaly people will vote in the newly reformed Laois-Offaly constituency and will elect five TDs between both counties.
On the Offaly side of the border, the big issue is job losses and the general unknown surrounding the future of employment for Bord na Mona workers. The so-called Just Transition fund announced by Fine Gael in the 2020 budget will largely take shape under the next government, although Kieran Mulvey has already been appointed as the Just Transition commissioner. He will be based in Offaly.
Bord na Mona is currently turning from brown to green energy production and will effectively end peat production within the next five years. West Offaly Power Station is due to be demolished, the biomass-burning Edenderry Power Station may also be on borrowed time considering An Bord Pleanala's refusal to grant Shannonbridge permission to burn biomass. Edenderry's licence runs out in this decade.
All of this has led to huge job losses at Bord na Mona whose traditional heartland is Offaly. This county will be hardest hit and there is widespread concern for the future of the largely middle-aged workforce there. Local councillors and opposition candidates don't believe a redirect of laid-off workers into social housing retrofitting jobs will be sufficient, as announced in the last budget. Voters have blasted a lack of foresight and want meaningful solutions for future employment in rural Offaly front and centre for prospective candidates.
The other big issue in Offaly is housing with the slow rate of social housing builds and handovers frustrating local people. Between those on the social housing list and those in HAP properties, almost 1,500 people are awaiting local authority housing solutions in Offaly. More than 20 are in emergency accommodation in the county.
One councillor suggested the fewer than 200 housing allocations made in Offaly in 2019 was "barely scratching the surface" and many have long been calling for more freedom from the government to enable local authority building schemes. The dependence on approved housing bodies for housing has also been a bone of contention locally, as has the lack of availability of affordable housing for many.
Offaly voters regularly vent about the so-called economic recovery of the country not reaching Offaly and it is those sentiments, ultimately, fuelling frustrations.
More and more young people from Offaly are working outside the county, the social housing list is still sizeable and the threat of job losses at Bord na Mona looms large. These issues will get Offaly people to the ballot box and could decide the seats on this side of the constituency.