German peat briquettes causing widespread anger in Offaly

'I do not see the sense in this' Laois TD brings German briquette to Dáil

Deputy Brian Stanley expressed the frustration of many people last week when he held aloft a German peat briquette in the Dáil, declaring, 'I do not see the sense in this'

There is widespread anger in Offaly and Tipperary at the sale of peat briquettes from Germany in our shops.

Cathaoirleach of Offaly County Council Cllr John Carroll said there's a lot of anger and frustration and a sense of helplessness in the minds of the general public since Ireland began importing the briquettes.

Bord na Móna stopped peat harvesting in February but said it has enough stockpiles of the fuel to create briquettes until 2024.

The only factory still making briquettes in Ireland is in Derrinlough near Birr, where 60 people are employed. The employees in Derrinlough fear that they won't last until 2024 and the stockpiles of peat will run out in a year to 18 months.

“A lot of people are very angry about this in Offaly,” commented Cllr Carroll. “We are once again being good Europeans and we are closing down our peat harvesting. Meanwhile Germany has reopened its coal mines and is exporting peat briquettes to us to satisfy the demand for briquettes in Ireland. Our peat moss in gardening centres is being imported from Lithuania.

“People wouldn't mind if we were producing replacement material for the briquettes and for the peat moss in our country; instead we are importing. It's obviously very unfair and is creating a sense of helplessness in people's minds because the government is disregarding the people and just ploughing on with its green agenda, a green agenda which is not answerable to the people.”

The Councillor added that Derrinlough needs a major investment and major upgrade. Instead its future is completely uncertain.

Last week a Laois / Offaly TD dramatically held aloft one of the German peat briquettes during a session in the Dáil. Speaking on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 Deputy Brian Stanley argued that the fact we have to get to grips with the issue of climate change is beyond doubt, but how we do it is the question.

“We have to become carbon neutral by 2050 and we have to decarbonise,” he remarked.

“We accept the cessation of commercial peat harvesting, but this has been a big hit to the economy and jobs in the midlands. There is also a ban on domestic turf cutting. For some families and households, jobs have been lost and their domestic fuel is gone, not in ten years, as projected, but in ten months. Some of these householders are former Bord na Móna employees. Earlier, Government speakers referred to the elaborate new high-tech systems for retrofitting houses.”

The Deputy pointed out that while that is where we want to get to and while it is the ideal, those systems are not available this year and households are also being told they cannot engage in small-scale domestic turf cutting. He said these households have no alternative at this point.

“Transition from commercial peat harvesting was to take place over a ten-year timeframe, but, as I said, it was done over ten months. Meanwhile, peat briquettes that are high in carbon are being imported from Germany and further afield in eastern Europe.”

He said that in the manufacture and transport of these products from Germany and eastern Europe, very high levels of carbon are emitted and thousands of carbon miles are clocked up.

He then dramatically held aloft one of the German peat briquettes.

“ I have in my hand one such product from Germany. It was shipped here from thousands of miles away. This stands logic on its head. I do not see the sense in this. These products are sold within a stone's throw of the briquette factory at Derrinlough in Offaly. Meanwhile, that factory is being scaled down.

“We accept that commercial peat harvesting will have to end, but that does not make sense if at the same time we are allowing these products to be imported into the locality where briquettes were made, and that facility will close in just under three years' time.”

The Deputy added that last year, he raised the issue of small-scale domestic turf cutting in the Dáil. “Nothing has been done in the interim to resolve matters. I have argued for a just transition and, during my time as Sinn Féin spokesperson on climate action, I brought forward ambitious policies in that regard. We need to move on this today. The science supports that.

“Jobs in the midlands are not plentiful. Household income in Laois-Offaly is 15% lower than the State average.

“Retrofitting has commenced and I welcome that but it needs to be accelerated. There are thousands of homes that require retrofitting, many of them inhabited by low-income families who do not have the money to retrofit.

“In the area of renewable energy, we have a site at Shannonbridge in West Offaly that is in a pivotal position in terms of the national grid. It needs to be a connection point for renewable energy, solar power, wind energy, biomass and biogas.

“The Mount Lucas training facility should be scaled up to a large national training centre that can deliver the apprenticeships that are needed to train people to carry out retrofits and acquire the building skills needed to build the homes that are required to meet the housing shortage. Small-scale domestic turf cutting will peter out over a generation or less but, for now, it must be protected. The families concerned have no alternative. I fully support the proposed transition but it must be a just transition for Laois, Offaly and the midlands.”

Cllr John Carroll called on the government to rethink its approach and win back the people, because at the moment it's lost the hearts and minds of many in the midlands.

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