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19 Jan 2022

Just Transition is "failing the people" in Offaly and the Midlands

Bord na Mona

With the move to a green economy and the loss of hundreds of jobs in Bord na Móna a Just Transition for the midlands region has been promised to bolster the region's economy.

The so-called “Just Transition” programme, whose purpose is to transition the midland counties from their traditional fuel sources to an alternative vision of producing power, has received a lot of criticism over recent months for being badly thought out and failing to take into consideration the habits and culture of local people.

Speaking to the Tribune last week Cllr Peter Ormond said a lot of people are exasperated with Just Transition because it clearly hasn't been properly thought through and seems oblivious of the reality on the ground.

“For example,” he said, “it's all very well getting rid of briquettes but not if you don't fill the void with something else.

“We have Derrinlough peat briquette factory near Birr. The 60 people employed there should continue to manufacture briquettes for the people of Ireland. Their briquettes should take precedence over all other briquettes in our shops. They should not be replaced with briquettes from Germany, as we have seen recently happen.

“It doesn't make sense to people when they see the government winding down peat production because of a laudable green agenda but then failing to put in place decent alternatives, with the result that briquettes have to be imported from abroad because the shops are not able to meet the market demand.

“If our aim is to get rid of peat briquettes then we should replace them with something similar but environmentally friendly.
“We also have to ask ourselves is it more carbon friendly to make peat briquettes in Offaly than in Germany?
“We also need to introduce incentives for people to introduce new forms of heating system into their homes, such as wood pellet boilers or heat pumps.

“The transition to a more green system in the midland counties has been very rushed. It was sped up in the last couple of years and to many people it looks too rushed and badly thought through.”

Bord na Móna recently provided a detailed legal briefing to politicians on peat extraction restrictions. The briefing stated that peat extraction operations, on bogs over 30 hectares, requires planning permission; and all peat extraction operations that contravene this ruling are illegal.

The briefing added that the company’s own peat harvesting operations were halted this year, and in parallel with this, Bord na Móna has migrated 350 employees from peat harvesting to the Peatlands Climate Action Scheme. The briefing pointed out that fortunately, the vast majority, 1600 people, who have cut turf on Bord na Móna lands are turbary rights holders, and they continue to enjoy the same rights as before. However, it is illegal for the approximately 30 Industrial Peat Contractors to extract peat under licence on Bord na Móna lands as before.

The company is engaging with stakeholders on the particular issues arising from the High Court ruling.

Deputy Brian Stanley stated that the outcome of this briefing regarding domestic turf cutting was “very disappointing.” He said the meeting included CEO Tom Donnellan and some TDs from Laois/Offaly. “The company,” remarked Deputy Stanley, “was to give feedback on possible options for turf cutters on lands they own. However, only a small number of options to continue turf cutting are being presented. Tom Donellan was adamant that the company cannot give licences to the 30 industrial peat contractors.

“One option which I and others have put forward is, for turf cutters to form local cooperatives or associations and lease part of a bog, but this may not be possible, as the company state the land would still have EPA designation.

“Mr Donnellan advocated that turf cutters seek representation on the Horticultural Peat Taskforce which is currently trying to find solutions in that sector. He stated any solutions arrived at could also have domestic turf cutting attached to it. However, I believe this may be overly optimistic. I outlined to the company representative what I believe could be realistic options on some of the bogs, these include the following:

“Where sections of bog are outside the designated area or where it may not have registered ownership, domestic turf cutting could be facilitated. Also if people moved off turf banks in years gone by to facilitate Bord Na Mona, they could be relocated, even if it included the company assisting with drainage etc.

“This should be regardless of whether they had turbary or other established rights such as rent paid or their family having used the bank over an extended period. Tom Donnellan gave a commitment to work with people in these situations to arrive at such localised solutions.

“Overall the situation is bleak for householders in Laois/Offaly whose homes depend on solid fuel and turf from Bord Na Mona bogs. There has been no “just transition” for them.

“This now puts an onus on Government to accelerate the retrofitting of homes in the Midlands and I will continue to push for this”.

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