21 Jan 2022

Offaly councillors slam slow pace of Just Transition roll-out

Offaly councillors slam slow pace of Just Transition roll-out

The Just Transition programme is designed to help communities impacted by the winding down of peat harvesting.

The councillors of Offaly County Council slammed the slow roll out of the Just Transition programme during their recent monthly meeting.

Director of Services Stephane Duclot told the meeting that the Just Transition project has been steadily creating more jobs in the midlands. "The funding from the programme is now supporting 44 projects in the midlands including 16 Strand One projects. This has created 44 direct jobs and 570 indirect jobs."

He pointed out that the EU's Territorial Just Transition plan will be published in the late Autumn "and will be implemented from the first quarter of next year over a period of five to six years during which Bord na Móna should create 885 jobs."

He added that a representative of the ESB will meet the Council next month to discuss the Community Gain Fund. (Community Gain Funds provide financial assistance to a community as part of the development of infrastructure in that community).

Cllr Eamon Dooley said he was taking Mr Duclot's update with just "a grain of salt". "Some of the Strand One projects may actually become a reality, they may actually happen but I doubt it. I think we are being sold a pup here.

"There are many questions we want answers to, but those answers are very unlikely to come. For example, silt is lining the beds and sides of streams and rivers. This silt runoff was created by peat harvesting. We have no idea what the peat depth is of the silt in any of the streams.

"We want a meeting with the CEO of Bord na Móna Tom Donnellan, no one else."

Cllr Dooley said the €108 million Just Transition funding granted to the region sounds a great deal but all of that money is going towards bog rehabilitation and nothing towards the communities and job creation. "As we speak Bord na Móna is selling off their assets. And yet central government is willing to throw money at them but with no positive effects for communities. Bord na Móna is financed by taxpayers' money and yet Bord na Móna has only brought promises to the table so far."

"Stephane's update," said Cllr Clendennen, "seems to be positive, but the public's mood, is anything but positive. How many jobs has Just Transition created? It seems very little. It has almost become a spending spree rather than a job creation enterprise.”

He criticised Bord na Móna's handling of the bike hire contract in Lough Boora, which hasn't operated at all during 2021.

“If we can't rely on Bord na Móna to provide a few bikes then how can we expect them to deal with the much bigger challenge of replacing lost jobs in Offaly? At the moment there are a lot of people coming to Lough Boora hoping to hire a bike, because they have seen it advertised, and they are leaving the place with a bad taste in their mouth because there are no bikes available.”

Cllr Tony McCormack agreed. He said all of the councillors are mistrustful of Bord na Móna's statements and true intentions.

“We all think that these aren't in fact real jobs which they are creating,” he said. “They are just moving numbers around.” He said the lack of a bike hire service in Lough Boora is “a shame and a disgrace.” He added that Lough Boora is a vast area and it's easier to explore it using a bike.

The councillors pointed out that the current uncertainty around electricity provision to homes during winter has added more criticism of the decision to close the peat-fired plants in Shannonbridge and Lanesboro. “Minister Ryan has admitted that we might be getting blackouts in Ireland during the coming winter,” commented Cllr McCormack.

“We should write to the ESB and demand they switch back on the plants in Shannonbridge and Lanesboro. We are a first world country and yet we are talking about possible electricity blackouts. It's a very retrograde step. Regular blackouts are things which happen in third world countries.”

Cllr John Leahy said Just Transition has introduced a number of good training programmes which will bear fruit a couple of years down the line. However, the slow pace of the Just Transition programme is very frustrating. He pointed out that the tracks in Lough Boora are in poor condition and are damaging bikes. “Even runners have stopped using them they are so bad.”

Cllr Leahy said most families are reliant on solid fuel such as turf, briquettes, and wood for their fireplaces. He pointed out that much of the environmental chatter is missing this key point. “I don't know of any family in the county which isn't using solid fuel such as turf, briquettes or wood. I don't know of any family which is using a pellet-fuelled stove. Some of the environmentalist aspirations can seem a bit divorced from the reality on the ground. I don't know anybody who has an electric car. And now there is talk of the carbon tax being increased this year. The ordinary person can't survive further increases in tax. There is a poverty out there in our society which is second to none.”

Cllr Neil Feighery said Bord na Móna are very good at producing glossy brochures and making big promises. “The company has promised much but not much has yet been delivered,” he remarked. “I like the projects which are going to cultivate crops on the cutaway bogs but this could take several years to bear fruit. I sometimes wonder if Bord na Móna is setting up Just Transition projects, like cultivating crops, to fail.”

Cllr Peter Ormond called for an urgent, pre-Dáil-budget meeting with TDs to discuss accelerating Just Transition. Regarding the absence of bike hire in Boora he said the “big fear is that Boora won't be able to maintain its impressive annual visitor numbers if there are not bikes available to hire. Lough Boora is one of the six pillars in Offaly's tourism offering. We need to protect it.

“We are being fed all these positive announcements and claims about the Just Transition process and yet on the ground the reality is very different. The amount of income coming into communities in Offaly, and west Offaly in particular, is considerably less than it was a few years ago.”

Cllr Ken Smollen pointed out that homelessness remains a big problem throughout Ireland and the government is not getting on top of it at all. He said about 10,000 people in Offaly are living below the poverty line. “Next Monday alone dozens of families will be appearing at repossession sittings in the local court. Retrofitting sounds great but it's not a possibility for many people.”

Chief Executive Anna Marie Delaney said she concurred with Cllr Smollen's fuel poverty concerns.

Cllr Danny Owens said it might be time for the state to buy Lough Boora off Bord na Móna.

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