I may be of some help to Deputies. Last night Deputy O'Malley suggested that the Minister might put copies of the ESB report on the Table of the House. For the information of Deputies, copies are now in the Library for the use of Deputies and Senators.
Private Members' Business. - Proposed Closure of ESB Stations: Motion (Resumed).
I am grateful to the Minister for that announcement but I am at a disadvantage because I have not got a copy. Perhaps the Minister would kindly arrange with his officials to have a copy provided.
They are in the Library.
That is no good to me. I am here and I must resume the debate. Perhaps one of the officials would be kind enough to pass me a copy. I would be grateful for it. This is one of the most important motions to come before the House in my time here. I have never seen so many Deputies from both sides so anxious to speak on a motion. It affects not only the midlands but many regions throughout the west. I am glad copies of this ESB plan have been issued. We know the document was leaked deliberately by the ESB. At Question Time today the Minister said this matter was the ESB's responsibility because it concerns the generation of electricity and other operations of the board. The Government of the day are responsible for semi-State bodies and they cannot shift that responsibility to the ESB.
This year an Bord Gáis increased the price of their product to the ESB and in my opinion that was done solely by the Government in order to get money for the Exchequer. In my estimation this increase meant approximately £40 million a year extra cost to the ESB at a time when industry and consumers in general were complaining about the price of electricity. With a stroke of the pen the Government added that huge extra cost indirectly to the consumer of electricity.
The turf-fuelled generating stations throughout the country and their employees have served us well. So have Bord na Móna who provided the fuel. There has been some discussion about the cost of Bord na Móna fuel to the ESB. In my opinion Bord na Móna have only brought the price of turf to a reasonable level, and that position will remain for some time. I would point out that Deputy Reynolds, as Minister, allowed an increase to Bord na Móna last year because the European Investment Bank would not lend the board any more money until they had brought their prices up to realistic levels.
It has been Fianna Fáil's policy as far as possible to burn native fuel in the generation of electricity. A few years ago the ESB were very glad to burn native fuel. Anyway, it is good for the economy. Apart from keeping the money at home, disputes in foreign lands could make it difficult for us to import fuel. As well, we are paying for our foreign coal in dollars and in sterling and the exchange rates can be most unfavourable to us.
In the midlands and throughout the west these threatened closures will have a devastating effect. For every one job lost in the ESB, three will be lost in Bord na Móna. That figure has not been contradicted. Subsidiary industries and firms who now supply equipment to Bord na Móna and the ESB will also be seriously affected. Successive Governments told us, when we sought major employment-giving industries in Offaly: "You are OK — you have Bord na Móna and the ESB". We would not be all right with the plans now before us. These closures would have a detrimental effect on the economy of the midland region.
Our spokesman on Industry, Deputy Reynolds, is in hospital and he would very much have liked to contribute to this debate. He wants to assure the workers of his constituency and those in other areas that he is with them in this and that we will not allow the closures to take place.
Sod and milled peat has been used in these stations for many years and I do not see any reason for change. I warn the Minister and the board of the ESB that if they try to deliver a sweetener we will meet it head on. A sweetener is all right for a while but who will have to pay for it? The consumer will have to pay increased charges and the numbers on the dole will be increased by hundreds or thousands. We will fight this head on and we will not shilly shally.
I should like to speak further on this matter but I know that a number of my colleagues are anxious to contribute. I will not use up all my time and it will not then be said by other Members that I prevented them from speaking on this very important matter.
In the midland region alone the ESB employ 1,230 people, more than 10 per cent of their work force, and this contributes about £91 million to the economy. In Portarlington, Rhode, Ferbane and Allenwood many people are solely dependent upon the ESB for their livelihood. I cannot understand these proposals and the switch by the ESB to oil and coal. While in Copenhagen last year I visited a generating station powered by waste paper and garbage. Why do we not use our native resources?
What is to happen to these 14 stations? Millions have been spent in carrying out major repairs to some of these stations and this was done in the best interest of the community. The ESB should not change over completely to using coal and oil. What will happen if a war breaks out? I hope that the Minister and the Government will quickly make up their minds about this matter because the work force are very demoralised. They are wondering what will happen and whether there will be another leaked document. I will conclude now and——
Lest there be any misunderstanding, if Deputy Connolly sits down now I will call a Deputy from the Government side of the House unless I get an assurance that the Deputy mentioned by Deputy Connolly will conclude at 29 minutes past seven.
Surely this debate is not concluding tonight.
No, but there are to be 30-minute speeches. Let us not waste time.
This is a most unusual departure from procedure. My understanding of the rules is that when an Opposition speaker sits down the Chair calls a Member from the Government side. As far as I am aware a speaker may not give part of his time to another Member.
It has been done. If the Whips——
I am not aware of any agreement.
Right. If Deputy Connolly sits down I must call a Government speaker.
I was led to believe that the Whips had agreed on 15-minute speeches.
They must get their Members to obey their private arrangements.
Deputy Connolly mentioned that because there is agreement.
We are wasting time.
With great respect, we are not wasting time. This is of vital importance to us. The Laois-Offaly Deputies are primarily concerned with the closing of these power stations and we want an opportunity of expressing a view.
I will call a Government speaker if Deputy Connolly sits down, in default of agreement.
I am not aware of any agreement. If there is an agreement I will abide by it.
Will the same rule apply to Members on the Government side who wish to contribute?
I will follow the order in default of agreement between the parties.
I do not want to be awkward but I was led to believe——
This is a confined debate and you are wasting time.
I was informed verbally that there would be 15 or 20 minutes each way.
In default of agreement the debate must proceed in accordance with Standing Orders.
I will conclude in two minutes.
I will call a Government Member if you do so.
You will be calling them any way.
We all understood that, to facilitate speakers from both sides of the House, Members would speak for a quarter of an hour.
I want to facilitate everybody and co-operate with everybody. Instead of standing up wasting time, I suggest that each side consult their Whips and get them in here because there is not agreement in the House as of now. You are saying one thing and the Minister of State is saying another.
We should send for the Whips and have this straightened out, because I am certainly not going to go to my constituency and be told that I kept my mouth shut here in relation to this very important matter.
I do not think the Deputy will keep his mouth shut.
I do not believe I will, a Cheann Comhairle.
As I said earlier, this is one of the most important motions to come before the House. It is my party's view that native fuels should be used and that the 14 stations mentioned should be kept open. That is our policy and that is the issue involved here. I want to warn the Minister and the Government — and I know the ESB will also appreciate this — that any attempt at a piecemeal operation will be met head on by us, by the workers and by people from the midlands and the west.
Deputy Kenny rose.
In default of agreement between the parties, I must proceed in accordance with the rules. Deputy Flanagan has been sitting here since 7 o'clock. He is the senior Deputy offering and I must call him.
I am extremely grateful to the Ceann Comhairle. I am not going to detain the House. I remember a time, especially in my own constituency of Laois-Offaly, when there was no Bord na Móna in operation and no power station. It was then the most depressed area in western Europe. There was unemployment, complete depression, decay and stagnation in our towns until Bord na Móna operated in the constituency. A number of turf generating stations were then erected and as a result of that, especially in Rhode, Shannon-bridge, Portarlington and Ferbane, a vast amount of employment was given. In my presence that employment was guaranteed by Mr. W.F. Brown, the then chairman of the ESB, who spoke on the roadside near Lumcloon in Cloghan to a Mr. Carroll, a Mr. Gilligan, a Mr. McCabe and a Mr. Kenny. They were told that when the ESB constructed a power station in that area there would be a guarantee of prosperity, full-time employment and that it would be the means of changing the whole face of the county. The same thing happened in Portarlington and, as a result of the coming of the ESB and Bord na Móna, the whole face of County Offaly and the midlands was changed. In so far as the proposals from the ESB are concerned, I am asking the Government to firmly reject them.
I released the confidential document to the workers in the area because it concerned my constituency. I was told it came from a very senior executive in the ESB who wanted this information released. I immediately got in touch with the Department and everybody else concerned because I realised this was a vital matter concerning the livelihood of the people. In reply to a parliamentary question today, the Minister said that before the plan was received he had set up a special inquiry into the reasons for the prices of electricity. Did the ESB submit this plan to the Minister or did the Minister ask the ESB for the plan? Bord na Móna and the ESB have been responsible for providing first class employment in the area. The midlands was the poorest part of the country and the ESB and Bord na Móna changed the whole face of the economy in that area simply because native fuel was being used. I have always supported Bord na Móna since the days of the old Turf Development Board, and that is not today or yesterday. It nettles me to see Members of this House, whether they are Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Labour, rejecting the use of our peat and other natural resources. If electricity has to be provided there is no reason why our own fuel cannot be used instead of keeping American miners in employment while our own workers in Counties Offaly, Laois, Roscommon, Donegal and elsewhere are being thrown on to the unemployment heap. What has happened to the new bog which has been opened up in Ballycumber and Killeigh and the thousands of acres of virgin bog in that area?
The Industrial Development Authority told us whenever we approached them in regard to industrial development in Birr, Tullamore or Portarlington that we could not get industries because we had Bord na Móna and the ESB. Other areas had the advantage of industrial development, but we were handicapped. Now, as a result of industries being placed elsewhere, we are losing the ESB and Bord na Móna with the consequence that 1,200 workers will lose their employment. This will affect over 3,500 people, including women and children.
The Minister said today he would like to emphasise that there has been no decision taken yet on the ESB proposals. If no decision has been taken there is no reason to lose our tempers. However, we want to warn the Government that when it comes to a decision it is time to cry halt in this matter. I have never seen a proposal surrounded by such daftness and madness as that submitted by the ESB. I appeal to the Government to firmly reject these proposals. Our stand should be to generate our electricity from native fuel and cut down imports of American coal. If we are to use coal in such stations we should develop the coal deposits in the Leinster coalfields in Carlow, Kilkenny and south Laois. It is easy to develop those coalfields using modern technology.
I should like to express my thanks to the Ceann Comhairle for giving me an opportunity to voice a firm protest in relation to this matter. I do not like the plan. I can recall what Offaly was like without the ESB and Bord na Móna and I do not want to see that again. I saw too much hardship, semi-hunger and poverty and I do not wish a return to those days. The people in that county do not have anything else to depend on but the ESB and Bord na Móna.
I understand from the Government Whip that Fianna Fáil have agreed that the time for each speaker will be 15 minutes.
On a rotating basis?
Debate on this motion is not the time for political point scoring. We now have an opportunity to discuss not just unemployment generally but the real threat to the livelihood of thousands of families, particularly in the midland counties. The ESB have put forward a five-year strategy plan for consideration by the Government and this proposes to phase out in whole or in part 14 generating stations, many of which are milled or sod peat plants. My constituency will be hardest hit if these proposals are implemented and because of that the only description I have for this plan is that it is a plan of destruction as far as the industrial life of Offaly is concerned.
It has frequently been the boast of Cumann na nGael, and later Fine Gael, that they initiated rural electrification here. That is fair enough. It should be remembered that Irish water and Irish labour were used to power the first hydroelectric plant and Frank Aiken and Seán Lemass initiated the harvesting of our bogs and the production of native fuel in economic quantities. Suddenly the bogs were producing what we describe in Offaly as "brown gold". Vast tracts of waste land in Offaly were turned into economic areas. Most of the land cultivated by Bord na Móna is in County Offaly. Of greater importance was the fact that permanent work was provided for thousands of midlanders who then saw a future in living there. That hope and security replaced despair and insecurity and only a midlander can fully appreciate what the harvesting of peat has done and is doing for the centre of Ireland.
The rapid progress in the development of the boglands has been much admired by many countries, particularly the Scandinavians and Russians. Irish ingenuity was seen at its best in the progress of Bord na Móna's activities down the years. Following that the ESB used home produced fuel for an increased number of power stations. They worked with Bord na Móna and nobody can deny that the use of native fuel made sound economic sense. Any country in a position to supply power from native fuel is bound to do so and that is what took place here.
The ESB became Bord na Móna's best customer, but their activities in the last ten years do not make sense. It is not too long ago since we heard the ESB advocating the establishment of an atomic power station. We were given the impression that if such a station was not erected all our lights would go out. The Government of the day were asked to sanction the building of such a station without delay. A few years ago the ESB were requesting people to conserve electricity. In one year we were told to use electricity sparingly but the following year we were told the opposite. What is their plea today? They are asking us to scrap 14 of our generating stations.
I am confident that Minister Bruton, a commonsense man, will not go along with the ESB's proposals. If those proposals are implemented, if there is a pruning or phasing out of generating stations in County Offaly, upwards of 3,000 people in that county will be out of work. Can any Government at a time of serious economic recession adopt a plan which will lead to the putting of 3,000 workers on the scrap heap? I am confident that will not be allowed to happen by the Government.
For the purposes of this debate I will count Portarlington as an Offaly town, because half of it is in Offaly. If one draws a line from Portarlington through to Edenderry, Daingean, Rhode, Ferbane, Cloghan and Birr, one will see how dependent they are on ESB and Bord na Móna workers. Are those towns to be damaged by the implementation of this plan of destruction for County Offaly and the midlands?
I regret that it was necessary to limit the amount of time for this debate because to me it represents one of the most important issues to be raised here for many years. It affects my constituency, but it will also affect other parts of the country. I should like to stress to the Minister that the people of Offaly and Laois will not agree to a proposal that will wipe out the right of individuals in those counties to earn a living at a time when there is little hope of attracting alternative industries. The people of Offaly, and the workers in Bord na Móna and the ESB, will not tolerate such a move.
It is evident to most Deputies that electricity can be produced at a cheaper rate than Bord na Móna and the ESB together can produce it, but the Government must put aside that point so far as this plan is concerned. Commonsense must prevail. The social and economic implications that the implementation of these proposals would produce, particularly in County Offaly, are so horrifying and detrimental to the future of the county that, as an Offalyman, I could not consider such action being taken.
The country is going through a severe economic recession and the Government and the Minister might be considering the implementation of this plan on the basis that it would save the Exchequer some money. There are roughly 6,000 industrial jobs in County Offaly, 3,000 of which can be linked to Bord na Móna and the ESB. Offaly has fared badly in industrial development because successive Governments have pointed out that the county had Bord na Móna and the ESB. As a result, industrial development and growth have not been as great as in other areas. Now the Government cannot implement the plan and put in jeopardy the jobs of 3,000 workers. I am confident that no Irish Government would take such a stance or implement such a plan so far as the midlands and Offaly in particular are concerned.
One of the faults of this House is that in a major debate such as this Deputies do not have an opportunity to study properly the documentation and information available. I welcome the decision of the Minister to have the report of the ESB placed in the Library for the information of Deputies, even though it was at extremely short notice.
This debate has attracted quite a number of speakers. Their interest and concern is evident from the fact that many have been lining up to speak for the past two nights. We must face reality and realise that while the debate is important it need not have taken place. It is a phoney debate in one sense. It is well known that the ESB have excess generating capacity. When industrialists and consumers quite rightly pointed out to the Minister the pressures they faced because of the cost of electricity, he initiated an inquiry into the matter. That is as it should be. The Minister was quite right to take that action. For the ESB to state that if the cost of electricity is too high they will close 14 power stations is nothing short of playing politics. I regret the ESB have involved themselves in this because it is not in keeping with their past history or with the many innovations in that organisation.
Peat stations here should never close until that source of indigenous energy lying under our feet is used and the ground put to further use. Experiments have been carried out on this matter in other countries and also in Ireland. It is entirely wrong of the ESB to adopt the attitude that they will close 14 power stations if the Minister tells them the cost of electricity is too high. Everyone realises the political consequences of such action. I am a Deputy from Mayo and our county has been ridiculed for many years for having more than enough bogs. I wish to inform the Government and the ESB that any move to close the power station that affects County Mayo will be resisted by the people en bloc. Any Minister who has been to Mayo during the years will have travelled over 50 or 60 miles of bog. For the ESB to close the bog in Mayo in 1985 is nothing short of disgraceful.
In the early seventies the cost of peat per tonne was about £2 and with a moisture content of 55 per cent I suppose that was reasonable. In the late seventies the price had risen to approximately £5.50 per tonne and now it is in the region of £16.90 per tonne. Even if one takes a 15 per cent increase over each of the years the price should be in the region of £9.60 per tonne. There is a difference of £7.30 per tonne because of the grossly inflated price to the ESB for the peat they purchase from Bord na Móna. The tonnage involved is in the region of 3.5 million tonnes. That works out at approximately £25.5 million.
When Bord na Móna are unable to service their loans they have two choices. They can ask for a Government subvention or they can rip off the ESB. The cost of the ESB having to pay inflated prices is borne by the consumer. That is why housewives in Ballyfermot, Ballymun and throughout the country, not to mention industrialists, are under extreme pressure in trying to pay ESB bills. They cannot understand why those bills are so high. Electricity in Finland costs half the amount it costs in Ireland.
In many ways Bord na Móna are antiquated. The terms of reference of the ESB which state they cannot make either a profit or a loss should be applied also to Bord na Móna. Some years ago the Minister for Industry and Energy — incidentally, I hope he recovers soon from his temporary illness — was in a position to give a Government commitment to grant a 32 per cent price increase to Bord na Móna, and there should now be another Government initiative to reduce the price of milled peat to the ESB. Even if that were reduced by half the difference of the £7.30 already referred to, it would mean an instant decrease in the cost of electricity and it would ease the burden on housewives and industrialists.
We are exploring for oil off our coasts and yet the ESB propose to close 14 power stations. I cannot see the logic of that. The alternative of imported coal would mean further jobs in America for Americans. I understand that contracts have or are about to be placed for American coal. It would mean Irish people would be made redundant with devastating consequences for our rural areas, many of which have not been developed in the same way as other parts of the country.
The fact that some elements in the ESB are at present promoting an anti-Minister Bruton campaign is now pouring oil on troubled waters, if I may use that pun. I understand that a document is circulating within sections of the ESB with the Minister's picture on the front, he is bedecked with some kind of cap, pointing his finger and saying, "I want your job". This document indicates there is a two-pronged attack on jobs and wages in the ESB, that districts are to be eliminated, that the head office is to be wiped out, that sales outlets are to be closed and that the job of every ESB worker is on the line. I want to make it clear this is not a Government initiative. The union that has put out this document does not represent the majority of workers in the ESB. It is something I deplore and it is not in keeping with the good work of many trade union officials. It is causing rumours to circulate and is causing scares among workers in the ESB. It is very unjust.
The Bellacorick power station in County Mayo is a 14 megawatt station using about 300,000 tonnes of milled peat per year. It was built in 1962-63 and the ESB propose to decommission it in 1985. The lifetime of the bogs in that area is approximately 20 years. This is one of the most efficient turf-burning stations in the country. The cost of generating one unit of electricity is 4.36p per unit. That compares with 4.27p in Tarbert, an oil generating station and 1.90p in Aghada, the gas generating station. The Minister should let the ESB know of the social consequences of any attempt at closing a peat-burning station with that reserve of energy left in the area. I repeat again that this will be resisted and will be opposed by the people in the county en bloc. This decision will not be accepted.
The fact that the former head of Bord na Móna entered into this on a radio programme some time ago caused quite a lot of ripples on the water also. When this man was in charge of Bord na Móna he could have looked at this, because against the last two Governments he refused point blank to allow any private development to take place in the west which could compete successfully and on which there were independent assessments carried out on the viability of its prospects. It could compete more than favourably with Bord na Móna. It is deplorable for the former head of Bord na Móna to enter into this matter the way he did and to politicise this whole matter.
The contributions made by the Opposition Members are very fair and very relevant. They understand the significance of what is happening and appreciate the difficulty the Minister is in. The Minister has faced up to the reality of the situation. He has brought the heads of the semi-State bodies together and told them to get their houses in order. When he asked for an inquiry into the cost of electricity he was given a very abrupt answer. I assume he has rejected this out of hand and that he has sent it back to the ESB. I hope when the time for decision comes that any proposal to close peat-burning stations, in particular the Bellacorick station with the reserves it has, will not be accepted by the Government. The Minister has made it clear that no decision whatever has been made on this by the Government. He has repeated that in various statements issued by him during the last few weeks.
The ESB plan contains a foreword by the chief executive officer. In large writing on the first page there is a reference to "the change to improve prices". We all understand that. At the end of the foreword he says that it is necessary that there be a full realisation at all levels of the scale of change necessary in the ESB. He further states that it will be necessary for the ESB to have the courage to take unpalatable decisions which are unavoidable and he also says there is a need for radical thinking and innovation. There is, but that is no reason for the head of any body like the ESB to attempt to think of closing down a source of power like fuel-burning stations with a reserve of energy left in them. We all understand the need for change, the need to improve efficiency and technology, but there are other ways of doing it. There is no need to sign very large contracts for the importation of oil or coal when we have an indigenous source of energy under our feet, which is not yet entirely used up.
Deputy O'Malley very rightly referred to this point in his contribution last night. It was a very fair and competent contribution and it hit the nail on the head so far as that point is concerned. In the months ahead, the time before a decision is made on this, other contributions will be made by Deputies here and by various organisations. We all understand the need to have the cost of electricity reduced for the housewife and for the industrialist, but there are other ways of doing it. If it took Government initiative some years ago to give a price increase to Bord na Móna, then let us have Government initiative now to reduce the price of milled peat from Bord na Móna to the ESB, and there will be a consequent direct reduction to the consumer and the industrialist, which is what we all want.
I am amazed at the ESB proposal, which should have been rejected by the Government as soon as it was read. I agree with Deputy Kenny that the necessity for this debate would never have arisen if that had happened. I am very interested in the proposal by the ESB to close down the generating station at Cahirciveen. I cannot understand the thinking behind it. There are 20 employees in this generating station but, more important, there are 250 turf producers who produce turf to keep this generating station in operation. They supply 17,000 tonnes of turf per annum. We can imagine the amount of activity which this generates particularly during the summer and autumn months. Approximately 1,000 people will be immediately affected by the closure of this generating station. Apart altogether from the income for the turf producers, great employment is provided in the summer months for the sons and daughters of the turf producers who use the money they get from this work to enable them to remain in third level education during the following year. If this generating station closes it will mean the loss of £1 million per year to the economy of the Iveragh Peninsula.
There is a further spin-off which must also be taken into account in respect of the maintenance of the machinery for cutting turf as the maintenance of the turf generating station itself. We must view all this against the background of the social and economic problems in the Cahirciveen area and in the Iveragh Peninsula which embraces the whole area from Caherdaniel around the Ring of Kerry as far as Glenbeigh. This area has seen a decline in population during the period from 1971 to 1981, when practically every other area in the country witnessed a substantial increase in population. This is another reason why that station should be kept open. It is fundamental to maintaining high morale in that area. There has been emigration from there for quite a long time. The home won peat and the turf production should get first preference in this area because it is the major industry there. This turf generating station was built as a result of Fianna Fáil policy and planning at the time. I remember on a previous occasion in 1967, when the ESB proposed closing down this station, I immediately brought it before the then Fianna Fáil Government and the whole proposal was scrapped at once. That turf generating station not alone kept the economy in that area ticking over since then, but it helped the ESB significantly to maintain their power and capacity for generating electricity. Had that been closed down in 1967 the ESB would have had to do something else in the intervening years to replace the loss of power which would have occurred after the closing down of that station. Cahirciveen and the Iveragh Peninsula constitute an area of social and economic deprivation, and I say to the Government and the Minister for Industry and Energy, "Whatever else you do, hands off Cahirciveen and that area."
We must bear in mind the fact that bog and peat land kept people of such areas moving and alive during the war years in particular. It would be sad, particularly in a recessionary time such as the present, should the Government decide to close down these turf generating stations and give permission to the ESB to import materials for the generation of electricity. The Government should look at other areas of home-produced generation of power. A closer look should be taken at biomass and the use of timber waste which is helping to make small timber mills viable. Waste timber is being used in some small stations and to use it in those stations is good economy because there appears to be no other outlet for it.
For the reasons outlined I am particularly interested that the generating station in Cahirciveen should be retained. The people in south-west Kerry are adamant on this. When I heard of the ESB proposal I brought a deputation from south-west Kerry to the Department of Industry and Energy where we expressed our concern and our complete and utter disagreement with the proposals. Kerry County Council discussed the matter and passed a resolution asking the Minister to keep that station open and I know they have sought from the Minister a meeting with their deputation. This proposal has come as a great shock to the people of south Kerry and throughout the whole of Kerry and their question is, if such a proposal is even tolerated in respect of an area like south-west Kerry what would happen in respect of a similar proposal or a more serious one in other areas of the country?
You have five minutes.
This peninsula is a remote, isolated but beautiful area because of its scenery. The turf generating industry is the bread and butter of the area and information that it was to be closed would be the most depressing news possible for the people there. I am convinced that we must go back again to the bogs and ask for greater production of turf by private enterprise. If more areas were producing turf as Cahirciveen is producing it, the ESB would not have many of the problems they face today. Smallholders with access to peat and bog-land should be able to avail of schemes under the Turf Development Act, 1980, and apply for and get the grants necessary to enable them to produce more turf.
I am glad that we have an opportunity of debating this proposal. This debate should be unnecessary but had it not been granted I have no doubt that people would be marching from the country and on the streets of Dublin to Leinster House. I hope that the Minister will reject these proposals of the ESB.
This strategic plan that we have just received is such that we should have a debate on it, and I hope that the spirit of co-operation which is obvious here tonight between the Whips of the three parties will extend——
You have 15 minutes.
——so that we can debate this. The plan is very comprehensive and wide-ranging. I disagree totally with some matters in it to the extent that I intend to oppose it at every opportunity. I intend to take an active part in leading opposition to some of the proposals in this plan. Nevertheless, some ideas and proposals in it are worthy of comment and we should be given the opportunity in this House of looking over them and discussing them in a detailed manner.
I remember some years ago a plan by Irish Life to install imported furniture in their offices and the objections raised at the time as a result throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. There was widespread uproar and disapproval. Now one of our semi-State bodies appear to be about to adopt a policy of using imported means to produce energy here instead of our native resources. We as a House must oppose this. The preface to the plan states that the ESB intend to introduce a corporate strategic plan concerned only with the achievement of one objective, that is change to improve price. That any semi-State body would say that this is their only objective merits serious disapproval. There are two separate issues here. One is the economics of the ESB, and every effort they can make to reduce costs and get their economics right is important. However, as a Parliament, as a Government and as a country we must raise our sights a little higher than just the one criterion of the economics of the ESB. We must look at the question of national economics. Are the ESB to use imported coal and imported oil to fire their generating plants instead of using native turf, milled peat, gas, coal and water? If the ESB decide to use imported energy, this House must say a very emphatic and definite "No". Unfortunately, we in this House under existing regulations and laws cannot give directions to the ESB. However, if the necessity arises and if the ESB continue to plough ahead with these plans to use imported fuel, this House will have to bring in legislation changing the law which allows the ESB to use imported fuel and energy rather than our native supplies. Emergency legislation will have to be brought in, if necessary.
On page 12 of the ESB submission there is mention of the number of stations which are going to be decommissioned, as they put it. I work out the total to be put out of work or affected in one way or the other as 1,460. Three of these stations — Portarlington, Ferbane and Rhode — are in my constituency and that will have profound and serious implications for the county of Offaly. In plain language, when the ESB talk about decommissioning these stations they are talking about making 1,200 to 1,400 people redundant and that will be fought at every possible level by every democratic means at our disposal. This would have a devastating effect on County Offaly and part of County Laois. The county of Offaly in which I grew up had widespread unemployment and widespread emigration. The majority of my school friends had to leave Ireland to find employment around the world. The county has made very considerable progress and we are proud of our achievements as a county and of the way in which our economy has grown. I will not stand by and let anybody sound the economic death knell of County Offaly and that is a message which Mr. P.J. Moriarty and everybody else should bear in mind. I will do all in my power to ensure that that does not happen.
Towns like Ferbane, Birr, Kilcormack, Tullamore, Rhode, Portarlington and Edenderry are dependent upon the ESB and Bord na Móna for the economic existence of their people. The Minister must remove immediately this frightening economic threat which is hanging over the midlands and the west of Ireland.
At peak times Bord na Móna employ approximately 6,500 to 7,000 people. Last year they sold approximately £47 million worth of turf and milled peat to the ESB. If the ESB decide to spend that £47 million in providing employment in American and Australian coalfields that will be a national scandal and this House will have to seriously consider asking for the resignation of senior management who would make and proceed with such a decision. They are talking about letting go roughly 1,200 in the ESB and if that £47 million is no longer of benefit to Bord na Móna perhaps 3,000 more working in Bord na Móna will also be let go. That means approximately 4,000 people's livelihoods being affected, in the long run, by these proposals.
Consider the redundancy money and unemployment benefits which will have to be paid to these people, bogs lying idle and our native resources left lying fallow while men in American and Australian coalfields are put into well-paid employment. I would hope that the House would be serious enough in its endeavours to give good example to our people and our semi-State bodies, that we be Irish, buy Irish and use Irish material. That is what we should be doing. If a semi-State body gives the bad example of using imported instead of native materials, there is something seriously wrong which cannot be countenanced. Our semi-State bodies should be giving us good example in utilising our own resources, but that is not the effect of the ESB report which must be opposed.
The cost factors involved are what the ESB are considering. They are saying that the use of imported gas, oil or coal would be more economical for the ESB. It would be marginally so for the ESB themselves, but the overall cost to the nation would be much more expensive. That was why I originally referred to national economics.
I ask the ESB to reconsider this matter because the use of milled peat and turf would be more beneficial to the nation, which is the important thing. We must ask the ESB to withdraw those proposals and the Minister to reject them.
To conclude, the cost of turf purchased by the ESB is too high and Bord na Móna should be asked to reduce this because it is part and parcel of the ESB's problem. This would make the use of turf and milled peat more economical. The ESB should also seriously look at improving some of the existing generating stations in which turf and milled peat are used. Many of these plants need improvement. We must continue to use turf and milled peat in our stations. It is essential that we do so. It would be economic madness for us to use imported fuels when we have our own native fuels. When we have our own materials they should be utilised.
The number of Deputies offering to speak on this motion is an indication of how seriously it is being taken by Members on both sides of the House. It is also an indication of the importance of this proposal for the entire community. I want to add my voice to the voices of Deputy Connolly and Deputy Cowen and also Deputy Flanagan and Deputy Enright from the Laois-Offaly constituency. In that constituency we are not prepared to take lying down the proposal the ESB have put to the Government to close down the peat generating stations in the Laois-Offaly area in particular. Anybody who knows anything about the structural composition of the midlands region recognises that the bogs and ancillary industries are the main base on which the economy of that region has been built.
We were always extremely proud of the fact that the Bord na Móna and ESB developments — and I do not want to make a political point — were brought about by Fianna Fáil Governments. We were pleased that those important decisions helped to maintain the economic viability of the midlands region. Therefore, it is quite understandable that regardless of our political views we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the ESB workers and the Bord na Móna workers to ensure that this economic madness will not be introduced by the Government and the responsible Minister.
This proposal came as a very great shock to all the people living in the region. It was a shock to the workers and the families of the workers directly involved in those two major industries. Naturally the people employed in the ESB generating stations panicked at the very prospect of the proposal being implemented. Likewise the many workers employed in the Bord na Móna bogs in the region were worried about their future employment.
More important perhaps in its own way is the effect the proposal would have on the economy of the region, the effect it would have on the towns and villages in the area, dependent as they are on the people employed in our main industries. All the people in the region will be demanding very clearly an early decision by the Minister to reject this mad proposal.
I would like to share the confidence expressed by previous speakers that the Minister in his wisdom will decide to reject it out of hand at an early date. I am sure there are many other areas within the ESB operations where they could look more credibly for the economies the Minister rightly requested from them. There are many areas within their operations where these economies could be found. I would not like to think the ESB deliberately created a situation to make the Minister's task impossible, that they deliberately threw back the Minister's request into his face because they were not prepared to look at areas within their operations where genuine and credible savings could be made. They said to the Government. "The only proposal we can put forward to meet your request is to close down the peat generating stations."
It could be justifiably argued that you could make a case to provide our electricity requirements from a nuclear station outside the country. That is not beyond the bounds of technical possibility. Of course it would be a daft proposal. The people responsible for this proposal were not prepared to consider any option other than to close the stations. The ESB made that proposal because they knew that people in this House who are concerned about the future of the workers would be put in an embarrassing situation.
The proposal indicates a total lack of a social philosophy or a social commitment on the part of a national board which is financed by this Parliament. In their proposals they should take into consideration national objectives, and our main national objective at the moment is to retain employment and where possible to increase it. In this callous, cowardly proposal, they are prepared to throw at least 4,000 people on to the scrap heap with no alternative proposal for their employment and without expressing any concern for their future well-being.
Before any decision is made on this important matter the Government should instruct the ESB to continue with their present operations, to continue to use the existing peat resources which we all know will be available for ten, 15 or 20 years. These resources should be used to keep the existing stations in operation and to maintain the existing level of employment in those stations.