I thank the Minister for being here and for his time. I wish to raise an incredibly important issue for my constituents in the area of Kildare, in Kilberry and Athy. It concerns the Bord na Móna plant. Since 1933, when the idea of harvesting peat and turf came into being, and from 1946 when Bord na Móna started, Bord na Móna has historically been the sole main employer on very large tracts of land particularly around the midland counties and most particularly in my county of Kildare. It has provided a vital economic lifeline in Athy and indeed in Ballydermot, Timahoe and other areas.
My particular question concerns Kilberry, which started production in 1947, the year after Bord na Móna was established and which has provided a vibrant industry and presence in the area. At this time there are 53 full-time and six seasonal employees in the plant. Bord na Móna decided to purchase a horticultural peat plant called White Moss in the north of England which was signed off over Christmas. This poses a significant threat to the future of the Kilberry plant. It is hugely important that we protect our indigenous industries, especially in regions where employment levels are already low. There would be a huge impact on employment in the Kilberry-Athy area if anything was to happen. The workers themselves have received no pay rise since 2008 and were due to get a 6% raise. There is no sign of that. This is a very worrying time for the employees. The prospect of future rationalisation or indeed any type of consolidation has struck fear in the hearts and minds of the employees and their families. Bord na Móna is a semi-State organisation. The Government has a responsibility to oversee the policies of Bord na Móna and how they impact on employment. There has been no investment in Kilberry over the last long number of years. I put it to the Minister that the loss of any jobs in south Kildare, where employment is already a huge issue, would have a severe impact on the area. I would like an assurance from the Minister about the future of the plant in Kilberry and an assurance that no jobs will be lost. I would also like to ask about any conversations that occurred relating to the acquisition of this plant in England and the possibility of it having a negative impact on Kilberry or any other such plants, because surely in light of everything that is happening, including Brexit, we have a duty to preserve the jobs we have and not be buying plants elsewhere and providing employment in other countries which quite soon will not even be members of the EU.