I welcome the opportunity to respond to the question posed in the Deputy’s Topical Issue matter and to acknowledge the genuine concerns of people in the midlands about the transition, the major changes in the economy and the funding that is there for it. In the programme for Government we copper-fastened support targeted towards the midlands to support a just transition. There is a major amount of money involved in funding that, but as in any project which involves hundreds of millions in funding over a decade there is a ramp-up period, a period of time when projects have to be examined and approved before the funding starts to flow. I acknowledge the frustration with that, but I want to say it is there and it is coming.
I welcome the opportunity to set out the actions which are being taken by the Government in response to the announcement of the closure of the peat-fuelled power stations and the end of peat harvesting by Bord na Móna. The Government is committed to a just transition in the midlands region and has dedicated significant funding to supporting workers, companies and communities affected by the closure of the two power stations at Lanesborough and Shannonbridge. The Government appointed Kieran Mulvey as Just Transition Commissioner in November 2019 to assist the midlands region in the transition process. The commissioner has made a series of recommendations to Government on taking forward the Government’s just transition response in the midlands.
A significant package of supports worth €177 million has been put in place in the midlands to ensure the transition away from peat-fuelled power is indeed just. This includes €20 million for the midlands retrofitting project; €108 million for the Bord na Móna peatlands restoration project; the just transition fund, with up to €30 million available for approved projects; and €19 million for the National Parks and Wildlife Service peatlands restoration scheme. The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications approved €108 million for Bord na Móna’s large-scale peatlands restoration project on 24 November 2020. The plan will protect the storage of 100 million tonnes of carbon, sequester 3.2 million tonnes of carbon out to 2050, enhance biodiversity and deliver significant benefits and contribute to Ireland’s target of being carbon-neutral by 2050.
The scheme will encompass 33,000 ha of Bord na Móna peatlands previously harvested for peat extraction for electricity generation. The Government funding, which will come from the climate action fund, will be bolstered by an €18 million investment from Bord na Móna, which is committed to a brown to green transition.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service peatlands scheme received funding of €5 million in 2020, supported from the carbon tax fund, which enabled the commencement of peatland restoration measures on almost 1,900 ha of raised bog on up to nine raised bog designated sites in the midlands region, along with the development of drainage management plans and other peatland management and conservation measures. Bord na Móna has been contracted to manage this programme. Work has commenced on this project and an additional €14 million in 2021 has been allocated to the programme for the restoration of a further 2,500 ha of protected raised bog, together with other peatlands conservation measures. These projects will support a just transition by avoiding job losses based in the Offaly works and across the midlands and by creating opportunities for skilled employment in these areas into the future.
The just transition fund was established to respond to the closures and to support the transition away from employment in peat harvesting in the affected communities in the region. Eight of the most affected counties in the region were eligible to submit funding applications to the just transition fund. The Government has announced provisional funding offers totalling almost €30 million to some 60 projects throughout the region for projects from the private sector, local authorities and communities to create a strong, green and sustainable economy. These projects will contribute to making the midlands a more attractive and sustainable place to work. Of these, 16 projects are already up and running in the midlands with support from the just transition fund since last September. These projects have created 28 full-time jobs and will also support a further 175 indirect jobs. A further 13 projects, with funding of €6.5 million to be provided by the just transition fund and additional funding of almost €1 million, have now entered into a grant agreement with the Department and further projects will conclude grant agreements in the coming weeks. The Department has worked directly with projects, particularly smaller-scale projects and those from community groups, that received provisional offers to support them in the process of finalising grant agreements, while ensuring all projects are able to meet the fund rules.