As the Deputy is aware Bord na Móna has been an integral part of the commercial and social development of the Midlands for decades, creating significant employment in the region. The company provides approximately 1,000 direct jobs at present, which in turn supports at least another 1,000 indirect jobs. In its strategy to exit peat, Bord na Móna envisages the development and scaling up of new business opportunities to ensure the future commercial viability of the company and enable it to continue to fulfil its mandate to be an employer of scale in the Midlands. This strategy is aimed at developing a transition from peat to sustainable new businesses which utilise the vast landbank over the period to 2028. ESB is also fully committed to the process to lead decarbonisation in Ireland.
On 23 July An Bord Pleanála refused ESB planning permission to continue operating West Offaly Power station beyond the end of 2020. ESB's application sought planning permission for the plant to co-fire peat and biomass out to the end of 2027. ESB are currently evaluating An Bord Pleanála's decision. ESB have also submitted to Longford County Council a planning application to continue operating Lough Ree Power station beyond the end of 2020. A decision by Longford County Council is expected shortly.
Following this decision my Department and I are intensively assessing the options to ensure a just transition, if an earlier exit from peat than planned is required.
On 31 July I met with the Bord na Mona Board and worker directors, and with Oireachtas Midlands representatives, the Midlands regional transition team, the regional enterprise plan team, and the regional skills fora team. I am scheduled to meet with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions this week.
Several strands are being considered in the context of the Government’s response:
- Bord na Mona diversification
- Accelerated programme of bog restoration by Bord na Mona
- An area based retrofitting initiative
- Other special initiatives for regional development
I have secured the inclusion of the Midlands in the Platform for Coal and Other Carbon-Intensive Regions in Transition, which supports regions affected by climate policy. Following a letter I wrote to Commissioner Canete in March seeking the inclusion of the Midlands Region under the Platform, the Commissioner confirmed in July that the region would be included.
Membership of the Platform enables the Midlands Region to avail of the support of a dedicated Country Team, comprised of Commission experts, to assist with the development of strategies and projects for the region, focusing in particular on the employment challenges faced by workers affected by decarbonisation. The Team will also assist in identifying appropriate EU funding opportunities for the Midlands. The meetings of the Platform also enable the exchange of knowledge and ideas between carbon-intensive regions.A preliminary meeting of this Team with officials from relevant Departments and other stakeholders is planned to take place in the middle of October with a view to the Country Team coming to Ireland in November. The already established Midlands Regional Transition Team, led by Offaly County Council, will play a central role in this process as it evolves.
An interdepartmental group led by Department of An Taoiseach has been established to develop a just transition plan for the Midlands. Clearly this work cuts across a number of Government Departments, including my own Department, Public Expenditure and Reform, Business, Employment and Innovation, Rural and Community Development, and Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
I will respond formally to the Deputy's submission in the coming days.