The managed transition out of peat envisaged by Bord na Móna has been significantly impacted by the An Bord Pleanála decision to refuse planning permission for ESB's West Offaly Power station beyond the end of 2020 and the subsequent ESB decision to withdraw a planning permission application for the Lough Ree Power station.
Government has already taken significant steps to ensure that a just transition for the Midlands is adequately supported. This includes:
- €6 million for a Just Transition Fund, targeted at the Midlands, to support the retraining and reskilling of workers and to assist local communities and businesses in the Region to adjust to the low carbon transition.
- Following the announcement that ESB intends to cease operations at the two plants at the end of 2020, ESB has committed to contributing an additional €5 million to the just transition fund, bring the fund to €11m.
- €5 million for a National Parks and Wildlife Service bog restoration and rehabilitation programme to restore 1,800 hectares of bog to their natural habitat, ensuring the return of these bogs to carbons sinks once again and creating 70 to 100 jobs; and
- €20 million targeted at the Midlands, to deliver a new model to group housing upgrades, as set out in the Climate Action Plan, which will support an estimated 400 direct and indirect jobs, as well as significantly upgrading the social housing stock in the region.
Mr Kieran Mulvey has been appointed as the Just Transition Commissioner to co-ordinate Government’s response to an accelerated exit from peat for electricity generation.
Following proactive engagement by my Department and Bord na Móna, including a request from myself to Commissioner Cañete earlier this year, the Midlands Region was accepted into the Coal Regions in Transition Platform in July. Membership enables the Midlands Region to avail of the support of a dedicated Country Team to assist with the development of strategies and projects for the region, focusing in particular on the employment challenges faced by workers.
My Department is also in discussions with the European Commission with regards to the use of a Public Service Obligation to fund an extensive bog rehabilitation programme. This would provide Bord na Móna with the funds necessary to rehabilitate their industrial bogs above and beyond the legal requirements under their EPA licences.
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.