Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton has said the Just Transition Fund for the Midlands is just "one part of an overall strategy".
He acknowledged on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland that the move away from peat is happening much faster than anticipated, but that the ingredients for a long term sustainable strategy are being put in place.
Mr Bruton said that Bord na Móna will have 80 per cent of its employment in green employment by 2025.
“We are determined that as part of the climate action plan, a just transition will be an essential part and what we put forward is a series of initiatives that will mean 700 additional jobs and well over €50million of investment made.
“The Just Transition fund - the €11m is just one part of an overall strategy."
“They're moving into renewable energy, recycling and other activities. The Government's package involves €20million in retrofitting, it involves the Just Transition fund and it involves investment in restoration of bogs outside of Bord na Mona, in addition to that we are working to secure the repurposing of PSO money, this is support from electricity users which will allow Bord na Mona substantially accelerate and deepen the level of restoration that they do to their bogs.”
Mr Bruton said the intention had been that there would be a phased withdrawal from peat that would see it wind down over a longer period, “but what we need is to ensure that we have long term sustainable employment, what our strategy is working, yes, this is happening much quicker, but we are putting in place the ingredients of a long term sustainable strategy so for workers.
“There will be job opportunities in restoring bogs and they will be very substantial and have similar skills, there will be retraining opportunities, there will be alternative employment immediately in retrofitting of homes with higher insulation and for those who want it there will be voluntary exit programmes.
“When I met with the unions it was very clear that what people wanted was alternative employment, they knew that the wind down of peat was coming and what they want is alternative employment and I believe that's right too.
“There will be 30 jobs in the restoration of our bog facilities, some in Bord na Mona and another 100 will be sponsored by the wildlife services, there will also be 400 jobs developed in the midland retrofitting programme which will see homes across the midlands upgraded to higher energy standards. In addition Bord na Mona itself - which already has 200 jobs in its diversification programme in renewables and recycling, is committed to develop up to 300 jobs in their diversification plan. This is a strategy we are seeking to implement, we are putting in place Kieran Mulvey as Just Transition Commissioner who will take into account the needs of workers and views of locals.”
A number of Government Ministers will today meet and brief workers affected by the planned closure of ESB power stations at Lanesboro and Shannon Bridge.
The ESB said it submitted an application to An Bord Pleanála in 2018 seeking planning permission to transition West Offaly Power from peat to biomass over a number of years starting in 2020. However, the planning application was rejected by An Bord Pleanála in July of this year.
Up to 90 workers are believed to be affected by the planned closures.
Climate Action Minister Richard Bruton is travelling to the Midlands today along with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, Heritage Minister Josepha Madigan and Minister of State for the OPW, Kevin Boxer Moran.
The Government recently announced the creation of a €6m Just Transition Fund for the Midlands, and the ESB has announced that it will make an additional contribution of €5m to the fund.
Minister Bruton said the Government is determined to show solidarity and commitment to support communities during the transition away from peat.
"In the Budget we set aside significant funds, we have achieved support from the European Union PSO subsidy system to support bog rehabilitation, and we've appointed Kieran Mulvey as a just transition commissioner.
"We need to work on the changes we can put in place that will allow the Midlands make a transition from the brown past, if you like, to the green future."
"The Government is determined to show solidarity and a commitment to a just transition," he said.
"We want to sit down with workers and wider interests in the Midlands region to discuss how we're going to manage this and achieve a just transition."
UPDATE 8.10am: Former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten has described the closure of power stations in Shannonbridge and Lanesboro as like “Google in Dublin effectively leaving the midlands, so we're talking about substantial impact.”
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland Mr Naughten called for more focus in the short term on protecting Bord na Mona and ESB jobs.
The rehabilitation of the bogs should be looked at as a possibility of maintaining jobs in the short term, he said.
Mr Naughten called on the Government to establish a working group to focus on the sites in Shannonbridge and Lanesboro, to encourage private sector investment.
He also said he wants to see enhanced tax relief for any potential investors to channel investment into the area.
There is a “very tight” window of opportunity “to get something in place” and he called for support for such measures “across Government and Opposition.”
Mr Naughten defended his record in office, saying that a significant amount of work had been done into the transition from ‘brown jobs’ to ‘green jobs.’