Thursday, 11 July 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
On behalf of the Labour Party and my own behalf I would like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy on the sudden passing of two giants of public life in our land. Brendan Grace brought boundless joy to millions of Irish people at home and abroad and indeed beyond the Irish family. He was a talented actor, singer and comedian and he will be sorely missed.
I was shocked to hear today of the passing of Noel Whelan. He was a county man of mine. I have known his family. His father was a distinguished Fianna Fail councillor in Wexford. He came from Ballykillane in New Ross. I have had countless discussions with Noel on public affairs. We did not always agree but he was somebody of great intellect and incisiveness whose views I certainly listened to. He was able to marshal words in writing to great effect. He will be really missed in public affairs in this country, particularly in his native county. He was the driving force behind the Kennedy Summer School, a relatively recent innovation that brought much fresh political thought and intellectual vigour to New Ross during the summer. I hope the summer school will be maintained in his memory.
Bord na Móna has announced the loss of 72 permanent jobs and 78 seasonal jobs at Lough Ree in County Longford. It is talking to the trade unions representing the workers involved. We will see what comes of that process. I want to address the wider question, namely the future of Bord na Móna, one of the most important employers in the midlands, not only in Longford but Westmeath, Laois and all the adjoining counties. The Government's climate action plan calls for early and complete phase out of coal and peat fired electricity generation. Labour agrees that this is necessary if we are serious about cutting our greenhouse gas emissions to 33 million tonnes by 2030. We do not agree on the Government's free market approach to these jobs. Bord na Móna is a cornerstone of employment in the Midlands, in many rural and urban communities. Every good job at Bord na Móna provides demand in the local economy and keeps countless other jobs in existence. Rural Ireland needs these quality jobs but the pattern of job creation is that multinational jobs tend to be highly concentrated in the urban areas, particularly Dublin, Cork and Galway.
The State needs a vision for the role of Bord na Móna in the future low-carbon Ireland. We need to know that industrial peatlands seep massive quantities of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, even when they are no longer worked. We cannot leave brown acidic deserts in our landscape. We need to do everything to ensure that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Bord na Móna can, and should, be the future custodian of our peatlands. This should involve the re-wetting of peatlands on a major scale. That is a sizeable project that will require significant State investment. It is a long-term investment in communities as well as meeting the demands of environmental protection. We will face EU fines if we do not meet our greenhouse gas targets and re-wetting our peatlands is one way to make sure we make real headway in that objective we are all agreed upon. What is the Government’s future vision for Bord na Móna?
Will it commit to a major investment programme to rewet the peatlands and a renewal of Bord na Móna's remit as the guardian of the peatlands? Will it commit to expanding the remit of Bord na Móna in order that it can take a leading role in creating new jobs in peatland restoration, wildlife management, nature tourism and recreation? Will it commit to new State-led enterprises in rural Ireland, including the major retrofit now required, to ensure all of the workers who will be disemployed by the requirements of our climate action policies will be re-employed in a beneficial way?