Thursday, 11 July 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
On the news announced today which is impactful on many families, I will give the House an update on the source of the issue and how, I hope, it may be resolved. Last month the ESB shut Lough Ree Power Station in County Longford to carry out planned maintenance. The generating station was due to return to service the week of 6 and 7 July, but the decision was taken to defer its return to service for three months to address an environmental issue linked with an Environmental Protection Agency licence. As a result, Lough Ree Power Station does not require peat supplies from Bord na Móna. This impacts on the Mount Dillon bog which is also located in County Longford. Bord na Móna has been left with no choice, therefore, but to cease all operations on the Mount Dillon bog and place all 148 staff on protective notice, effective immediately. It began informing staff at 8 a.m. All employees will be kept apprised, as one would expect, on a regular basis of how the issue is progressing. I understand the company is also talking to the trade unions. All staff - 72 permanent, full-time employees and 76 seasonal employees - will be on a temporary unpaid lay-off from Thursday, 18 July. It will continue until Bord na Móna is informed by the ESB that Lough Ree Power Station will return to normal operations, which is expected to be in four to 12 weeks' time. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, and the Department are following the issue closely.
On the broader challenges in the context of the future of Bord na Móna, the State has made a strategic decision - it is the right strategic decision - to move away from generating electricity using coal and peat. That policy decision has been in place for some time. Bord na Móna has responded by developing a plan for diversification into renewables, a different type of resource management and aquaculture. Recently, in the climate action plan the Minister, Deputy Bruton, announced the intention to rewet many bogs, some of which has happened. In recent years we have spent approximately €50 million on raised bogs. I am told by my colleague, the Minister, that it costs approximately €2,000 to rewet 1 ha of bog. This challenge is not without cost, but it has an important environmental value through being a secure carbon sink. It is a natural resource that we should use in dealing with the climate change challenges we face.
I am very much aware, as is the Government, of the challenges for Bord na Móna. It will need the State's help in meeting these challenges and changing the very nature of the company, how it employs people and the skill set involved. Bord na Móna will need to be a significant employer throughout the midlands in the future, as it is today. It is also a significant landowner and has a significant resource with which to work. We will support and help it through that transition which needs to be just for the workers and families involved.