Dáil debates

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Brexit Readiness for the End of the Transition Period: Statements

 

8:20 pm

Joe Flaherty (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

Brexit is foremost in our minds this evening. I commend the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, when she was in her previous role, our Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, the Minister for agriculture, Deputy McConalogue, and my constituency colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, for the Herculean work that has been done. Many hours have been put into it and I want to commend all of them.

The reality for this House is that, notwithstanding such a major international challenge, all politics is local. I wish to acknowledge that tomorrow will see the ESB end production at its power plant in Lanesborough, which is my home town and at one time was the cradle of electricity production in this country. There are obvious parallels with project Brexit and the race to decarbonisation and its impacts on local communities. A suite of supports will be put in place for workers, businesses and community groups affected by Brexit. We can contrast that with the decarbonisation challenge. It is true that we have the just transition fund and, to be fair, it is effectively targeting the affected communities. In contrast with Brexit, which will be an 18-month challenge, the problems posed by carbonisation run much deeper. We need to put in place supports that will safeguard and fortify these communities, which evolved over six decades in unison with the scaling up of the Bord na Móna and ESB operations.

This Government, thanks to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and all the others I have mentioned, has a great success story to tell in respect of how we have responded to the Brexit challenge. I commend my colleague, Deputy Martin Kenny, for acknowledging that. This week we saw that the detail is being finalised on a €400 million plus package of supports for our farmers, which is also very welcome, but there is no doubt that, unfortunately, Brexit will result in legacy issues. That will be the case also with decarbonisation.

We are already seeing an unintentional effect of that in the County Longford area where, under the shadow of the ESB power station, which as I said will finish production tomorrow, we have our local primary school and just across the water as the crow flies, on the Roscommon side of the River Shannon, we have Clontuskert National School. Both of those schools were built in direct response to the arrival of Bord na Móna and ESB families coming to that Shannonside location. Today, Claire Murphy is the principal of Lanesborough Primary School. Her late father worked in Bord na Móna. Padraig Connerton is the principal of Clontuskert National School. His late father also worked with Bord na Móna. Ironically, both of those school principals grew up a couple of doors away from each other on The Green, which was a Bord na Móna housing estate. When we reflect on the legacy of Bord na Móna and the ESB it will not be the effect they had on the environment but rather the impact they had on building and fostering communities and inspiring people to go on to be school principals.

As we have in respect of Brexit, we have stepped up to the plate and are providing unprecedented support for our businesses and farmers. The two aforementioned schools will now need our support because the reality is that the ramifications - emotional and financial - of the loss of the ESB and Bord na Móna, which have been major employers, will be significant in this local community. Whatever way we look at it, the community and in particular these schools are facing a very uncertain time. Ironically, the two schools I have mentioned feed into the local community college in Lanesborough, which is categorised as a DEIS school but, unfortunately, neither of these two primary schools have DEIS status. The Department says there is not the capacity to add any additional schools to the DEIS programme. Unfortunately, there is not even a mechanism for the schools to apply to the DEIS programme. I hope that is an issue that can be addressed in the new year.

I am conscious that I have deviated from the topic but, unfortunately, the ghosts of the many people who came from the four corners of Ireland over the past 60 years would never forgive me if I did not take this opportunity to highlight a major concern for these two schools and also the community that fed and clothed my family for many years.

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