Action must be taken by one of the biggest State-owned companies in Ireland to stop the midlands turning into a 'rust belt' with jobs lost in Laois and other counties.
That is the warning from Laois Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley who wants investment in the midlands following a meeting with Bord na Móna CEO, Tom Donnellan.
He also raised doubts over the future of Laois Cúl na Móna facility in Portlaoise due to the banning of pet extract compost in the UK.
“What it is now absolutely essential that the company establish alternatives not only to keep jobs but to create new jobs in Laois, Offaly and the Midlands.
“There is speculation over the past week of job massive job losses from Bord na Móna as bogs will close. But these workers cannot simply be set aside as we move away from peat. The Government and the company need to quickly develop alternative jobs.
"Overall peat volumes are expected to fall by about one-third next year. There are realistic alternatives for the company to diversify and these should have been developed years ago. We know Bord na Móna are facing huge challenges. The use of peat to generate electricity will be halved by 2020 and 17 out of 62 bogs will be closing.
"The power plant at Edenderry and the west Offaly plant will switch away from peat to biomass. Also with the Cúl na Mona plant in Portlaoise, 80% of its horticulture peat moss product currently goes to Britain, where retail supply is demanding peat free compost within the next 2 years.
“A revolutionary change is now needed at Bord na Móna. With the switch from peat as a source of energy and raw material for compost, there is huge potential in other indigenous sources that will offer long-term sustainable employment in the Midlands. These include the growing of biomass crops and wood products, renewable gas, solar and biogas and the use of biodegradable waste for compost," the Laois Deputy said.
“The CEO outlined their plans in terms of the future of Bord na Móna in Laois/Offaly and said they are in the process of developing their energy business and other alternatives such as waste recovery/reuse and recycling.
"Significant investment is now needed to kick-start these new industries and make changes in the existing ones. To fund this, the midlands need to receive a significant slice of the €500m climate fund that the Government have earmarked in the National Development Plan. The funding currently going to subsidise peat burning will also need to be rediverted and EU funding can to be sourced to retrain and upskill workers," Brian added.
“Action is now needed from Government and the new management team at Bord na Mona to ensure the Midlands does not become Ireland's rust belt," he said.
When Bord na Móna was first established over 80 years ago its remit was to deliver a sustainable industry in Ireland by harnessing the country’s indigenous and natural resources.
Its 2018 annual report says the company is "on a journey of transformation" aiming to become the "leading provider of sustainable solutions to Irish consumers".
As a commercial semi-state company, Bord na Móna is mandated by Government to operate commercially viable enterprises, which maintain employment in the Midlands.
"We remain committed to fulfilling this key role in the communities that we serve," said the 2018 annual report.