Bord na Móna's peat ban will be 'catastrophic' for Laois and Offaly jobs

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

Bord na Móna harvesting peat from a midlands bog

Bord na Móna harvesting peat from a midlands bog

Bord na Móna is planning to end all harvesting of peat from Irish bogs by 2027 meaning the end of peat briquettes and peat moss products.

The semi-state company hopes to switch to more environmentally friendly businesses, but Laois county councillors fearing major job losses have slammed the plan as ‘draconian’ and ‘catastrophic’.

The semi state company is planning to diversify completely from peat production in the face of environmental penalities.
Bord na Móna plans to re-employ its workers in ventures like inland fisheries and herb growing, tyre and plastic recycling, wind and solar farms, and two planned biomass powerplants that have not yet got permission. 

It is also considering plans for a biogas powerplant on its land near Portlaoise.

Bord na Móna employs 2,000 workers between Laois and Offaly. Another 2,000 are indirectly employed it says.
It expects a voluntary redundancy package to be accepted by up to 430 workers.

The CEO Tom Donnellan came to the Laois County Council December meeting to lay out their plans.

The Bord na Móna CEO said that staff are getting advice on retraining, and new jobs will be created in areas lost “like for like”. He expects to be “oversubscribed” with redundancy applications.

He said their decision came because they expect a carbon tax to be introduced in Ireland next year and that the UK is planning to end all its imports of horticultural peatmoss in 2020. He said that their new power plants will not get planning unless they change to 50% biomass. The semi state company has made a loss for the past two years.

“I’m not sugarcoating this, it is terrible, but 1600 jobs is foreseeable in ten years. Our obligation is to protect jobs and survive. We are trying to save Bord na Móna, not trying to save the world,” the CEO said.

Most councillors raised concerns about job losses to him, while several doubted the effect of peat production on climate change.

Cllr John Moran does not believe that harvesting of the Irish bogs has caused climate change.
“Compared to what the rest of the world is doing, we are being the goody goody boys. Climate change happened before, we’ve had seven ice ages, there was no peat then, we’re being too good,” he said.
“China and rest of the world are pumping stuff into the air, for the small amount we do, its a little overdone. We should fight it and give you time to develop and change the job situation,” he said.

Cllr Willie Aird said he accepted climate change was real, but said that a complete cessation of peat by 2027 was “a draconian measure”.
“It’s a hard pill to take, there are generations of families proud to work for Bord na Móna, the fallout of this is catastrophic for the midlands. I don’t think this small company by stopping production of peat is going to have a huge impact worldwide,” he said.

Cllr John Joe Fennelly called the plan “a detonator for rural Ireland”.
“It is one step too far, I agree that it ticks the boxes for climate control but it needs to be slowed down,” he said.

One councillor agreed with eliminating peat.
“Climate change is taking place, we have to react, later than we should have reacted. We face serious carbon penalties if we don’t step up. We’ve five to ten years to re-skill. The decision we make now will make the planet safer for our children,” said Cllr Brendan Phelan.

Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald raised her concerns about Bord na Mona’s plan for a biogas power plant on their bogland near Portlaoise that will take in lorryloads of slurry and crops and convert them to energy.
“There is a deep concern in the community. A meeting did not answer any concerns,” she said.

Mr Donnellan told her “we will talk and listen to anybody, we are a community based organisation”.

Cllr Caroline Dwane Stanley asked if the Laois staff would be offered alternative jobs that may be too far away to travel to on a basic wage, and she asked if retraining will be offered.
“We all know times are changing with climate change, but what caught people by surprise is how quickly the announcement came, Bord na Mona is a vital part of the community,” she said.