It is extremely worrying when semi-state companies lay off employees – whether seasonal or permanent. What is taking place in the power station in Lanesboro and more recently Shannonbridge and the significance of it for Bord na Móna should be ringing alarm bells across the midlands and west.
Looking at Lanesboro and the speed with which Bord na Mona reacted to the suspension of operations at the power station is extremely worrying. We still do not know how long the power station will be closed. Initial suggestions were four weeks, then twelve weeks. Who knows!
The speed that Bord na Móna proceeded with issuing protective notices, laying off seasonal employees and putting permanent employees on unpaid leave starting July 18th (where ESB operations were only suspended on July 5th), was unseemly, and suggests that the unfortunate events assist a wider plan for Bord na Móna to shed its seasonal staff and reposition itself for its future without any regard for its employees and the effects of their actions on the wider community and region.
Bord na Móna has over sixty bogs across the region. It plans to stop cutting turf on them by 2025. Also, the government climate action plan requires a move away from turf production. Bord na Móna and the government know this is going to happen. It is incumbent on both to have replacement jobs ready before then. We don’t need a taskforce after the wipe-out. We need replacement jobs to be in place to ensure ‘the just transition’ that government and Bord na Mona speak of.
Any plans must be brought forward and actioned. The employees laid off would be better employed rehabilitating the bogs for carbon sequestration. This is what both the government and Bord na Móna envisioned taking place in the future. The time is now.
You have to ask, is this a taste of what is coming down the track? There must be measures put in place now. We have witnessed in the last few weeks the instantaneous consequences of a temporary closure of Lanesboro power station. The plans to deal with these consequences are spread over twenty years. There will be another generation lost if something isn’t done before the implementation of the climate action plan. A just transition means nothing if you haven’t put the replacement jobs (not plans) in place.
It is not just the responsibility of the affected employees and families to protest. The businesses and business organisations, including chambers of commerce, must demand action. The recent decision of An Bord Pleanala to refuse permission for the Shannonbridge power plant to transition from peat burning to wood burning (biomass) should be a clarion call for action from everyone. Lanesboro power station plans are already advanced to likewise transition from peat burning to wood burning. What if An Bord Pleanala takes a similar view regarding the redevelopment of the Lanesboro power station?
The concern is that such permissions will not be successful and if they cannot burn peat and can’t get permission to ‘transition’ from peat to biomass, the future of both Lanesboro and Shannonbridge power stations are in jeopardy.
This is not just about the Bord na Móna workers. It is potentially about our region’s economic life. We have to be alive to the potential catastrophe, as we have seen the closures and the job losses will occur much faster than the creation of the replacement jobs and investment.
*Seán Mahon is the former President of the Roscommon Chamber of Commerce