IRELAND must get its fair share of a new multi-billion euro EU Just Transition Fund as the continent steps up its battle against climate change, Cllr Eamon Dooley said in Brussels last week.
Cllr Dooley lobbied for the areas most affected by the end of peat production, especially Offaly, to be included in a fund which could be worth €25 billion over 10 years.
The Fianna Fail councillor believes Bord na Mona could be all but gone by early in the coming decade with only about 250 jobs remaining of its current 2,000.
He told a meeting of the EU Committee of the Regions (CoR), a Brussels-based institution which advises the European Commission and the European Parliament, that peat regions must be treated in the same way as countries hit by the wind-down of coal production.
Across the EU, nearly 250,000 jobs will be lost as coalmining ceases in line with Europe's commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate action.
“All these regions face the same challenges, whether it's in Poland or Ireland, whether it's coal or peat, in terms of creating alternative jobs and opportunities for people affected by these changes,” said Cllr Dooley.
“I'm hoping together, working together, coal and peat regions can create a more powerful lobby for funding to deal with the challenges ahead.
“Nobody should be left behind, whether it's the peat industry in Ireland or the coal regions.”
Reserving the funding for coal regions would send a wrong political signal, said the Ferbane man, who worked in Bord na Mona for 46 years.
Responding to a policy paper on coal from a Polish representative, Witold Stepien, Lodz, which was adopted by the CoR, he said the communities of the Irish Midlands which he represented have depended on the peat industry for their livelihoods since the 1950s.
An EU Just Transition Fund has been proposed by the incoming EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, as part of a 'European Green Deal'.
Cllr Dooley said the fund is a step in the right direction but the amount currently proposed for it, €4.8 billion, is “just a drop in the ocean”.
He welcomed the call by the next European Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, to couple the fund with national and private funding.
Interviewed by the Tribune, Cllr Dooley said he expects the fund to be established by March 2020 and it will apply to 42 regions in the EU, including Ireland.
Workers in Bord na Mona and the ESB who lose their jobs will receive redundancy packages but this funding should be “for the next generation” and should be used to help create replacement jobs.
Cllr Dooley said he believes between €600 million and €1 billion should be invested in Ireland over a 10-year period.
“If you look at what programmes have to be put in place over that period of time it's not an extraordinary amount of money by any means,” he said.
Cllr Dooley believes Bord na Mona as it currently exists could be finished by “at best the end of next year and at worst March 2020” because the PSO (public service obligation) levy, a subsidy for electricity generated from peat, is ending at Shannonbridge and Lanesborough and will no longer be able to support Edenderry Power.
Of Bord na Mona's 2,000 employees, about 1,000 are in Offaly and Cllr Dooley believes only between 200 and 250 will be required for work on bog rehabilitation, wind farms, solar farms and other activities the company is examining, such as fish farming. The turf company once employed 8,000 but began a rationalisation programme in the late 1980s and has accelerated that with its commitment to end peat harvesting by 2030 at the latest.
Cllr Dooley said lobbying for funding will continue. “The more times we can make the case the better chance we have of getting it. The money is not in question, it's how [it] is dispersed is going to be [the issue]. That's why we're here to try and make the best case we can.”