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Not one job yet created from Just Transition fund, warns Cowen

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen has launched a blistering attack of ‘mockery’ decarbonisation programme in letter to Taoiseach

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Vast Bord na Móna boglands lie idle in Co Longford

Vast Bord na Móna boglands lie idle in Co Longford

Vast Bord na Móna boglands lie idle in Co Longford

“Not one job has yet been created” from the Just Transition fund to assist communities affected by the phasing out of peat for electricity generation, Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen has stated in blistering letter to Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

With the Climate Change Bill now published, the Offaly-based deputy said he felt it was “an opportune time” to voice his “disappointment, frustration and no little anger” at the “ridiculously slow, poorly administered and apparent inept governance/leadership/delivery” of the programme to date.

In the letter, read out by deputy Cowen in an address to the Dáil last night, he wrote that although he was “at the forefront” of the party's commitment to ensure revenue raised from carbon taxes would fund just transition in areas/counties/regions most impacted by de-carbonisation, he said its “snail's pace and lack of progress to date” is “a far cry” from what communities expected.

"That's further compounded [for me personally] considering Fianna Fáil being the lead party in Government since June last year. It would appear not having a cabinet member for example from Offaly, Longford, Laois, Kildare, Westmeath, Roscommon or [even] east Galway is very evident and telling when it comes to just transition.

"In recent weeks, I posed a series of written parliamentary questions to Minister Ryan on just transition matters. Unfortunately, the responses (rather than answers) confirmed my fears/concerns [which are included in this letter I refer to].

"Those responses included confirmation that: not one job [I am afraid] has yet been created by just transition funding; only €166,000 has been drawn down to date; the rules/terms associated with the proposed funding previously announced/lauded [by me too, I might add] do little to ensure such funds will materialise [at all].

He added: “The county most impacted by [Bord na Móna and] ESB job losses; economic damage (Offaly) is not prioritised or benefitting as proportionately as it should.

"There also appears to be a suggestion that the midland region be extended even further for the purpose of the EU [just transition fund], further diluting the impact on communities most affected.

"The midlands regional transition team is merely a sounding board with no real powers (despite recommendations to the contrary by Kieran Mulvey, Just Commissioner and I [and others]).

He furthermore claimed in the letter that: "It would appear too that the Department is actually depriving BNM/ESB staff of upskilling opportunities that match the jobs the [just transition fund] may create, as they won't share any of the details of these employment opportunities [that they have sought to enter into].

“There's no decision on potential community gain arising from either the Department's consideration [or] investigation [into the] future use of now [defunct] power plants at Lanesboro and Shannonbridge.

"There has been no response to my recommendation, where I asked that the local authorities would act as administrators in seeking an open tender competition to determine the future use of those plants that might yield a community, social and economic gain.

Concurrently, he stated, “ESB is seeking a refund from the energy regulator of the €5 million it supposedly ‘gifted’ to just transition upon the announcement of the closures. It is also seeking further millions from the same source to cover costs of its exit.

"Of course, notwithstanding the above there's the ongoing failure of still not having put in place a greatly expanded program of home heating retrofit options, thus neglecting the very people impacted greatest by the suddenness of de-carbonisation,” deputy Cowen penned.

'Mockery'

In the sign-off to his party leader the former Agriculture Minister added: “In the midst of this lack of progress we see the ongoing and indeed growing ‘importation’ of peat products for horticulture and home heating fuels. That indeed is making a laugh and mockery of just transition process altogether.

"I had sought a meeting to discuss just transition some months ago and still await a date for same.

“In the meantime, [Taoiseach,] you can see from this short appraisal the obvious social, economic and political ramifications of such poor progress on these matters to date.”

The letter was sent to the Taoiseach on Wednesday, April 21.

Launched in June 2020, the Just Transition fund 2020 dedicated €11 million, financed by Government through an allocation of €6 million from an increase in the carbon tax and an additional €5 million committed by ESB.

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The fund is administered by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and its focus is on the wider midlands region due to the heavy impact of job losses following the sudden closure of two ESB peat-fired plants.


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