Friday 15 November 2019

Hundreds of job losses expected at Bord na Móna as part of 'decarbonisation programme'

One of Bord na Mona's new machines carrying out rewetting work Photo: Jeff Harvey
One of Bord na Mona's new machines carrying out rewetting work Photo: Jeff Harvey

Allison Bray and Anne Marie Walsh

Hundreds of job losses at Bord na Móna are expected in the coming months after officials meet to approve a company restructuring plan.

Fiánna Fail TD Barry Cowen (Offaly- North Tipperary) said he expects the company will tomorrow announce around 150 redundancies at the semi-state peat board will go into effect next year after its board of directors meet to approve a new business plan.

The plan is part of the company’s transition from peat harvesting as it moves towards de-carbonisation of the fuel sector over the next decade.

While he acknowledged that the “writing has been on the wall” for some time, he said it’s crucial that the affected regions are given priority for replacement industries.

He has called for a sustainable transition forum to be established that would help cushion the blow for workers in counties Kildare and Offaly that are expected to bear the brunt of the job losses.

“I’d say they’ll close 17 bogs and the workforce could be cut from between 100 and 150 jobs with some administration staff in Newbridge and Offaly,” he told this evening.

“We acknowledge that it’s a decarbonisation programme that’s been flagged for many years,” he said.

“But the region should get some EU funding to find a replacement industry.”

Officials from Bord Na Mona could not immediately be reached for comment tonight.

However in a statement earlier, a spokesman said the company would not be making any comments ahead of tomorrow’s board meeting.

The meeting follows speculation last week that the company will make  a “significant” announcement of up to 500 redundancies shortly.

The job losses are the result of a dramatic shift from peat production to more environmentally friendly forms of energy.

Recently appointed chief executive Tom Donnellan will put his stamp on the company’s future when he outlines a plan to decarbonise the business and streamline operations.

A senior union official said he expected at least 200 jobs to go after managers recently told the group of unions of plans to close 17 of the 62 bogs where peat is harvested.

Secretary of the group Willie Noone said job losses were also expected at head office in Newbridge and a plant in Kilberry in Co Kildare which supplies peat to garden centres.

However, the redundancies are unlikely to be compulsory. It is understood the average age profile at Bord na Móna is in the late 50s and the company is likely to table a voluntary severance deal.

The announcement will mark a major turning point in the history of one of Ireland’s best-known industries.

Its sole focus was harvesting peat to generate electricity for Irish towns and villages when it was set up 80 years ago.

Turf-cutting and turf fires were synonymous with the country’s rural life, but peat has fallen out of favour in recent years as it is detrimental to the environment.

Yet the Government’s decarbonisation policy is at odds with the fact that electricity customers still pay a subsidy that supports peat production.

But despite the devastation it may visit on some communities, the jobs announcement will not be a complete shock. Bord na Móna has flagged its “decarbonisation” policy well over the last decade. And 10 years ago, it pledged to stop opening new bogs.

In 2015, it revealed it would exit the peat-for-energy business by 2030.

It also heralded the largest change in land use in modern Irish history for 125,000 acres of bogland, to be used for renewal energy, eco-tourism and “community amenities”.

But former CEO Mike Quinn promised the business would remain rooted in the bogs.

The company is also offering domestic fuel and horticultural product, and has increased the co-firing of peat and biomass at Edenderry Power Station.

A Bord na Móna spokesperson last week said an “ongoing process of engagement with employees and the group of unions” was under way.

He said they were discussing the strategy to decarbonise “which means we will be harvesting less peat over the coming decade as we exit peat for energy purposes.

“This engagement process has not reached any conclusions regarding the final shape of the peat business, either in terms of employee numbers or operations. As this process is ongoing, the company will not be making any further comment at this time.”

Online Editors

Also in Business