Monday 22 July 2019

O'Rourke warning on Ferbane closure

GERALD FLYNN

PUBLIC Enterprise Minister Mary O'Rourke has warned three instrumentation staff at Ferbane peatpower station that it will close shortly unless they accept a staff rationalisation agreement negotiated nearly three years ago.

PUBLIC Enterprise Minister Mary O'Rourke has warned three instrumentation staff at Ferbane peatpower station that it will close shortly unless they accept a staff rationalisation agreement negotiated nearly three years ago.

Taking a tough stance, the Minister warned: ``The £16m investment in the refurbishment of Ferbane will be lost if there is not immediate implementation of associated agreements.''

ESB group of unions chiefs will meet in Athlone tomorrow night in a last ditch bid to prevent the closure of the obsolete Ferbane power station. A decision not to upgrade unit 4 at Ferbane could have a knock-on effect on the refurbishment of the other three Midland obsolete stations at Lanesborough, Co Longford, Rhode and Shannon Bridge, Co Offaly.

After months of investigation, the Labour Relations Commission retired from the process following the preparation of a report by Kevin Foley. Investment of £16m of taxpayers' and ESB funds in Ferbane was an issue in agreeing the Cost and Competitiveness Review (CCR) between management, staff and government in 1996.

Intervention by the ICTU has also failed to persuade the three MSF union members at Ferbane to accept the staff rationalisation agreement. Yesterday, one senior ESB source described Ferbane as ``like one of the worst power stations you might find in Eastern Europe,'' noting that none of its four units is effectively functioning.

The station, which has 140 staff, is contributing negligible power supplies to the national grid. Closure would have a knock-on impact on the 120 Bord na Mona employees in Co. Offaly who supply milled peat to the power station.

Last week, instrumentation shop steward Don Geraghty and MSF organiser Joe Bowers met with Ms O'Rourke. Afterwards, the union contacted the ESB management, indicating that the minister wished both sides to hold a further meeting on the rationalisation agreement. The Minister is understood to have been unenthusiastic at this interpretation of the meeting. Yesterday, she took the unusual step of reminding MSF that the main thrust of her meeting was that without an agreement, there will not be a £16m upgrading at unit 4.

A source close to the ESB craft unions said that tomorrow, the group of unions' shop stewards is expected to demand that MSF accepts the agreement in the interests of the other 250 people affected.

Under the Ferbane deal, staff numbers are due to be halved to 70, while the three instrumentation staff are due, under the wider CCR deal, to work more closely with electricians.

Some ESB staff are questioning the decision to invest up to £60m in four outdated Midland stations, when the money could be used to develop a modern gas turbine station or develop a `europeat 2' station in the region in conjunction with Bord na Mona.

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