Tuesday 20 November 2018

Hundreds face job losses at Bord na Móna

Heritage: Traditional peat cutting and gathering for energy, as was done for generations in places like Connemara, could soon become a thing of the past. Picture: Hulton-Deutsch/Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images
Heritage: Traditional peat cutting and gathering for energy, as was done for generations in places like Connemara, could soon become a thing of the past. Picture: Hulton-Deutsch/Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images

Anne-Marie Walsh

Midlands communities face a major blow as Bord na Móna is set to announce hundreds of job losses later this month.

Sources said the commercial semi-state 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.

A meeting of the board is due to take place next Thursday and the potential redundancies are expected to be high on the agenda as part of a wider cost-cutting plan.

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.

And its efforts to reverse climate change will also cause conflict for politicians whose constituents face redundancy as all bets are on the possibility of an election next year.

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 products, and has increased the co-firing of peat and biomass at Edenderry Power Station.

A Bord na Móna spokesperson 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."

Irish Independent

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