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Wednesday 21 November 2018

Job cuts 'hit to solar plexus' as council demands Bord na Móna crisis talks

What now? Pat Phelan, a fitter maintaining turf-cutting machines at Bord na Móna since 1977, is devastated by news of the job cuts. Picture: Ger Rogers
What now? Pat Phelan, a fitter maintaining turf-cutting machines at Bord na Móna since 1977, is devastated by news of the job cuts. Picture: Ger Rogers

Eoghan MacConnell

Offaly councillors have demanded that Bord na Móna chief executive Tom Donnellan attend their next meeting as concerns grow over the future of local jobs.

Councillors also called for Environment Minister Richard Bruton to meet them.

Offaly Council convened the meeting to discuss Bord na Móna's plans to cut up to 430 jobs as it moves away from peat harvesting and begins closing productive bogs.

Mr Donnellan had been due to attend the December meeting but councillors want urgent action.

Cllr Dervill Dolan (Ind) said: "We need the minister to come down here and tell us what we can do as a council."

Describing it as a "black day" for the county, Cllr Dolan said: "These are people that have the power to deal with what we want to do."

The job losses were a "hit to the solar plexus" for Offaly where hundreds of families will be affected, the special meeting heard yesterday. The Ferbane-based councillor Eamon Dooley (FF) said around 1,000 staff are based in the county. "Fifty per cent or more of the people employed by Bord na Móna are employed in Offaly," he said.

One worker, father of three Pat Phelan (58), who has worked as a fitter since 1977, told the Irish Independent after the announcement that local families have been devastated.

Cllr Dooley feared for the future of employment in Offaly. He said "Mickey Mouse" replacement jobs were not acceptable and questioned the viability of importing biomass for ESB stations in Offaly and Longford.

Places like Kilcormac were "built on the back of Bord na Móna" which had supported community groups and allowed people to find work locally, said Cllr John Leahy. "Bord na Móna helped shape our communities."

He said many of those facing redundancy were in their mid-50s with families still mortgaged and some putting children through college.

"How many jobs will be created?" he asked. "There is no jobs going to replace the jobs that will be lost." Cllr Leahy questioned the potential for jobs in biomass and recycling and noted that the county still did not have an adequate broadband service.

Cllr John Clendennen (FG) praised Lough Boora Discovery Park, a former cutaway bog in Offaly which is now a tourist attraction. He said the council should explore the potential for a national outdoor events centre.

Council CEO Anna Marie Delaney agreed that Bord na Móna was "part of the fabric" of the region. She said it was looking at establishing an aquaculture base in Mount Lucas and exploring the potential of further developing Lough Boorak. She agreed that there was a case to apply for the globalisation fund.

A task force was being established and a transition team would meet next week.

Irish Independent

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