The Minister for Climate Action and the Environment has said the Government is determined to ensure alternative employment is provided for hundreds of people affected by the decision to close two power stations in the midlands.

Richard Bruton was speaking as a number of Cabinet ministers travelled to the region, after plans to close peat-burning electricity facilities in Shannonbridge and Lanesboro were confirmed.

On a visit to Lough Boora near Tullamore this afternoon, Mr Bruton said extensive efforts were being made to cushion the region from the impact of the power station closures.

He said the Government was determined to work with ESB and Bord na Móna staff to ensure alternative employment opportunities could be found for hundreds of workers.

The minister said the midlands could be a leader in the transition to a low-carbon economy and that several initiatives were planned to assist in this process.

There will be a heavy emphasis on a bog rehabilitation programme, with around 300 jobs envisaged across the region.

These roles would have very similar skill requirements to the work already being carried out by Bord na Móna staff.

Minister Bruton described a meeting with workers as "very useful" and said there is "a lot of frustration".

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe, said that one out of every €3 raised through the change in carbon pricing will be prioritised for use in the communities that are affected by the decision to close the plants.

Minister Donohoe said this is something he was "very clear about" on Budget day, and that the "first test" of the future of the change in carbon pricing is how communities who are losing their jobs can be supported.

The Government anticipates that a further 400 jobs can be created in new activities, including an extensive retrofitting programme.

It is thought that this would be initially centered on upgrading local authority housing stock and then expanded to cover other properties.

Measures will also be implemented to assist homeowners to transition from peat burning to alternative fuel sources.

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Union calls for talks at industrial relations forum

Unions representing Bord Na Móna workers say they are effectively in dispute with company over what they say is a failure to set out how they will redeploy staff impacted by the closure of two peat-burning power stations in the midlands. 

SIPTU's Energy Organiser, Willie Noone, has called on the Government to put pressure on Bord Na Móna to attend an industrial relations forum, under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission, to deal with issues of concern. 

Mr Noone said there are no guarantees for his members about their prospects of redeployment or retraining, once the company exits the peat extraction for power business. 

He says staff need an all-embracing forum to deal with the issues that impact on workers. 

Ha also said Government plans to rehabilitate bogs and develop a home retrofit programme do not give any safeguards to his members.

He said that much of this work would be put out to tender and that there were no guarantees that Bord Na Móna proposals would be successful. 

Independent TD for Roscommon/Galway Denis Naughten has said he does not believe people in the midlands will be ready for the closure of the power stations next year, despite the establishment of the fund.

Also speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Naughten said the decision to close the plants will have a substantial impact on the local economy, with a very short window to try to put alternatives in place.

The former Minister for Climate Action said the original objective was to maintain job numbers but reduce the amount of peat being used to power the stations.

He called for priority to be given to the rehabilitation of the bogs.

In addition, he said, the future of the peat fire plants must be examined to see if the sites can be converted to 100% biomass.

Mr Naughten said a working group to focus on these sites must be established "as a matter of urgency".

In Budget 2020, the Government also announced €5m for bog restoration and rehabilitation, which will restore protected raised bogs, including Bord na Móna bogs, to their natural habitat.

It is hoped this will create 70 jobs in year one, rising to 100 as the programme develops.

The Government also pledged €20m to deliver housing upgrades as set out in the Climate Action Plan.

Targeted at the midlands, it says that this will support an estimated 400 jobs directly and indirectly.

Last week, Mr Bruton announced that the Government had been engaging with the European Commission to put in place an extensive Bord na Móna bog rehabilitation programme, funded through a re-purposed Public Service Obligation.

Mr Bruton has also appointed Kieran Mulvey as the first Just Transition Commissioner.