Unions at Bord na Móna have expressed surprise and disappointment at an announcement from ESB that its peat burning power stations in Offaly and Longford will cease to generate electricity earlier than originally expected before Christmas.

The ESB announced in November 2019 that the west Offaly power plant in Shannonbridge and the Lough Ree Power plant in Lanesborough would close "at the end of December in 2020".

However in a surprise move today workers at both plants were told a decision to cease production early was based "on a number of factors including the need to complete production in a safe and orderly manner".

The Shannonbridge power station will stop feeding the national grid on Friday 11 December, and the Lanesborough power station - which opened in 1958 - will cease production on Friday 18 December.

This carries clear knock-on implications for Bord na Móna workers, who have said they expected to be employed in the transporting of peat to the power stations until the end of the year as originally informed.

Shannonbridge power station will stop feeding the national grid on Friday 11 December

Fianna Fáil TD for Laois-Offaly, Barry Cowen, has criticised the decision to shut down power generation early in the stations.

"It is hard to bring people on the path of just transition when the likes of ESB are consistently inconsistent, bringing forward the shut-down date to 11 December", he said, adding "and no commitment yet to desist from decommissioning in favour of open competition for alternative use and local benefit."

Willie Noone of SIPTU and the Bord na Móna Group of Unions said he was surprised and disappointed to hear the news, and asked the company to ensure that the time after the shut downs was used to ensure that all workers were given the opportunity to start training in the areas of decommissioning the stations and rehabilitation of nearby bogs.

In a statement, ESB said even though generation is ending two weeks before the end of the year, staff will be retained until 31 December.

Forty ESB workers will leave employment at the power stations, and the Bord na Móna Group of Unions says over 1,000 Bord na Móna workers have already left the company.