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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 11°C
TG4 Bord na Móna worker Pat Phelan.

'I do feel let down': Midlands Bord na Móna workers in documentary on peat transition

The documentary will be aired at 9.30pm on TG4 tonight.

WITH TWO PEAT-fuelled power stations due to close later this year, what will the hundreds of remaining workers do when their livelihood comes to an end?  

Two peat-fired ESB electricity generation stations in Shannonbridge and Lanesboro in the midlands are set to close down at the end of this year.

TG4 documentary Gan Fód, to be aired at 9.30pm tonight, will focus on employment versus sustainability through the stories of those still working for Bord na Móna in the peat sector. 

The ESB West Offaly Power Station in Shannonbridge is fuelled by peat supplied by BNM. An Bord Pleanála refused planning permission to redevelop the station to burn biomass last year. 

An agreement was reached to keep the Offaly station and another station and Lough Ree operating until the end of 2020. 

Many of the hundreds of remaining employees there are men, with an average age upwards of 50. 

With voluntary redundancy and redevelopment schemes on offer, what will those who lived their lives as Bord na Móna workers do to adapt?  

‘They don’t give a shit about us’ 

Pat Phelan (60) has been working for BNM for more than 40 years. He is based in the Blackwater group of bogs and the power station in Shannonbridge. 

These bogs produce the peat that is burned to generate electricity at the Shannonbridge station. 

“An Bord Pleanála and the government just shit on the midlands with their decision… they just don’t give a shit about us,” he told

TABU_GanFod_ClaraBog TG4 One of the midlands bogs included in the documentary. TG4

“I do feel let down – there should be a just transition in the workforce like we were promised, but that won’t be the case now.”  

The Just Transition was included in the 2020 Budget, focusing on jobs and re-training opportunities to adjust workers to a low-carbon transition.

It promises 400 jobs to retrofit homes in the midlands, up to 100 jobs through the National Parks and Wildlife Service to rehabilitate bogland, as well as jobs in developing renewable energy assets and recycling operations. 

“We knew if was coming and we were happy with the development, but the heart of the midlands will be just gone a lot sooner than we had anticipated,” said Phelan.  

A BNM ecologist Mark Mc Corrie said there will be a “massive transformation” in bogs over the next few years as they “become colonised again with plants and animals”. 

‘There’s a lot of uncertainty’ 

59-year-old Philip Casey has been working for BNM for almost 40 years. He is a rail transport operative in the Blackwater bogs. 

“The decision by An Bord Pleanála really pulled the rug out from under Bord na Móna and not just its employees, but our families and the surrounding communities,” said Casey. 

“There’s a lot of uncertainty now… in relation to those who decided to stay in particular and what they will be doing in ten months’ time.”

TABU_GanFod_Phillip_Casey Bord na Móna worker Philip Casey.

Last Saturday, BNM trade union members marched over concerns about the likelihood of low-carbon focused jobs for workers in the midlands. 

“There’s a lot of rhetoric about retrofitting and training workers to go into this, but it’s just not a reality in the midlands. [The workers'] age profile alone won’t be enough to make it a reality. I can think of just one house in Shannonbridge that has solar panels,” said Casey. 

“I think it’ll have a detrimental effect on the area… there will be around 140 to 180 people leaving their jobs – not to mention the other people affected such as private contractors, workshops, equipment workers and so on.

“Bord na Móna has been a good employer over the years… of course I feel let down. Not just me, but the company, our communities.

The politicians say a lot of rhetoric about what they’re going to do, but what the people in the midlands actually want, and need, is action.

“Bord na Móna has provided a way of life for families and communities… they have a huge footprint in the midlands’ history.”

Gan Fód will be aired on TG4 at 9.30pm tonight.  

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