Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton TD in Lanesboro last November
The first call for proposals under the €11m Just Transition Fund following the publication of the first Progress Report of the Just Transition Commissioner, Mr Kieran Mulvey, yesterday, Friday, May 22.
Having previously set out five key priorities for the Fund, including retraining workers and proposals to generate sustainable employment in green enterprise in the region, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton TD launched the call for proposals.
Minister Bruton said, “I am acutely aware of the impact an early exit from peat is having on workers and their families and on the Midlands more broadly. Like many other businesses, Bord na Móna has also been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic which is compounding this impact. Securing sustainable employment opportunities for the region and a just transition for those most severely affected must be at the heart of our response.
“A detailed implementation plan will be prepared in response to the Report’s recommendations, however I believe we must take urgent action in some key areas. The Just Transition Fund is opening so we can get money to those who can make a big difference.
“I’d like to thank Kieran for his work to date. He has engaged with all those affected to come up with a comprehensive set of recommendations which will provide the essential elements of a Just Transition for workers and Midlands communities.”
Minister Bruton appointed Kieran Mulvey to be the first Just Transition Commissioner in November 2019.
Kieran Mulvey said, "There has been a very positive engagement from all the stakeholders in the region and it is vital now that the process can move rapidly to an Implementation Plan. I have adopted a " whole of Midlands " strategic approach with what I believe are practical actions across counties to maximise their infrastructural ,natural and human resources and building on their existing strengths.
"The first part of such a plan is to receive and evaluate employment projects in the Midlands that have green enterprise and other employment/tourism potential. This period has to be used also to finalise the critical pathways for the retention of employment in BNM/ESB, give certainty around the future structure of the workforce and to establish further employment opportunities in the region.
"I look forward to continuing to work locally with all the parties involved to achieve and deliver solid and recognisable community gains and to promote the Midlands and its potential".
The Report makes recommendations across a number of areas. A comprehensive implementation plan will be completed as soon as possible, facilitated by a Working Group chaired by the Department of an Taoiseach.
The Minister has taken the following immediate initiatives:
- Just Transition Fund: The Minister is today launching a first call for proposals for funding from the €11m Just Transition Fund. The Minister has said the fund will have five key priorities, including retraining workers and proposals to generate sustainable employment in green enterprise in the region. Stage 1 of accessing the Just Transition Fund is to register your project with the Midlands Regional Transition Team and START (Secretariat Technical Assistance to Regions in Transition). More information will be available on: www.midlandsireland.ie
- Governance arrangements: The report notes the importance of effective governance in the Midlands to deliver a just transition. The required structures, fully informed by the report’s recommendations, will have to be put in place, which will be done in the context of the detailed implementation plan. The Department will continue to work with the relevant local authorities in the Midlands, other Government Departments and State agencies and the Midlands Regional Transition Team to ensure this happens.
- Use of State Agency Lands in the Midlands for Green Energy Projects: The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment will write to State agencies and enterprises to identify land and facilities which could be of use for such projects.
- Study on Energy Hub in the Midlands: The Department and ESB will commission a study to examine the potential for using the existing infrastructure in the West Offaly and Lough Ree power plants as an Energy Hub in the Midlands.
- Electric Vehicle Charging: The eight Midlands counties are currently served by 98 public Electric Vehicle (EV) charging points provided by ESB. In addition, the Climate Action Fund is supporting a €20 million investment to upgrade electric vehicle infrastructure and to provide new charging points across the country. The Minister has asked for an evaluation study on the potential to further expand the EV charging infrastructure nationally, including the enhancement of the charging network in the Midlands region, to commence immediately.
- Digital Hubs for Remote Working: Under the National Broadband Plan, 91 Broadband Connection Points will be provided in the Midlands over the coming months. These will provide the necessary infrastructure including high- speed broadband to support remote working in the Midlands. It is planned to grow the existing Midlands Network of Co-working facilities, through development of additional facilities/hubs through the region.
The Minister has asked that urgent action be taken on foot of the report’s publication.
A detailed implementation plan will be completed as soon as possible, with certain, high priority measures implemented before then.
The Minister also today provided an update on progress made in other key areas of the Just Transition Plan for the midlands:
- Midlands Retrofitting Scheme: Budget 2020 committed €20m to deliver a new model to group housing upgrades together as set out in the Climate Action Plan, as a first step in developing a national retrofit scheme. Targeted at the Midlands, this will support approximately 340 jobs directly and indirectly, as well as significantly upgrading the quality of social housing stock in the region. The scheme design has been completed and final survey work and procurement of the build programme will commence when public health advice permits.
- Retrofit Training: A Retrofit Training Programme and National SOLAS NZEB Training Facility were officially launched at Mount Lucas on 11 March 2020. The Retrofit programme provides access to retraining to former Bord na Móna employees and focuses on retrofit measures.
- EU Green New Deal: Ireland is engaging with the European Union to secure an investment in the midlands under the Just Transition Mechanism as part of the Green New Deal.
- Bog Rehabilitation: The €5m scheme approved by Government in Budget 2020 for bog rehabilitation has been rolled out by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. This scheme will rehabilitate 1,800 hectares on 9 raised bog protected sites across 7 counties in the Midlands. Restoration works will commence as soon as public health advice allows in 2020.
- An extensive programme to rehabilitate Bord na Móna bogs used for harvesting peat for electricity generation to a high standard will be developed. An Enhanced Peatland Rehabilitation Traineeship is focused on those employees who may be redeployed by Bord Na Móna in peatland rehabilitation/restoration projects over the next 3-4 years. It is intended that 14-16 Bord Na Móna employees will begin a Traineeship Programme each month during 2020 and 2021.
Centre for Climate Change and Just Transition: Bord na Móna have been working with a number of partners to progress the establishment of a Peatlands Centre of Excellence which would focus on the role peatlands can play in climate mitigation and adaptation. In addition, there will be a strong focus on the just transition in supporting communities and SMEs in developing low carbon, sustainable and circular economy enterprises. These developments will be complemented by a Visitors Centre that promotes climate action. Funding has been applied for under the EU LIFE Programme. A number of Government Departments and agencies have also committed resources to the project.
The Minister also updated government about the preparation of the Climate Action (Amendment) Bill, which is undergoing detailed drafting at present.