A major conference organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) heard this week that work should begin on the immediate establishment of a ‘Just Transition’ forum for the midlands.

The initiative – which has been mooted in an effort to identify key measures and supports for Bord na Móna employees and the communities in which the company is based – was discussed in detail at the ‘Building A Just Transition: The Case for Bord na Móna’ conference in Tullamore on Tuesday, April 30.

Just Transition is described as “a framework that has been co-opted by the trade union movement to encompass a range of social interventions needed to secure workers’ jobs and livelihoods when economies are shifting to sustainable production”.

It includes avoiding climate change, protecting biodiversity and ending war as well as other challenges.

Bord na Mona, meanwhile, announced last October that it would cease using peat for energy by 2028 – two years earlier than previously understood – and confirmed accelerating moves away from its traditional peat business into renewables, resource recovery and new sustainable businesses.

A few weeks later, in November, the company offered voluntary redundancy; however, it has emerged in recent weeks that the scheme is now “oversubscribed“.

‘New opportunities’

Speaking during this week’s conference in Tullamore, ICTU’s general secretary Patricia King said, new and replacement employment opportunities could be created for existing staff and the surrounding regions.

It is estimated that 4,400 jobs could be created in the wind energy sector and 19,000 in the retrofit sector using and retraining Bord na Móna staff for some of this work.

She continued: “Investment in public transport and broadband will also increase energy efficiency, help meet emission targets and enhance employment opportunities in the midlands region.

“The Athlone Institute of Technology could be developed as a national centre of excellence for green technology research and innovation.”

‘Just Transition and policy’

King went on to say that taking action on climate change was no longer “an optional policy” for the Government.

She pointed out that having signed up to, and endorsed, the 2015 Paris Agreement such action “now takes the form of a binding international agreement”.

This agreement also explicitly requires that signatory governments must ensure that the policy response to climate change is governed by the principles of a Just Transition.

She continued: “The challenge that confronts us today to respond to the existential threat to our planet is on a scale that we have never faced before.

“The concept of Just Transition is about seizing new opportunities and sharing the benefits of change through creating better jobs, better social protection, more training opportunities and greater job security for all those affected by global warming and climate change policies.”

‘Sacrifices for the common good’

King then pointed out that Bord na Móna employees and many communities in the midlands region were being asked to make a major sacrifice “for the wider common good”.

“They are being asked to surrender jobs, opportunities and livelihoods in the battle against climate change and in the hope of creating a more secure future for generations to come.

“In that context, those workers, their families and their communities deserve more than hollow promises and platitudes. They deserve a response that is imaginative, flexible, generous and fully resourced,” she concluded.