It is at this time of the year that traditionally bogs across the Midlands of Ireland come alive with the sound of machinery and digging as turf is cut for the summer. A time when families return to “the bog” to save the turf that will be burnt later in the year for heat. The writer of this article is from county Laois where such practice is widespread. However, many turf banks will stay silent this year following the announcement by Bord Na Móna in January that peat harvesting on all lands owned by them has ended.
This was lamented as a huge loss to the economies of these areas by politicians of all creeds and shades, particularly in the heartland of Offaly. This county in particular has been impacted with the end of peat harvesting for turf as well as briquettes. These activities compounded with the closure of Shannonbridge and Lanesbourough peat fired power stations in the last 9 months have left a void in these communities.
It was anticipated that this void would be filled by measures announced under the Just Transition Fund, a package worth a potential €77 million to these areas. However, there is a feeling that the pace of transition away from peat related industries has outpaced the rate of funding to account for the losses due to this. €28 million has been approved for job creation measures in the Midlands however it was reported on RTÉ News that just €166,000 had been drawn down for this purpose so far.
The Just Transition plan was lauded as a good compromise at the time to account for the disruption caused by the end of these activities however there seems to be a growing consensus that it is not being rolled out quickly enough. Some concerns have been raised about the suitability of measures announced - middle aged men or those closer to retirement age who have worked manual jobs on Bord Na Móna jobs all their lives might not be the best candidates for upskilling in IT Systems, for example.
Then there is the cultural aspect associated with the bogs for these communities. There is an innate connection that people have with the land and the turf banks in particular in these areas. Turf has been cut from banks in many of these communities by families for generations and it is an activity that some opposition TD’s have argued deserves particular protection as a cultural activity that people traditionally partake in. It can be argued that it should indeed be preserved in some way or form as being part of our culture, much in the way that there are some supports available for maintaining traditional thatched roofs.
Overall, there is a growing acceptance within the Midlands that the times are changing and the cutting of turf will become a thing of the past however the government does need to display some joined up thinking. The fact that eastern European briquettes are being imported into Ireland despite production of Irish briquettes being halted here as an environmental protection exercise has shaken people's confidence in the Just Transition policy. There is a lot of work to be done to minimise the effect such policies have on ordinary people and there will likely be a rocky road ahead for government parties if this situation cannot be taken control of in the Midlands counties in the coming years.