Thursday, 23 March 2017, Leaders’ Question Bord na Móna Factory Littleton.
Deputy Michael Lowry Leaders’ Questions on Thursday 23rd March in connection to the Bord na Móna Littleton Factory following this week revelations that Bord na Móna is carrying out a comprehensive review of its briquetting operations.
Michael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
I wish to raise the issue of the Government’s position with regard to support of Bord na Móna. Bord na Móna, in particular, the Littleton plant in my constituency, has been traditionally known for its production of briquettes for more than 40 years and has given valuable employment to people from Littleton, Killenaule, Templetuohy, Thurles and surrounding areas. The facility in Littleton can be traced back to Bord na Móna’s roots. Recently, to safeguard the facility in Littleton, workers have accepted restructuring proposals from management and unions through the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. This is a clear commitment that the workforce at Littleton briquette factory is committed to its future.
Recently we have heard about a Bord na Móna review of peat production operations and briquette manufacturing factories. This has led to concerns and fears among more than 120 workers at the Littleton plant. Bord na Móna is going through a difficult time in terms of the sales of briquettes, principally because of the imposition of carbon tax at the insistence of the Green Party in the 2010 budget. At that time, I negotiated a derogation for peat produced products but it was reintroduced in 2013. Since 2013 the carbon tax has doubled meaning that there is a 50 cent tariff on every bale of briquettes produced. On top of that, the import of unregulated fuel products from Northern Ireland is a massive problem in the marketplace for Bord na Móna.
The current review by Bord na Móna of its peat operations is of fundamental and critical importance. Its recommendations will shape the future of peat production in Ireland. It will determine what quantities of briquette production will be required for the marketplace in the future. It will also determine the number of production facilities and recommend the location of the factory or factories. Its recommendations will have far-reaching implications and shuddering consequences. It has the potential to destroy livelihoods and to consign workers and dependent families to financial hardship. The outcome of the report is capable of wreaking havoc on local communities. Therefore, the report is a very serious matter that must treated in a professional, responsible, fair and caring manner.
The Tánaiste must understand that this is a nerve-tingling time for the employees of Bord na Móna, whether they are in Tipperary, Offaly or another part of the midlands. The prospect of further rationalisation or consolidation has struck fear in the hearts and minds of employees. What is the Government’s position on the Bord na Móna efforts?
Frances Fitzgerald (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
As the Deputy well knows, Bord na Móna is a commercial State company and the management and operation of briquette factories is an operational matter for the company and not one in which the Government has any direct role or function. However, I recognise the points the Deputy has made on the concerns of the employees in both places at present. Bord na Móna is facing significant business challenges in the context of the deregulation of the electricity market and increasingly competitive and challenging environments across all its business areas, not least its fuels business. It has been operating at a level significantly below capacity in recent times and there are a number of initiatives under way at present.
A comprehensive review is being undertaken at present on the operations at Littleton in County Tipperary and Derrinlough in County Offaly. The review will examine projected demand for peat briquettes as well as the plans for biomass and the combined capacity and infrastructure needed to deliver production to meet the forecasted demand. A serious analysis is being carried out at present on the production capacity and the demand and how they can be matched. As it requires much input from a number of people, the review is not expected to be finalised before May at the earliest. We will await the review and its analysis.
In the meantime, Bord na Móna has been working with and briefing staff and employees in the fuels business have been briefed on the review. I assure the Deputy that I understand that ongoing updates will be provided to them. Management has also provided assurances that no decision on the future of the plants will be taken until the review is completed. At the very least, we must await the outcome of the review in May. No one at this point can predict the recommendations that will be in the review, but there are a number of initiatives taking place which it is hoped will give the best outcome for the jobs about which the Deputy speaks. For example, there is a pilot trial for the production and sale of a biomass briquette made at its factory at Littleton for the past 12 months. The development of a biomass briquette is a significant investment by Bord na Móna Fuels and a critical step in future proofing the jobs the Deputy is highlighting and meeting the particular challenges faced by the company at present. However, the company is investing in research to see how it can best meet those challenges ahead.
Michael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
It is important to realise that the Government has a responsibility to oversee the policies of Bord na Móna and how they impact on employment. I presume there is a process involved here. As the Tánaiste indicated, the report will be published in May. I presume it will go to the board of Bord na Móna before being submitted to the joint committee with responsibility for energy and natural resources, the Minister and the Government. The future plans and ambition of Bord na Móna must not be curtailed by financial necessity. The Government must encourage and support the company by making available the substantial funds required to invest in upgrading existing plants such as Littleton and providing the €35 million required to install and commission a combined heat and power plant at the Littleton site. The trial at Littleton has been highly successful and made substantial progress. I hope its conclusions will show we can manufacture a biomass peat product and that this product, combined with investment in the combined heat and power plant, will secure the site’s future. I ask that the Minister take this into account in his discussions with Bord na Móna.
Frances Fitzgerald (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
I will ask the Minister to liaise directly with Deputy Lowry on this issue. It is planned to run further biomass production trials alongside peat briquette production in the next few months, with a view to completing a detailed business case for this product. The business case will consider the location for the commercial scale biomass plant. If or when this product is developed, it will offer an opportunity to provide sustainable, long-term, quality jobs in the fuels and feedstock divisions of Bord na Móna. As the Deputy noted, there is still some way to go and we await the review at the end of May and the results of the pilot projects which are assessing the viability of the product and how it could be developed. At that point, there will no doubt be committee hearings on the report. We await with interest the outcome in May.
Commenting on the latest figures from the back to ‘School Costs Survey 2016’ issued by the children’s charity Barnardos, Michael Lowry TD has said that the findings reflect what he is hearing from his constituents, that parents are struggling financially to pay for their children’s back to school needs despite so-called ‘free education’.
“This 11th annual ‘School Costs Survey’ highlights that many parents both locally and nationally are under severe pressure at this time of year, dreading how they will pay for all that is required for school.
The findings of the survey highlight that the overall cost of sending a child to primary school is €340 and to post primary school is €775. These estimates don’t even include the money needed by parents to pay for transport, extra-curricular activities, school bags and other accessories. These kinds of expenses are placing enormous stress on families who are already under pressure to pay everyday family costs and household bills. Parents in difficulty are facing awful dilemmas of having to forego home rental and mortgage payments or even borrowing to make ends meet. If education in Ireland is free, why are parents footing these huge bills?
With Budget 2017 approaching it is time for the Government to recognise that parents and schools alike are still straining under the weight of funding cuts. Austerity measures which resulted in cuts to social welfare rates, such as the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance being halved, negatively impacts upon parents’ abilities to fund the most basic requirements needed for their children. It must be remembered that these cuts come despite back to school costs remaining high or even increasing.
I welcome the proposed measures by our present government in relation to investing an extra €500m in education by 2021 and reviewing the School Transport Scheme with recommendations on concessionary school transport. More action is needed to implement measures that will effectively support struggling parents and put a halt to the dread they feel at the back to school time of year. Further investment needs to be prioritised to fund schools and support initiatives that will realistically and significantly reduce costs to parents” concluded Deputy Lowry.
Independent TD Michael Lowry has welcomed the recent added financial investment to our health sector, including the €40m announced for home care services. Same comes as part of the extra €500 million which has been added to our already overall Health Service Budget nationally for 2016, by Minister for Health Mr Simon Harris.
However Lowry warned, “Despite this new welcome allocation, serious challenges still continue to remain within the service, with demands for home help and home care packages continuing to grow.”
In particular Lowry pointed out, “Patients who are medically ready for hospital discharge continue to remain waiting in much needed hospital beds, due to our inability to access and put in place home supports.”
“More access to home supports” stated Lowry, “could see patients living at home; instead of remaining in long-term residential care, should these appropriate services be made more readily available. This said problems are also arising in the number of older people already in receipt of home care, who have been identified as not receiving the number of help hours needed.
“It is readily acknowledged that many more patients could be at home”, continued Lowry, “where they themselves want to be; where their families want them to be; and where Government policy says they should be. However we are simply not providing these necessary homecare supports and this present situation goes completely against Governmental stated objectives of caring for individuals within our communities.
In particular over the past number of years Health Care in its entirety across Tipperary has faced utter devastation through serious financial cuts, e.g South Tipp General Hospital, Our Lady’s hospital Cashel, Dean Maxwell Roscrea, Mount Sion Tipperary, the effects of which can only be described as terrifying and a gross burden on our most vulnerable. To this end I will now be seeking an assurance from Minister Harris that a fair share of this much needed new funding will be made available to Co. Tipperary.
This new investment in our community care services is indeed a most positive development, however we now need to put in place a system that provides for more appropriate homecare services and packages. This will enable many more of our citizens to return to live in their own homes under a more tailored care plan, which in turn will be one step closer to solving our current hospital overcrowding”, concluded Lowry.
Independent TD Michael Lowry has called on the Ulster Bank to reverse its decision to sell more than 900 distressed loans to ‘vulture funds’, in their efforts to rid themselves of acquired problem assets, mostly obtained during the so called boom era.
“This sale of assets by Ulster Bank, valued at €2.5bn, is made up of distressed business loans, buy-to-let mortgages and owner-occupier mortgages. Their decision is aimed at drastically eradicating all remaining so called ‘toxic’ property loans from its books on both sides of the border. However if carried out there exists a further fear that other banking establishments will most likely replicate similar procedures against their customers.
About €100m of the total face value of Ulster Bank loans, now being offered for sale, are owned by farmers and in many cases are linked to necessary on-farm business investments. This threat now comes at a time when Irish agriculture, in particular, is already on its knees with farm debt on an upward spiral, due to world market price volatility, which looks set to remain for the foreseeable future.
This threatened outcome by Ulster Bank is an appalling and insensitive approach to vulnerable business mortgage holders, who are currently finding themselves in financial difficulties. On a daily basis, I am confronted with appalling instances of financial institutions being allowed to ignore their own wrong-doings, while trampling and terrorising Irish borrowers.
This devastating threat, if carried through, will bring about the most negative and damaging of effects to families, overall business development in our regional communities and more especially will decimate attempts at any real rural recovery. If Ulster Bank mortgages are sold off to these ‘vulture funds’, then we will witness further new and increased cases of homelessness and a continuance in the escalation of private rental costs.
I now urge all banking establishments to develop new long-term funding arrangements and to immediately suspend their present threatening action. The vast majority of customers are keen to find a resolution to their current financial difficulties and should be given professional, independent advice on restructuring their outstanding loans. I also call for a renewed sense of urgency by the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure, to assist in creating a more efficient funding mechanism to halt and reverse this recent banking decision” concluded Deputy Lowry.
Independent TD Michael Lowry has called for an immediate, focused and balanced debate by all elected TD’s, with regard to planning a future for rural Ireland. Commenting on recent radical proposals for Ireland’s development by Mr John Moran (Former Secretary-General at the Department of Finance), Deputy Lowry stated that he disagreed with many of the views expressed by Mr Moran with regard to his future vision for rural Ireland.
Using the comparative example of Ireland versus France; Mr Moran had declared that France was “pulling back services from less efficient parts of their country and encouraging those areas to develop a different business model.”
“How can rural Ireland attract a “different business model”, when such areas have been totally stripped of infrastructure and investment, with little attempt at supporting regional development. To advance a ‘different business model’ would entail a modern rural road network as part of other required infrastructure. Mr Moran appears to be unaware that the National Roads Fund decreased from €608 million in 2008 to a current figure of €294 million in 2015. In 2011 Tipperary received €45 million for roads. In 2016 this had fallen to €25 million. Also in 2015 some €439 million was made available to the semi-State utility Irish Water; taken from motor tax payment and local property tax.
Deputy Lowry continued: “The IDA must immediately begin to invest in advance industrial infrastructure in places like Co. Tipperary, providing ready-to-go turnkey facilities with access to high-speed broadband being a priority. Neglect of infrastructure and investment in turn has had a domino effect in relation to the lack of job opportunities for a highly skilled and well educated workforce. The previous government and national agencies have done little or nothing to correct this current urban / rural imbalance. Young people are being forced to leave their homes, families and communities daily. Emigration has also had a massive impact on close local communities; particularly on sports clubs, who are suffering from decimation by the forced flight of its younger membership.
Back during the emergence of our Irish State; using our then fiscal capabilities, we established one industry after another. Ensuring not to make new developments simply localized affairs; we spread new factories as wide as possible throughout the State. This was done to avoid the problems of the over-centralization of industry; becoming part of a plan to make industry conform to the general well-being of rural areas. Same industries were predominantly placed in agricultural based areas, sharing in an industrial revival, offering work to those who otherwise would have departed via an emigrant ship. During this same period our Irish economy saw the net value of industrial products increased from over €18.25 million to over €28.25 million; while wages paid to production workers increased by €4.25 million and placed eighty thousand additional workers into steady regular employment.
Year after year, small shops, post offices and Garda Stations are shrinking. Fewer homes are being constructed, resulting in no work for builders and associated trades. Fewer children are being born; school numbers and teachers are reduced leading to inevitable school closures. The shortage of priests is leading to parishes becoming clustered with grave implications for church communities.
Urban centres must not forget that our valuable agricultural exports continue to emanate from a currently neglected rural Ireland” concluded Deputy Lowry
Michael Lowry T.D. demands clarity from C&C on reports that it is to close down its plant in Borrisoleigh, Co. Tipperary with the loss of up to 140 jobs
Michael Lowry T.D. demands clarity from C&C on reports that it is to close down its plant in Borrisoleigh, Co. Tipperary with the loss of up to 140 jobs.
Lowry critical of C&C’s conduct
The Deputy, addressing the media, has described the present situation as utterly shocking and disrespectful to the Borrisoleigh work force. Since the takeover of Gleesons by C&C, I have been sceptical and suspicious of their motivations. From the onset there has been great difficulty with C&C to outline any business plan for the Borrisoleigh plant.
“Since the change of ownership, C&C have been reluctant to hold any meaningful engagement with employees and to communicate future plans for the Borrisoleigh site. After much aggravation they eventually agreed to recognise the Union SIPTU, but even then the company information was sparse”, said Lowry
The plant in Borrisoleigh was gradually diluted through the reduction of manufacturing jobs by voluntary redundancies and by the diversion of sales and administration to Belfast in Northern Ireland. The centralizing of management to the UK office saw the closing of their logistics office with this function outsourced to the private sector and the long destabilised practice of local management of plant, discontinued.
Deputy Lowry stated “Effectively what we are witnessing here is closure by stealth. The failure of the company to properly communicate with staff is deplorable. C&C have been disingenuous with regard to their real intentions regarding the Borrisoleigh site. Their method of doing business, their conduct and overall behaviour is nothing short of despicable.
“The Gleeson plant is synonymous with the village of Borrisoleigh and its people for generations have been the heartbeat of this local economy. This action by C&C will have a devastating impact on the workers and their families and the entire community.
“It is ironic that the company has been working 3 shifts to meet demand and that the plant has made substantial profits during its 2015 operations. C&C are a publically listed company, driven by shareholder demands. The human costs of this heartless decision are not regarded as a deciding factor. It would appear, ‘nothing must be allowed get in the way of profits’.
“I wish to convey my complete support with all employees affected by this sudden announcement and respectfully request that C&C now enter into meaningful negotiations with staff, management and Union representatives in an effort to resolve these matters” concluded Michael Lowry T.D.
Deputy Michael Lowry welcome the inclusion of 3 Tipperary Communities in the Eir FibrePower Competition
Deputy Michael Lowry welcome the inclusion of 3 Tipperary Communities in the Eir FibrePower Competition which will see one community in rural Ireland receive high speed broadband infrastructure provided by Eir Wholesale.
Recently I called on Communities within Tipperary to enter the Eir FibrePower competition and let Eir build a high speed Fibre to the Home (FTTH) broadband network within your community at no cost to you or your community. I am delighted to see 3 Tipperary Communities have entered.
See linked below each Tipperary entry:
Best wishes to everyone and the winner will be announced towards the end of November 2015.
See: Eir Community Competition for more information.
Michael Lowry demands action on the future of the Lisheen Mine.
“Time to lift the prevailing veil of secrecy.”
“Following repeated requests for openness on the future plans for Lisheen Mine, the official response has been one of continuous drawn out silence,” stated Michael Lowry TD.
“In 2012, I sent a written letter to Taoiseach Enda Kenny requesting state intervention and to this end a ‘Task Force’ was set up to assist in identifying alternative sources of employment. To date this Task Force has remained silent in relation to details of any future developments which may be pending. In November 2014, I again raised this issue in the Dáil, stressing the extreme gravity of this situation and the need for immediate and pressing action.
“The closure of the Lisheen Mine, first established in1997, has been one of the most important sources of employment here in Co. Tipperary in recent years. However despite my repeated appeals for immediate action, this same industry will soon contribute to the long term detrimental effect of the local economy,” continued the Deputy.
“The negative effects, which will be felt by both Tipperary and indeed the greater national economy can be forecasted as follows”, stated Lowry :-
- Unemployment for a workforce of 380 people; amounting to some €28 million in wages and salaries lost annually, much of which is spent in the local economy.
- The immediate loss, by supportive local service industries, particularly in the areas of transport, fuel, tyres, general hardware, etc.; with an estimated loss expected to be in the order of some €14 million.
- Lisheen Mine has also been a major source of support and funding to local clubs, amenities and charities.
- A large well-appointed and resourced site, for the foreseeable future, will be left to lie, for the most part, redundant.
“This massive imminent loss to Co. Tipperary continues to be placed on the long finger. Despite Lisheen Mine Management having regularly informed their workforce regarding the dwindling reserves and future limited employment prospects at the mine; the mine site has huge potential for future investment.
With major access via Rail and Motorway nearby, this 1200 acre site is ideally suited to big industry. An existing powerful 38 kV electricity supply is one of the biggest in the country and with on site extensive modern offices and outbuildings, this site is ready for immediate occupation.” stated Lowry.
“This site boasts a massive underground aquifer capable of supplying millions of gallons of water daily, but most importantly, Lisheen has an adaptable, highly committed workforce with an impeccable industrial relations record. Surely the whole package would not be too difficult to sell to a major investor!” continued the Deputy.
“Lisheen Mine has huge future potential for investment, yet Tipperary and its surrounding rural areas are now destined to slide backwards into a period of prolonged and totally unnecessary economic uncertainty. With the rural economy continuing to decline, I now call upon the Task Force to report direct to Tipperary County Council membership and all elected membership for the county, so that established facts can be assembled and debated.
I have formally requested the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mr Richard Bruton, to acknowledge the full consequences of this imminent closure and to ensure that State Agencies come forward to play a real meaningful role in directing alternative industry to the site.
The local community have heard of promised replacement projects and jobs creation. They have heard of ‘sensitive discussions’, however the reality is that truly nothing tangible has materialised.
This issue must appear from behind its current veil of secrecy,” concluded Michael Lowry.
Michael Lowry TD condemns the chaos & heartbreak caused by Bank Repossessions
Following a review undertaken by Deputy Michael Lowry TD; he is now aware that appearing before the Court in Nenagh on Thursday last, financial institutions sought 86 applications for home repossessions, with similar figures being repeated in Clonmel and Nenagh every couple of months. The majority of these applications are causing intense anxiety, distress and disruption to Tipperary individuals and their families, who remain, firmly, the victims of a banking industry which has been permitted to run out of control.
This same banking industry was led by exorbitantly well-paid executives with all of the resources of economists, blue-chip accountancy firms, together with consultants, at their finger-tips. Despite this scenario, their corporate structure fully succeeded in detonating a massive, caustic explosion within the Irish economy, not just demoralising their customers but collapsing the very foundations of its own structures. Despite this financial catastrophe, the Irish Government and tax-payers combined to bail out these financial institutions at huge costs, thus saving them from their own avaricious negligence and wilful recklessness.
Deputy Michael Lowry now probes the question:
“What have the Irish people gained from these financial institutions, in return for their largesse and support?”
“While we are still caught in a difficult and dangerous situation and ‘on the hook’ for tens of billions, which these banks, through absolute avarice, have cost this country; we nevertheless still have these same arrogant bankers treating ordinary house-holders and their families with ruthless aggression. Do not be misled by Government propaganda; their Insolvency Service is just another quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation; a quango if you will, with banks still allowed to hold a veto over all mortgage arrangements.
“Mortgage holders presently in financial difficulty are being treated in horrendous ways; terrorised out of their homes without any proper or real engagement; designed to restructure mortgages and achieve civilised and humanitarian solutions. On top of this, we have the disgraceful situation of huge regulatory fines being imposed on the parent banks of some institutions operating and advertising here in Ireland; arising from the fraudulent manipulation of interbank benchmark rates and foreign exchange markets.
“I am almost on a daily basis, being confronted with appalling instances of financial institutions being allowed to ignore their own wrong-doings and trample on Irish borrowers. I have been consulted by one parent, in the building sector, who in addition to his family home and with a view to helping pay for his children’s education, bought just one ‘buy-to-let’ house in 2006. With the collapse of the building industry, he still managed to find occasional work, but fell into arrears. These arrears which, at their very worst, rose to just €5,500, had by 2013, been reduced to €1,600. However his financial institution still appointed a Receiver, sold his house and pursued him through the Courts to reclaim the balance.
“Yet another vulnerable family were convinced by a Broker that he could get them a Mortgage in circumstances where they should never have been approved. He took a fee of €2,500 from them for his work; got them a mortgage which realistically could never be paid and they in return are now being hounded out of their home by their financial institution, which accepts no responsibility in the matter.”
These are just two examples from numerous similar situations.
“At present, borrowers are being held to account for their behaviour, however financial institutions are permitted to sail completely free of having to take any share of the responsibility for the chaos, distress and heart-break, which has resulted from this present financial crisis. Again, I state that this recent crisis has been caused primarily by these same financial institutions, who had all the ‘top-notch’ advice and who have spent the past year before the Banking Inquiry, unable to recall their actions and refusing profusely to take any responsibility for their totally dissolute actions.
I firmly believe that borrowers, particularly distressed home-owners, should get some respite. Why should thousands of individuals and whole families be put on local authority housing lists, simply because bankers went fanatical; wildly encouraging people to borrow 100% loans, most often knowingly aware of peoples inability to repay?
“I demand a new deal for distressed home-owners under which our banks and Vulture Funds, which bought many of their Loan Books, will immediately be forced to enter into the following arrangements with borrowers. In other words, where a borrower is committed to an agreed affordable repayment situation (initially for a trial period of say 2 years), same should be permitted to keep their homes, on the condition that they abide by same pre-agreed affordable repayment. Legislation to compel these arrangements should be a priority for any incoming Government.”
Deputy Michael Lowry calls for a full reversal to the proposed opening hours changes at Cashel Library.
Deputy Michael Lowry calls for a full reversal to the proposed opening hours changes at Cashel Library.
Deputy Michael Lowry has called on Tipperary Co. Council and its Chief Executive Joe MacGrath to reverse its decision to change the opening hours of Cashel Library.
Deputy Lowry said I have personally written to Tipperary Co. Councils Chief Executive Joe MacGrath requesting a full reversal of the council’s decision.
Cashel’s Library service is one which focuses on building a sense of community, it is also a place which inspires and educates its users both young and old. The removal of the Saturday service will be detrimental to the Families and working Parents who use the service regularly at the weekends.
It’s time for platitude statements in relation to Cashel library to cease and I again call for a full reversal of the Council’s decision