Wednesday, 21 February 1990
Dáil Éireann Debate
14. Mr. Connor asked the Minister for Energy if he has requested the Minister for Finance to make an application for funding under the EC RECHAR programme to assist declining mining areas in the Community in the current year; if the Arigna area of County Roscommon will be a major part of any such application; and if he will outline the full implications of RECHAR for Ireland.
35. Mr. Barry asked the Minister for Energy whether he has had discussions with the Minister for Finance regarding a Government contribution to a fund to develop alternative employment at Arigna, County Roscommon.
44. Mr. Crowley asked the Minister for Energy whether he will request the ESB to continue the operation of the plant at Arigna, County Roscommon, until firm plans are in place for alternative employment.
47. Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Energy if he has met with a deputation from the workforce representing the three mining companies in Arigna, County Roscommon, and those operating the ESB Arigna Power Station who expressed concern at the proposal to close down the power station and subsequently terminate the economic life of the associated coal mines; if, having regard to the impact on the local community from the social and economic point of view, he is prepared to request the ESB to continue the operation of the power station until such time as the remaining supplies have been mined in order that the interim period could be used to find alternative industries to obtain employment in the area; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
50. Tomás Mac Giolla asked the Minister for Energy the steps he intends to take to ensure the continued use of coal from the Arigna area, County Roscommon, for energy production; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
70. Mr. Connor asked the Minister for Energy if he intends to request the ESB to defer their decision to stop accepting deliveries of coal to the Arigna Coal Power Station, County Roscommon, on 31 March 1990; and if his attention has been drawn to the fact that if this precipitate decision is allowed to come into effect it will destroy in employment and social terms, large regions of Counties Roscommon.
88. Mr. S. Barrett asked the Minister for Energy if he will outline the membership of the working group he has established to identify alternative employment at Arigna, County Roscommon; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
In November 1989 I met a deputation from the Arigna action committee who represent the Arigna miners and the power station workers where their concerns for the future of the mines and their future employment prospects were discussed. I am fully aware of the almost total dependency of the local economy on coal mining activities. However, it is widely recognised that the reserves of main seam coal are nearing exhaustion and the eventual cessation of mining activities is inevitable. A task force has, therefore, been established to look into alternative employment options in the region.
It is my intention that a permanent secretariat will be assigned to the task  force in order that they can report to me and make solid recommendations within six months. The task force are under the chairmanship of the Roscommon county manager. The rest of the task force comprise the Leitrim and Sligo county managers representatives from Roscommon, Leitrim and Sligo county development teams, Department of Industry and Commerce, Tourism and my Department. There are also representatives from the IDA, FÁS, Teagasc, Coillte Teoranta, the Central Development Committee, ESB, Ireland West and the tourism manager and the regional manager of CTT Sligo. The task force will be reporting their findings to me. The question of possible State contributions and measures which may be necessary to implement the task force's recommendations can be examined at that stage.
Because of uncertainty as to the quality and quantity of possible coal reserves I have instructed the Geological Survey Office to carry out an additional survey of the coal reserves at Arigna to get an accurate assessment of the usable reserves. They will be reported back to me within six weeks.
In order to give the task force the necessary breathing space to complete their job and so that the implications of the results of the geological survey's work can be evaluated, the ESB have agreed to continue to accept coal supplies from the local mines for the next six months.
The Minister for Finance has made an approach to the EC Commission arguing that a strong case exists to have Arigna included in the RECHAR programme as an exceptional case. The Commission's response is still awaited.
Mr. Molloy: As I understand it, the RECHAR programme would confine assistance to areas where there is a minimum eligibility threshold of 1,000 people for combined job losses and jobs at risk  in the area affected since 1984. On this basis Arigna would not qualify as actual and projected job losses since 1984 amount to no more than approximately 300 between mining operations and associated electricity production. As I said in my reply, the Department of Finance have been in touch with the Commission pointing out that a strong case exists for making an exception of Arigna but the Commission has not yet formally responded.
Mr. T. O'Sullivan: People employed in the State and semi-State sectors seem to be in a majority on the task force and there seems to be an absence of representation from the private sector. Is it the Minister's intention to employ some of these people in the State sector?
Mr. Molloy: The remit of the task force is to seek alternative employment in the region for those who it is known will, in the short or medium term, become redundant because the stock of coal will run out. That is inevitable. We are discussing how much usable and viable coal is left to the economics of the power station. Coal is the main factor and we are trying to establish whether there are certain levels of usable, viable coal left. The task force are a fairly powerful group as they comprise many State agencies who will make a major contribution. I thought that the Deputy would have asked why there were no representatives of the workers or unions on the task force. If there is an extension of the membership I would be happy to take the Deputy's suggestions on board. The task force are trying to identify industries which could be established in this region to create the level of employment which obviously will be required when the power station and the mine close down.
Mr. R. Bruton: Has the Minister given the task force any indication that Government equity might be involved because that would colour the direction of their research for alternative activities? Did  the Minister not make earlier representations on the question of the RECHAR programme which is now agreed and in operation? If we want to have Arigna included the Minister should have sought its inclusion last year before the programme was agreed.
Mr. Molloy: In regard to RECHAR, the Department of Finance and my Department have been active in trying to cover Arigna. In December 1989 the Commission approved guidelines for the programme and those guidelines exclude Arigna. We had been working on this matter before the guidelines were adopted——
Mr. Molloy: They are Commission-approved guidelines. In regard to special assistance being made available, all I can say — and I said this in the Seanad and other places — is that the Government recognise the huge social upheaval which will be caused in the Roscommon-Leitrim-Sligo area in general arising from the eventual close-down of the mine and the power station. The Government have indicated their willingness to consider in a very generous way any worthwhile proposals that emerge which may need special assistance. However, it is not possible to go into detail until one sees the results of the work of the task force and what proposals they will make. Assistance could take many different forms and it would be premature at this stage to indicate anything in the line of financial special incentives other than to say that the Government are very concerned and are very willing to help any worthwhile proposals coming from the task force or indeed from any other sources.
Mr. Molloy: The Department have identified the need for a third pulp wood industry which would be a major capital investment. It is required because of the increasing uptake from our forests, all of which we would not be able to absorb in our present factories. There is a need for a third major pulp wood industry and the promoters of that project will largely determine where they want to locate it. This is not being handled by my Department but by the Industrial Development Authority. We recognise that the major source of supply for such a new industry resides in the north-west region and the location preferred by my Department would be north-west.
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