The Cathaoirleach of Offaly County Council, Cllr. John Carroll, and members of the Corporate Policy Group, Cllrs. Dooley, Leahy, Owens and Quinn met with MEPs from the South Constituency and Laois Offaly Oireachtas members last Monday 15th February to call for fairness in the approach to be taken to the EU Just Transition programme and fund. The virtual meeting was attended by Minister Pippa Hackett, Deputies Barry Cowen, Carol Nolan, Charlie Flanagan and Brian Stanley and MEPs Billy Kelleher, Grace O’ Sullivan and Deirdre Clune.
The EU Just Transition Fund 2021-2027 will be available to the Midland region of Ireland on the basis that it is a region, like others in Europe, that is in transition as a result of decarbonisation and the ending of peat harvesting. The Fund promises €77m in supports for midland counties that are particularly affected by climate mitigation policies and decarbonising of the local economy. At the meeting, the Councillors made a strong case to the Oireachtas Members and MEPs that Offaly is the county within the midlands that is most affected by decarbonisation and the resulting job losses in Bord na Móna and ESB, and as such, it should gain its fair proportion of available supports. They also argued for greater capital investment in infrastructure such as roads and telecommunications to benefit affected communities.
In order to access the Just Transition Fund, EU Member States including Ireland will produce and submit Territorial Just Transition Plans to the European Commission. The Council appealed to the Government, in preparing its Territorial Plan, to uphold the principles of Just Transition, that say that those most impacted will benefit most from the supports and stressed that those most impacted live in Offaly.
Addressing the meeting, Chief Executive of Offaly County Council, Anna Marie Delaney, reiterated the findings of a Brussels ‘think tank’ stating that eligibility for EU supports should focus on economic and social support for the local populations in the transitioning regions, including reskilling and upskilling projects aligned with the needs of the local labour market. Their findings also implied that the Territorial Plan should focus on more localised data rather than broader level data that might greatly lessen the impact of supports for the communities directly affected, such as in Offaly. Such local data would capture the conditions of the midland counties, their fossil fuel industries and their labour markets and the fact that employment in these industries is in local areas rather than wider regions.
The Councillors also asked Local Authority governance of the fund in keeping with the principles of local decision making within Just Transition and cited the excellent track record of Local Authorities and Local Development Companies in the governance of other EU funding such as LEADER.
In response the Laois/Offaly Oireachtas members undertook to seek a meeting with the Taoiseach and Tanaiste on the issues raised by Offaly County Council, and the MEPs agreed that Offaly had borne most of the burden of the decarbonisation agenda and said they would be happy to speak on the county’s behalf based on the facts presented.