A public consultation to assess views on the development of legislation to regulate smoky fuel will be launched early in the new year, AgriLand can confirm.

A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications said that the consultation will be launched alongside Ireland’s first Clean Air Strategy next year.

The responses will “inform the decisions to be made regarding the implementation and enforcement of a nationwide extension” of the current ban.

The Programme for Government outlines a commitment to introducing a nationwide ban of smoky coal in the interests of public health and a reduction in emissions.

Currently, smoky coal is regulated in specific ‘low smoke zones’.

According to the department, this policy has been “recognised internationally as an effective intervention and resulted in considerable improvements in urban air quality and observed health impacts”.

National transition to lower polluting fuels

An additional 13 towns were included under the smoky coal ban in September 2020, and it now covers all towns in the country with populations of more than 10,000 people.

Following on from this, the public consultation is the next step, to assess views on the development of legislation to regulate to a broader extent the use of solid fuels in the residential sector.

This is being done with a view to a national transition to lower polluting fuels for residential heating and will:
  • Assess the merits of a national approach to regulating solid fuel;
  • Determine which solid fuels should be regulated;
  • Consider how these fuels should be regulated;
  • Set out an appropriate timeline for the implementation of any new regulations.

This time last year it was reported that the minister at the time, Richard Bruton, was to hold a public initiative to aid the department.

‘One person dies every 6 days’

There have been various viewpoints on this expressed, one being that of the CEO of the Asthma Society of Ireland, Sarah O’Connor, who said that “any such public consultation initiative should not delay the nationwide ban on smoky coal”.

“One person dies every six days from the condition [asthma]. The dangerous emissions from these fuels are being released into the air outside and into people’s homes,” she said.

The consultation should be used to inform the government as to the public’s concerns and how best to roll out such changes in the most sensible and equitable manner.

“Many people across the country, particularly those in rural areas and low income households, do not have the choice to switch from solid fuel burning to greener, healthier alternatives.

“Any moves to ban use of smoky solid fuels would require significant increased funding from government. The consultation should be preceded by a public awareness campaign to allay concerns and support the public in assessing the matter in a fully informed manner.”

‘Fuel poverty is a real issue’

CEO of Irish Rural Link Seamus Boland told Newstalk Breakfast this morning (Monday, December 21) that he agrees the use of smoky coal is causing pollution and has caused deaths, but that he disagrees with the way and means a ban may be done.

“The reality is we also have people dying from cold-related diseases during the winter, particularly in rural Ireland – and that has to be addressed, because that is a cost factor and it will impede on people living alone and older people, and those on lower incomes,” he told the show.

Effectively, it’s fuel poverty. The CSO [Central Statistics Office] talks about three to four deaths a year, some other reports have shown up to 2,000 to 3,000 people are affected one way or another by related diseases to cold and to lack of fuel.

“Fuel poverty is a real issue.”