Environmentalist and broadcaster Duncan Stewart has claimed an immediate ban on smoky fuel would save 1,500 lives over the next three years.
And he challenged Environment Minister Phil Hogan over a plan to delay outlawing the sale of smoky coal.
Mr Stewart said the Government had no excuse to delay a planned ban, and suggested that it was by far one of the most damaging risks to public health.
At the weekend, Mr Hogan announced a joint north-south study on the quality of air throughout the island of Ireland.
The study will assess levels of air pollution from residential solid fuel.
The minister said yesterday he envisaged a total ban on the use of smoky coal within the next three years.
However, Mr Stewart yesterday confronted the minister. “I cannot understand why we have to wait three years. In that three years probably 1,500 people will die.
“We have had enough of lobby groups influencing policy in this country and there is absolutely no excuse for not having this [the ban] introduced now.”
Mr Stewart was speaking at the launch of the new alliance of medical and environmental experts — INHALE Alliance (Ireland Needs Healthier Air and Lower Emissions) that has called for a speedy implementation of the ban on smoky coal.
The event was attended by Mr Hogan.
Mr Stewart, however, said the imposition of a lower carbon tax on smokeless fuels being considered by the minister was completely wrong.
“It is only playing into the vested interests of the Solid Fuel Trade Group that are lobbying to make sure they continue to hold their privileged position.
“Coal is imported. There is no benefit to our country. It is money that leaves our country and does massive damage when we burn it. We really should phase out coal very quickly and urgently.
“I don’t think it is right people die from coal in Ireland when there are other things we can do to heat our homes.”
Mr Hogan said he needed to bring all the stakeholders with him in improving air quality and a unilateral ban on smoky coal in the Republic could result in cross-border smuggling.
In any event, he would not get acceptance from the Department of Finance on the smuggling issue and did not think he would get instant support from the Northern Ireland Assembly either.
“I hope over a three-year period we will reach a stage where we will have a ban on smoky coal. I think that is sufficient time for people to adjust to the alternatives.”
The minister said he hoped Mr Stewart would not accuse him of contributing to people’s illnesses.
He said a lot of progress had been made in extending the ban on smoky coals and he was delighted to be the first minister to begin the process of having an all-Ireland ban.
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