The Government should ban smoky coal immediately and stop kicking the can down the road, the Asthma Society of Ireland says.
The charity, which says 72 people-a-year die from asthma, supports plans by Richard Bruton to launch a public consultation on the end of the use of smokey fuels.
However, the society’s CEO Sarah O’Connor said the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Environment should not allow this process delay a full smoky coal ban.
She was speaking as The Irish Times wrote that the Government plans to extend the existing Low Smoke Zone (LSZ) network to smaller towns.
A ban on the burning of smoky coal and other prohibited fuels currently applies in all smoky coal ban Low Smoke Zones (LSZs), to complement an earlier ban on the marketing, sale and distribution of those fuels in those areas.
This means that even smoky fuels bought elsewhere cannot now be burned in a LSZ.
Sarah O'Connor said: “We support a public consultation on how best the government would ultimately end the use of smoky solid fuels that are harmful to people's health and the climate.
“(But) the Minister must, in the meantime, push ahead with a nationwide smoky coal ban.
Any such public consultation initiative should not delay the nationwide ban on smoky coal.
"Any extension of the ban to additional areas does not address the problem with the current situation. The law we have is neither enforceable nor fair and it is damaging to Irish people’s health.”
Earlier this year, Department of the Environment chiefs said Minister Bruton was working on a ‘legally robust plan’ to ensure an extension would not jeopardise the existing ban.
This is because coal producers based outside Ireland have warned the Government they will not only “take down” any nationwide ban but will also “remove the existing ban”.
The suppliers have told the Government that a nationwide smoky coal ban cannot be introduced without a nationwide ban on the burning of peat, turf and wet wood "because these products produce similar levels of pollution".
In reply to questions from Wexford Fianna Fáil TD James Browne, the HSE has said: “The on-going effects of the non-introduction of an Irish island-wide ban on burning of ‘smoky’ coal (include) multiple episodes of sustained high levels of air pollutants outside of Dublin.
“If left unchecked, these will ultimately have links with rising healthcare activity and costs, loss of productivity, global warming, and other severe environmental and public health impacts.”