A Fianna Fáil TD is calling on the Government to make the smoky coal ban nationwide as it makes no sense to have such an “ad hoc and arbitrary manner”.
On RTÉ radio One's Morning Ireland show, James Browne asked why the ban cannot be extended nationwide given that the Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly highlighted the serious air quality issues caused by smoky coal.
He asked why the ban is not being extended to towns with populations under 10,000.
He said: “Look at towns in my own county like Gorey, New Ross, just under 10,000 people, they're going to be excluded, but Enniscorthy is included.
“Enniscorthy has been highlighted by the EPA as having very serious air quality issues, so has New Ross as well, we know that this is costing 1,500 lives a year according to the EPA, according to the HSE it's costing the State €2bn out of our economy.
It's causing heart attacks, strokes, the Asthma Society has warned about this situation, everybody is saying bring in the smoky coal ban nationwide now, yet the Minister for some reason is approaching this in a very ad hoc and arbitrary manner and it simply makes no sense to me.
Mr Browne rejected a suggestion that it was fear of legal threat that was leading to the partial ban. “Every government in history could plaster the walls with legal threats from industries and lobbyists, you can't be bowing to lobbyists.
“The smoky coal ban which applies currently to 80% of the population was brought in in 1990, there's never been a single legal challenge to that smoky coal ban, so why now is the Government suddenly worrying about a threat from companies outside the State.
"If it hasn't been threatened to date, I don't see it being threatened in the future, but if it is so be it, let's go in aan fight it in the courts but public health has to be the priority here.”
Tim Minett, the CEO of CPL Industries which manufactures smokeless coal in Foynes, told Morning Ireland that a partial smoky ban will make no difference on the ground as people can buy coal outside the are with a ban and bring it back to their home.
He said: “What you have today is a patchwork quilt coal ban that just simply isn't working.
You have coal being sold widely inside the ban areas - you have Ennis and Letterkenny which have bans and they have air quality that is 20 times worse than the EU recommended guidelines because all these coals are still being sold inside the area because it's impossible for the authorities to regulate this patchwork quilt.
"The public can go a mile outside the area and buy smoky coal and bring into the area.
“It's an impossible task to police these areas with the resources that are available, it just cannot be enforced, it is widely recognised that you cannot enforce the regulations that you have today.”
When asked if Fianna Fáil would extend the smoky coal ban nationwide if in power, Mr Browne said that Micheál Martin has gone on the record as saying that he will extend the nationwide smoky coal ban within the first 100 days.
Mr Browne said: “It's the only thing that makes sense, you're not going to bring in a smoky coal ban into certain towns, go to the edge of that town - there's a coal merchant with smoky coal, you can buy and bring back.
"Vast majority of people abide by the ban, but you can see the smoke coming out of certain chimneys because some people do insist or prefer the smoky coal. It needs to be a nationwide ban to be effective.”
On the issue of the ban extending to wood and turf, Mr Browne said there was a unique situation with turf in the Midlands where it is relied on by local people who harvest their own turf.
He said: “There is a ready replacement for smoky coal, it is a practical replacement, available in every coal merchant or shop that sells coal, but you cannot replace wood or turf in the same manner, I think it is a total distraction to try to mix up the two of these issues.”
There is no need for a ban on turf and wood at this stage, he said.
“Bring in the smoky coal ban, that's what the majority of people use, only 5% are using any type of turf or wood, it's a total distraction. It's unnecessary.”
Mr Minett said it was a misnomer that smoky coal was cheaper. “The SEAI clearly indicates in all the studies that have been done, they clearly show that smokeless coal is about 10% cheaper in heat produced, it's a little bit more per bag but you get more heat and you use less fuel when you use smokeless fuel.
“When you look at value for money, it is not the experience of the industry that people change from coal to peat. If people can't burn coal they turn to a smokeless fuel - the talk that's going around about the consumption of peat going up if you ban coal is completely rubbish.”