On 6 May 2013, I announced a joint North-South study on all-island air quality to examine air pollution from residential solid fuel, in particular ‘smoky’ coal, and to consider the potential policy options to reduce such emissions with consequential environmental and human health benefits.
The joint North-South study was agreed with Alex Attwood M.L.A, Environment Minister for Northern Ireland, at a North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) Environment Meeting following the Informal Council of EU Environment Ministers in Dublin on 22-23 April 2013, which Minister Attwood also attended. Among the issues discussed at the Informal Council was the future development of EU policy on air quality, which is currently under review and which is expected to be published by the European Commission later this year.
My Department has since met with the Department of the Environment, Northern Ireland, to agree terms of reference for the study and prepare tender documentation. The request for tender will issue later in July and the successful bidder to undertake the study will be appointed as soon as possible. It is expected that the contract will be completed within six months.
Notwithstanding recent regulatory improvements and extension of the smoky coal ban, I recognise that having different standards applying to coal between larger urban and smaller urban/rural locations is not ideal, as it results in different levels of environmental protection and clean air benefits for people across these different locations. For this reason I have set the challenging target of introducing a ban on smoky coal across the State within the next three years. However, I fully recognise the cross-border enforcement difficulties arising, if a national ban is introduced unilaterally in the South rather than on an all-island basis. A closer alignment of solid fuel policy and legislation on an all-island basis will allow the benefits derived from the ban potentially to be further extended. In this regard, the policy options identified following the conclusion of the joint study will steer further legislative development in this area.