Ambient air quality monitoring in Ireland is carried out in accordance with the requirements of the 2008 Clean Air for Europe (CAFE) Directive (Directive 2008/50/EC) and the Fourth Daughter Directive (Directive 2004/107/EC of 15 December 2004). These Directives also include rules on how Member States should monitor, assess and manage ambient air quality. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with co-ordinating and managing the monitoring programme.
Under the Directives, EU Member States must designate "zones" for the purpose of managing air quality. For Ireland, four zones were defined in the Air Quality Standards Regulations, 2011. The zones in place in Ireland in 2017 are Zone A: the Dublin conurbation, Zone B: the Cork conurbation, Zone C: comprising 23 large towns in Ireland with a population of more than 15,000, and Zone D: the remaining area of Ireland.
Ireland currently has a nationwide network of 31 monitoring stations which measure levels of air pollutants in the four zones. This information is delivered to the public in near real-time at www.airquality.epa.ie. The numbers and locations of the monitoring equipment for each pollutant are determined by the requirements of the Directives for ambient air monitoring in each zone.
The Agency's most recent annual Air Quality Report was published in November 2017 and provides an assessment of air quality in Ireland for 2016. Values for all network sites were below the EU annual limit value, but exceeded the stricter World Health Organisation guideline values for a number of pollutants at individual sites. The report indicates that most pollutant concentrations are low, with no discernible trend or slight downward trends. It cautions, however, that NO2 concentrations in urban areas are close to the EU annual limit value, and increases in traffic numbers or certain weather conditions may lead to exceedances. The report can be found at the following link: http://www.epa.ie/pubs/reports/air/quality/epaairqualityreport2016.html
Notwithstanding the favourable comparison with EU annual limit values, the report notes that maintaining our standard of air quality is a growing challenge. With this in mind, I am committed to bringing forward Ireland's first ever National Clean Air Strategy. The Strategy, which I intend to publish in the coming months, will provide the policy framework necessary to identify and promote integrated measures across Government that are required to reduce air pollution and promote cleaner air, while delivering on wider national objectives.
A key part of the Strategy will be the expansion of our monitoring and data gathering capacity, to better inform policy choices. Following a review by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of air quality monitoring and information provision in Ireland, a decision was taken to develop a new Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme (AAMP) which aims to enhance and build on current arrangements. The new national Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme is being developed under Section 65 of the EPA Act, 1992 as amended. One of the key objectives of the programme is to enhance the provision of real time air quality data to the public. The statutory basis for the programme underlines the importance placed on air quality monitoring in Ireland. The AAMP will double the number of ambient air quality monitoring stations in Ireland by 2022, and enhance the provision of real time air quality data to the public. Further details on the timeframes for the expansion of the network will be released as they become available. I fully support this important initiative, and have committed funding of some €5 million over the lifetime of the programme.