Thursday, 4 July 2019

Questions (18)

James Browne


18. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the position regarding the introduction of a nationwide ban on smoky fuels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28301/19]

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Oral answers (4 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I ask the Minister about the extension of the ban on smoky coal nationwide. I am very aware of this issue as a result of the air pollution situation in my own home town of Enniscorthy having been highlighted. The only solution is a nationwide ban on smoky coal.

I am very conscious of this issue. Deputy Browne's colleague, Deputy Dooley, raised it earlier and I went through it at that time. The Deputy probably appreciates that, while my predecessors announced that it was their intention to introduce a nationwide ban, this was challenged on the grounds that it would not be fair to treat the burning of smoky coal differently from the burning of peat and wood as their environmental impact is similar. There have been threats not only to challenge the extension of the ban but to challenge the existing bans applying in considerable portions of the country, which have been very successful.

I have had to seek legal advice on how we would robustly design the roll-out of the protections the Deputy rightly signalled are a priority for Enniscorthy and other towns. I am working with the Attorney General to develop a robust way of doing that.

The distinction between coal as against wood and turf is that there is a viable alternative to coal, namely, smokeless coal, while there is not such an alternative for wood and turf. That distinguishes it in that respect. Having talked to people involved in this area, I am aware that high-tech monitoring has been put in place in Enniscorthy town but it is not in place in many other towns. I suspect many other towns that are not covered by the smoky coal ban are in as bad or close to as bad a situation as Enniscorthy. Enniscorthy has been highlighted because modern, sensitive, high-tech equipment has been put in place. We need to know what the air quality is in the town but I suspect it is not the only town in this situation. The smoky coal ban covers approximately 80% of the population. The people who were threatening legal action have had 30 years to take such legal action with respect to the rest of the country but they have not done that. We know the dangers associated with burning smoky coal and much of that coal is being illegally imported from the North. Action needs to be taken on this matter.

I agree with the Deputy but one has to be careful not to jeopardise successful schemes that are managing air quality at a time when we seek to extend those. With the law of unintended consequences, we could undermine what is successful. I agree with the Deputy that we need to find a way to address this with respect to a number of towns which the Deputy rightly said does not only include Enniscorthy where there is a particular problem. All I can say to him is that we are working hard to find a solution to this problem that would be legally robust.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.