The ban on smoky coal, as it is commonly known, was first introduced in Dublin in 1990, and subsequently extended to other major cities. Following a public consultation process, it was further extended in 2012, and now applies in 26 urban areas nationwide. The ban has proved effective and research indicates, for example, that the ban has resulted in more than 350 fewer annual deaths in Dublin alone.
Estimates of the total numbers of deaths attributable to air pollution in Ireland and 40 other European countries are released by the European Environment Agency. This assessment requires information on air pollution, demographic data, and the relationship between exposure to ambient pollutant concentrations and a health outcome. The latest report, published in 2018, gives data for 2015. It shows that although Ireland has one of the lowest levels of air pollution in Europe there were still an estimated 1,150 premature deaths in Ireland attributable to air pollution in 2015. That was out of an estimated 483,400 premature deaths across the EU as a whole. Figures for 2019 are not yet available, and would not in any event give the level of detail the Deputy seeks as they are based on pollution loads from all sources rather than just emissions from residential solid fuel burning.
Regarding the proposed national extension of the smoky coal ban, I am disappointed that a number of coal firms have indicated that they would challenge the proposal of two former Ministers to expand the smoky coal ban nationwide and also challenge the existing ban on the basis that the State should also have to ban the burning of other fossil fuels, including wood and peat products. Banning the use of smoky coal would have a positive impact on air quality, particularly in built up areas. Since I announced that I would not be extending the ban nationwide in time for the 2019-2020 heating season, I have been contacted by a number of manufacturers of low-smoke fuel who have expressed a wish to see the national extension of the ban implemented. I am working with the Attorney General to finalise a legally robust plan, which will improve air quality by reducing particulate matter in the air.