I thank the Ceann Comhairle for that announcement and of course we wish them well. We will miss them greatly in terms of the Dáil.
In 1990 the then Minister, Mary Harney, introduced a ban on smoky coal within Dublin city and the Dublin region. This had a radical and beneficial impact on public health and the environment. It saved many lives and improved the quality of health of many others. This was followed by extending the ban to other cities and across the country but not in all locations.
It took courage at the time to do that and it took some foresight. Thirty years later it is incomprehensible that the last two Fine Gael-led Governments have failed to introduce a nationwide ban on smoky coal despite numerous promises to do so. An Environmental Protection Agency report on air quality, which is published in The Irish Times today following a freedom of information request by Jack Horgan-Jones, reveals the degrees to which towns that are not covered by the smoky coal ban are above World Health Organization air quality guidelines on a continuous basis. That is at many locations across the country. Enniscorthy has the highest observed concentrations of this pollutant among all monitoring stations in Ireland. We can look at Longford town, Roscommon and other areas and see a similar situation. The pollutants PM2.5 and PM10 are 20% higher there than in Dublin and Cork. This begs the question of why the lives, health and quality of health of people living in Longford or Enniscorthy are less important to the Government than those living elsewhere.
Professor John Sodeau from UCC has stated in dramatic - probably melodramatic - terms that Enniscorthy risks becoming the New Delhi of Ireland. He warns that the public health and climate change consequences for those areas not covered by a ban on smoky coal are very severe. He also refers to air particulate pollution that attacks every cell in the body and carries carcinogens, heavy metals, and acids. This pollution and harmful material is not just confined to those towns. It spreads across the country and moves about. Professor Sodeau makes the central point that air pollution is inseparable from climate change. Up to 1,500 lives are lost annually as a result of diseases linked to this particular air pollution. I ask the Taoiseach to read the accounts in The Irish Times today of Paula Freeman, an athlete from Enniscorthy, and Breda Flood, a 33 year old GAA activist from Gorey, who cannot watch sport outside during the winter period. We have had promises from previous Ministers, including Phil Hogan and Deputies Kelly and Naughten on this. Recently, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, delayed introducing this nationwide ban, 30 years after the first one was introduced. I ask the Taoiseach why there is such inertia, indecisiveness, lack of courage and conviction in such a vital public health matter, and why the lives and health of people living in those towns without a smoky coal ban are less important to the Government than those that were covered a long time ago.