I propose to take Questions Nos. 164 and 165 together.
The ban on the marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous coal, or ‘the smoky coal ban’ as it is commonly known, was first introduced in Dublin in 1990, and subsequently extended to our 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 very effective in reducing particulate matter and sulphur dioxide levels and has had the effect of significantly improving public health. Research indicates, for example, that the ban has resulted in over 350 fewer annual deaths in Dublin alone.
In light of its significant health benefits, I decided to extend the ban to the entire territory of the State. This process necessarily involves discussion and consultation with a wide number of stakeholders, including with the European Commission, relevant Government Departments and Agencies and the residential fuel industry. Discussions with stakeholders on issues that may arise in connection with the proposed nationwide ban are underway with a view to introducing a national ban on a phased basis over twelve months commencing in Autumn 2018.
Local Authorities, including those bordering Northern Ireland, are primarily responsible for the enforcement of legislation on solid fuel including the ‘smoky coal’ regulations within their functional areas at present, and this will continue after the extension of the ban. The powers that Local Authorities have in this area are extensive and will apply nationally. For example:
- Local Authority staff may undertake inspections of premises and vehicles being used for the sale and distribution of solid fuel as well as collect samples
- A Local Authority may bring a prosecution under the Air Pollution Act for breaches of the Regulations
- The maximum fine amounts for breaches of the Regulations is €5,000 on summary conviction
- Fixed payment notices (or ‘on the spot fines’) applied by the Local Authority are in operation for alleged offences relating to the marketing, sale and distribution of prohibited fuels in Low Smoke Zones (LSZs)
In addition to the measures available to Local Authorities outlined above, my officials are currently examining other enforcement options to ensure the success of the ban, including the establishment of multiagency teams. This is in line with other areas of environmental enforcement such as waste, where such an approach has proved successful.