I propose to take Questions Nos. 555 and 556 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.
I am disappointed that a number of coal firms have indicated that they would challenge the decision of two former Ministers to expand the smoky coal ban nationwide. Banning the use of smoky coal would have a positive impact on air quality and public health, particularly in built up areas.
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. High levels of particulate matter arise from a number of sources, including the burning of smoky coal.
In the meantime Local Authorities are primarily responsible for the enforcement of legislation on solid fuel, including the ‘smoky coal’ regulations, within their functional areas. The powers that Local Authorities have in this area are extensive. 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)
Complaints regarding the sale of prohibited fuels, smoky emissions or other breaches of the regulations should, in the first instance, be reported to the relevant Local Authority.
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.