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TDs have said it is older people in rural Ireland that rely on turf burning to heat their homes that will suffer.
turf wars

Removing turf-cutting from rural Ireland would be like removing wine from the French - Varadkar

Concerns were raised about turf not being available for sale in shops, particularly given the energy crisis and rising inflation.

LAST UPDATE | 13 Apr 2022

PLANS TO REGULATE the sale and distribution of turf from September has been paused, Leo Varadkar has told Fine Gael TDs this evening.

Speaking during a briefing with party members online, the Tánaiste said removing turf cutting from rural Ireland is like removing wine from the French or pasta from the Italians, according to sources.  

His comments come just hours after Environment Minister Eamon Ryan defended the plan stating that action must be taken to improve air quality.

Rural communities and TDs have rounded on the minister in recent days, reacting angrily to the proposals which they state is an effective ban on the sale and distribution of turf.

A number of politicians have spoken out against the approach taken, with Fianna Fáil TD for Offaly, Barry Cowen calling for a gradual phasing out of the commercial sale of turf to stop an outright ‘cliff-edge’ ban from impacting certain homeowners and families that still rely on the fuel.

Fianna Fáil’s Jackie Cahill, who is also chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, has also written to the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil Cabinet ministers about the issue. 

When asked about older people in rural Ireland that still rely on turf to heat their homes, Ryan said: “Those elderly people are concerned, like I’m sure everyone else, about the air pollution.”

“It’s a real risk to health right across our country,” he said, adding that the issue of air quality affecting people’s health is “actually critical”.

He acknowledged that while elderly people are concerned about heating their homes, “they’re also concerned about their health”.

A EPA Air Quality in Ireland 2020 report revealed that particulate matter from the domestic burning of solid fuel is estimated to cause 1,300 premature deaths per year.

Speaking to the media after Cabinet signed off on VAT reductions on electricity and gas bills, Ryan said: “There isn’t a ban on turf or burning turf or anything like that.”

The Government always said that it “will regulate the point of sale to make sure that the products for sale actually help our environment and help people’s health, this is not new”, the minister said.

“It’s something that’s been worked on for years,” he added.

Ryan said that people have been asking “when will you address health, chronic health issues and air quality which is killing our people” for a long time.

“We will do that in a way that still gives people the right to use the turf in a variety of ways. But we do have to regulate to improve public health,” he said.

Under the proposed plans, which Varadkar said are now paused, it is understood that anyone who cuts their own turf or leases a patch of bog to cut would not be affected.

The enforcement instead would focus on the people selling smoky coal from across the border and those selling loads of turf online, according to Green Party sources. 

However, mounting concerns were raised about the turf not being available for sale in shops, particularly given the energy crisis and rising inflation.

It is understood the sale of peat briquettes would initially not be affected, it is believed. 

The sale of smokeless coal, which is a lot more efficient as it produces a lot more heat per kilogramme, would still be for sale in retailers, as would kiln-dried wood.

Addressing air quality 

Ryan said today that the measures restricting turf burning had already “been delayed for years”.

“For years people have been talking about addressing air quality and the lives that are lost because of it… so we’re looking at regulations,” he said. 

Ryan committed to working with those concerned about the move, which he said has been “long discussed”, so that the regulations “work to give people the freedom and rights” to burn various different products.

“I’m confident working with our government colleagues we can deliver that in the time that we set out, which is to do something later in the year,” he said earlier today. 

The minister recently told the Dáil that research projects show burning solid fuels, such as peat and wet wood, contribute to localised high levels of particulate matter and other pollutants during the heating season.

He told the Dáíl that it was therefore appropriate that Government consider “a new approach to the broader regulation of all solid fuels, expanding our ambition with the objective of achieving greater reductions in air pollution levels”. 


Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen said that some commercial turf-cutters have annual customers in localities where many homeowners don’t have their own plot and rely on these suppliers.

Cowen said he is due to meet with Ryan to discuss the measures, stating: 

“We can live with the banning of sales at filling stations, retail outlets or the side of the road, but there should be an allowance made for dependent households and bogowners/cutters.”

“It is those families and those providers who are impacted by a commercial sale ban,” he said.

“We have to try to see if some agreement can be reached for the phasing out of commercial sales in such instances, rather than the cliff edge proposal being suggested. It is important to make the point that proposals, while not finalised, do not impact on people continuing to cut turf for their own use.”

The Rural Independent Group has also labelled the proposals “insane”, stating that the proposed restrictions are a “dogmatic plan” by the minister. 

The group said it is “calling on Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to stop hiding behind the greens and order a stop to this nonsense”.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said it is “mind-boggling that the government would even contemplate, never mind announce, that they are proceeding with introducing regulations to ban the marketing, sale or distribution of turf from September this year”.

“Announcing this news in the middle of an unprecedented energy crisis is unforgivable,” he said.

Aóntú’s Peadar Toíbín said the the proposal is “another attack on rural Ireland”.

“The inclusion of the word ‘distribution’ is particularly cruel – this ensures that a man cannot fill his elderly mother’s shed with turf which he has saved on his own bog. What will happen to that old woman during the winter months in rural Ireland?” he asked.

Tóibín continued: “Climate change is real, and it is a threat, but stopping elderly people in rural Ireland from burning turf is not the answer, and now is not the time.”

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