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Enniscorthy to become the New Delhi of Ireland if smoky coal ban not rolled out, Dáil hears

The delay in expanding the smoky coal ban nationwide is due to fears over court action.

Image: Shutterstock/Jason Batterham

ENNISCORTHY IS TO become the New Delhi of Ireland if the smoky coal ban is not rolled out as promised, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Dáil today. 

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions today, Martin told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that the implications for areas not covered by a ban on smoky coal are very severe, stating that Enniscorthy has the highest observed concentrations of pollutants among all monitoring stations in Ireland.

In 1990, the then Minister for Health Mary Harney introduced a ban on smoky coal within Dublin city and the Dublin region. While promises to roll it out nationwide have been made by subsequent ministers, the ban has not been expanded. 

Government fears legal action

Varadkar told the Dáil today that the reason nothing has progressed is due to the threat of court action by a number of companies in the industry of fossil fuels.

“The difficulty we are running into is that a number of coal firms have indicated that they intend to challenge the introduction of a nationwide smoky coal ban, which is government policy,” he said.

“Banning the use of smoky coal would have a positive impact on public health, particularly in urban areas, but a number of coal companies have indicated that if the Government attempts to extend the smoky coal ban, they will challenge the new ban as well as the existing ban that applies in Dublin.

“If that challenge were successful, not only would we fail to go forward, we may even end up going backwards. These companies have indicated that they would challenge the ban on the grounds that we should also ban other fossil fuels, such as wood and peat, which they claim do as much harm as smoky coal in terms of air pollution.

“We have to give this proper consideration. We do not want to end up voting for the law of unintended consequences wherein we extend a ban but the ban in Dublin gets reversed,” said the Taoiseach, who added that consideration must also be given to the possibility that peat and wood do the same level of damage to our air quality.

‘Pathetic and weak’

Martin said he found the Taoiseach’s response “pathetic and incredibly weak”, stating that the ban on smoky coals was introduced in Dublin nearly 30 years ago.

“Thirty years later, the Taoiseach is saying that the Government cannot do the remaining 20% because the coal firms have said that they will take legal action. The smoking ban would never have been introduced had we been afraid of the threat of big tobacco coming after us legally,” he added. 

Martin said it was “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.

He asked 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 who were covered a long time ago”.

The Taoiseach said it is very much government policy and a government priority to improve the air quality in cities, towns and rural areas.

The Fianna Fáil leader said announcements from the government mean nothing.

“When the Dáil declared a climate emergency, the Taoiseach stated that actions were what were important. There is an absence of action in this situation as well as a complete indecisiveness and a lack of any firm response to the vested interests, which want to continue damaging our health.”

Fossil fuels

The government also faced criticism today for opposing the Climate Emergency Bill. 

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith told the Taoiseach that Ireland could be a beacon to the world if the Dáil were to pass her bill which would ban the issuing of further licences for fossil fuel extraction. 

After the ‘green wave’ at the local elections, Varadkar said he got the message, but Smith said she has seen no evidence of that.

Varadkar said her bill is unworkable as it will result in Ireland having to import its natural gas from other countries, stating that natural gas remains a part of the energy mix that Ireland relies on. 

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