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Smoky coal ban to be extended to 13 towns, but nationwide ban ruled out due to legal threats

The smoky coal ban was first introduced to Dublin in 1990.

Image: Shutterstock/Belinda Gallacher

THE SMOKY COAL ban is to be extended to 13 towns, it has been announced today. 

All towns with population over 10,000 will be covered by the ban, according to Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton.

The announcement comes as the Dáil is set to support a Labour motion calling for a nationwide ban on smoky coal.

However, the minister has said that the government will not be proceeding with a nationwide ban on smoky coal, on the basis that such a ban carries a serious risk of illegality, unless peat, turf and wet wood were also included.

“I am extending the smoky coal ban to 13 additional towns based on the evidence of poor air quality with seriously damaging effects on health.”

“From September 2020, smoky coal will be banned in thirteen additional towns, meaning smoky coal will be banned in all towns in the country with populations over 10,000 people,” he said. 

The towns included in the extended ban are:

Screenshot 2019-12-17 at 14.57.30

The smoky coal ban was first introduced to Dublin in 1990. It was later extended to other areas around the country, but there have been calls for a nationwide ban to be rolled out over the years.

Opposition members have called for the ban to be extended across the country, and question why legal threats for a nationwide ban do not apply in the areas it is being extended to from September.

The previous Environment Minister Denis Naughten is also on the record as stating that he recommended that a nationwide ban be rolled out.

Air quality

Recent air quality monitoring in three of these towns – Cobh, Enniscorthy and Longford – has shown that although air quality has met EU requirements, the results have been in exceedance of the stricter WHO air quality standard limits. 

In relation to legal threats, the minister said:

I am not proceeding with a nationwide ban at this time as such a ban carries a serious risk of illegality unless turf, peat and wet wood are also addressed. We will proceed in a gradual and proportionate way and extend the current smoky coal ban to 13 new towns where there are particular air quality issues and to address immediate health concerns in these towns. This will come into effect from next September and will lead to immediate improvements in air quality.
To proceed with a nationwide ban regardless of circumstance would expose people in rural areas, who have traditional sources of logs and turf which they rely upon, to the risk of a sudden ban. I am not willing to do this. To pretend that a nationwide ban does not carry this probable outcome is to be dishonest.”

Local Authorities to enforce the ban 

Questions have been raised in relation to local authorities enforcing the ban.

The minister said the enforcement of the smoky coal ban is the responsibility of the local councils, state that staff may undertake inspections of premises and vehicles being used for the sale and distribution of solid fuel. 

The minister intends to write to local Authorities reminding them of their powers under the legislation to bring a prosecution under the Air Pollution Act for breaches of the regulations. Councils can also issue an on the spot fine for alleged offences relating to the marketing, sale and distribution of prohibited fuels in Low Smoke Zones (LSZs), with a penalty range of €250 to €1000.

Bruton said work is underway to strengthen enforcement of the current smoky coal ban. 

The development of a regional approach to air quality and noise enforcement, in line with other areas of environmental enforcement such as waste, is under consideration. 

A multi-agency approach to enforcement would have greater impact on issues including the sale of high-sulphur content fuel imported from the UK and the department is currently actively engaging with local Aauthorities and the Revenue Commissioners in relation to this move.

The minister said he is preparing the first ever Clean Air Strategy, and will come back to government in the New Year with further proposals to improve air quality.

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