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Fossil Fuels

Backbenchers tell Eamon Ryan that turf sale restrictions is putting Govt stability in jeopardy

Environment Minister Eamon Ryan will meet with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs today.

LAST UPDATE | 26 Apr 2022

BACKBENCH TDS FROM Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have told Environment Minister Eamon Ryan that they were opposed to the planned restrictions on turf sales in what has been described as “robust” meetings. 

Ryan met separately this afternoon with TDs from both parties before the Dáil began a debate on a Sinn Féin motion that seeks to scrap the government’s plans. 

The minister was told that pushing ahead with the current plans was threatening the stability of the Government.  

It is understood that Fine Gael backbenchers “spelt it out loud and clear” with those in attendance at this afternoon’s meeting describing Ryan as “clearly rattled” by the “heated discussions”. 

It was put to the minister that the government is in jeopardy if the current measures are pushed through, it is understood, with Ryan told to be “taken aback” by the suggestion.

In a statement released after the Fine Gael meeting, Brendan Griffin TD and Senator Sean Kyne said that members of their party “had a robust meeting with Minister Ryan regarding the sale and distribution of turf”. 

“With all that is happening right now, in terms of the war, escalating energy bills, future fuel sources, Minister Ryan’s proposals as mooted in recent weeks should not proceed. This was made clear to Minister Ryan today,” the said. 

Minister Ryan agreed to meet us again in the future to continue discussions on this issue which is absolutely integral to many householders across rural Ireland. 

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen said that members of his party told the minister that they were also opposed to the plans as currently envisaged and that revisions were required. 

Cowen told The Journal last night that turf-cutting was already “a diminishing practice” but that some people are dependant on turf from their local community. 

He also pointed the Government numbers stating that the “mathematics that determine this government’s continuance will in no small way ensure that there is a resolution to our acceptance brought to bear as soon as possible”.

The Fianna Fáil meeting with the minister was also described as heated with “frank discussions”. 

The minister was told that new proposals will have to be agreed by all parties in government and ”right now he hasn’t got that”. 

Minister Ryan has said previously that the proposals would not see a ban on the burning of turf and that those with extraction rights would still be permitted to cut turf for their own home heating.

Instead, Ryan said the draft regulations are designed to focus on the commercial sale of turf and that there will be no ban on the sharing of turf with family members or neighbours.

In response to a parliamentary question (PQ) earlier this month, Ryan said that the new regulations would instead prevent people cutting turf and placing it “on the market for sale or distribution to others”.

Speaking at the weekend, however, the Green Party leader said the new regulations had not yet been signed off on and that he should have told the Dáil that they were a “draft” only.

It is now proposed that communities of less than 500 people would exempt from the regulations.

Ryan was told at today’s meeting that such a cap was “madness” and that a more realistic proposal would be 5,000. 

The minster also informed TDs at the meeting today that gas and electricity prices could increase five-fold by this winter, with those in attendance today stating for that reason, the timing of such turf restrictions is “bananas”. 

When asked today if the government was willing to lose TDs over the proposals, a spokesperson for Minister Ryan said they were “sure it won’t come to that”.

The spokesperson said there were “strong opinions” on the issue but that this afternoon’s meeting with TDs was “positive”. 

They added that the discussion points from today’s meeting would be taken on board by the minister, with finalised plans coming to government “in a few weeks”.

It’s understood that the government is still planning to “go forward with regulations” from 1 September.

Previous governments have sought to ban smoky coal but there were legal threats from within the industry that this would not be permitted unless the ban also included other fuels such as peat and wood.

Speaking this morning, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that “ultimately smoky coal is the villain, the real enemy” and that “turf is dying out as a basic fuel”.

“People in rural Ireland and politically in parts of the west and midlands use turf from bogs that they have or share with neighbours and it’s not proposed to ban that, so I think a pragmatic solution can be found,” he said.  

Sinn Féín leader Mary Lou McDonald TD earlier told the Dáil that the proposal was “unfair” and “unworkable”, adding that it “shouldn’t go ahead”.

A motion by her party is currently being debated in the Dáil that calls on the government to “scrap plans to ban the sale of turf”.

The motion also calls on the government to cancel the scheduled Carbon Tax increase that will come into effect from next week.

Introducing the motion, Sinn Féin TD Claire Kerrane said the use of turf had changed and that the only people who use or sell turf now are “doing it on a small scale”. 

Labour leader Ivana Bacik TD hit out at what she said was a “phony urban-rural war whipped up by backbenchers from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael”.

Bacik also said that Sinn Féin comments on the matter suggested the party was “not serious about climate action”. 

Speaking earlier today, Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan said the dangers of turf burning have been known for some time and that Fine Gael has “sat on it” while in government. 

“We knew from the Ballymun report thirty years ago that air pollution from burning fossil fuels, particularly turf, was giving us some of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the world. Fine Gael did nothing about that for 30 years,” Hourigan said.

“For a party who sat on for 10 years to now say it’s premature is unacceptable.”

Bríd Smith TD of People Before Profit said today that her party only supports a ban on turf sales if those who use turf are prioritised for a retrofitting grant. She said she will be submitting an amendment to Sinn Féin’s motion reflecting that call. 

“Chunks of the midlands and the west have people that are reliant on turf and we need to give them the sort of resources that they need for the just transition to happen,” she said. 

With reporting by Christina Finn

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