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Fossil Fuels

Dáil turf wars: Eamon Ryan seeks to unite coalition against Sinn Féin motion

Restrictions on the sale and burning of turf are being considered.

BOG OF ALLEN 758A6232 The government is having a difficult time on the issue of turf.

THE DÁIL WILL today debate contentious plans to restrict the sale of turf, with Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan seeking to keep coalition TDs on side. 

Sinn Féin will table a motion which calls on the government to “scrap plans to ban the sale of turf from September”, and the party is calling on all TDs to support it. 

The bill seeks to exploit differences of opinion on the government benches after high-profile interventions from coalition TDs who are opposed to the move. 

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen TD and Fine Gael’s Brendan Griffin TD are among those who have expressed concerns about what restricting the sale of turf would mean for rural communities. 

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.

In response to a parliamentary question (PQ) from Griffin 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. 

Ryan told reporters this morning that “it’s a workable, proper, good legal approach”.

“There are still risks. We have the risk of companies maybe suing,” he said. 

“Ignoring air quality, ignoring air pollution, ignoring the fact that it’s killing our people – I don’t think that’s an option or a solution.”

The minister is today holding separate meetings with TDs from both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil as part of efforts to reassure them about the plans. 

The minister will tell that them that 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. 

Ryan is also set to outline that households in “genuinely rural areas” will be allowed to continue to use turf, with people living in communities of less than 500 people being exempt from the regulations. 

It’s argued that the reason for this exemption is that there isn’t the same risk of air pollution in more isolated communities. The government is however concerned that there is evidence of an increase in the sale of turf in larger towns, leading to unsafe smoke levels. 


Ryan and other campaigners have insisted that the proposed restrictions on turf sales are primarily due to health reasons. 

An alliance of public health organisations under the umbrella group the Climate and Health Alliance has advocated for a ban of turf sales, saying that there are more than 1,400 deaths in Ireland from air pollution every year.

Spokesperson for the alliance Dr Colm Byrne has said that the burning of smoky fuels, including turf, coal and wet wood, in the home is the leading source of air pollution.  

Byrne has described sitting in front of a fire as being exposed to the same toxic fumes as “found in traffic blackspots at rush hour”. 

smoke-rising-from-a-house-chimney-in-ireland-at-sunset Health concerns are key to the dispute. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Speaking on The Journal’s The Explainer podcast last week, Dr Raymond Flynn of Queen’s University Belfast said that the burning of turf was “in the same league” as other fossil fuels but that the health effects on individuals burning turf is dependant on air circulation in their homes.  

Ahead of Minister Ryan’s meeting with government TDs and the Dáil debate today, a briefing note prepared by his department said there would be “thousands of extra people alive today” had previous governments introduced similar measures.


Fianna Fáil TD for Offaly Barry Cowen is set to meet Minister Ryan to discuss his concerns about an outright ‘cliff-edge’ ban on the commercial sale of turf.

Speaking with The Journal, he said the meeting is overdue but is now pertinent, due to the Sinn Féin motion and Ryan’s weekend comments about this previous answer in the Dáil. 

This has been brought about it would appear by a PQ response that was neither thought out, approved or factual. I’ve never heard a minister admit previously that a PQ response is not accurate. I have to take at face value that any PQ response I or anyone else gets is on the understanding that it is representative of fact.

When asked about the motion, and how unhappy government backbenchers might approach a vote on the matter, he said:

I would hope that having first of all relayed my concerns to my colleagues in Fianna Fáil, and indeed Fine Gael, 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.

If that means a countermotion to accommodate that, “so be it”, said Cowen

Cowen said the PQ response from the minister “was quite clear”.

“He wanted to ban all commercial sales of turf – that won’t wash.” he said, adding turf-cutting was a “diminishing practice” in any case.

It’s not as prevalent as it once was. Many people have already transitioned away from solid fuels… but they’re still, whether we like it or not, a cohort of households – a diminishing one, yes, but still a cohort of households, many of them vulnerable, that haven’t yet made that transition for whatever reason.

Cowen said there are households who have their own bog or who have turbary rights to cut turf on other people’s land. 

“But there’s another cohort where some households don’t own a bog or don’t have turbary rights, and they depend on commercial cutters in their own community and locality whom they’ve built up relationship with many years, and they purchase from them every year. So that’s a commercial transaction. They buy their year’s supply annually, and in his PQ response, [Eamon Ryan] made no distinction between those two scenarios,” said Cowen.

It’s his [Eamon Ryan's] job to act as a minister within government for the entire country. And he needs to know, which he should and I expect he does, that there are pockets of areas throughout my county, many counties in Ireland, where this practice continues.

Cowen added that the proposal to exempt communities of 500 people or less may not go far enough. 

“If he thinks that’s a climbdown, he has a lot more rungs in the ladder to go to come down to where we are on this,” he said. 

“Sinn Fein will look to make political capital, to take advantage of this scenario, which I accept and understand – that’s politics,” he added.

Cabinet 005 The Green Party leader is seeking backing from backbench TDs Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /

Ahead of today, Mayo TD Michael Ring told The Journal that he had not been invited to the meeting with Ryan but that he ought to have been.

As a TD representing rural Ireland, Ring said it was important that there be no “hand-’picking” of ‘yes-men and women’ from each party in attendance.

“I don’t know who’s been invited but I got no invitation yet to it and I should be… I didn’t hear anything about it, only in the the media,” he said, adding that he would be seeking an invitation.

The Fine Gael TD said that he would be able to “spell a few things out” to the minister at the meeting, and that he wouldn’t be “one bit afraid”.

“If I don’t do it there, I will do it in the Dáil,” he said.

The issues around the regulations on cutting and selling turf have been very clear to both Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, he added.

Ring said that proposals must be found today to satisfy the concerns raised by rural TDs.

“This is wrong. It’s not the time to be doing it, we have a war, a shortage of fuel and it’s ridiculous. That’s what it is,” he said.

“People should be able to cut their own turf and people should be allowed to sell to their neighbours,” he said, adding: “That has to happen, that’s the basic.”

When asked what way he would vote on the Sinn Féin motion, he said:

I will never vote with Sinn Féin, so it doesn’t matter what motion they put down… I won’t be voting with them at any time.

Ring also raised what he described as “hypocritical” regulations that have seen briquettes from Germany and Latvia being sold in Ireland. 

Kerry TD Michael Healy Rae raised the same issue last year, saying he was “ashamed of my life” about selling briquettes from Germany in his own shop in Co Kerry.

Sources state that the regulations currently causing controversy will not impact the sale of peat briquettes in shops but longer-term plans would see a ban on them also. 

SF motion

Sinn Féin’s motion is set to be debated in the Dáil at 5.40pm today, but it is not restricted to the turf issue alone – perhaps impacting the chances that government TDs would support it. 

While the Sinn Féin motion calls on the government to “scrap plans to ban the sale of turf”, it also calls on the government to cancel the scheduled Carbon Tax increase that will come into effect from next week. 

The government has said the increase in Carbon Tax will be “more than offset” by other measures to reduce inflation. 

Sinn Féin’s motion also claims that “more can and should be done” by the government to “support workers and families” on price increases, particularly in relation to home heating oil.  

Asked by The Journal why the wording included criticisms of the government and did not stick to the turf issue alone, Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy said it was “very important to contextualise the motion”. 

“And to contextualise what I would only describe as silly debates that have been ongoing among government representatives in relation to the turf issue, because fundamentally what this is about is the ability of people to heat their homes,” he said. 

That’s why we felt it was important to reference the fact that for most people who burn turf the only alternative or possible option that they would have to eat or hope is through home heating oil.

Carthy acknowledged that a move away from burning turf is a healthier move but he said that people will make that move themselves if there is “a credible, affordable alternative to turf”. 

The Cavan-Monaghan TD said that today’s motion was “an ideal opportunity” for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael TDs who have been “running around their constituencies for the past number of weeks” sympathising with “hard-pressed families” to “make a stand on behalf of people who are really struggling”.

The three party leaders met last night where sources state it was emphasised that there must be assurances that traditional rights and practices are maintained, and that those who rely on turf in rural areas can continue to do so.
Sources state that it was acknowledged that progress is being made on the proposals.
Briefings will take place with the respective parliamentary parties tomorrow and it will be reconsidered again after those meetings.

Rónán Duffy and Christina Finn
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