Smoky coal ban to be extended while calls for nationwide ban continue

27 July 2020 

The Minister for Climate Action has signed regulations extending the smoky coal ban and its burning, sale and advertisement will be prohibited from 1 September 2020. 

The ban will be extended to all towns with populations over 10,000 people, causing the use of smoky coal to be prohibited in thirteen additional areas across the country.

These include areas in Cork, Cavan, Kerry, Longford, Mayo, Meath, Offaly, Waterford and Wexford. 

The ban, according to Minister Eamon Ryan, will reduce air pollution and improve public health outcomes, as “the main health effects of air pollution include stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma”. 

The enforcement of the ban will fall to Local Authorities, who will be able to carry out premise inspections, dole out on the spot fines, and prosecute any breaches of the ban under the Air Pollution Act. 

Smoky coal has been banned in Dublin for over 30 years, and is reported to have prevented 8,000 premature deaths since its introduction

The history of the ban 

The regulations set to take effect in September were on the policy table for the last government and their initial enactment was delayed due to threats of legal action from the coal industry, according to then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. 

However, the previous government would not introduce a nationwide ban on the fuel because it posed a “serious risk of illegality”, according to then-Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton. 

At the time, Minister Bruton said that without the inclusion of peat, turf, and wet wood in a nationwide smoky coal ban, the proposed scheme would be unlawful. 

“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,” he said. 

“I am not willing to do this. To pretend that a nationwide ban does not carry this probable outcome is to be dishonest,” he added. 

The newly formed government of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, according to the Programme for Government, will “move towards a full nationwide ban,” but did not provide detail on how it would do so. 

Environmental writer and commentator John Gibbons said that while the extension is “good news”, it “begs the obvious question: why should people living in smaller towns, villages continue to have health damaged by smoky coal?” 

A nationwide ban, Mr Gibbons continued “would eliminate anomalies and boost air quality for all”. 

Environmental lawyer Dr. Andrew Jackson also noted in response to Mr Gibbons that the government should go beyond banning just smoky coal, as EPA data suggests that smokeless fuel also generates particulate emissions.