Green Party’s Neasa Hourigan attacks Government for doing ‘nothing’ for ten years to tackle air pollution as turf ban row continues
The war over a proposed ban on turf is continuing within Government after Green Party rebel TD Neasa Hourigan hit out at Fine Gael politicians for doing "nothing" for ten years to tackle air pollution.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is due to meet backbenchers from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil today in a bid to soothe the row over the proposed ban on the sale of turf from September.
Speaking to reporters outside Leinster House today, Ms Hourigan said that it has been known for 30 years that air pollution from burning fossil fuels causes health problems and lashed out at Fine Gael for doing “nothing” about it.
Earlier today, two rural-based ministers raised the ongoing row over proposals to ban the sale of turf at Cabinet, with Education Minister Norma Foley criticising Government communications on the issue.
Ms Foley and Social Protection and Rural Affairs Heather Humphreys both spoke on the issue at the weekly ministerial meeting.
Ms Foley, a Fianna Fáil TD, is understood to have said it was a real issue in her constituency and elsewhere, and criticised the Government’s communications on the issue in recent weeks. She said that the Coalition was not bringing backbenchers with them on it.
While not explicitly critical of the Government, Ms Humphreys, a Fine Gael TD, said that nobody expects wealth from cutting turf and that those days are gone. Ms Humphreys is understood to have told colleagues that if the small turf cutter is left alone there won’t be an issue for the Government.
Sources said that Ms Foley’s contribution to Cabinet was “passionate”, while Ms Humphreys’ comments were described as “forceful”.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin is understood to have reiterated comments he made to the media on his way into the meeting that "ultimately smoky coal is the villain, the real enemy" and that "turf is dying out as a basic fuel".
However, a Cabinet source said while there was no disagreement among ministers on the move to ban the commercial sale of smoky fuels it was not clear what the resolution would be for turf issue.
Mr Ryan has promised exemptions for people in small rural communities of under 500 people where people would be free from the ban on the selling and gifting of turf.
But the proposal has angered Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backbenchers who argue it will be unworkable.
Fine Gael TD Joe Carey said that he hopes today’s meeting with Green Party leader Eamon Ryan can clear up the “mixed messages” on the ban on the sale of turf.
His colleague Senator Seán Kyne said that there have been “clear communication issues” in relation to the ban and that Minister Ryan’s poorly phrased Parliamentary Question, which sparked the controversy, has caused “a lot of concern” in rural communities.
His answer to the question said that the ban on the sale of turf would prevent people cutting turf and placing it “on the market for sale or distribution to others”.
“The first of September is absolutely premature,” said Senator Kyne.
“There’s too many details to be worked out.”
Senator Kyne did not specify when it would be an appropriate time to bring in the ban on the sale of turf, but said that suitable alternatives have to be put in place first for rural communities and the “details” have to be worked out first.
Minister Ryan has since moved to clarify his remarks, saying that there will be exemptions for people in small rural communities of under 500 people where people would be free from the ban on the selling and gifting of turf.
Meanwhile Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan said that it has been known for 30 years that air pollution from burning fossil fuels causes health problems and lashed out at Fine Gael for doing “nothing” about it.
“Fine Gael did nothing about that so to say it’s premature is probably a little but much,” she said.
“For a party who sat on it for the 10 years that they were in Government and to now say that it’s premature is just not acceptable.
“In the next few months we’re going to have to see targeted measures for lower income households, that’s the way to deal with the removal of fossil fuels, not to continue to poison people and their children by burning turf.”
“For rural communities to lift up their voices and say that is one thing but for Fine Gael politicians who refuse to act for 10 years to say it, it’s not acceptable,” she told reporters at Leinster House.