Smoky coal to be banned nationwide
The Government is planning to reduce the carbon tax on cleaner fuel products, in advance of a national ban on burning smoky coal.
And a public education campaign will be launched to inform households on how best to reduce costs using cleaner forms of energy before a ban on selling bituminous coal is extended from 27 urban areas at present by 2018.
The measure comes as a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that although Irish air quality is high, significant challenges are emerging from transport emissions and burning of solid fuels for home heating.
While Ireland did not exceed any EU legal limits, a report shows that particulate matter - released through burning solid fuels - is increasing and impacting on air quality and health.
The smoky coal ban, first introduced in Dublin in 1990, is credited with saving 8,000 lives and yielding health and economic benefits worth €53m a year.
"The original ban in Dublin has been cited widely as a successful policy intervention," the minister said. "It is necessary to do this (extend the ban) on a nationwide basis.
"The level of carcinogens in the air of some towns is quite unacceptable, and it's necessary to start the process of a nationwide ban and it will take a year to put in place."
Research from University College Cork suggests that in areas where a ban is not in force, air quality is becoming an issue. In Killarney, Co Kerry, air quality is 10 times higher during the night than during the day.
However, the Government intends to allow a reduction in the carbon tax for fuels which include at least 30pc renewable energy, such as biomass.
The tax, which is €20 per tonne of carbon emitted, adds €2.40 to a 40kg bag of coal and 52c to a bale of briquettes.
Local authorities also have new powers and funding for environmental officers to ensure that smoky coal is not being imported from Northern Ireland. On-the-spot fines of up to €1,000 can also be imposed for retailers found marketing, selling or distributing prohibited fuels, which rise to €5,000 on conviction.