The Government is facing another damaging Dáil defeat this week as the Opposition backs a nationwide ban on smoky coal.
A Labour Party motion to immediately enact a nationwide ban on smoky coal will be supported by Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and a number of smaller parties, which means it has the numbers to pass a vote in the Dáil.
However, the Government is to confirm today that it cannot introduce a nationwide ban because it would be deemed illegal in the courts.
Instead, it will introduce a limited extension of the smoky coal ban to a further 13 towns with populations of between 10,000-15,000, having received advice from the Attorney General that a nationwide ban can not be done without banning the burning of peat and wet wood in every part of Ireland.
A Government source said: “We will gradually extend the current ban to the next 13 towns most impacted by air pollution. The minister (Richard Bruton) will sign the regulations and the ban will be effective from September 2020.”
Three coal companies outside the State have raised the spectre of a legal challenge if a nationwide ban is introduced. The ban would also be politically problematic for the Government in the run-up to next year’s election given thousands burn coal, turf, wood and other fossil fuels in their home.
Even the proposal to extend the ban to 13 towns is causing difficulties inside the minority Government with OPW Minister Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran raising concerns about the lack of alternative energy sources.
“People must be able to heat their homes and we cannot have a situation whereby it is made impossible to do so, no matter what fuel they use. Not everyone can afford the high cost of retrofitting their homes, especially in rural towns and villages,” he said.
The smoky coal ban is already in place in Dublin and 25 other large towns and cities. Its introduction in the capital nearly 30 years ago caused pollution levels to fall by 70pc and reduced the numbers of people dying from heart and lung-related diseases.
The Labour motion argues that a smoky coal ban “has already been proven to work in many larger urban areas without legal challenge”.
It also calls on the Government to produce clean air and clean water strategies, regulate all quarries and eliminate illegal dumps. It also calls for legislation to be introduced to force companies with 50 or more employees to include greenhouse gas emissions in their accounts.
Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin both confirmed they were likely to support the motion when it is put to a Dáil vote this week.
But the Government source insisted: “The law and the science are clear. If Fianna Fáil wants a nationwide smoky coal ban, it’ll have to ban turf and peat and wet wood too. If it wants to ignore the law and the science, and bring in a nationwide smoky coal ban anyway, the chances are it will end up bringing in a nationwide ban on turf, peat and wet wood by the back door.
“It’ll have to be straight with the people before an election on this.”
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