AN all-out ban on smoky coal is in the pipeline, Environment Minister Phil Hogan (inset) has confirmed.
He is looking at ways of outlawing smoky coal within three years, although he admits the timeline will be a "challenge". The coal was banned in Dublin City in 1990, a move credited with saving hundreds of lives each year.
Air pollution from smoky coal is to be assessed as part of an all-Ireland study aimed at reducing pollution from home-heating.
Options to reduce carbon tax on smokeless low-carbon solid fuels are also being examined by the minister's department to "help the climate and minimise the cost on the consumers' pocket", Mr Hogan said.
The joint North/South study will consider policy options to reduce emissions from this form of pollution. The announcement of the study coincides with World Asthma Day (May 7), an annual event run by the Global Initiative for Asthma.
It has been welcomed by the Asthma Society of Ireland, which found in a recent study that 85pc of people would support a ban on the use of smoky coal to improve air quality.
The study was agreed between Mr Hogan and Northern Ireland Environment Minister Alex Attwood at a recent meeting in Dublin.
Announcing the study, Minister Hogan pointed to 2013 being designated as the EU Year of Air, which will include a revision of EU strategies on air pollution for the next decade.
"It's no secret that I see it as a challenge to introduce a ban on smoky coal across the State within the next three years," said Mr Hogan.
"An All-Ireland ban is the next phase I anticipate in this area. At the start of this month I added a further seven towns to the smoky coal ban," he said.
These are Greystones, Letterkenny, Mullingar, Navan, Newbridge, Portlaoise and Wicklow.
The next step will be a ban on smoky coal in all towns with a population of more than 15,000 people.
"This will provide for greater consistency in urban air quality standards throughout the State by extending the cleaner air benefits of the ban to all large towns."
The Asthma Society study found more than one third (35pc) of participants did not know burning smoky coal can cause harmful particles in the air that can badly affect asthma sufferers.
"Worryingly, almost a quarter (24pc) of people surveyed outside Dublin use smoky coal."
Sharon Cosgrove, CEO of the Asthma Society of Ireland, points out that since smoky coal was banned in Dublin in 1990, there has been one less death a day from asthma in the city.
"Today's announcement by the Minister for the Environment means that people across the island of Ireland will shortly be able to breathe cleaner air."