Schedule finalised for total ban on smoky coal

Coal distributors have 12 months to sell off existing stocks before total ban in 2019

Denis Naughten: he has repeatedly highlighted that clean air is a priority due to the health effects of traditional house coal

The Government has finalised the schedule for the roll out of a ban on the sale of smoky coal throughout the country from autumn 2018.

Minister for the Environment Denis Naughten intends to allow coal distributors 12 months to sell off existing stocks before a total ban comes into effect in 2019.

Mr Naughten has repeatedly highlighted that clean air is a priority due to the health effects of traditional house coal – one in five children in Ireland are treated for asthma, while there are high rates of hospital admissions linked to poor air quality.

The burning of bituminous or smoky coal is one the worst offenders when it comes to air pollution, notably because of the generation of particulate matter and sulphur-dioxide.


Europe is supposed to be one of the cleanest inhabited regions of the world yet over the past decade air pollution has been increasing rather than decreasing, and the health effects are more pronounced than previously estimated, according to research. Of particular concern are extreme pollution events that are arising in urban areas even where there is a ban on smoky coal.

Extreme events

Irish research has shown that "extreme air pollution events are driven by burning of solid residential fuel [namely, peat, wood and biomass]; even though less than 4 per cent solid fuel is consumed, this accounts disproportionately for 70 per cent of the pollution", scientists at NUI Galway concluded.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has repeatedly highlighted that during winter months, when solid fuel is being burned, air quality is significantly worse in smaller towns and villages than it is in larger towns and cities where the ban is in place.

A smoky coal ban was introduced in Dublin in 1990. Research showed it resulted in 350 fewer deaths per year throughout the city. In 2013 it was extended to the next 25 largest urban areas in the country.

Shortly after coming into office in 2016, Mr Naughten indicated his intention to extend the ban – the measure is due to be approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday after EU clearance to extend it.

National policies

Ireland's first National Clean Air Strategy, which will provide a framework of cross-government policies and actions to reduce harmful emissions from a range of sources, is due to be published shortly. It will address a wide range of other national policies that are relevant to air quality, including transport, energy and agriculture.

Smokeless fuels are considered to be energy efficient and cost effective, and provide a greener and more dependable alternative to traditional coal. Various coal products are available including smokeless blended fuels, some of which include lignite, others contain anthracite.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times