Turf remains a "really important fuel" in rural Ireland, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has insisted after reports the Government is to soften a controversial ban on burning peat in home fires.
The Fianna Fáil minister and Donegal TD said a "common sense" approach was needed to transition from fossil fuels to greener energy in many communities as it was "important to respect traditional rights and activity."
“I know myself, as somebody who spent many summers in the hill cutting and footing turf . . . but it’s something that we’ve seen drop significantly in recent years,” he said.
“But it is a really important fuel in many parts of the country still, obviously against the backdrop as well at the moment of high fuel prices.”
Mr McConalogue was responding to reports that Minister for Environment Eamon Ryan has bowed to coalition pressure to relax a ban on turf selling and gifting, due to come into force in September.
There has been concern in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil at the proposals from the Green Party leader.
Mr Ryan is to meet with Fine Gael TDs and Senators on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the draft smokey fuels regulation in an apparent bid to ally those concerns.
In an interview with the Irish Independent, Mr Ryan said exemptions will be stitched into the imminent clampdown on turf and other smoky fuels, allowing smaller communities of “typically under 500 people” to escape the ban.
Legislation would not “police people down to the lowest level, among neighbours in rural Ireland” but focus instead on the “commercial sale of turf”, the Green Party leader said.
Critcising “misinformation or disinformation” about the planned smoky fuel ban, Mr Ryan mocked suggestions that the State would “arrest your granny for burning the wrong fuel”.
“We’re not going to have a situation where some inspector is going into the cottage and sifting through the grate,” he added.
Mr McConalogue, speaking on Newstalk, said “we have to take a common sense approach to how we address this issue.”
While he has “no doubt” that a trend of declining turf cutting in Irish bogs would continue in the years to come, it remained “important that we respect the traditional rights and activity, and importance of turf to those communities that still use it, particularly in parts of rural Ireland.”
“Turf is only used in a very minimal amount of instances now,” he said.
“But it is important for those who still use it and I think we need to focus on the bigger picture, we need to focus on making real progress. We need to focus on that transition from fossil fuel to clean energy.”
Mr McConalogue said it was important to take a “common sense approach in relation to working with everyone in the meantime, in terms of managing that transition.”