The proposed ban on the sale of turf was unavoidable because otherwise a nationwide prohibition on the sale of smoky coal would not have been possible, the Department of the Environment has said.
Previous governments had sought to implement a nationwide smoky coal ban but were always obstructed because of the exemptions that were there for another polluting fossil fuel, turf.
The matter had previously come to a head in 2018 when three coal companies, none based in the State, warned the then government that if the smoky coal ban was extended, they would challenge the move on the basis that the State had not banned the burning of other fossil fuels, including wood and peat products.
Senior sources said on Monday that it would have been politically more desirable to exempt peat but it would have meant that the State could not impose a blanket ban on smoky coals.
Accordingly, the Minister for the Environment and Climate Action Eamon Ryan has disclosed that turf-selling will be banned from September 1st this year.
In a parliamentary reply to Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin, Mr Ryan said that families would still be allowed to cut peat from traditional plots for domestic use but selling the peat will be prohibited.
“This approach will facilitate those with turbary rights to continue to cut and burn sod peat for their own domestic purposes, while also reducing the use of sod peat in urban areas,” Mr Ryan said.
The new regulations are being introduced to reduce air pollution in the State.
“Each year, some 1,300 people die prematurely in Ireland due to air pollution from solid fuel burning,” he said.
“Research undertaken by the Environmental Protection Agency also demonstrates that the contribution of peat to air pollution levels is significant,” he added.
However, the announcement has met with strong opposition in counties in the midlands and western seaboard, where significant bogs are located.
The Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway Michael Fitzmaurice said on Monday that the “sudden” announcement was unjust and unfair on families who relied on small-scale sale of turf to tide themselves over during the winter.
Families who cut turf on their own bog might cut an extra four hoppers-worth, or two trailer-loads, and sell it at the cost of whatever the contractor charged to cut it.
“That bit of extra turf will cover the cost of cutting and make their turf free for the year.
“They also cut it for elderly neighbours who don’t have a plot and sell it to them at cost price.”
Mr Fitzmaurice said the nature of the announcement was like Mr Ryan bringing “a big bad hammer bang down on everything”.
He said restrictions could have been brought in more gradually.
“What he should have done is set out a transition between now and 2030, when people will be in a position to benefit from offshore wind power, heat pumps and better insulated homes.
Galway West Fianna Fáil TD Eamon Ó Cuiv said that while nationally only 5 per cent of the population relied primarily on solid fuel for heating, the percentages were much higher in Offaly, Roscommon and Galway.
He also said the ban would affect families who had little prospect of their homes being retrofitted or benefitting from renewable fuels in the immediate future.
“If Eamon Ryan had really been concerned about this there should have been very generous grants on a means-tested basis to convert from solid fuel, and an immediate programme to convert all the local authority houses in the country that rely on solid fuel,” he said.
For its part, the Department has argued that some turf is commercially cut and is now making its way into built up areas being traded through the “grey market”.