Ryan’s proposals on turf sale ban exemption in some rural areas ‘won’t wash’

Revised plan on turf ban exempts communities of less than 500 people

A proposal to exempt small rural communities from a ban on selling turf “won’t wash” and questions have been raised as to whether it is a legally enforceable solution.

Minster for the Environment Eamon Ryan's plans to ban the sale of turf from September has prompted a backlash among rural TDs in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Sources said the proposed ban on the sale of turf was discussed at the meeting of the three coalition leaders on Monday evening.

Minister Ryan is said to have outlined how the draft regulations are aimed at striking a fair balance between the pressing need to reduce 1,300 deaths caused every year by air pollution while respecting the traditional reliance on turf in some rural areas and tackling fuel poverty.

It is understood he said that the regulations will focus on large scale and commercial sale of smoky fuels, particularly smoky coal, while there will be an exemption from ban on sales of turf in small communities.

Mr Ryan told the meeting that the Government will work with community organisations to reach out to people to help them switch fuels, get support to retrofit their homes and upgrade their heating systems

Fine Gael leader, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar emphasised the need to ensure traditional rights and practices are maintained for people who rely on turf.

A Sinn Féin motion seeking to scrap the ban is to be debated in the Dáil on Tuesday evening.

Mr Ryan will meet Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs ahead of that debate as he seeks to allay their concerns at his plans which are part of efforts to crack down on the use of smoky fuels. The Green Party leader has raised the prospect of an exemption from the ban on turf sales for communities of less than 500 people.

However, two senior Government backbenchers from the midlands – Laois-Offaly TDs Barry Cowen and Charlie Flanagan – have cast doubt on the proposal being accepted.

Fianna Fáil TD Mr Cowen said it "won't wash" and is "not the solution". He said towns such as Tullamore, Birr and other places with populations of more than 500 people are home to vulnerable households that have not made the switch from solid fuels for their heating needs. He said their needs must be respected and that Mr Ryan's proposal does "little to assure" such households.

Fine Gael TD Mr Flanagan said of the proposed exemption: “It doesn’t appear to me to be a legally enforceable or practical solution.”

‘Making it up’

He welcomed Mr Ryan’s plan to meet Fine Gael politicians saying, “I trust that he will clarify matters because he appears to be making it up as he goes along”.

A spokeswoman for the Minister said the Solid Fuels Regulations are still in draft form, they have not been approved and they will be amended. She said the proposed exemption would be for less dense areas because burning turf there “would be less likely to contravene air quality standards that would have a detrimental effect on others”.

Under the draft regulations, households in small villages or people living in rural one-off homes would still be allowed to burn turf or sell small amounts to family and neighbours without being penalised.

The spokeswoman also said Mr Ryan has met Irish Rural Link, a network of organisations campaigning for sustainable rural development, and “discussed the need to support people most affected by the regulations and at risk of fuel poverty, to help them switch fuels and get support to retrofit their homes and upgrade their heating systems”.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times