State must restrict turf sales without delay to improve air quality – Ryan

Policy change provokes strong opposition in the west and midlands

Minister for Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan set out a robust defence of his decision to ban the sale of turf from next September. Photograph: Alan Betson

Pollution from fuels such as smoky coal and peat are “killing people” and the State can’t wait any longer to restrict the sale of commercial turf as a measure to improve air quality, Minister for Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan has said.

Mr Ryan, the Green Party leader, set out a robust defence of his decision to ban the sale of turf from next September. The change in policy has provoked strong opposition from politicians based in western and midland counties, including TDs from Mr Ryan’s coalition partners, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

While smoky-fuel bans have been introduced in many Irish cities and towns since 1990, the Minister is now keen to introduce it on a nationwide basis. That means, he says, that turf has to be included with smoky coals, and with wood that has not been kiln dried.

The data points to 1,300 people dying prematurely in Ireland each year due to air pollution from solid-fuel fires. Research undertaken by the Environmental Protection Agency demonstrates that the contribution of peat to air pollution levels is significant.


“Air pollution is a real risk to health right across our country,” Mr Ryan told reporters at a briefing after the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

‘Cliff-edge’ ban

Fianna Fáil TD for Offaly Barry Cowen confirmed on Wednesday that he would meet Mr Ryan to discuss his concerns on what he described as a “cliff-edge” ban on the commercial sale of turf.

Mr Cowen is one of many rural TDs who have called for a gradual phasing out of the commercial sale. Some have argued that there is no alternative at present for rural families, as they don’t have alternative heat sources and often live in poorly insulated homes.

“We can live with the banning of sales at filling stations, retail outlets or the side of the road, but there should be an allowance made for dependent households and bog-owners and cutters,” said Mr Cowen.

Mr Ryan said the proposed ban on commercial sale did not come out of the blue. He said that families who cut their own turf traditionally would be allowed to continue doing so.

“This is not new. It’s something that’s been worked on for years. People are always asking the question, when will you address the health issues around air quality which is killing our people?

“We will do that in a way that still allows people to retain turbary rights and the use of turf in a variety of different ways. But we do have to regulate to improve public health.”

Mr Cowen’s colleague, Tipperary TD Jackie Cahill, has also been a vocal critic of the change.

“There are many people in rural Ireland who are really feeling the effects of the rising cost of living, particularly the cost of heating their homes and running their cars. I cannot think of a worse time to impose a ban on the sale of turf than right now.

“Banning the selling or gifting of turf while providing no immediate, viable and cost effective alternative is simply not on,” he told Tipp FM this week.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times