The proposed ban on sale and distribution of turf is set to proceed from September, once the details are worked out. This follows a classic Irish political controversy that quickly caught fire, though the course was set for some time. In this instance, last September, when tighter regulations on domestic solid fuels were announced, though realisation of the implications emerged much later.
Curiously, it was clear then that personal use of turf would continue to be allowed for those in rural areas with turbary rights. The logic was that new standards had to apply across the fuels sector – a large industry. It was a justifiable response to emerging evidence that open fires and wood-burning stoves give rise to the worst forms of air pollution, with peat, coal and wet wood to blame – despite turf cutting being a centuries-old tradition.
These fuels are a big source of PM2.5 – tiny particles identified by the World Health Organisation as the most serious air pollutant for human health. Their environmental impact, by way of carbon emissions, is also apparent. Peat is the most damaging, even worse than coal.
This week Tánaiste Leo Varadkar declared in a populist play that removing turf cutting from rural Ireland was like removing wine from the French or pasta from the Italians. This was followed by the Green Party leader Eamon Ryan insisting there was "broad agreement" within Government to ban the sale and "big distribution" of turf. Such are the twists in fashioning compromises in coalition government.
Greens regard taking hard decisions in government as a badge of honour but many in their ranks will feel bruised by this controversy, as it prompted renewed claims they are anti-rural Ireland. This decision was the correct one, but it underlines how important a just and careful transition is in moving to a carbon-neutral Ireland – including supporting those experiencing acute hardship due to energy price volatility exacerbated by the Ukraine war and the many who need to wean off turf.