Government steps up crackdown on smoky fuels illegally imported from Northern Ireland

Industry believes a third of solid fuel on sale could be smuggled over border as smoky coal ban extends across State

New legislation to clamp down on smoky fuels being illegally imported into the State has been approved by the Government.

New regulations introduced in late 2022 extend the smoky coal ban from Dublin and other larger population centres to the entire country.

However, the new restrictions have led to a significant upsurge in the quantity of smoky fuel being illegally imported across the border from Northern Ireland.

The industry body Solid Fuel Merchants Ireland believes that imported smoky fuels could make up to a third of solid fuels imported into Ireland, leading to a loss of €15 million in taxes per year to the Exchequer.


At the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan was given approval to draft the Air Pollution Act (Amendment) Bill.

The new Bill would give local authorities throughout the State greater powers to tackle any ongoing supply of unauthorised, smoky solid fuels being illegally placed on the Irish market.

In the memo to Cabinet, Mr Ryan said that authorised retailers in the State were being undermined and undercut by operators selling illegal and polluting products, most often coming from outside the State.

The Bill proposes an improved registration system for solid fuel providers. It will also include a better reporting system for illegal fuels, as well as increased controls in relation to the importation of fuels, including through direct selling, delivery or distance selling from another jurisdiction.

It will also give powers to local authorities to identify those who are selling illegal fuel products online or through social media.

The memo stated the new powers would help provide a more robust regulatory regime for ensuring all solid fuels on the market are in full compliance with the standard in the smoky fuel regulations.

Anyone importing fuels into the State must register, even if they are based outside the jurisdiction.

“This will protect those law-abiding fuel merchants who sell low-emission fuels from being unfairly undercut by rival firms who are breaking the regulations by, for instance, bringing smoky coal across the border,” it stated.

The memo also referred to the fact that up to 1,300 deaths in the State each year are associated with air pollution. Smokey fuels in the atmosphere have been linked to increased risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma.

Solid fuel is cheaper in Northern Ireland because there is no carbon tax, a lower rate of VAT and there are no restrictions on the sale of smoky fuels.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times