Turf war declared as Minister Ryan seeks views on controlling peat use

Minister Burke: 'Crucial that people reliant on turf and other fuels are not left at a disadvantage'

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Turf war declared as Minister Ryan seeks views on controlling peat use

Turf drying on the bog

Two midlands TDs, Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Fine Gael's Peter Burke and Fianna Fail's Barry Cowen have pledged to fight against proposals to ban the cutting and burning of turf.

Environment Minister Eamon Ryan TD, leader of the Green Party, has launched a public consultation on solid fuel regulations, in advance of an expected ban on the use of all smoky coal.

Currently, smoky coal burning is outlawed in all towns with a population of over 10,000, including Longford.

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However, the consultation will also examine the use of other solid fuels, including peat and wood, with the Department of Climate Action saying regulation would improve air quality for the benefit of all.

The department says rules on the maximum moisture content level at which wood be can sold could be introduced because wood with high moisture content is significantly more polluting than wood with low moisture content.

The Climate Action Department also said EPA research shows that the contribution of peat to air pollution levels is significant.

It said consideration needs to be given to options which may restrict the sale and marketing of sod turf, while respecting the traditional practice of turf cutting for personal use only.

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Green Party Senator Pippa Hackett, Minister for Biodiversity, welcomed the consultation, which opened today (Thursday, February 18).

“The quality of our air is fundamental to our health. In 2018, there were 1,410 premature mortalities arising from air pollution in Ireland and many people in this country suffer horribly from respiratory diseases that are exacerbated by poor air quality. In turn, that puts pressure on our health services,” Minister Hackett said in a statement.

“So it’s timely that we should have a public consultation about how we can lessen the harm from the fuels we burn in our homes – the fuels that pollute our air. Some fuels are more damaging to our health than others. Smokeless coal and seasoned wood, for instance, are less harmful to regular coal, turf and green wood.

“Retrofitting will help to reduce our dependency on burning fuel to keep our homes warm, and Midlands counties have been the first to start retrofitting local authority homes, which will help the air quality here.

“The purpose of this consultation is to get the best ideas on how to change our fuel-burning habits to reduce deaths from air pollution, and to ensure a better quality of life for those with breathing difficulties. I would encourage everyone to have their say.”

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Speaking on the Claire Byrne Show on RTE this morning, Minister Hackett played down speculation about a “ban” on turf and asked people not to jump to conclusions now but to read the consultation document first.

In advance of the opening of the opening of the consultation, Deputy Cowen pledged at Wednesday night's Fianna Fail parliamentary party meeting to oppose any moves to ban turf.

He said Fianna Fail will “resist and reject” what he said were Minister Ryan's proposals to “outlaw households using turf whether cut by themselves or purchased from commercial cutters”.

He said retrofitting will continue to drive down turf use anyway and added that it is important that Fianna Fail “win this argument” with the Minister.

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Longford/Westmeath Minister of State Peter Burke said he is also concerned about the forthcoming consultation on smoky coal ban. 

He said that alternatives must be in place before any changes are made to our regulatory regime, adding “crucially these alternatives are not yet in place in the Midlands."

Minister Burke stated, “We are investing now more heavily in the green economy which is a positive step, but it is absolutely crucial that infrastructure and alternatives are put in place in tandem to this investment, so that people reliant on turf and other fuels are not left at a disadvantage. 

“My Department, along with the Department of Climate Action, is putting forward a retrofit programme for social housing in the midlands as part of the Just Transition, but this is on a small scale when you consider the total number of homes in our region totally reliant on solid fuel to keep warm. 

"Minister Ryan has made the commitment to have 500,000 homes retrofitted by 2030, which is an ambitious aim, but we must see this in place before we remove important sources of energy. Retrofitting is very labour intensive and while it is our goal, we need to ramp up the scale and speed of this before knock on effects are felt.

“I know constituents of mine are in favour of climate policies and are forward thinking in relation to the environment, we have seen how people are embracing more sustainable lifestyles over the last number of months which is hugely positive.  But they must be supported in this by government. At a time when we are introducing many new environmental measures, public buy-in is of vital importance from all in our towns and villages. That is not done through short-term divisive measures and creating fear among our community."

The public consultation is open until 5.30 p.m. on Friday, April 2 next. It can be accessed online HERE