18 May 2022

‘Akin to selling drugs on the street’: Longford councillors hit out at turf ban plan

‘Utter balderdash’: Local councillors fuming over Ryan’s plans to ban the sale of turf from September

‘Akin to selling drugs on the street’: Longford councillors hit out at turf ban plan

A float in the Granard Easter parade Picture: Senator Micheál Carrigy

Green Party Leader and Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan came in for some harsh criticism from Longford councillors last week following the announcement of his plans to ban the sale of turf in Ireland from September 1.

In an emergency motion brought before a meeting of Longford County Council last Wednesday afternoon, Fine Gael’s Cllr Colm Murray called on Longford County Council to write to the leaders of the three government parties demanding that ministerial regulations which propose to ban the sale of turf from September are not enacted. His motion received unanimous support.

“I think it’s a rash move, totally unacceptable at this moment in time,” Cllr Murray insisted.

“If these regulations go through, you won’t be able to buy a bag of turf or a load of turf to heat your house for the winter. And what that’s going to do at a time when fuel and energy costs are already spiralling, is it’s just going to make life harder on the poorer people in the country.

“It’s something Minister Ryan’s been talking about for a long time but to introduce it now at a time when inflation has driven the cost of heating and running your home through the ceiling in the last couple of months it’s totally out of order.”

Cllr Murray respectfully acknowledged the role local authorities will have to play in acting to protect our climate but said Irish people, if they could find a cheaper and more efficient way to heat their homes, would be willing to do so.

“The biggest problem with a lot of these suggestions that come out about alternatives is that they’re either not available or not affordable,” he said.

“It’s fine telling somebody to retrofit their house but if you don’t have the forty or fifty thousand euro or more now because of building price inflation, then excuse the language but you’re p*ssing against the wind there. You’re not going to be able to do that.”

Cllr Paraic Brady (FG) was the first to chip in and support the motion, stating that Minister Ryan “has gone too far” and will cause “a revolution in this country” if this plan goes ahead.

“A message needs to be sent to this man. Growing lettuce on the windowsill was one thing but banning turf in Ireland will not be tolerated, full stop,” he said.

“If he really wants to do it, the people of rural Ireland need to stand up and say enough is enough.”

Cllr Paul Ross (FG) labelled the plan “utterly intolerable”, saying it shows that Eamon Ryan is “totally out of touch with rural Ireland” and that the Green Party leader should consider his position within government.

“To even talk about the ban on turf cutting is putting it akin to selling drugs on the street from what I can see,” said Cllr Ross.

“It’s utterly ridiculous, out of touch and unacceptable. I think he should withdraw it. He should consider his position as Minister for the Environment.

“One has to live in the real world. We’re going through one of the greatest energy crises in Europe in the last hundred years and he wants to stop people from keeping warm in the wintertime?”

Fianna Fáil’s Cllr Martin Monaghan slammed the Minister’s plans as “complete and utter balderdash”, stating that the leaders of the other parties need to “get a good grasp of him and say ‘here, cop onto yourself’”.

“This is a nonsensical idea. We have a climate crisis and we all accept that but we have to look at it practically. China produced 44 million extra tonnes of coal last year. By shutting down our bogs, we’re going to solve the climate crisis?

“I know we have our part to play - and a very small part with six million of a population. But I think the leader of the Green Party as Minister for Energy is a completely wrong fit because he can see one way and one way only,” he said.

Former Bord na Móna worker, Cllr Mick Cahill (FF) complimented Cllr Murray’s motion as “very timely” and agreed there is “no sense” to the plans.

“There’s no doubt we’ll have to stop cutting our bogs and we realise that,” he said.

“But we’ve been doing it here for hundreds of years. It has sustained rural Ireland particularly. But there is no alternative for a lot of the houses. People depend on it and it doesn’t make any sense to ban it.”

Cllr PJ Reilly (FF) agreed that there needed to be “a bit of common sense” put into these plans, because people in rural Ireland have been relying on turf to heat their homes “since God was a goson” and there will be “devastation” if the sale of turf is banned in the autumn.

Independent Cllr Gerry Warnock hit out at Minister Ryan directly, stating that his plans to fight climate change are “simply and utterly not workable”.

“This fella is a toxic substance as far as I’m concerned. He’s living in la-la land,” he said.

“Somebody has to reign this lad in. He needs to get a grip on himself. He will never achieve this green utopia with these punitive measures on the people of Ireland, particularly the people of rural Ireland who are in fuel poverty at the minute, given the cost of alternative heating.

“He needs to just relax and come back with something that’s workable.”

The domestic cutting of turf is “probably a minuscule contributor to greenhouse gasses”, Cllr Seamus Butler (FF) pointed out, and the people of rural Ireland have already sacrificed the Bord na Móna bogs and the industrial bogs.

“And nobody is giving credit that they are now becoming carbon sinks in the other direction,” he added.

“The timing is awful. It couldn’t be worse. This is an indigenous fuel. We’re not bringing it in from Russia. We’re not bringing it in from anywhere else.

“The fact that a Minister at the stroke of a pen can bring this in without having it debated on the floor of the Dáil or the Seanad is a very dangerous power to have. Especially if that power is pushed by an agenda that the majority of the people in this country do not agree with,” he added.

“So it’s undemocratic and it’s just wrong on every front,” he concluded.

Cllr Turlough McGovern (Ind) said the plan is “a disgrace”, suggesting that if Minister Ryan was told to go down to a bog in Longford or Westmeath or Offaly, “he wouldn’t even know where it is”, while Fine Gael’s Cllr Colin Dalton, stressed that the majority of people on any rural road would either cut their own turf every summer or give valuable summer work to students who would do it for them.

Ballymahon councillor Pat O’Toole (FF), like many of his colleagues before him, acknowledged the important role we all have in protecting the climate. He also complimented Longford County Council on the work they’re doing in retrofitting council homes around the county.

“But if you take the squeezed middle - the people who don’t fall into this particular category - if they can’t burn solid fuel come next winter or any other winter after that, it’s not so much that 1,300 people will die every year from chest infections, it’s that thousands more will die from hypothermia after they’re not able to heat their homes. I think that’s a very, very realistic point that’s being missed,” he said.

Independent Cllr Mark Casey agreed that the plan to ban the sale of turf is “a disgrace”.

“They want us to burn oil that we pump out of Saudi Arabia, put on a ship and sail it all the way over to Ireland, put it on a lorry, bring it to a depot and then put it on a lorry to your house,” he said.

“He’s okay with us doing that, but we can’t burn turf from outside our back door? It is ridiculous.

“Is the Green Party a majority in government or is it a minority in government? I know Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will do anything to stay in power but I’m telling you one thing, if they want to go back in power ever again, this is the wrong way to go about it,” he warned.

“Because for the people I’ve been talking to out in Lanesboro - and we are a major turf town - it’s the last straw. It absolutely is the last straw. They’re done with this kind of stupidity in politics and this kind of stupidity coming from the very top, all the way down.

“The time has come to stop the madness of what’s going on here. We all understand there’s a green agenda needed but sometimes enough is enough.”

Fine Gael Cllr John Browne promptly agreed with Cllr Casey that “the Green Party are, in effect, running circles around Fine Gael and running circles around Fianna Fáil also”.

Cathaoirleach of Longford County Council Peggy Nolan agreed with her colleagues that it would be the elderly who will suffer.

“They have no other way of heating our homes. It’s what they were reared to. It’s part of our culture. It’s part of our heritage. And until there’s enough money in place to retrofit homes to give people an option, I don’t think that this should be carried,” she said, thanking Cllr Murray for putting down the motion and noting that “every single councillor in the chamber is totally supportive of it”.

Last week, it emerged that Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Fine Gael parliamentary party that plans to ban the selling of turf had been “paused” due to rising energy prices.

These claims were promptly rejected by Minister Ryan who said: “We will introduce the regulations and get it right. September is the timeline and it makes sense. It is not paused.”

The issue will be discussed when the Dáil returns from its Easter break but it is still very much on the mind of people in rural Ireland.

Fine Gael Senator Micheál Carrigy on Monday said that, while Minister Ryan did not grow up in rural Ireland, “he needs to understand the importance of this practice” and its importance to the people outside of Ireland’s cities.

“And particularly at a time when we are in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis,” he said. “I do understand measures are required to reduce the emissions, but this is a step too far.”

Cllr Colm Murray, at last week’s council meeting, thanked his colleagues for their unanimous support of his emergency motion and stressed that it behoves the Government to see that this legislation is not enacted.

“Albert Reynolds said years ago about the little things that get you. While some people might think that this is a little thing in the scheme of some of the things going on in the world at the minute, it’s the rock that the Government could perish on, I have no doubt about that.

“Action needs to be taken on this and I don’t think any of us will stay quiet within our respective groupings until it is stopped,” he concluded.

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