Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Communications, Climate Action and Environment Timmy Dooley TD has slammed the government for refusing to introduce a nationwide ban on smoky coal.

Deputy Dooley raised the issue with Minister Richard Bruton in Dáil Éireann this week and said, “A ban on smoky coal was introduced in Dublin in 1990 and was gradually extended to urban areas. Now we have a situation where air pollution is worse in our rural towns than in our cities. This has a terrible effect on people’s health and is leading to increases in asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

“Why is the health and quality of life of people living in Longford or Enniscorthy less important to the government than those living in our cities? It is essentially treating people living in rural areas as second-class citizens.

“The last two Fine Gael-led governments promised to introduce a nationwide smoky coal ban. Minister Bruton, seemingly against all previous advice and analysis, is the only government Minister to have now decided to reject an extension of the ban. He claims there are threats of legal challenge from certain companies. Is the government’s environmental policy being guided by weak legal threats or by the public health of Irish citizens?

“There is no safe level of air pollution. We need State leadership and a focus on the huge health and environmental rewards of a nationwide ban – Fine Gael needs to learn from Fianna Fáil’s record when it faced down short-term opposition from some quarters and introduced the smoking ban and the plastic bag levy.

“Minister Bruton appears to be forgetting that people in rural towns have no choice over the air they breathe. There is compelling evidence that continuing to allow the burning of the dirtiest smoky coal is harming people. Even where there is basic monitoring in place, it’s showing that air pollution is skyrocketing in rural towns due to smoky coal burning.

“The Minister’s new climate action plan talks about removing oil and gas boilers from people’s homes, but it fails to include any commitment on ending the use of the dirtiest smoky coal.

“I believe he needs to go one further and work with officials in Northern Ireland to ensure that if and when a nationwide ban is put in place, it includes Northern Ireland. In implementing this as a 26-county measure and not a 32-county measure, border fuel providers will be disadvantaged and potentially put out of business.

“The government has a responsibility and the power to immediately improve the health of so many communities. Minister Bruton must not bow down to threats, but should instead make the necessary regulatory changes that have been on his desk for months”, concluded Deputy Dooley.