A successful legal case by coal companies – arguing other polluting fuels like turf and timber must also be banned – could reverse the 30-year-old smoky coal ban in Dublin and across 80pc of the country.
That was Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s response to questions by Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, over the failure of Fine Gael-led governments in the last eight years to extend the smoky coal ban to the remaining 20pc of the country.
Mr Martin pointed to a report for the Clean Air Alliance, made up of eminent environmental scientists, that air pollution was killing four people every day in Ireland. He said one academic cited Enniscorthy, Longford town and Roscommon, as among places where air pollution was now lethal and 20pc above levels in Dublin and Cork.
The Fianna Fáil leader said one academic said “Enniscorthy risked becoming the New Delhi of Ireland” due to air pollution.
He said back in 1990 the then-junior environment minister, Mary Harney, faced down opposition to bring in a smoky coal ban for Dublin which was later extended to very many other places.
“It saved many lives and improved the health of very many people,” Mr Martin told the Dáil.
“Why is it that the lives and health of people living in Enniscorthy and Longford are not as important as those of people in other places?” Mr Martin asked the Taoiseach.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the issue was delayed by a threatened lawsuit by coal companies, arguing that if they are banned so should equally polluting fuels like turf and timber. He acknowledged the value of the smoky coal ban but said it had been an error by previous governments to encourage people buying diesel cars.
Mr Varadkar said the coal companies’ threatened action was now the subject of legal advice being sought by the Government. “If the suit is successful not only do we not go forward – we also risk going backwards,” the Taoiseach said.
The Fianna Fáil leader castigated the Taoiseach’s response as “pathetic” and “incredibly weak.” He urged the Taoiseach to stand up to the coal firms and argued that the workplace smoking ban would never have happened if the government of the day did not stand up to “big tobacco”.
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