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Minister Bruton Extends Smoky Coal Ban


​​Smoky Coal Ban to be extended to 13 towns


All towns with population over 10,000 covered by ban

Nationwide Smoky Coal Ban Carries Serious Risk of Illegality without Ban on Peat and Wet Wood


The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton T.D. today (Tuesday 17th of December 2019) announced that the smoky coal ban will be extended to all towns with populations over 10,000 people. The Minister has also said that the government would not be proceeding with a nationwide ban on smoky coal, on the basis that such a ban carries a serious risk of illegality, unless peat, turf and wet wood were also included.   


Minister Bruton said,

"I am extending the smoky coal ban to 13 additional towns based on the evidence of poor air quality with seriously damaging effects on health."


From September 2020, smoky coal will be banned in thirteen additional towns, meaning smoky coal will be banned in all towns in the country with populations over 10,000 people:


County CavanCavan Town
CorkCobh, Midleton and Mallow
LongfordLongford Town








Recent air quality monitoring in three of these towns (Cobh, Enniscorthy and Longford) has shown that although air quality has met EU requirements, the results have been in exceedance of the stricter WHO air quality standard limits. On this basis, it has been decided that all built-up areas in the country should benefit from a ban.


It has been announced by the new EU Commission president that the proposals to revise air quality standards to align them more closely with the World Health Organization recommendations will be brought forward.


The Minister continued:

"Many of the Actions we are taking in the Climate Action Plan, such as our plan for a new National Programme for Housing upgrades, will reduce the reliance people have on solid fuels. We will ensure that 500,000 homes are upgraded in the coming decade, with 600,000 renewable heating systems / heat pumps installed."


Nationwide Smoky Coal Ban


The Minister confirmed that a nationwide ban on smoky coal carries a serious risk of illegality, unless peat, wet wood and turf were also addressed.


The Minister said:

"I am not proceeding with a nationwide ban at this time as such a ban carries a serious risk of illegality unless turf, peat and wet wood are also addressed. We will proceed in a gradual and proportionate way and extend the current smoky coal ban to 13 new towns where there are particular air quality issues and to address immediate health concerns in these towns. This will come into effect from next September and will lead to immediate improvements in air quality.


"To proceed with a nationwide ban regardless of circumstance would expose people in rural areas, who have traditional sources of logs and turf which they rely upon, to the risk of a sudden ban. I am not willing to do this. To pretend that a nationwide ban does not carry this probable outcome is to be dishonest."


"I am preparing the first ever Clean Air Strategy, and will come back to government in the New Year with further proposals to improve air quality."


Enforcement of the Existing Ban


The Minister also announced that work is underway to strengthen enforcement of the current smoky coal ban. Options which are being considered include:

  • The development of a regional approach to air quality and noise enforcement, in line with other areas of environmental enforcement such as waste, which has proven to be very successful;
  • A multi-agency approach to enforcement would have greater impact on issues including the sale of high-sulphur content fuel imported from the UK and the Department is currently actively engaging with Local Authorities and the Revenue Commissioners in that context at present.


Improving Air Quality Monitoring


The government will invest €5m to improve our network of air monitoring stations in the next five years. This is vital to establishing hard, scientific evidence of the standard of air in different parts of the country. This €5m investment will:

  • Develop a greatly expanded national monitoring network
  • Enhance the provision of real-time, localised air quality information to local authorities and to the public
  • Assist Local Authorities in terms of enforcement within their areas, as well as providing a more accurate nationwide air quality picture for policy makers.


Air quality monitoring has advanced significantly in recent times. Air quality in Ireland is monitored by the EPA by way of a network of 31 monitoring stations, which will soon double as government double the funding being provided. Furthermore, better modelling and research mean we have a much better understanding of particulate matter than when the ban was first introduced in 1990.


Notes to the Editor


Areas currently covered by existing smoky coal ban:

TownYear of Introduction
Arklow, Drogheda, Dundalk, Limerick, Wexford1998
Celbridge, Galway, Leixlip, Naas, Waterford2000
Bray, Kilkenny, Sligo, Tralee2003
Athlone, Carlow, Clonmel, Ennis2011
Greystones, Letterkenny, Mullingar, Navan, Newbridge, Portlaoise, Wicklow (and Rathnew)2013


The Climate Action Plan is the government's plan to secure a healthier, cleaner, more resilient Ireland for future generations. It contains a number of actions which will improve air quality.


Actions to improve air quality in the Climate Action Plan


  • Putting 180,000 electric vehicles on our roads by 2025 and almost 1m by 2030 (35-40% of all vehicles - currently over 99% of our vehicle fleet is fuelled by fossil fuels.)
  • Ensuring the EV charging network underpins public confidence
  • Currently 40% of homes use coal and peat to heat their homes (many in combination with other fossil fuel heating systems). By 2030, we will upgrade a third of all homes to at least a B2 energy standard, installing approximately 600,000 heat pumps.
  • Creating an early public procurement framework for EVs
  • Accelerating steps to decarbonise the public transport fleet
  • Establishing a Cycling Project Office, develop a 5 year cycling strategy and roll out 200km of new cycle lanes through bus connects
  • Developing a new Park and Ride Strategy, to reduce congestion and lower journey times
  • Developing a regulatory framework on low emission zones and parking pricing policies, and provide local authorities with the power to restrict access to certain parts of a city or a town to zero emission vehicles only
  • Legislating for no new fossil fuel vehicles to be sold from 2030 onwards.


Powers of Local Authorities to Enforce the Ban


Local Authorities are primarily responsible for the enforcement of the smoky coal ban within their functional areas. The powers that Local Authorities have are extensive. For example:

  1. i.    local authority staff may undertake inspections of premises and vehicles being used for the sale and distribution of solid fuel as well as collect samples;
  2. ii.  a local authority may bring a prosecution under the Air Pollution Act for breaches of the Regulations
            ​iii  a Local Authority may issue a Fixed Payment Notice (or 'on the spot fine') for alleged offences relating to the              marketing, sale and distribution of prohibited fuels in Low Smoke Zones (LSZs), with a penalty range of €250 to €1000.
            The Minister intends to write to Local Authorities reminding th​em of their powers under the legislation.

​Health Impacts of Solid Fuel Use
The main health effects of air pollution include stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma. These conditions can lead to sickness and ill health as well as premature mortality. Fine particulate matter, the pollutant of most concern from domestic solid fuel burning in Ireland, is linked to respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, and impacts on the central nervous and reproductive systems. 

The European Environment Agency Report Air Quality in Europe 2019, indicates that in 2016 there were 1,180 premature mortalities arising from air pollution in Ireland. The vast majority of these, 1,100, are attributable to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which in Ireland is primarily associated with domestic solid fuel burning. The same report indicates 12,000 Years of Life Lost, indicating significantly earlier mortality for those deaths.

As noted above, research indicates that the introduction of the ban in Dublin has resulted in approximately 350 fewer mortalities per year, reducing cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and respiratory mortality in the general population.

Fuel poverty

The government is committed to taking steps to deliver warmer homes and to tackle fuel poverty:

  • Since 2016 we have increased funding for home upgrades nearly threefold. In 2020, an allocation of €146m (€29m increase on 2019) will be used to upgrade 24,000 homes and businesses. Of this, a total of €52.8 million is being made available to retrofit the homes of people living in or at risk of energy poverty through the Warmer Homes Scheme.  This represents the biggest ever allocation for the Warmer Homes Scheme – more than double the initial allocation for 2019.  €13 million of this funding is ring-fenced revenue arising from the increase in the Carbon Price.  
  • A new Retrofitting model is being developed which will deliver upgrades to large groups of houses at the same time in the same area to drive down cost. We are also working to develop easy pay back mechanisms and smart finance options. This work will commence in 2020 with a €20m midlands pilot scheme. A New retrofitting model will have the following:
    • Group homes in the same area together to drive down cost
    • Start with social homes owned by the local authorities, but moving to embrace privately owned homes in the wider community
    • Easy pay back models (e.g. through your utility bill)
    • Smart finance (e.g. loan guarantee models, EIB financing to be developed)
  • Increase in the Fuel Allowance  by €2 a week from 1 January 2020;


Cost of Different Fuels


People have to heat their homes and concern is sometimes expressed about the impact of a widening of the smoky fuel ban on lower income households who cannot afford to upgrade their heating systems. The SEAI publishes a Domestic Fuels Comparison of Energy Costs (July 2019) report indicates the following cost to unit of energy values for a range of solid fuels (as sold in bales for briquettes and bags for coal and ovoids (which are manufactured blends of fuel):


Fuel Cent/kWh

  • ​Peat Briquettes 6.72
  • Premium Coal (bag) 5.95
  • Standard Coal (bag) 5.91
  • Low Smoke Ovoids (bag) 5.89

These figures indicate that although low-smoke ovoids may be more expensive on a per-bag basis, they actually produce more heat per cent than other fuels and are therefore better value in terms of heat delivered to the home.

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