A Professor of Environmental Policy has hit out at Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s opposition to a turf ban, describing it as “very, very strange” that a medical doctor would oppose a policy that would save lives.
In recent days Environment Minister Eamon Ryan and An Tánaiste have been unable to agree whether a ban on the sale of certain fuels - including turf - is Government policy or not and each have taken to the airwaves to offer a competing spin.
However, Professor Cara Augustenborg believes air quality in rural Ireland would benefit hugely from such a ban:
“I actually think it’s crazy that the Government has been working on this issue for over 30 years,” Professor Augustenborg told Newstalk Breakfast.
“Successive Governments including the last Fine Gael Government - all part of the smoky coal ban that was brought into Dublin by Mary Harney in 1990 and has been credited with saving 350 lives a year in Dublin.
“So that’s over 11,000 people who have lived longer in Dublin in the past 32 years than would have if we’d continued to allow the burning of smoky coal and yet this ban does not extend to people living in smaller villages in Ireland.
“So we find that in towns like Tralee or Ennis or Enniscorthy or Macroom at some times in the winter on a still, cold night it’s actually dangerous for you to go out and go for a walk because of the burning of the solid fuels.
“So many Governments have tried to ban smoky coal nationwide and they’ve been unsuccessful because of the threats of some non-Irish smoky coal providers who say that this is ‘discriminatory’ against them.
“That there are actually other types of solid fuel that are equally dangerous including some types of turf and even some types of very wet wood [that] when they’re burned they give off high levels of particular matter that’s very damaging to our health.
“So this particular Government has used the science and said, ‘Okay, we acknowledge that many types of fuel can be damaging to people’s health, so we will look at all those dangerous fuels and we’ll ban the commercial sale of those fuels to protect people around us.
“So I find it very, very strange now that suddenly the Tánaiste - a medical doctor I might add! - who knows the health impacts of these kinds of fuels would delay this issue for even one more day and not let other people in Ireland outside Dublin avail of this and protect their health.”
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‘Sensitive to traditional practices’
The Tánaiste has acknowledged that more needs to be done to improve air quality in Ireland. However, he also said the Government needed to be sensitive to traditions that have been passed down over generations in rural Ireland.
"I do want to say that I absolutely accept that we need to take more action on air quality,” An Tánaiste told Newstalk.
"I'm a medical doctor, I know that the little particles that come off from turf and from coal and from wet wood - they get into your lungs, they get into your blood, they get into your heart and brain.
"So we definitely need to take more action on our air quality, I very much support that.
"But we also have to be sensitive to traditional practices".
Main image: Leo Varadkar. Picture by: George Sweeney / Alamy