The Government’s plan for a ban on the sale of commercial turf has been slammed as “not workable” by one of their own backbenchers.
Michael Ring, a TD for Mayo and former Minister for Rural and Community Development, has said that many people in rural Ireland have “no alternative” way to heat their homes and that the Government must take this into account.
“We want them to be able to continue on at present to be able to cut turf and anybody that’s cutting turf at the moment needs it now and in the future,” Deputy Ring told Newstalk.
“There is no alternative for rural Ireland at the moment and this is not the time to be talking about not cutting turf.
“Turf is needed now more than ever - particularly with the cost of fuel, oil, petrol and diesel, all kinds of coal briquettes. I mean, they have all gone up substantially over the last number of months.
“In many places in rural Ireland, turf is the only thing they use, turf is what they want and turf is what they cut and Fine Gael will make sure that these people are protected into the future.”
A meeting between Environment Minister Eamon Ryan and a number of concerned TDs will be held in the coming weeks as the Government irons out the details of the legislation. At present a ban on the sale of smoky fuel will come into effect on 1st September but Minister Ryan has floated the idea that communities with under 500 people could be exempt from any restriction pertaining to the gifting or sale of turf.
It is an idea that Deputy Ring gave short shrift to.
“It’s only a number and that number cannot work and will not work,” he said wearily.
“You cannot have a situation that one townland and one village or one area might have 510 people and the other area might have 498 people.
“And people could be cutting with the  and  they wouldn’t be able to cut. That’s not workable, that’s not a workable proposal at all.
“But I have no doubt that we will bring in proposals that will be acceptable to the people of rural Ireland.”
Independent TD for Kerry Michael Healy Rae told the Dáil earlier this week that the turf ban would be a “death knell” for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in rural Ireland.
"You'd swear to God that it was some sort of an illegal drug the way we're talking about it - 'the sale or supply of turf'," he complained.
"I never actually thought it would come to this.
"Where's the support for this? The backbenchers in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil know that this will be their death knell, the final nail in the coffin.”
Good for the environment
However, the ban enjoys strong support from environmentalists; after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar expressed scepticism, Professor Cara Augustenborg said that his stance was “very strange” as a ban has the potential to save thousands of lives.
“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.”
Main image: An Irish turf cutter, cutting sods of turf with a slean.