A new system of real-time air quality forecasting won't be operational until 2024, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has admitted.
Air pollution causes around 1,300 premature deaths in Ireland each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, with concerning levels recorded in cities and towns in recent times.
In December air pollution spiked in Dublin and other urban areas to levels that had not been seen in 30 years before the smoky coal ban was introduced.
A new system of monitoring and reporting is now being developed to provide live updates across the country. Mr Ryan said work on the new project began in January.
"By 2024, this modelling project will deliver a national air quality forecast, a near real-time nowcast, and historical modelled maps, along with multiple awareness-raising and citizen engagement elements," the Minister for the Environment said.
"In the interim, a further expansion of the network is scheduled during 2021 and 2022 to include another 15 stations, giving a 110-station network, and serving to increase the evidential base required to inform the policy measures necessary to improve the quality of our air."
But Labour TD Duncan Smith said real-time air quality monitoring and reporting is urgently required if we are to save lives and meet our climate action goals.
"Poor air quality also impacts on our environment and biodiversity as well as being an indicator as to our consumption of fossil fuels and home heating," Mr Smith said. "I am disappointed that the urgency required is not being met by Government action."
There are currently 95 monitoring stations around the country, which provide public air quality readings.
"All monitoring stations collect air quality data for a range of pollutants in order to provide information to the public, and for assessment against European legal limit values and World Health Organization guideline values," said Mr Ryan in response to parliamentary questions submitted by Mr Smith.
"While Ireland has traditionally focused on measurements from monitoring stations to assess air quality, there is a need to provide more local air quality information throughout the country. The intention is that the information generated through monitoring, will be augmented by a newly developed modelling and forecasting capability, which will provide an ongoing air quality forecast service to the public."
Mr Ryan sparked criticism from some in government earlier this year when he called for a national ban on smoky coal, unseasoned wood, and potentially turf. A number of Fianna Fáil TDs raised concerns around Mr Ryan's plans to introduce new standards so that firms are not allowed to sell wet wood or turf, which is harder to light and creates more air pollution in the home.
More than 3,500 responses were recently received as part of a public consultation on how to regulate all solid fuels that contribute to air pollution.
Regulations are now being drafted, and Mr Ryan said he will shortly publish a new, legally robust, and evidence-based framework for how we regulate all solid fuels.