The Government has been accused of "long fingering" the introduction of a nationwide smoky coal ban with it not now expected until next year at the earliest.
Draft legislation that Environment Minister Eamon Ryan says is needed to make the ban work will be available “towards the end of the year”, the Irish Examiner has been told by Mr Ryan's department. That means the ban health campaigners had expected this year will now not happen until at least 2022.
The burning of smoky coal is banned in specific low smoke zones (LSZs) in cities and all towns with populations of more than 10,000 people.
It is estimated that air pollution causes 1,410 premature deaths each year in Ireland and around 1,300 are believed to be caused by emissions of fine particulate matter from burning solid fuels.
The first partial ban was brought in about 30 years ago and health campaigners have been fighting for a nationwide ban ever since.
Irish Heart Foundation chief executive Dr Tim Collins said: "It looks like they are long-fingering the process. We are currently in a climate emergency. If we can’t tackle something as simple and straightforward as a national smoky coal ban, what hope do we have of being able to tackle some of the bigger issues around the use of fossil fuels?"
Fianna Fáil senator Timmy Dooley, whose Clean Air (Smoky Coal Ban) Bill 2021 is progressing through the Seanad, said: “The Department of the Environment just needs to get on with it and get it done. This is not a complex piece of legislation and it is truly shocking that the Department of the Environment is not moving more quickly.
“If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that legislation can be enacted and laws can be changed. We owe to the memory of the thousands of people who have died so far that we don't end up with another 1,300 premature deaths in 2022."
A Department of the Environment spokesperson said: “Government has committed to a nationwide ban on smoky coal by the end of its term. But we also need to regulate other solid fuels. The introduction of new standards for solid fuel is not one simple thing. It will require new legislation. It is not possible to give a specific timeframe for finalization and implementation of new regulations. However, we expect a draft regulation to be ready towards the end of the year."