Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Environmental Policy: Motion [Private Members]
Like my colleagues, I strongly support the Labour Party motion. Potentially four people die every day as a result of poor air quality. Deputies Burton and Browne mentioned some of the towns in Wexford. In some of those towns at night, smoky coal can be tasted in the air. If somebody has asthma or another respiratory illness, it causes serious problems. In some cases, people cannot even leave their own homes.
I do not accept the Minister's argument about freedom to trade and the fear over court cases. As he well knows, there are public policy and public health considerations that can override provisions with regard to freedom to trade.
Introducing a ban in a number of selected towns clearly does not work. This afternoon, I spoke to the senior executive scientist with Wexford County Council and got the figures for particulate matter in the air last night. In Enniscorthy and New Ross, the levels of particulate matter in the air were four times the level that is regarded as safe. The level was also exceeded in Gorey but also in Wexford town at around 8 p.m. last night. In Wexford town, the smoky coal ban is already in place but there is nothing to stop somebody from getting smoky coal outside the town and bringing it back in. There are problems regarding enforcement. The only effective approach is a national smoky coal ban. We need to address the issues concerning smuggling. This means we do have to have a stronger role for customs and Revenue in this area.
When I was a member of Wexford County Council, councillors sought to introduce a county-wide ban and to use the provisions under the Air Pollution Act 1997 to set up special control areas so each local authority could ban the sale and burning of smoky coal within its own area. That proposal has sat in the Minister's Department since he became the responsible Minister.
As my colleagues have all stated, we are talking about potentially 1,500 deaths every year. Dr. Thomas Münzel has written in the European Heart Journalthat air pollution now causes more deaths than smoking. We have taken very strong action to try to reduce harm caused by tobacco. Why will the Minister not show the same leadership in trying to stop deaths and problems for those with respiratory illnesses as a result of smoky coal as several Governments showed with regard to tobacco?