Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Environmental Policy: Motion [Private Members]
I welcome and support this motion. Our environment is showing concerning signs of reaching critical thresholds in many spheres. Air quality and water quality are two of the warning signs that we will ignore at our peril. The impact of these are felt mainly by the poorer, the more vulnerable and the less well-off in our society. Poor air quality is a direct effect of our over-reliance on fossil fuels and private cars for transport.
The People Before Profit budget submission stated that we need to have free public transport in order to reduce our reliance on carbon-producing fuels, while also improving air quality. It is not reinventing the wheel. Free public transport is becoming a demand in cities across America and in some European capitals. It is a logical response to this type of crisis. Traffic volumes returned to pre-crash levels and then went even higher this year. Meanwhile, Dublin Bus has nearly as many vehicles as it had in 2009. Worsening traffic congestion in the city leads to some areas having the worst air pollution readings. The detrimental effects to which buses give rise are caused by gridlock in the city.
According to the EPA report, 1,180 premature deaths in Ireland are linked to poor air quality which is an astonishing figure and greatly exceeds the figure for deaths on our roads, which we often talk about. However, we seldom bring this statistic into our discourse. These figures are not new and have been around for several years. We are looking at them because we have increased the number of monitors, with 17 new ones put in place across the country this year. Scotland alone has 88 such monitoring stations and has had this real-time information for many years. Many of the hotspots the monitors have identified are in areas of economic deprivation such as Ballyfermot, where I live. As well as having a high level of traffic congestion, there is an over-concentration of waste management facilities dotted around west Dublin where Ballyfermot is located. This gives rise to an increase in the number of pollutants in the air.
The delay in the ban on solid fuels has been caused by the companies lobbying the Minister. This is not unconnected to the lobbying that occurred in connection with trying to stop bringing the use of fossil fuels to an end. That sort of lobbying of the Department is highly influential on the Minister's decision and any threats of legal action send him running. It is a real sign that there is no proper will to deal with this. The type of air pollution to which I refer generates particulate matter, which has severe effects on the heart, liver and reproductive organs and causes stress and anxiety. It particularly impacts on babies, children in buggies and wheelchair users because they are closer to ground level and suck in more of the particulate matter and poison their bodies. This is clearly detrimental to people's health. While one could argue that free public transport would be very costly, it would undoubtedly take cars off the roads. We need to consider the cost on our health service of diseases that affect the lungs and cause asthma, COPD, etc. We could considerably reduce our health budget by implementing free public transport across the country and removing hundreds of thousands of cars from our roads. That would be a good start and the Minister having a bit of courage to implement the smoky coal ban would be a good follow-up.