A national ban on the sale of smoky coal and restrictions on sales of turf and unseasoned wood are among proposed new regulations on solid fuels.

Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said this is to prevent deaths caused by particulates - the tiny pieces of soot, ash or dust produced by fires. 

Solid fuel is, along with motor transport, one of the main sources of the particulates in Ireland, and European research has found that fine particulate pollution caused 1,300 premature deaths in Ireland in 2018.

The sale of bituminous or smoky coal in Ireland has been banned in all cities and towns with a population over 10,000 people, and the new proposals would make that ban nationwide. 

The sale of other solid fuels such as unseasoned or wet wood, and or sod turf could also be banned. 

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Mr Ryan has said people who cut their own turf, or get it through "traditional arrangements" would still be able to do so, but the sale of turf through retail or distribution would stop. 

Smokeless solid fuels which meet the regulations under the Air Pollution Act such as briquettes, smokeless coal, and dry wood could still be sold.

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Minister Ryan has said he believes a ban on wet wood and extending the smoky coal ban can be achieved in the lifetime of this Government.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland he said the Government's plan to tackle air pollution is about increasing standards to protect peoples' health. 

He believes a public consultation process, focused on all smoky fuels including wood and turf, will bring a supportive response. 

The Green Party leader said 1,300 people each year are dying prematurely because of air pollution and that the problem is critical. "This is the reason this is being done", he said.

Thirty years ago in Dublin city a ban on smoky coal was introduced and more towns and cities followed but, he said, there are still some towns where it does not exist and more widely across communities. 

"It makes real sense to switch to smokeless coal. It is a better fuel, and is also better for peoples' pockets as well as for their lungs".

He said it also makes sense to look at products such as wood and turf to use the best quality and to protect peoples' health, adding that there won't be an outright ban and people will be allowed to continue to burn their own turf and wood.

He said it is about setting standards for those selling the wood and turf so it doesn't cause pollution in the home and broader environment, and he believes all political parties will support that.

Reflecting on the wider government plan, he said they are only starting on the process of going into half a million houses to retrofit them and making sure people have cosier and healthier homes.

"That is what we are focused on and committed to".

The Department has also said there should be measures to help people move towards less polluting ways to heat their homes, and points to the commitments to a retrofitting programme for home insulation included in the Climate Action Plan. 

The Environmental Protection Agency has welcomed the proposals, saying "levels of air pollutants in Ireland are above the World Health Organization guideline values at monitoring stations across the country." 

"This includes exceedances of the WHO guideline values for particulates from the burning of smoky fuel in cities, towns and villages." 

Doctors who have researched the effects of air pollution also favour tighter restrictions on solid fuel.

Consultant Geriatrician at the Mater Hospital in Dublin Dr Colm Byrne has found that spikes in particulate pollution during winter months put people at increased risk of suffering strokes.

He has also pointed out that lighting fires or stoves affects not only the air quality outside, but also within the home. He said researchers at Trinity College Dublin have found a link between increased particulate pollution and dementia. 

Anybody who wants to have their say on the proposals can do so, contributing to the public consultation which runs until 2 April.

Details are available on the Department of Environment's website. 

Minister of State in the Department of Agriculture, Pippa Hackett, says the programme for government has clear objectives to develop policies for cleaner air.

She added that research shows that 350 lives per year were saved when smoky coal was banned in Dublin 30 years ago. Ms Hackett said nothing is set in stone and the consultation process is designed to let everyone have their say.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Philip Boucher Hayes, she said that nothing has been banned and there isn't a ban on wood nor are people being told that they cannot burn fuel, but that people are being encouraged to burn drier wood and better quality fuel.

She said that she is a farmer and they burn wood but that "the drier the wood, the better". In essence, she said, this is about putting pressure on industry and not households.

Sinn Féin Agriculture Spokesperson Matt Carthy said Fianna Fáil and the Green Party were both clearly out of touch and playing to their "narrow political bases" by having a spat over the issue.

Mr Carthy said twice as many people die a year as a result of fuel poverty, compared to air pollution, and that while these figures had reduced somewhat over the last ten years, they returned to 2007 levels last year.

Speaking on the same programme, he said that to suggest the answer is to stop people burning turf or wood in their home fires when, in many cases they have no alternative, is "tokenism".