Turf ban: Government urged to ‘ditch’ plans to curtail commercial sales

ireland
Turf Ban: Government Urged To ‘Ditch’ Plans To Curtail Commercial Sales Turf Ban: Government Urged To ‘Ditch’ Plans To Curtail Commercial Sales
The sale of turf dominated proceedings in the Dail on Tuesday. Photo: PA
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By Dominic McGrath, PA

Plans to curtail the commercial sale of turf in Ireland must be “ditched”, the Dáil has heard.

The sale of turf dominated proceedings in the Dáil on Tuesday, as politicians returned to the chamber following the Easter break.

The Government has become bogged down in the controversy, which has prompted the ire of rural communities and some backbench Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs.

The row has posed a challenge to the stability of the three-party coalition Government, and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan on Tuesday sought to reassure his Cabinet and coalition colleagues that the plan is proportionate and will not amount to a full-scale ban.

There were jeers and shouts in the chamber as the Taoiseach faced down questions about the Government’s plan to curtail the commercial sale of turf.

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Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called on the plans to curtail the sale of turf to be ditched. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused Government ministers of being at “sixes and sevens” over the issue and said that mixed messaging had “sowed confusion” over policy on turf.

“Your proposed outright ban on the sale of turf has caused real distress and frustration for rural communities,” Ms McDonald said.

“The timing of the ban couldn’t be worse, as people are hammered by the cost-of-living crisis.”

She said that for many people, turf is the only affordable way to heat their homes.

“It is not hard to see why rural households are so frustrated, because you have placed them between a rock and a hard place.”

She called the proposal a “punishment for people with no alternative way to heat their home”.

Referencing recent comments by Mr Ryan and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, she accused the Government of overseeing a “merry-go-round of contradictions”.

Ms McDonald urged the Government to “ditch” the plan.

She also took the opportunity to urge Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backbenchers to back a Sinn Féin motion on the issue on Tuesday evening opposing the plan.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin defended the plan. Photo: James Manning/PA

There was laughter and heckles in the Dáil chamber, as Micheál Martin responded to the criticisms on turf instead with a lengthy list of the Government efforts to tackle the cost of living.

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After turning to the issue of turf, Mr Martin defended the plan.

“There’ll be no restriction on people who own their own bog to use turf in their domestic fire or people who share turf with regard to their neighbours.”

There’s no ban on the gifting of peat, he said, for those “with rights to harvest”.

He appealed for a “balanced debate” on the issue.

“You didn’t mention air quality once in your presentation,” he told Ms McDonald.

Ms McDonald hit back, telling the Taoiseach: “Fair and balanced debate means you have to stick to the facts and the fact is that nothing has been done in respect of home heating oil.

“Don’t attribute falsehoods to me, by advancing a falsehood of your own.

“You accept what I have said, you have accepted that the ban as proposed by Minister Ryan is utterly wrong, utterly unfair and will leave people in rural Ireland, particularly older people, particular people on lower incomes, in a really, really difficult place.”

She called it a “madcap, half-baked, unfair notion”.

The debate descended into further shouts and jeers, as Mr Martin accused Sinn Féin of being “duplicitous” over the issue of carbon tax and said that the opposition TDs were being opportunistic over the issue.

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“For you, this is manna from heaven,” he said.

“All of you know that anything that is being proposed will have no impact this winter. The traditional practices in rural Ireland will continue in relation to turf.”

The cut-and-thrust of the debate on turf production prompted Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl to call for greater respect for timekeeping in the Dáil.

“After a two-week recess, I would have thought people would have come back more restrained,” he chided.

 

Earlier, Green Party politicians hit back at critics of plans to curtail the commercial sale of turf, calling it a “life-saving” measure.

Mr Ryan said on Tuesday that the proposal was “workable”.

Speaking on his way into Cabinet, he said: “It is a workable, proper good legal approach. Ignoring air pollution, ignoring the fact it is killing our people, I don’t think that’s an option or solution.”

Pippa Hackett, the Green Party junior minister in the Department of Agriculture, defended the proposals.

“This is ultimately about air quality, it’s about saving people’s lives, improving people’s quality of life.”

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Explained: What's the plan to ban turf in my fire?
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The Co Offaly senator said: “I know full well what this plan means for a lot of people on the ground and I think that’s why the proposals are quite fair as they stand.

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“We are proposing the people in most small villages in Ireland will not be affected by this. They will still have access to turf, they still will be able to buy it and they still would be able to burn it.

“It’s the larger urban centres that have the high air quality problem.”

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