The department responsible for the environment in NI says it has ‘no plans’ to ban smoky coal in the North.
The announcement comes on National Clear Air Day and after an SDLP report released last week concluded that Derry City and Strabane has the worst air pollution in the North.
Derry councillors recently rejected an application for coal processing in Derry but the product can still be marketed, sold, distributed and burned in the city.
The Irish government introduced a smoky coal ban 30 years ago in response to severe episodes of winter smog that resulted from the widespread use of smoky coal for residential heating.
Widespread use of bituminous (smoky coal) gives rise to serious health effects in the population and damages the environment.
The ban is enforced in different parts of the Republic of Ireland, called Low Smoke Zones (LSZs), but people have called for that to be extended nationwide.
A ban on the burning of smoky coal and other prohibited fuels now applies in all LSZs to complement the ban on the marketing, sale and distribution of those fuels in those areas.
This means that even ‘smoky’ fuels bought elsewhere cannot now be burned in a Low Smoke Zone.
Just across the border from Derry, in Letterkenny, a ban has been in force since 2013.
The Irish government says that the smoky coal ban allowed significant falls in respiratory problems and premature deaths from the effects of burning smoky coal in the existing Low Smoke Zones.
The original ban in Dublin is cited widely as a successful policy intervention and has become something of an ‘icon of best practice within the international clean air community,’ according to the Irish government.
Approximately 8,000 premature deaths have been averted in Dublin since the introduction of the ban back in 1990.
The Derry News asked The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) if it plans to mirror the ban in the south to protect the health of citizens.
And what protections are in place to prevent companies no longer able to trade in the south from moving their businesses over the border.
In response, a DAERA Spokesperson said: “The Department has no current plans to introduce a ban on the sale of smoky coal in Northern Ireland.
“However, the Department has been developing NI’s first draft Clean Air Strategy.
“This involves close collaboration with other departments and once complete the public will be consulted on any proposals later in the year.”
A campaign to improve air quality in Derry and Strabane – which has the worst air pollution in Northern Ireland – was launched by Sinéad McLaughlin and the SDLP last week.
She said: “We have to take air pollution much, much more seriously. It is causing large numbers of premature deaths in Derry and Strabane, contributing to mortality from respiratory illnesses, heart disease and cancer.
“There is already clear evidence that bad air quality is a major contributory factor in Covid-19 mortality.
"Smoky coal is one of the very worst causes of air pollution, which is reducing the life expectancy of people across Derry.”
She added: “The SDLP has been campaigning for years to ban smoky coal and also to prevent its export across the border into the Republic.
“And for years we have had resistance from DUP politicians, including as ministers.
“I have asked both the environment and economy ministers to move forward in banning smoky coal.
“If we are serious about improving air quality we have to do much more about tackling the causes of air pollution, which includes banning the most polluting types of coal.
“I am very sympathetic to the position in the Republic, where successive governments have tried to ban smoky coal, but their action has been undermined by smoky coal being brought into Northern Ireland and then taken across the border for sale and use in the Republic."
The DUP was asked whether it supports a ban in terms of the sale and distribution of smoky coal within Northern Ireland
And a ban on the exporting of smoky coal from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland.
No response was received at the time of publication but in the past DUP MP Sammy Wilson strongly opposed proposals saying that low-income households who use cheap coal would be adversely affected as smokeless coal costs more.
In response then Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said: “It is great to hear Saint Sammy, defender of the disadvantaged — I do not know what happened to Sammy, the champion of the Tory cuts — make all these arguments on behalf of those suffering fuel poverty.
“There is not a word about the big business interests of those in the coal business or, indeed, the interests of Larne port in his own constituency.”
DAERA Minister before the Assembly collapsed, DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen also said it was not her intention to ban smoky coal in the North.
The issue has not been high on the agenda since the institutions were reformed.
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