Turf ban puts elderly ‘at risk’ – Advocates for older citizens condemn Eamon Ryan’s controversial plan
17th April 2022
Advocates for the elderly have joined the condemnation against the Green Party’s bid to ban the sale of turf, warning older citizens will be ‘placed at risk’.
The issue has caused tension in the Coalition, with many in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil vehemently opposed to the move, which the Greens’ leader Eamon Ryan insists will go ahead.
Crisis talks are set to be held between Government TDs and Environment Minister Ryan ‘as soon as the Dáil is back’ after the Easter break in a week’s time.
It comes amid fresh warnings over the potential impact of the proposal on the rural elderly community, many of whom rely on peat to heat their homes. The Irish Rural Link warned older people already try to stretch their fuel supply, leading to ‘fatal consequences’.© Provided by Extra.ie Advocates for the elderly have joined the condemnation against the Green Party’s bid to ban the sale of turf, warning older citizens will be ‘placed at risk’. Pic: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie
The charity ALONE added that older people are already choosing between ‘heating and eating’, while Age Action warned any sudden policy changes will put our older citizens ‘at risk’.
Some 90% of older people rely on fossil fuels for energy, with 14% reliant on peat or coal.
Celine Clarke, head of advocacy and communications at Age Action, told the Irish Daily Mail: ‘If we’re bringing in a new policy very quickly and there hasn’t been due consideration given to older persons in poorly insulated homes who can’t afford to transition and who rely on fossil fuels, such as turf, for heating, then we’re entering into a situation where we’re putting people at risk.’
She called for an ‘energy guarantee’ for the elderly which includes a cash payment linked to this rising cost of energy.
ALONE chief Seán Moynihan said: ‘Not everyone has a choice of heating options where they live.’
Rural Link chief Séamus Boland, meanwhile, hit out at comments made by Minister Ryan earlier this week stating the Government was not suggesting it was ‘going to put your granny in prison for burning turf down the road’.
‘My problem is his granny will be dying with the cold if he doesn’t change this,’ he told the Irish Daily Mail.
‘A lot of older people only really have their pension. The fuel allowance struggles to even buy turf, which is the cheapest fuel.
‘This announcement is catching too many off guard and they’re not going to be able to adjust [ahead of September].
‘Older people tend to spare their fuel anyway and, often, there are fatal consequences.
‘If they can’t buy their turf in September, what do they do?’
Climate Minister Ryan’s plan to ban the sale and distribution of turf is set to come into force on September 1.© Provided by Extra.ie Climate Minister Ryan’s plan to ban the sale and distribution of turf is set to come into force on September 1.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has demanded written guarantees that people will still be able to cut and burn their own turf.
Fianna Fáil Minister of State Seán Fleming said reliance on peat will phase itself out over the coming years without a Government crackdown. The TD for Laois-Offaly told the Irish Daily Mail that older people who rely on peat cannot afford to change their heating system or access the Government’s retrofitting scheme. He admitted the news earlier this week came as a ‘bombshell for people’ and is causing concern in rural Ireland.
Minister Fleming also argued that if people are not allowed to cut turf, it should not be allowed to be imported from countries such as Germany. He added: ‘Over a period of time, without Government forcing anything, [peat] will eventually peter out.’
A spokesman for Mr Ryan told the Mail last night that he is ‘happy to engage with Coalition partners on how the solid fuel regulations will be implemented’.
‘The focus will be on the largest sources of air pollution, which is the retail sale of smoky coal, turf and wet wood,’ he added.
While the Tánaiste told his parliamentary party meeting there would be a ‘pause’ in the plans, Mr Ryan insisted changes will come into effect from September 1.
There will be negotiations between the Coalition parties to ensure people will still be able to give or sell turf to neighbours.
The opposition is deeply critical of the proposal, with Sinn Féin’s agriculture spokesman Matt Carthy saying the ban was ‘the wrong move, at the wrong time and will penalise the wrong people’. ‘Turf has been one of the only forms of heating not to see prices spiral in recent months,’ he said.
‘The Government’s plan punishes communities who rely on turf, instead of introducing measures to support communities in transitioning away from this form of heating in a way that is fair and sustainable.’
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said she does not ‘want to see elderly people spend the day in bed because they can’t heat their home’. She told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne that an absence of turf in rural Ireland could mean ‘cold houses’ and ‘that is not acceptable’.© Provided by Extra.ie While the Tánaiste told his parliamentary party meeting there would be a ‘pause’ in the plans, Mr Ryan insisted changes will come into effect from September 1. Pic: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie
However, the Climate and Health Alliance, made up of public health organisations and advocacy groups, welcomed the plan.
Dr Colm Byrne said that the burning of smoky fuels, leads to 1,400 deaths each year.
‘We simply cannot delay the ban on the commercial sale of turf and must introduce the forthcoming solid fuel regulations in full as planned this September,’ he said.
Green Party Minister of State Ossian Smyth said the Tánaiste’s comments on Wednesday about a pause on the ban ‘alarmed him’.
‘It was agreed at Cabinet last September and the idea was to give a year for the distributors to work out their stock,’ he told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne.
‘To hear, “it’s all been paused”, it made me, obviously, worry that it had all been cancelled.’
However, Minister Smyth said he was ‘reassured’ by comments from the Tánaiste on Thursday.© Provided by Extra.ie Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said she does not ‘want to see elderly people spend the day in bed because they can’t heat their home’ Pic: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie
The Dún Laoghaire TD said there was ‘no intention ever’ to prevent people from cutting and burning their own turf.
Last September, Mr Ryan announced new standards for domestic solid fuels which he said would be introduced in a year.
However, there was no mention of a ban on the sale and distribution of turf in the announcement.
Instead, a release from Mr Ryan’s department stated a ‘regulatory regime to reduce its harm in more urbanised areas’ was under examination.
Green Party TD Patrick Costello said the ban must go ahead to protect public health and the climate. ‘I don’t think this will come as a surprise to any Cabinet colleagues,’ he said.
Government sources confirmed to the Irish Daily Mail that no memo went to Cabinet regarding a ban on the sale of turf.