Michael made sure to raise the wider issue of the future of rural Ireland, where Eamon Ryan (unfortunately for him) appears to have been unanimously cast as the new Shane Ross
And if Eamon Ryan – already a rank outsider in the ‘Most Popular Person in Rural Ireland’ betting – wanted to, er…‘stoke’ or ‘inflame’ some people, he could hardly have picked a more sensitive subject.
Responding to a question from Fine Gael’s Brendan Griffin, the Environment Minister revealed his plans to ban the sale and distribution of turf from September 1st – this year.
Cue some outrage (and some support). The court of public opinion (Liveline) crackled with commentary. And then our man, Michael Fitz, weighed in…
I thought Michael (Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice) had been a bit quiet lately, but if anything gets his dander up it is perceived attacks on rural Ireland, those pesky (to him) Greens…and especially any penalising of turfcutters. Because, not only has Michael built his political career on highlighting rural issues, he’s also the Chairperson of the Turf Cutters & Contractors Association. Eamon Ryan can hardly have been surprised that Michael was quick out of the traps, branding the proposed turf ban as ‘lunacy’.
The story begins with a parliamentary question put down by Deputy Griffin. Minister Ryan, in his response, took the opportunity to insist that solid fuel burning is an established health risk. Action would be required.
Minister Ryan didn’t mince his words. He told the Fine Gael TD that “every year, some 1,300 people die prematurely in Ireland due to air pollution from solid fuel burning”.
He added: “A regulatory provision will be made to prohibit the placing on the market, sale or distribution of sod peat…this approach will facilitate those with turbary rights to continue to cut and burn sod peat for their own domestic purposes, while also reducing the use of sod peat…”
In short, he plans to ban the sale of turf from September 1st. People can still burn their own turf. Deputy Fitzmaurice was not impressed.
“Are we going down the road where if a person with an elderly neighbour supplies them with a load of turf for free or at cost that they could be ‘done’ for distributing turf? Are we really going to label generous neighbours the same way we do drug dealers…possession with intent to supply?”
The Independent TD said that the Minister’s ban would hurt vulnerable people who are currently suffering from fuel poverty.
“At a time of war in Europe and soaring energy prices, Minister Ryan thinks now is right to prevent hard-pressed people from being able to buy a couple of trailers of turf to warm themselves next winter”.
Before he finished, Michael made sure to raise the wider issue of the future of rural Ireland, where Eamon Ryan (unfortunately for him) appears to have been unanimously cast as the new Shane Ross. But when it comes to the blame game, Fitzmaurice widened his net, to include some familiar folk.
Fitz: “The assault on rural Ireland continues, and Minister Ryan is leading the charge with the full support of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. This inexcusable act of government overreach must be resisted.
“It is now time that all rural TDs, from every party, stand up and be counted, instead of just blaming the Greens for everything. Without their support, this can’t happen. There is no logic to this move”.
Is our centuries-old relationship with turf about to experience a seismic change?