Extending a ban on smoky coal has been curbed by the threat of legal action from coal firms, the Taoiseach has said.
The Government has been heavily criticised for its failure to introduce a ban across the country.
Leo Varadkar told the Dáil it is the Government’s priority to improve air quality.
He said the coal firms indicated they would challenge the extended ban and the existing block on the grounds that the Government should also ban other polluting fuels including wood and peat.
It comes after a report in the Irish Times from the Clean Air Alliance said air pollution was killing four people in Ireland every day.
In 1990, then minister Mary Harney introduced a ban on smoky coal in the Dublin region and it was later extended to cover 80% of the country.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the ban had had a “radical and beneficial impact” on public health and the environment.
“It saved many lives and improved the quality of health of many others,” he said.
“It was followed by extending the ban to other cities and across the country but not in all locations.
“Thirty years later it is incomprehensible that the last two Fine Gael governments have failed to introduce a nationwide ban on smoky coal despite numerous promises to do so.”
He said a report from the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) shows towns not covered by the ban continuously breach air quality guidelines.
“Enniscorthy has the highest observed concentrations of this pollutant, while Longford town and Roscommon and other areas are in a similar situation.
Mr Varadkar said he wants to improve air quality across the country for health reasons and to tackle climate change.
He added: “We can do this in two ways – by restricting or banning the sale of smoky fossil fuels and the second is reversing some of the errors made in the past by encouraging people to buy diesel cars which we know is very bad for air quality.
“The difficulty that we are running into is that a number of coal firms had indicated they will challenge the introduction of nationwide smoky coal ban which is Government policy.”
He said Environment Minister Richard Bruton has received advice from the Attorney General and is working to finalise a legally robust plan.
“They (coal firms) have indicated that they would challenge the ban on the grounds that we should also ban other fossil fuels which they claim do as much harm in terms of air pollution and that would be wood and peat,” Mr Varadkar added.
“We have to give this proper consideration.”
Mr Martin said his response was “pathetic” and “incredibly weak”.
“You should have taken them on without any hesitation,” he added.
– Press Association
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