Europe will have the final say on any national turf ban

The European Commission will have the final say on the regulations that underpin the government’s plan to ban turf and could veto exemptions to support small rural communities.

Ministers Ianna Fáil and Fine Gael want the ban to be delayed during the current energy crisis and for the size of towns or villages exempt from the ban to be increased beyond the proposed limit of 500 people.

Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan is receiving requests from his coalition colleagues to review regulations that have yet to be introduced. However, there are fears that any significant changes to the rules could be rejected by the European Commission or lead to legal action by coal companies who will also see their products banned.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told his parliamentary party ‘the real bad guy is the smoky coal’ last night and said there would be no regulations which would affect ‘traditional turf practices’. Mr Martin said the rights of people who have grass on their land will also be protected.

However, he said the finalized regulations will have to be submitted to the European Commission.

At the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, former minister Charlie Flanagan said Mr Ryan should keep the TDs fully informed of the drafting of the regulations.

Mr Flanagan also said he hoped the Minister would heed the suggestion made by Fine Gael TDs during a heated meeting with Mr Ryan on Tuesday.

The ongoing row comes as the government rejected a Sinn Féin motion calling for the turf ban to be dropped and carbon taxes to be scrapped.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said their motion would cut the cost of petrol by 13c and diesel by 9pc, while a tank of heating oil would cost €113 less.

“Workers and families are under intense pressure from rising energy costs,” Doherty said. “While the government cannot protect everyone from every price increase, it can and should do more,” he added.

The carbon tax is set to increase from €7.50 to €41 per tonne on Sunday May 1.

In the Dáil, during Questions to the Chief, the Taoiseach accused Sinn Féin of “duplicity” in its motion opposing the ban on the commercial sale and distribution of turf.

“There is no ban. There is no ban on the use of turf in rural Ireland and there will be no ban for the rest of the year,” said Mr Martin said in response to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.

“Your motion is misleading, essentially getting rid of context,” he added.

Ms McDonald said the Taoiseach ‘couldn’t even convince their own backbench MPs of the merits of this plan’.

This was “despite the fact that people in rural Ireland, especially the elderly, low-income people with no alternative, will struggle and struggle hard,” she said.

She said she wanted to ask again that the government not proceed and that “common sense prevail”.

“This ban is the wrong decision at the wrong time. It is unfair, it alienates communities and it will be unworkable,” she added.

Meanwhile, Social Care Minister Heather Humphreys said the government was not “at war” and insisted the practice of cutting grass would eventually die out. Ms Humphreys made her Cabinet speech, telling her colleagues it won’t be a problem for the government as long as the little turf cutter is left alone.

“The right to cut the grass in your own bog is a long-standing Irish tradition.”

She said young people have ‘full lives’ and the ‘last thing’ they want to do is cut grass in the bog ‘with blisters on their hands’.

“It will fade with time, I’m sure. The Taosieach is clear and the government is very clear that people who continue to cut grass for their own domestic use will continue to do so,” she said.

Mary I. Bruner