News & Media

Clean air is essential to healthy human life- Burton

18 December 2019

Speech by Joan Burton
Spokesperson on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and the Arts

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Clean air and clean water are fundamental essentials to healthy, human life. The Labour Party motion tonight is to stress – not-with-standing that we are one of the most advanced countries in the world, as the Taoiseach would say we are third on the UN list of places to live and quality of life – yet we have neither clean air nor clean water, because of the refusal of this Government to actually implement a country wide smoky coal ban.

The list of additional towns which are to be added to the smoky coal ban come next September accounts for over 156,000 people, however what about the people left behind? The people who live in towns like Dunboyne, in Aranmore, in Nenagh, and other such areas right across the country. That’s some 356,592 people who are being denied the right to clean air.

The Government has shown neglect in terms of its organisation of the Health Service, not-with-standing that yesterday we passed a budget allocation of €17bn, the highest figure ever. Yet the Government has within its own remit, if only it could find the courage, the power to actually cut the waiting figures at a stroke, by introducing clean air right across all the major towns and villages in this country.

It is difficult to know why the Government is distinguishing, for example, between Enniscorthy with a population of 11,000, which will be covered by the clean air directive come next September, while leaving Gorey, with a population of just under 10,000, out. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense in terms of all those children who are suffering from asthma, as well as older people who have suffered from asthma all their lives, and the many people who will suffer late age onset asthma in their 50s and 60s.

Please can this Government take public health and public wellbeing seriously and implement the ban.

The Government tells us that they have legal advice, but they refuse to tell us in any details about that legal advice, or to name where the legal advice comes from. Is this the individual legal opinion sought perhaps from a single Barrister or is this the direct opinion of the Attorney General?

As a former Minister, and indeed for anyone that has served in Government on previous occasions, will know that advice comes in all shapes and sizes to Governments, and if you want to, you can seek out the legal advice that best suits your desired outcome. This is what the Government seems to have done, because if the legal advice was as substantial as they suggest, I think they would have told us an awful lot more about it.

We have evidence that the smoky coal used in Ireland is 6% sulfer, the most dangerous component in terms of air pollution and damage to people’s health and lungs. We also have clear indications, most recently today in the Guardian, that when the air pollution is bad in a city or a town, the risk of serious heart and lung problems for vulnerable people is much, much higher.

So please give our health system a break, give our doctors and nurses a break, give our children a break, give our adults who are wheezing a break and clean up the air in this country. That’s all we want you to do. People will be grateful, and they will live significantly longer. At the moment, Ireland loses between 1,000 and 1,500 people to an untimely, early death that would not be the case if we cleaned up our act.