Mayo TD Michael Ring has said Fine Gael will do everything it can to ensure families and communities that rely on turf are “respected and protected”.
After some very public clashes with the Minister for the Environment and the leader of the Greens Eamon Ryan Because of plans to ban turf sales, there has been little sign of success in efforts to defuse the dispute with Fine Gael.
Greens sources have indicated that the junior coalition party is avoiding comment in order to calm tempers and work out detailed compromise measures. Fine Gael opposition, however, was undiminished.
Mr Ring, a former Minister for Rural Development, was among a number of Fine Gael backbenchers who clashed with Mr Ryan at a special meeting on the issue last week.
Yesterday, in a statement issued through Fine Gael’s press office, he said the party was working across government to ensure a fair solution to proposals to curb peat sales and distribution.
But he emphasized that his greatest sympathies are with those who rely on peat for heating.
“I fully understand the stress and concern this issue has caused many people and we are doing everything we can to resolve it,” said Mr. Ring.
“My colleagues and I are fully committed to ensuring that traditional turf practices never end.”
As things stand, Mr. Ryan is determined to curb the use of fuels such as smoke charcoal, wet wood and peat. But people with peat cutting rights are still allowed to harvest peat.
In municipalities with fewer than 500 inhabitants, an exception to the peat sales ban applies, and donations and exchanges between neighbors are also allowed to continue.
But there is continued pressure from the backbenchers of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to end this population limit clause.
There is also confusion over when the turf ban with Taoiseach will come into effect Michael Martin say it won’t be this year but Mr Ryan says it will come into force in September.
Mr Ring said he and his colleagues would continue to protect the rights of people in rural Ireland while ensuring all communities do their part to tackle the climate challenge.
He said solutions such as expediting the delivery of home retrofits to specific communities that have higher peat consumption should be explored.
“Retrofitting homes is a key tool to reduce both energy use and bills,” he said.
“However, the National Retrofitting Scheme was not introduced until February 2022. The immense amount of work required to retrofit homes inevitably means that time is needed for the transition.”
Mr Ring also insisted that the reality is that peat is needed now and will be needed well into the future.
“There are no alternative sources readily available to replace turf,” he said.
He explained that people have been cutting, selling and buying peat for generations.
“In many parts of rural Ireland it’s an integral part of our way of life.
“And while we must improve our air quality and protect public health, we must acknowledge the reality that turf use contributes to only a very small fraction of air quality problems.”
The Mayo TD also criticized Sinn Féin for using the topic “in a cynical way”.
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