The threat of draconian fines of up to €13,000 or two years in jail contradict a statement made by Eamon Ryan, Environment Minister when earlier this year regarding his turf ban bill he said: ‘It’s not “we’re gonna put your granny in prison for burning turf down the road” or is it? It now appears that his promise was untrue as hidden aspects of his bill that even TD’s were unaware of are now revealing draconian penalties for the burning of turf that many people rely on to keep warm throughout the winter. Ryan claimed that the regulations in his bill were about improving air quality for everyone. There are no studies and there is no evidence to support Ryan’s claim. People who burn ‘excessive’ amounts of turf without ‘excessive’ even being defined could face two years in jail under Ryan’s new regulations that came into force on Monday. Excessive is not a definable or quantifiable measurement by any stretch of the imagination. Who decides what it means and how can they legally support such a claim?
Soviet or Nazi Style Invasiveness
Local authorities will be given the task of policing this measure and ensuring that people burning turf to heat their homes aren’t creating a ‘significant level of air pollution and causing a nuisance to [their] neighbours’. Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy, said: ‘There is no evidence that the burning of turf causes significant air pollution’. Michael Fitzmaurice TD questioned how the regulations would be policed. ‘How do you choose which house to go to?’ he asked. Ryan’s regulations imply that a nasty neighbour in good old Soviet or Nazi fashion can be a nuisance and make a malicious nuisance complaint or ‘shop you’ for burning what they claim to be excessive turf burning. Nosy, nasty neighbours will have a field day with this madness.
Ryan’s smoky fuels ban, a pet project of the Green Party, caused major conflict within the Coalition earlier this year. The conflict has arisen again as there are new concerns among TD’s that the implications of the legislation was not fully ‘communicated’. Did they not read the bill they voted for? If not that would be extreme negligence on their part. Alan Dillon, Fine Gael TD for Mayo said: ‘I’d certainly feel like a lot of Oireachtas members were not aware of it, nor was it communicated in the manner where our original concerns were being addressed by Minister Ryan.‘ He went on ‘We don’t want people who rely on turf to heat their homes to have this uncertainty laid upon them that could result in a letter of prosecution from your local authority after breaking a regulation they were not aware of.’ He called for ‘further debate’ and ‘clarification’ on the subject. Didn’t he read the bill?
Michael Fitzmaurice, Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway and a turf cutter, described the Department of the Environment move as a ‘veiled threat’ and warned that there would be ‘kickback’ within the Government parties. ‘If the department thinks they can put that in at the last minute – because that wasn’t in it, there’s no point in saying that it was – there will be a kickback from it. That line will be rejigged, I think,’ he said. Fitzmaurice questioned the policing of the regulations. ‘How do you choose which house to go to?’ he asked. He said he would talk to backbench Government TDs when the Dáil returns from recess next week, and he may put down a Dail motion if this is not resolved. In the initial bill, the sale or gifting of turf was to be completely banned. Following a strong Leinster House backlash, it was agreed that anyone with turbary (traditionally granted rights) rights – could continue to give turf to their neighbours.
Ryan’s Chainmail Fist
The new regulations, despite Ryan’s promise, however say that anyone burning turf could still face prosecution. In a FAQ document the Department of the Environment warned that turf burners are still liable for prosecution. Ryan’s hidden chainmail fist was finally exposed in the document that states: ‘It is important to note that if the use of turf or any other substance in your household is creating a significant level of air pollution and causing a nuisance to your neighbours, you can be prosecuted by your local authority under the Air Pollution Act.‘ They don’t define ‘significant level’. A Department of the Environment spokesman said: ‘It has always been the case that under the Air Pollution Act an emission of air pollution from any premises, which is proven to cause a nuisance, can be prosecuted. The new regulations do not change this in any way. Investigation and prosecution of nuisance complaints are a matter for local authorities. This provision is not confined to turf/peat, or to any solid fuels for that matter.’
Local authorities will now be required to employ an enforcer to police if turf or other ‘prohibited fuel’ is being sold in its area or if any premises (your home is not a premises) are burning fuels causing air pollution. Under the Air Pollution Act an offender can be subject to fines of up to €12,700 or face ‘imprisonment for any term not exceeding two years’. ‘If the department thinks they can put that in at the last minute – because that wasn’t in it, there’s no point in saying that it was – there will be a kickback’ said Michael Fitzmaurice, Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway.
More Turf Burning Than Ever
Sinn Féin’s agriculture spokesman, Matt Carthy, said: ‘Going back to the original debate, there is no evidence that the burning of turf causes significant air pollution in the wider sense of the issue, which is very important.’ Comparing this to previous years, Mr Carthy said there had never been so much turf cut ‘thanks to Eamon Ryan’s mishandling of the whole situation’. Under the new rules, the advertising of turf is also banned, and it cannot be sold online or in shops across the country. However, a review of ‘DoneDeal’ the online marketplace by the Irish Mail shows that multiple individuals were selling turf on the day the new regulations came into force.
Responding to a parliamentary question last week, Minister Ryan said enforcement of his act was a matter for local authorities. He said: ‘Initial enforcement efforts will focus on working with and helping retailers in understanding and complying with their obligations under the new framework.’ That’s about advertising and selling and not about burning. Ryan also said he was introducing the regulations because he claimed that 1,300 people die prematurely each year from illnesses caused or exacerbated by air pollution from solid fuel burning. He provided no substantiation for such a questionable claim nor did he quantify what percentage if any of this resulted from turf burning.
‘I do not consent’
When the local authority turf Gestapo arrive at your door you have no obligation to open it or engage with them. They have no right to come on to your property to inspect, monitor or measure turf burning or anything else. Any attempt on their part to do so is an infringement of your rights. Do not engage or interact with them in any way. You have no obligation to do so. They are intruders with no rights. Any claims, badges, documents of authority or other bits of paper they produce to con you into compliance are basically fraudulent. Ask them if they have a search warrant signed by a judge which can only be obtained in cases of criminality. Turf burning is not a criminal offence regardless of the quantity. They have no absolutely authority. Firmly but politely send them on their way simply saying ‘I do not consent’.
How Much is Excessive
- What parameters will be used to determine or define what is excessive turf burning?
- How can it be measured by any method with any quantifiable accuracy?
- Excessive is not a quantifiable measurement by any stretch of the imagination.
- Who decides what it means and how can they legally support such a claim?
- Since there is no legally defined ‘excessive’ amount for turf burning and no way to measure it, the only thing that can be defined as excessive is Eamon Ryan’s entirely ridiculous act.
- There is no measurable legal definition of what constitutes excessive turf burning.
- Since there are no legal enforcement procedures and no legal definition of ‘excessive’ it’s all hot air with intent to frighten you, turf or no turf.