There has always been a tradition of burning coal in Ireland. We even mined coal in Ireland, in the not too distant past. And the person who delivered our fuel to our door, has long been called the "coal man". However due to the increase in concerns for health risks and air quality issues from "winter smog" (smoke and sulphur dioxide emissions)in the 1980's, the Department of Environment introduced legislation to control the sale and supply of 'smokey' coal.
The ban on the marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous fuel (or ‘smoky coal ban’) was first introduced in Dublin in 1990 in response to severe episodes of winter smog that resulted from the widespread use of smoky coal for residential heating. The ban proved effective in reducing smoke and sulphur dioxide levels and was subsequently extended to other areas. The ban now applies in twenty cities and towns.
Research indicated that the ban in Dublin resulted in over 350 fewer annual deaths. An estimate of these benefits in monetary terms put the value at over 20 million euro. Additional benefits of the regulations have also been identified through the stimulation for householders to switch from using solid fuels, which generally are less efficient and more polluting, to more efficient and less polluting gas and oil. The associated reduced fuel costs to consumers were estimated at 184 million euro per year.
Following the improvement of air quality in Dublin, the ban was rolled out to other cities and large towns as follows:
- Cork City since 1995
- Arklow, Drogheda, Dundalk, Limerick City and Wexford Town since 1998
- Celbridge, Galway City, Leixlip, Naas and Waterford City since 2000
- Bray, Kilkenny, Sligo and Tralee since 2003
- Athlone, Carlow, Clonmel and Ennis since 2011.