Former Tánaiste Mary Harney will always be remembered as the minister who saved thousands of lives by introducing smokeless coal zones in this country.
The ban was introduced in Dublin in September 1990 after several years of severe winter smog. Five years later it was extended to a number of other major urban areas including Waterford city.
The ban significantly reduced smoke and sulphur dioxide levels and improved public health, particularly for those with cardiac or respiratory conditions such as asthma.
About 1,300 people in this country die every year from complications caused by air pollution. Scientists believe that the ban on smokeless coal has saved between 8,000 to 10,000 lives to date.
Hard to believe then that, last week, a UCC professor announced that, for a short period in December, the air quality in New Ross, only 15 miles from Waterford, was worse than that in Beijing.
Senior executive scientist with Wexford County Council, Brendan Cooney, pointed out that New Ross was not a smokeless coal area.
The town was situated in a valley and smoke from house fires did not dissipate easily, especially when calm conditions prevailed. The most dangerous times were between 4 and 10pm when people came home from work and lit their fires.Consequently, the government has decided to make the entire country a smokeless coal area from next September.The Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly highlighted that air quality is significantly worse in smaller towns during the winter months because large quantities of solid fuel are being burned.Ireland was required to consult with the European Commission to give effect to the ban to ensure the measures are compatible with EU legislation