A Sinn Féin Dáil motion targeted at Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan’s controversial plans to ban the sale of turf was defeated by eight votes on Wednesday night after rural Coalition TDs received assurances the proposals would not go ahead as planned.
Amid some rancourous exchanges and tactical use of parliamentary procedures, the Sinn Féin motion on the rising cost of home heating fuels was defeated by 72 votes to 64 when the vote was taken at 10pm.
The electronic vote was followed by a roll call of all members which was called by Sinn Féin whip Pádraig Mac Lochlainn. The result was the same with all Coalition TDs voting with the Government.
A commitment by Taoiseach Micheál Martin not to ban turf sales for the remainder of the year had ensured certain defeat of the motion.
The proposal by Mr Ryan to ban the sale of turf from September had led to strong opposition from rural TDs in both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and had caused the biggest divisions within the Coalition since the row over the Canadian trade agreement at the end of 2020.
However, concessions by Mr Ryan during meetings with TDs and Senators from both parties, as well as assurances given by Mr Martin in the Dáil and at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party on Wednesday greatly reduced tensions on the issue.
The Sinn Féin motion was directed at rural TDs from the two main Government parties who had expressed opposition to the proposed ban since it came back on the agenda before the Easter recess.
The ban on turf sales was scheduled to commence in September but the Taoiseach told the Dáil: “There is no ban on the use of turf in rural Ireland and there will be no ban for the remainder of the year.”
Later he told Fianna Fáil colleagues that the party would maintain a “constructive” approach to the issue.
“There will be no proposals which affect traditional turf practices or the sharing of turf in rural Ireland. The rights people currently have will be protected in rural areas,” he told the meeting.
He said the real villain was smoky coal, which was the primary focus. However, smoky coal cannot be banned on its own without including some measures to restrict other smoky fuels such as turf and wet wood.
A Green Party source said there was some concern in the party that it could have compromised too much, leaving the Government vulnerable to legal challenge from smoky coal distributors on grounds of equity.
Mr Martin told the meeting the Sinn Féin motion on energy costs was opportunistic and would remove a lot of the ringfenced funding for just transition measures, funding for retrofitting, fuel poverty supports and agri-environmental projects.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Government would vote against its motions despite frustration being felt right across rural communities and “despite the fact you couldn’t even convince your own back benchers of the merits of this plan”.
“This plan is the wrong move at the wrong time,” she added. “It’s unfair, it alienates communities and it will be unworkable.”
Mr Martin said the only way the Government could implement the motion was to get rid of legislation that underpins the carbon tax.
As well as scrapping the turf ban, Sinn Féin’s motion had called on the Government to cancel the planned carbon tax increase from May 1st and to temporarily remove excise duty on home heating oil.
A separate motion tabled by the rural Independents to remove the carbon tax was also defeated. Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae claimed Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil had “lost rural Ireland” because of its environmental policies.