GOVERNMENT officials are to travel to Ennis to discuss a request that councillors be allowed to use their powers to draw up an air quality management plan.
It follows the tabling of a motion by Councillor Johnny Flynn, cosponsored by Councillor Cillian Murphy, who sought to invoke members’ powers under the Air Pollution Act of 1987. The Fine Gael member voiced significant frustration that that matter has been discussed at all sorts of Council committees, over the course of two years, without any progress being made. Repeated instances in Ennis of high levels of particulate matter have garnered national headlines, with readings that have been compared unfavourably to those in one of the world’s most populous cities: Beijing.
The average air quality for Ennis was robustly defended by the Council. A response to Councillor Flynn’s motion from Senior Engineer Cyril Feeney said limits set out in regulations are “only deemed to be breached if more than 35 exceedences occur over a 24-hour averaging period during the entire year”. Director of Services Carmel Kirby, addressing the meeting, said “standards are being complied with in Ennis”. She said representatives of the Department of the Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would travel to Ennis to consider Councillor Flynn’s request.
The motion had been proposed at the February meeting, but was not judged to have been adopted because of the number of members who left the chamber. Cathaoirleach Tony O’Brien described the motion as “continued in unusual circumstances” and invited Ms Kirby to comment. She outlined the legislative background to the issue and noted that councillors’ powers had evolved with changes in that regard. The Director also acknowledged the concerns of Ennis residents and their elected representatives. “Air quality emissions are not being exceeded so the standards are being complied with in Ennis. Notwithstanding that, I do acknowledge that there are heavy incidences of particulate matter on occasions, particularly on cold evenings.”
The most recent, relevant regulations on solid fuel date to 2022, Ms Kirby added. They give power to the EPA to direct a local authority to draw up a short-term plan.
“The air quality management planning process has evolved with all the different regulations,” she pointed out. “I have sought information from both EPA and the Department of the Environment and Climate Action. Before we engage in a process of preparing an air quality plan, whether it’s a management plan, or a short term plan, or just an air quality plan, I would like to get clarification. So the department and the EPA have agreed to come down to see us, in Ennis, to consider what is being requested here by the councillors.”
Responding, Councillor Flynn re-stated that it is a reserved function of the local authority to prepare a plan. “This is going on, at various levels – strategic policy committee, Council level and Municipal District level – for nearly two years,” he said. “We adopted our County Development Plan last Thursday, and it was a great piece of work. It states, on air quality, that is an objective of Clare County Council to achieve and maintain good air quality and to help prevent harmful effects on humans and the environment of urban and rural areas, to support data collection, and develop air quality monitoring, and to implement different provisions of legislation including the Air Quality Act of 1987.”
Councillor Flynn asked that he might be present when officials of the Department and the EPA come to Ennis.