There is now a noticeable difference in the quality of air as you walk the streets of Dublin. Sufferers of asthma can testify to that. Our trees are being felled at a worrying rate, and I am concerned how many more trees will disappear if the BusConnects project gets its way. We are simply not doing enough to tackle poor air quality and climate change.
Ten times more people are killed by air pollution than by road accidents in the EU. Four people die in Ireland every day from the effects of air pollution, according to the Clean Air Alliance. This amounts to some 1,150 premature deaths in Ireland attributable to air pollution. The United Nations has called the failure of Governments across the world to ensure their citizens breathe clean air “a violation of the rights to life, health and well-being.” We must not accept the failure of our own Government to act to ensure clean air to its citizens.
Air pollution is a major threat to our health, with 400,000 premature deaths per year across the EU. Heart disease and stroke are the most common reasons for premature death attributable to air pollution, but air pollution also leads to reduced lung function, respiratory infections and aggravated asthma, particularly in children. The current rental crisis and the mould and bacteria in poor rental accommodation is adding to the increasing numbers and severity of asthma. Recent evidence also suggests that air pollution affects the central nervous system, linking to increased levels of anxiety.
The Government can not continue to be all talk and almost no action in tackling the pollution in our air. It is killing us and our children. The Minister for Climate Action and Environment advised me himself that up to 6 June this year, there had been 98 breaches of the daily air pollution limits recorded in the State. Sixty-five of those were in Dublin, including four in Blanchardstown, two in the Phoenix Park and twelve in Ringsend. There were also eleven in Enniscorthy. What does the Government propose to do about all this? Not enough is the answer. Publishing a hundred item list of things to do out by 2040 is not enough. I want to see action in the here and now, to help relieve the people who are currently suffering, especially our young children.
What we really need is a Clean Air Strategy to set out bold steps to clean up our air. The number one priority should be to ban smoky coal. I urge the Minister for Climate Action and Environment to have courage and to take on the coal companies that are polluting our towns. We should not allow it in this day and age. We should also green our cities and villages, by planting trees and ivy and growing back our hedgerows. The later are being ripped up all over the country under the Government’s laissez faire agricultural policy. All of the European and UK research has shown that planting more trees and hedgerows, even in very polluted locations in towns and villages, has a massive improving effect on air quality.
We also need to begin mapping out the worst affected areas around the country. This will give us a greater understanding of the pollution levels we face. I call on the Minister to take these steps, and more, to tackle of our dirty air problems. Many of the actions needed would not be expensive at all. In fact, over a period of five to ten years, I have no doubt that improving our air quality will save the State a considerable amount. The Health Service Executive is well over budget. The Government has lost control of their finances. So why not act now to clean up our air and reduce the incidence of disease caused by dirty air.