Solid Fuel Merchant Ireland is urging the Government to intervene to regulate the industry and combat the illegal trade across borders.
Ireland’s leading representative body for the solid fuels sector, Solid Fuel Merchants Ireland (SFMI), says further regulation is needed as 54% of households depend on solid fuels for heating their homes, while smugglers are benefitting from the lack of a licensing system.
Solid fuels are estimated to account for 17.6% of all energy used to heat homes in Ireland.
This is the second highest rate among the 28 EU Member States. The rising trend of coal smuggling has been identified as a major challenge for legitimate family run solid fuel merchants countrywide.
According to SFMI, this illicit activity and the lack of regulation adversely affects the profitability and sustainability of these merchants that rely solely on solid fuels as their livelihood.
Key facts from EPA report:
● 54% of households indicated they used solid fuels for space heating purposes
● 16% listed solid fuel as their primary sources of fuel
● The use of solid fuels is most prevalent in the Midlands region – 31% use solid fuel as their main source of heating.
It is estimated that up to 100,000 tonnes of coal is smuggled annually across the border, which due to the non-imposition of carbon tax and difference in VAT, results in a substantial loss in revenue for solid fuel merchants in the Republic of Ireland.
This cross border activity creates an uneven playing field for solid fuel merchants that operate legally. Smuggled coal can be sold at lower prices, which attracts hard pressed customers away from small businesses that are operating legitimately.
Furthermore, much of the coal product coming from across the border is smoky coal. The burning of smoky coal is now illegal in the Irish state since October 2022 with the introduction of the new Solid Fuel Regulations.
The lack of enforcement of these new regulations on smoky coal leads to higher levels of air pollution as smoky coal contains higher levels of sulphur and leads to poor air quality.
Smoky coal does not meet environmental or health standards and leads to negative impacts on public health and the environment.
Continued and unchecked sales of smoky coal under the guise of legitimate fuel will also damage the reputation of legitimate fuel merchants.
It is imperative for Government and law enforcement agencies to take decisive action to crack down on this illicit activity and protect small businesses from the negative impacts of coal smuggling. SFMI in collaboration with key stakeholders aim to minimise the impact on legitimate solid fuel merchants through licensing and regulation of solid fuels.
Speaking today, Chairperson of Solid Fuel Merchants Ireland, Colin Ahearn said:
The lack to inadequate enforcement and licensing measures is a serious concern for our industry. This illicit activity not only undermines fair competition, but also generates huge losses to the Irish Exchequer. It is time for our government to take proactive steps in collaboration with SFMI to crack down on coal smuggling and ensure that small businesses are protected. We urge policymakers to prioritise enforcement checks and licensing, to work towards creating a level playing field for all businesses, big or small.”