Issue 3 - May 2010

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Fuel poverty and the impact on the poor of the carbon levy

Roisin Shortall (Lab, Dublin NW) challenged the government on the impact on the poor of the introduction of the carbon levy on fuels on 1st May (Dail Eireann, Debates, 20th April 2010, 394 – 9).  The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Eamon O Cuiv, told her that arrangements were being made to assist those most at risk of fuel poverty before the carbon tax was applied.  An interdepartmental and inter-agency group had been asked to draw up an energy affordability strategy, one which would make recommendations on the precise package of measures to be taken, including in the areas of income supports.  The fuel issue becomes much more critical during the cold winter months, but he was aware of the challenge.
She asked him, whatever about the long-term, what would he do in ten days time when poor families lost the fuel allowance and were faced with a huge increase in the cost of home heating oil?  Did he realize that the cost of home heating oil rose 38% last year and 5% last month?  Many low income families in rural Ireland were especially dependent on home heating oil.  If he was not prepared to do anything, he was out of touch which what was happening to poor families.

Eamon O Cuiv told her that the inter-departmental agency group had been asked to draw up an energy affordability strategy.  ‘When will we see it?’ she asked, for the carbon tax of 8% to 9% was due in the next ten days.  She pressed the minister to tell her if a scheme would be in place before May to assist these families.  It seemed incredible that the minister did not know the detail of the scheme.

  • Eamon O Cuiv: I do not.  I said that the group will make recommendations.
  • Roisin Shortall: Will there be a scheme in place by 1 May?
  • Eamon O Cuiv: The simple answer is that the recommendations are to be made available before the implementation of the carbon tax.

He added that he would make a decision when he was ready to do so.  No one would force him into making a decision until he was ready.  He had not got the recommendations yet so he could not answer the question, so she could not say what he was going to do or not and she would have to be patient. ‘I cannot make a decision on something I do not have’.  Rosin Shortall described this as disgraceful.  ‘He is supposed to be minister for social protection.  Clearly, he is not providing protection to those 300,000 families who depend on him to provide them with protection’.

Meantime, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan told Pat Rabbitte (Lab,Dublin SW) and Olwyn Enright (FG, Laois Offaly) that his department, with that of Social Protection, was developing work on an energy affordability strategy.  A public consultation process had been launched in March asking for views by 23rd April.  The strategy would be finalized and sent to the government in June (Dail Eireann, Debates, 27th April 2010, 465).

Meantime, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan reported to Lucinda Creighton (FG, Dublin SE) on the Fuel Poverty Action Research Report  (Dail Eireann, Debates, 27th April 2010,462-3).  This had been carried out over 2007-9 in 600 households, of which 348 were in Cork and 252 in Donegal.  It found that the Warmer Homes Scheme had made a significant impact in reducing fuel poverty.  There was a significant decline in the number of households reporting difficulty in being able to afford to heat their home in winter and in not using rooms in their home because of a lack of heat or having difficulty paying their utility bills on time.
> See also Dail Eireann, Debates, 20th April 2010, 503-4, 739 – 740