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1 Debates: Food poverty

John Halligan (ind, Waterford) raised the issue of food poverty (Dail Eireann, Debates, 25th April 2013, 5-7).  The Combat Poverty Agency, when it existed, as well as Social Justice Ireland and the Society of St Vincent de Paul had described food deprivation in Ireland as profound.  He attacked the lack of compassion of the supermarket chains, which had no compassion in hearing about this or increasing their profits.    He quoted consumer reports which found that food prices were up from 12% to 31% against an inflation rate of 1.7% and how almost all products now cost more than during the height of the boom.    There were strong indications of price matching across the chains, they were extracting colossal profits, Ireland was called ‘Treasure Island’: was it not time they gave something back?  He had visited a house with a mother and four children and their Sunday dinner was beans and chips: that was wrong.  They were struggling to make food last to their social welfare payments on Tuesday or Wednesday.  That was unacceptable when we saw the profits in the supermarket chains.  He proposed the Tanaiste hold talks with them to introduce a price freeze, which had happened in other European countries following talks, otherwise there should be a freeze on bread, milk, butter and baby food.  

Responding, the Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore quoted Cental Statistics Office figures to show that food prices had fallen by 6.3% since 2008, but an increase of 1.6% for the year to the end of March, explicable by weather and energy costs.  The government had given a commitment to legislate against anti-competitive practices among groceries.  Work on the consumer and competition Bill was advancing and enforcement was being strengthened.  John Halligan, though, said we were in the midst of a ‘nutritional recession’ triggered by food poverty.  Everyone else had been asked to do something to help, people in food deprivation had taken cuts, yet supermarket chains increased their profits – the very least they should be asked is to freeze the prices of essential items.

Meantime, the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, told the Dail that the government had allocated €35m for the school meals programme in 2012, with an additional €2m in 2013, with 1,300 schools currently participating (Dail Eireann, Debates, 16th April 2013, 343).