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1 Debates Fuel poverty and austerity

Senators raised the issue of fuel poverty, starting with Aideen Hayden (Lab, Taoiseach nominee) who drew attention to the annual report of the Society of St Vincent de Paul (Seanad Eireann, 3rd October 2013, 480).  The average annual energy cost for families had risen by €500 a year and it had increased its spending to help families from €3.8m to €10.4m.  In the Dail, Mary Lou McDonald (SF, Dublin C) spoke of the heartbreaking stories of people who had to go without gas or electricity (Dail Eireann, Debates, 3rd October 2013, 630-1).  Many families had to make a choice between paying energy bills or feeding their children.   Arrears were mounting up and sleepless nights increasing.  


The Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore, agreed that energy prices were increasing but Ireland was at the receiving end of the internationally set price of fuel, at the end of a long pipeline from Russia.  He had read the report of the Society of St Vincent de Paul and he agreed with its proposals for more to be done on insulation and retrofitting and he detailed the energy efficiency and insulation measures taken.  The government had committed €40m to address fuel poverty and fuel prices, with €50m to retrofit local authority homes.  Mary Lou McDonald though described these measures as modest and underwhelming, with in addition an identifiable group of people who could not pay their bills at all and who had been cut off, even after using meters.  The Tanaiste told her that this was not a short-term problem and retrofitting was what got down the cost of heating homes: this was what the Society said was the best way to deal with the problem.


Stephen Donnelly (ind, Wicklow) quoted a report by Grant Thornton on the impact of five austerity budgets, which found that Irish families were paying double the amount of tax compared to 2008 and were down €6,000 in disposable income due to cuts – and that was before the rise of €500 in annual energy costs.  The tax burden had more than doubled for those on lower incomes and the government had increased the level of inequality.  He wanted an impact assessment of the proposals of the next budget for their socio-economic indicators.


Seamus Healy (ind, Tipperary S), also quoting the Society’s report, drew attention to the cuts in free electricity units from 2,400 to 1,800 and then the fuel scheme by six weeks (Dail Eireann, Debates, 10th October 2013, 608-610).  We already knew that there were 1,000 additional deaths every winter, most due to cold-related conditions.  Over the past three years, gas costs had gone up 32.5% and electricity 24.2%, with oil up 18% in 2012 alone.  Would the government monitor deaths due to cold and lack of heating supports?  The Tanaiste said he was very much aware of the cost of fuel and the resulting pressure.  Ireland was an energy receiver and that was why the government was focussing on increasing renewable energy and the retrofitting programme, which was the best way in the long term.  Seamus Healy, though, accused him of blaming world markets while his government cut supports to needy families which would lead to more elderly deaths.  The Tanaiste accused him of making over-the-top remarks but gave a commitment to see if the Central Statistics Office could produce figures.  He was happy to ask for advice from anyone in the area who could provide it, but there was a difference between that and over-the-top hyperbole.    

> Further references:

> Grant Thornton report:

> Equality and the budget: Dail Eireann, Debates, 9th October 2013, 411-413; 423-7.