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Household Utility Bills Support: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Claire Kerrane: Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane] Other comments were as follows:

Shopping on a weekly basis is gone. We don't have it as bills come first ...

... I'm trying to keep things together for the sake of my family. I cry most nights going to bed, so my son and husband do not see how much of a toll it is taking on me. [Both of us are] out of work ...

  The price of utility bills keeps rising. I had to take unpaid ... leave [from work] as crèches could not take my baby, so we are struggling now with just one income.

  This is the real life reality for people on the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, today. The Minister's response, in her amendment to this motion, refers to the PUP, the fuel allowance and the household benefits. These are the very payments that the people on the PUP are not getting, hence the entire purpose of this motion.

  The Minister also refers to the North in the amendment. It reminds me of when I was in primary school, probably junior or senior infants, and arguing with a girl in my class about which of our fathers had more cattle and going through how many animals each of us had. I spoke last night to a friend who lives with her partner in the North of Ireland. They pay approximately £5 a week on electricity and they would not be skimping on it. Her car tax costs £20 a year. Fuel costs in the North of Ireland cannot be compared with those down here because there is no comparison. The cost of living down here is extortionate for families and those who have lost their jobs. It turns my stomach to see comparisons made to the North of Ireland where, last week, the Sinn Féin Minister for Communities introduced Covid-19-related heating payments, one-off payments of £200 to people struggling in fuel poverty in the North of Ireland. That is what we are doing. The Government down here is offering nothing new in its amendment to this motion.

  We are asking for action from the Government, meaning a double payment for two weeks in February, as has been done before when we have had extremely cold weather. It is not impossible; it has been done. It will cost €20 million which will not break the bank. We are looking for a proper budget for the exceptional needs payment which the Minister constantly says is an option for people. We know, of course, that it is an awful lot harder to get to a community welfare officer. We also know that not everyone is comfortable going down that route. There is always discretion when it comes to the community welfare officer, so there is no guarantee of payment. I have asked the Minister several times about the 15-month rule. If I lose my job tomorrow, I get no fuel assistance for 15 months. The Minister has said twice that she has looked at that and I have got nothing back. I am asking for that rule to be suspended temporarily for people who are losing their jobs and, in some cases, losing everything they have ever had in relation to work.

  I have asked the Minister to extend the fuel allowance to recipients of the PUP. There are a few weeks of the fuel allowance left, although it might be extended. It is a measure the Minister can implement tomorrow to help these workers and their families. I am asking her to introduce a discretionary fund of €5 million. This is not an ask from me or Sinn Féin, it is an ask from the National One Parent Family Alliance.

  The Minister and her Government think they are doing enough. SPARK, One Family, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Focus Ireland and a total of ten organisations that are on the ground and helping people day in, day out beg to differ. They are saying what is there is not enough. That is the message I am getting across to the Minister today. It is not enough. Government is about choices and this Government chooses to increase the pay of super junior Ministers. It chooses to give the head of the Department of Health an increase. It should be choosing to help these families who are struggling in the midst of a global pandemic. The message in this amendment is nothing new. It is a tax bill and nothing more.

Deputy Mairéad Farrell: Information on Mairéad  Farrell Zoom on Mairéad  Farrell I commend my colleague, Deputy Kerrane, on bringing this motion to the floor of the Dáil. It is a reasonable motion with practical solutions that would dramatically improve the lives of many. Fuel poverty means that people literally do not have the ability to afford to heat their homes for them and their families. Families choose between putting food on the table, heating their homes and paying bills. We have the fuel allowance but there is clear evidence that in its current form, it simply does not go far enough because despite this allowance, the reality is that many still cannot afford to meet their heating needs and in their absolute desperation, have to turn to charities, such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, that will pay for deliveries of oil or coal, or pay their electricity bills. This should not be happening. The State should ensure its citizens do not experience cold due to affordability. Heating is a basic need and it is life critical.

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