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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 David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane] The Minister's party has no regard for what I would consider to be fair play; if it did, it would support this motion. There are two central requests in this motion which should be accepted and implemented by the Government. One is that the fuel allowance payment is doubled for the month of February and the other is that all of those in receipt of the PUP, the 480,000 workers who have lost their jobs, temporarily or in the longer term through no fault of their own, are given access to the fuel allowance payment. The Minister's answers to those requests is "No".

I have said to the Minister and her colleagues time and again in this Chamber that Fine Gael represents a cosseted, privileged class. The Minister does not like it when I say that but the reality is that it is true. The Minister does not like it because it is true and she does not have any defence to that argument. Three of the Minister's senior ministerial colleagues in the Government sat down a number of weeks ago and hatched a plan between them to increase the pay of one senior civil servant by €81,000, an amount that many people on the front line in hospitals will never see as a salary. This is not a salary for that one individual but a pay increase of €81,000. Three senior Government Ministers sat down, hatched that plan and as late as yesterday, were defending it with the L'Oréal-type defence that the individual is worth it. Yet, when it comes to giving ordinary workers and families a bit of a break by giving them access to the fuel allowance because they are staying at home longer, their children are not at school and they have to heat their homes but are struggling to pay their bills, what does the Minister say? She says "No". Again, it is "No" from this Government because it represents a cosseted, privileged class. Its priority is those in the upper echelons of society and not those who need support the most. It is a disgrace that on an issue as important as this, when we are trying to ensure people and families are given adequate support to pay for basics like heating their homes, the Government's response is "No". It is shameful.

Deputy Sorca Clarke: Information on Sorca Clarke Zoom on Sorca Clarke As of last week over 12,000 people in my constituency of Longford-Westmeath were in receipt of the PUP. The vast majority of those 12,000 workers and families have never needed social welfare support previously and need it now solely because of this pandemic. The struggle to keep a warm roof over their heads is very real and so is their growing energy debt as they try to meet the cost of keeping their homes warm.

I want to highlight the case of one family for the Minister. Dad is a tradesman and Mam works in the home, caring for their small children. They are an average, hard-working family who always managed to keep their heads above water until this pandemic struck and Dad was laid off. For the first time ever, they could not even pay their rent. This family and countless others have survived this winter by begging and borrowing from friends, family and charities. Initially their local community welfare officer refused their application for an exceptional needs payment but eventually they were given a one-off payment to provide heat for a single week. They found themselves in the unprecedented and deeply distressing position of having to choose between spending their last €10 on food or on electricity. That week, food won and they sat in their kitchen in front of the oven for heat while the food cooked. This is not an isolated case. It is a reflection of the wider, very real lived experiences of people who are in need of urgent support.

I call on the Minister not only to heed the concerns being expressed here today, concerns that are echoed by Barnardos, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Free Legal Aid Centres, FLAC, but also to act on them. I urge her to extend the fuel allowance to workers in receipt of the PUP, suspend the 15-month qualifying exclusion period for jobseekers and provide a double-week payment for two weeks in February. A properly funded scheme for exceptional needs payments will assist not only those on the PUP but others who are fighting fuel poverty on an ongoing basis this year.

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