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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 Ruairí Ó Murchú: Information on Ruairí Ó Murchú Zoom on Ruairí Ó Murchú] We are in the middle of a serious pandemic. In the last week, Dr. David Nabarro of the World Health Organization, WHO, said that the states that do better are those that give supports to the people. This is a very small request and a small mitigation that can facilitate people on the PUP to gain the fuel allowance. Heat is an absolute necessity. We have asked people to work from home if they can and we have given people who cannot work the support of the pandemic unemployment payment. It is fair to ensure that they are able to stay in a properly heated home.

I wish to address what the Minister said. Sinn Féin has no difficulty. It believes the Department of Social Protection can work out household payments. I do not believe the Department will have a particular difficulty if the Minister wishes to change this. We must ensure that the 15-month exclusion for the PUP is removed, that there is a double payment in February and that households that are in fuel poverty can avail of the fuel allowance payment. If the Minister and the Department of Social Protection wish to work with Deputy Kerrane on this, we would be open to that because it is about delivery for people.

I also wish to briefly address Deputy Bruton's comments. We want to have a fit-for-purpose retrofitting system. With regard to local authority housing, the problem in Louth County Council is the fact that its maintenance budget is too low because there is insufficient money from the Government.

Deputy Matt Carthy: Information on Matt Carthy Zoom on Matt Carthy I often wonder what type of mentality would allow a system that requires somebody to be unemployed and on jobseeker's payments for more than 15 months before qualifying for the fuel allowance to remain in place for so long. How petty is that? The fact that this provision has remained in place and is in place in the midst of a global pandemic speaks volumes.

This motion is very simple. It is about allowing people who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic to get support for their heating bills. It is about giving them the fuel allowance and extending the fuel allowance to as many people who need it as possible. It is also about increasing the payments for two weeks in February for all people in receipt of the fuel allowance. It is very simple and just. It is a small token on the part of the State to recognise the difficulties that people are experiencing. Once again, this is about choices. Many people will look at the Government's response to this motion and at the choices it has made. The Government made a choice to increase the carbon tax again, a tax that will affect lower-income families and workers disproportionately. It made a choice to increase the salary of the Secretary General of the Department of Health by €81,000 and to appoint God knows how many additional special advisers at exorbitant rates of pay. It also made the choice to increase the pay of its Ministers of State, but it chose not to support our student nurses.

The Government has made the choice not to support this motion. The amendment from the Government is embarrassing. Essentially, it confirms that the Government is tone deaf when it comes to the reality for people who are facing the crisis of their lives as a result of losing their jobs during the pandemic. I commend Deputy Kerrane's motion to the House. I urge Deputies to reject the Government's amendment and to stand by the people who need a little support in this crisis in their lives.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock I support Sinn Féin's motion. We strongly believe that the issue of fuel poverty and the current fuel allowance system require further interrogation. The Labour Party has carried out an analysis of this year's fuel allowance payments arising from budget 2021 and I would welcome the Minister's response to that analysis, if she can respond to it. It is our contention that in real terms there has been, in effect, a cut to the fuel allowance for 2020-21.

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