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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 Peadar Tóibín: Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín] I welcome the Sinn Féin motion. However, I will say that the rate of fuel poverty in the North of Ireland is estimated to be at 42% of the population, according to the Department for Communities in the North of Ireland. Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party have one thing in common: none of them is doing enough to tackle the scourge of fuel poverty in the jurisdictions in which they have power.

There are three major influences on fuel poverty. First and foremost, there is income. Income has an immediate effect over the ability of a family to provide heating and that is why it is imperative that this Government addresses income in the form of fuel allowances and other supports to families.

The second influence on fuel poverty is the cost of energy and here, too, the Government is a complete laggard. I have raised this issue with the Minister for years now. All across Europe, people are reducing their energy costs with the microgeneration of energy. In the North of Ireland, roofs are festooned with solar panels. Each of those families is plugged into the grid, earning income for that electricity and, as a result, they save on energy costs at that moment and earn an income to offset energy costs for heating their homes in the winter time. Ireland, this jurisdiction, is the only jurisdiction in the EU that still has not one microgeneration project plugged into the national grid.

The third major influence on fuel poverty is the energy efficiency of homes. Ireland has been glacial in rolling out the deep retrofitting of the housing stock. It has been absolutely glacial. A Government with real ambition on fuel poverty and the environment would be significantly ramping up the insulation of homes across the country.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins The carbon tax increases introduced in budget 2021 are punitive for the most vulnerable and anti-rural due to the hikes in the prices of petrol, diesel and oil. The measures included in budget 2021, such as the increase in carbon tax by €7.50 per tonne, will mean an extra €150 per year to fill a diesel car and €130 per year for a petrol car until 2030. I have a young lad below in west Cork. He told me the other day that his car insurance has gone up by 134%. How is this young man supposed to stay on the road with these huge increases in the cost of fuel and insurance? It is an extra burden on the people of rural Ireland.

The hike in carbon tax will also considerably impact the price of home heating oil until 2030. The Green Party, backed by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, is shoving these taxes down our throats. However, if one has to live in rural Ireland, one needs oil heating. One also, in all likelihood, needs fuel, coal, wood and turf. What does the Government expect us to use if we cannot use any of those products? The Green Party has wonderful dreams but it is giving families no alternative. Should we tell people to sit in their houses with their coats on? People do not have the money for extra taxes. We need an increase in the fuel allowance. Look at the people over 66 who were still working when Covid-19 hit. They were not working for the joy of it, they were doing it because they had no choice. There has been not one extra brown cent for those workers over 66. This Government would want to wake up and realise that these are the people who built Ireland. I wonder how many people woke up this morning wondering how they are going to pay their ESB bill. I wonder how many woke up cold. Has the Minister any idea what it is like to sit in a house week in, week out during a pandemic and not have enough money to heat the home?

Recipients of the PUP should receive the fuel allowance and we need an increase in all of those allowances. They should be more easily accessible. Data indicate that some 28% of householders in Ireland are in energy poverty and that some 400,000 people go without heating at some stage because of the cost. The available payments, such as the fuel allowance, do not cover many of those affected. The increases in costs associated with home heating oil will, therefore, make the situation worse and increase the issue of fuel poverty.

The Minister said this morning that we should redirect people to her Department. The red tape attached to this means it is not viable. I talk about warmer homes and Deputy Canney spoke about it previously and he is right. There is a two-year waiting list. It is outrageous that people who want an alternative and are willing to make the move are still finding the fences impossible to jump to get their homes. I know many people in west Cork, in places such as Bantry, Skibbereen, Clonakilty and Bandon, who come to me. We have been filling out these forms for the past two years. They contact me again and I ask "Are you codding me?" when they say nothing has happened. We cannot get our homes insulated and get the job done. I look at the warmer homes scheme that was being laid out in Bantry. When it was first made available, people like Finbarr O'Sullivan ran meticulous projects insulating elderly people's homes and so on. What did the Government do? It pulled those jobs. Those people have no jobs. Five jobs have been lost in the past few weeks.

The time for talking is over. The Green Party has dreams but I call on it to come up with a reality for the people on the ground.

Deputy Carol Nolan: Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan I fully support this motion on fuel poverty and am delighted to speak on the matter. It is particularly relevant to the midlands region from which I come. The Government does not seem to know or care about that region. That is the truth and that is the message that is coming through to my offices from constituents.

If we want to talk about poverty, then this Government needs to get real sooner rather than later. It needs to demand a total and complete reassessment of the so-called just transition process which is a grave injustice to the people of the midlands. This process is on the verge of driving hundreds of Bord na Móna workers and up to 17,000 people in our horticulture sector into unemployment because of the hare-brained ideas that this Government is standing over and willing to support to the detriment of people in the midlands who are on their knees.

The midlands is a region that has always suffered inequality. It has the second lowest rate of disposable income in this State and yet the Government is not waking up and seeing the harsh realities and struggles of the people, workers and communities who are being left behind. We have no alternative jobs or alternative fuel sources and it is absolutely ridiculous to have such an injustice imposed on people. That is what it is. This could be done in a much more gradual way when we have an alternative fuel source. This reassessment should be carried out by the Government but should also involve Bord na Móna going back to the drawing board and reapplying for a licence to recommence peat harvesting. We were all, including the workers, of the view that they had until 2030. These are people with mortgages who need to put food on the table. They are real people who are being sacrificed because of so-called Government policies. Does the Government realise that this country only accounts for 0.1% of the world's emissions? Yet it expects the midlands to save the planet. That is the ideology here and it is absolutely crazy.

I want to make it clear that these workers are being let go, left without jobs in the middle of a global pandemic, and there is no empathy for them. As I have said before in this Chamber, workers, enterprises and communities are being left behind. There needs to be alternative employment and alternative fuel. I call on all midlands Deputies here today to put their money where their mouths are because otherwise their statements will ring hollow. There needs to be an urgent reassessment of the just transition process.

It is ironic that the people who will lose their jobs as a result of the decision made by Bord na Móna will not be able to access the fuel allowance until they are in receipt of jobseeker's payment for over 15 months. It is unacceptable that people in receipt of the PUP cannot receive the fuel allowance. There is a complete inability to enter into the experiences of people who have little income and must worry about how they are going to heat their homes. I support the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, suggestion of a national policy review on energy.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Thank you, Deputy.

Deputy Carol Nolan: Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan I also want to say that it is an insult to the people of Offaly-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Thank you, Deputy.

Deputy Carol Nolan: Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan -----who are now going into shops and workers and families of workers-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Thank you, Deputy. I am going to go to the Deputy's colleague, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy-Rae Zoom on Danny Healy-Rae I am glad of the opportunity to talk on this important matter. I support the call for the increase in the fuel allowance and to allow others on social welfare to access the fuel allowance. As has already been mentioned, 15 months is too long for someone to wait if he or she cannot afford heating.

My real problem is with the Government and its policies that increase the cost of fuel, coal and briquettes and put them out of the reach of ordinary people who are on social welfare or the old age pension. Those people have to count every penny as they go. Briquettes were among the available forms of heating. Women, young and old people picked up a couple of bales of briquettes that were easy to handle and clean, and provided good heat.

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