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

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 7
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy-Rae Zoom on Danny Healy-Rae] We are being told by the Government that we will not have them any more in a couple of years. It is saying it will be four years before they are finished, but I think it will be a lot sooner than that. The Government is driving people to use electricity. It says electricity is the way to go and that we should have electric cars, but does the Government not realise that the cost of electricity has gone up? The Government is promoting electric cars, yet we are told it will cost €26,000 to put a kerbside charging point in a housing estate. Does the Government stand over that? Then the Government tells people they cannot cut turf. Where I come from, people went out into the countryside and they were proud to cut turf in the summer time and to dry it and bring it home. They were proud to cut timber and put it into a shed to dry before they used it. They were proud to sit in front of their fires, which kept them warm, going back decades and centuries. The Taoiseach is following the Green Party out the gap like a dog following a flock of sheep. He is doing everything it tells him. Last night we heard the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, boasting that we are going to lead the way. I remind him that we are a small country and if we were to turn out the lights and leave this wonderful country we are living in, it would only make 0.13 of 1% in the overall context of reducing carbon emissions. We are all under the one sky. Is this what the Government has done to rural Ireland?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy-Rae Zoom on Danny Healy-Rae If it is, the Taoiseach will never be heard of again. If he stops the people in Kerry-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Go raibh maith ag an Teachta.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy-Rae Zoom on Danny Healy-Rae -----and rural areas from cutting turf-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly We are eating into the time of other Deputies. We are moving on.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy-Rae Zoom on Danny Healy-Rae The people of Ireland-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Deputy Healy-Rae is eating into other people's time. I call on Deputy Fitzmaurice of the Independent Group.

Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice: Information on Michael Fitzmaurice Zoom on Michael Fitzmaurice I support and welcome the motion. However, it should be made clear that, unfortunately, Governments do not listen often enough to motions in here. I assure Deputy Danny Healy-Rae that whether it is the Green Party, Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, given what is going on in this country at the moment it is like the Chihuahua pulling the Great Dane's tail. The Green Party is dictating the pace. I assure him that it tried once to stop us cutting turf and it failed, and it will not succeed a second time if it tries anything. I say that loud and clear to the Green Party. We know that the carbon tax has gone up and that people in rural Ireland are basically hit with double taxation at the moment. People do not realise that the Government is trying to bring in a Bill to stop exploration for oil and gas. We need to realise that the gas that is coming in from Europe goes through the UK and we know the situation that has developed there at the moment. Whether we like it or not, we have no security of fuel now in this country. Even if we have all the wind turbines in the world, we will still need the gas plants to run at 50%. We need to get real. No more than with electricity, we are now pushing the country to danger levels with energy supply. There is also a situation developing regarding peat. Bord na Móna has closed down bogs but private contractors used to rent land from it, which ensured that ordinary people in rural areas got enough turf for their own fire. Instead of hiding behind some of his staff who are lower down in Bord na Móna, Tom Donnellan needs to clarify what is going on there.

I got a phone call this morning in the constituency I share with Deputy Kerrane from a person who is living in a social house. The house is heated by electric heaters and with the PSO levies adding to the cost of electricity, it costs €75 per week to heat. The person wanted to know if there is any new type of heater that would help or if the council could do something. Retrofitting is important and we all support that. Every mechanism to reduce the consumption of energy is fully endorsed by everybody, but the reality is that it comes at a price.

In fairness to the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, last year she extended the fuel allowance for an extra period. I acknowledge and welcome that. I hope that the same is done again. My concern is that if it is extended for the rest of the year, with the way the Green Party is pulling the tails of the other parties, we are going to be living in a country where people will be looking out a half door but they might not live too long because they will be perished or they might not have electricity. We are putting this country at risk at the moment and we must call for that to stop. Everyone believes in doing things better and in trying to be more efficient, but one cannot cut off one's nose to spite one's face just to dot the i's and cross the t's for one's parliamentary party and say one got this through because it was in the programme for Government.

The peat briquettes are available from Bord na Móna until 2024 or 2025. I have been told by about 20 people in the past week that loads of them are coming in from Germany. The Government can be proud of itself that that is happening at the moment. Loads of milled peat are coming in now from Estonia and some other countries for the horticulture sector. The Government can be proud of itself that there is a boat now bringing it across, even though we have it beside us. It is like telling the Arabs that we will sell them oil. This is the country that we are now shaping to be. We tell everyone that we are great. We are so clean and we are so green, but no more than the Mercosur deal that some of them are twisting and turning about voting for now, the reality is that in Europe and in Ireland we seem to be happy to import everything and say we only used it here, we did not dig it up out of the ground or we did not do this, that or the other. A bit of cop on is needed at the moment. This runaway train will be stopped. I assure the Green Party that the moment this pandemic is over-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice: Information on Michael Fitzmaurice Zoom on Michael Fitzmaurice -----as soon as we can stand up, the people of rural Ireland will show the Government-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I thank the Deputy. I call Deputy Pringle.

Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice: Information on Michael Fitzmaurice Zoom on Michael Fitzmaurice -----in Dublin the anger they have over what it is doing.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important motion today. I have previously spoken about fuel poverty in Donegal and there have been many studies, reports and papers on the continuing issue of fuel poverty in Ireland. Five years ago, Unite the Union published a report entitled, A Cold Christmas, which examined the rate of fuel poverty on a county-by-county basis. It followed the release of results from the CSO survey of income and living conditions, SILC, on deprivation, poverty, and household income. One of the questions in the survey was: "Have you ever had to go without heating during the last 12 months through lack of money...have you had to go without a fire on a cold day, or go to bed to keep warm or light the fire late because of lack of coal-fuel?" At that time, more than 700,000 people across the Republic answered "Yes", and 30,700 of those respondents were in Donegal. The report found that Donegal had the highest level of fuel deprivation. Donegal also has the lowest level of household income across the country.

In 2019, Social Justice Ireland reported that almost 400,000 people in Ireland experienced fuel deprivation, while Ireland was also ranked among the top five in a EUROSTAT report for energy price increases. It seems that fuel deprivation and energy poverty have been a significant problem in Ireland forever. Detached houses in rural areas with inappropriate or no insulation and our cold climate have created an environment where people are cold and unwell due to insufficient heat in their homes. That was all before Covid-19 hit. Since this time last year, the world has been turned on its head, with economies, industries and countries closing down while a deadly, contagious pandemic spread across the globe. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on employment. In Ireland, in the middle of this third level 5 lockdown, almost 500,000 people are in receipt of the PUP, a newly introduced social welfare payment for those who lost their jobs, permanently or temporarily, due to Covid-19.

The motion states: "a person who loses their job cannot access the Fuel Allowance until they are in receipt of a Jobseeker's payment for more than 390 days (over 15 months)" and that "the Fuel Allowance is not available to recipients of the PUP."


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