Private Members' Business. - ESB Charges: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy B. Desmond on Tuesday 19 June 1979:
That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to introduce a subsidy for low income families and individuals towards the cost of their ESB charges.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:—
"notes the problems arising as a result of increased energy costs, especially for lower income families and individuals, and also notes the need to achieve greater economies in energy use, and approves of the steps taken by the Government to improve living standards for lower income groups."
—(Minister for Economic Planning and Development.)

Deputy O'Toole is in possession. Deputy Briscoe.

I rise to speak briefly about the recent announcement of a 20 per cent increase——

Sorry. Deputy Briscoe was called. I will call the Deputy next.

I will give way to the Deputy if I can be called next.

I am prepared to accept that. Deputy Lipper.

I rise to speak about the recent announcement of a 20 per cent increase in ESB charges which can be classified as nothing short of a savage and brutal increase in charges which affect all the community, but will have a very serious effect on the less fortunate members of our society.

When this Government were in Opposition they gave great prominence to the increases in prices which occurred during the Coalition period of office. They made absolutely no allowance for the world recession at that time. They said that if they were allowed to govern they would stabilise and control the cost of living. They have been in office for two years. They were elected largely on the promise that, if they were returned as the Government, they would quite easily control the cost of living to the satisfaction of the people of Ireland. They got a massive unprecedented mandate from the people.

Since they took office we have had a series of price increases. They have done nothing whatsoever to control the cost of living. I should like to ask the Minister responsible to the Cabinet and to the people of Ireland when he received the application for the ESB price increases. I want him to answer that because the people want to know. I should also like to know when did he put the application before the Cabinet and when was it approved. I want those questions answered. If they are not answered I will have to assume the application was with the Minister long before the European and local elections and, for reasons of political expediency, he withheld and concealed that vital information from the people.

The people will question the integrity of the Government if those questions are not answered. I have a very high regard for the Minister, but I want to know was that information withheld because of the elections which took place on 7 June. The Minister is obliged to answer these questions. If he does not answer them truthfully, the credibility of the Government will be at stake. As a Minister in a responsible position and answerable to the people, he must answer truthfully. We all recall the Minister in another country who told a lie to his Parliament and subsequently resigned. That is exactly what I will be expecting if we cannot hear the truth from the Minister.

The increase in ESB charges will have very serious effects on the economy. There is no doubt about that. Many of the complaints received by people in public life come from people who are experiencing difficulty in paying their ESB bills. They come to their public representatives to see if they can make some arrangements with the ESB to meet charges which are already exorbitant. Because of this 20 per cent increase those charges will be beyond their means. That is why I refer to the increase as vicious and savage. A Government who made so many promises in their manifesto should be ashamed to allow such an increase to be imposed on the people of Ireland. Do they fully understand that the cost of living is far beyond the means of the ordinary working class, those receiving social welfare payments, deserted wives and widows? They cannot make ends meet.

I have heard Ministers say in this House: "The cost of living is not high. It is not beyond control. We have it well in hand." When they say that, they are speaking for themselves. They are speaking about their own standards. They are not speaking with a knowledge of ordinary working class people. That is a dangerous position for any Government to find themselves in. They do not understand or know what is happening to ordinary working class people.

We hear a good deal today from the Government about increases in the price of fuel and oil. Now we are having a 20 per cent increase in ESB charges and we are told it is because the price of oil has increased and that is beyond the control of the Government. The Government will have to consider seriously subsidising this increase. They have no choice so far as the less well off sections of our society are concerned.

The Minister for Economic Planning and Development tells us there is no problem and that the people are very happy. Of course they are not, and they could not be, because inflation is running at a very high rate at the moment despite the promises made in the manifesto to control and stabilise the cost of living. That has not happened and is not happening.

The people I move around with, ordinary working class people, people on social welfare, people down on their luck, cannot meet these charges. The Government in Opposition made no allowance for the Coalition Government. They exposed them everywhere they could. I am sure that is what they were in Opposition for and they did a pretty good job. They never once made allowance for the world recession at the time which was far worse than the effect of the current oil increases we are now faced with. Despite that the Minister and the Government told the people in their manifesto that if returned to power they would control the cost of living. The people gave them a position of trust and returned them with a massive majority. What have they done? They have let things run completely out of control. They have made excuse after excuse and the reason for the cost of living increase, oil. I do not accept that. Oil is a contributing factor but it is not the whole reason particularly from a Government who promised the people that if returned to power they would wave a magic wand and everybody would be all right.

When did the Minister receive the application, when did he put it before this Cabinet and when was it approved? The people want to know the answer to that question. The Minister is obliged to let the country know. If the Minister does not answer this question I and the people can only assume that he had them well before the European and local elections and that the reason he withheld them was to deceive the people. I hope that was not the position but I want to know the answer to the question. There is an obligation on the Minister as the person responsible to the public to let them know. These are important questions and I would like the Minister to answer them truthfully as he is obliged to do.

When the Coalition were in power and had a similar situation in regard to increases outside of their control they tried to do something about it. They removed VAT from certain essential commodities including electricity and town gas. They also brought in subsidies for basic foodstuffs. The present Government made many promises, but after two years in office what have we? A situation which is worse than one can possibly imagine. There is nothing but mismanagement. The cost of living has gone completely out of control. The Government, who made what appears to be now so many false promises, are responsible. They were given a clear mandate by the people to do what they promised they would do. The Government are failing miserably to produce the goods.

Can we blame oil for the increase in home-produced cabbage which is costing in the region of £1 per head? Can we blame oil for the increase in home-produced potatoes? What has oil got to do with those? The price of these commodities is way beyond the means of working class people.

We find ourselves in a situation where we are discussing a savage increase imposed on the people which will have serious repercussions on the economy throughout the whole spectrum. The Minister boasts of reducing the unemployment rate, yet as a member of the Cabinet, he has allowed this increase which will have nothing but serious effects on employment. One does not have to be a professor to know that a 20 per cent increase on ESB charges will have a serious effect on everybody.

The Deputy better check with his colleagues because yesterday evening Deputy Desmond and Fine Gael Deputies all agreed that electricity prices had to go up. The Deputy should check his party line. There was no dispute about electricity prices going up. The motion is about whether or not something should be done for particular groups.

I am speaking about the savage increase on the poorer sections of society. The Minister is obviously doing nothing to alleviate their position. I am trying to remind him of the promises he made. I should like the Minister to say when this application was received. When was it put before the Cabinet and when was it approved? If it was received at the time I am informed it was and was not considered and disclosed, it is nothing short of deception.

That hardly has anything to do with the Deputy's motion.

It has a lot to do with it.

The Deputy should read his own motion: "That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to introduce a subsidy for low income families and individuals towards the cost of their ESB charges".

This is a 20 per cent charge. We should not have to put down a motion. The Minister should know he will have to do something to alleviate this position with regard to these people but the way he has been speaking one would imagine we were living in a Utopia and everybody was doing well. In my circle the people cannot meet these charges and something will have to be done.

A lot of people want to know when the Minister received that application. How the Minister will try to avoid the question I do not know but it is one that must be answered. There were two important elections and if the application was received in advance of those that should have been made known to the public. They are the people expected to meet the charges and who will suffer because of this savage increase. The Minister, as a public representative and from mixing with people on whose behalf we have put down this motion, should realise that it is not possible for them to meet that charge. We have outlined certain categories he can assist. The Minister is obliged to help out those people, some of whom he has referred to as living so well. I am not talking about those on social welfare but about those who have jobs, working people who will find it impossible to meet this increase in the price of electricity. I recall my schools days when I returned in the evening to find my mother outside in the yard washing clothes in a tub. Washing machines were not available then but if the Government continue to allow increases of the order of 20 per cent the people will not be able to pay for electricity with which to operate such appliances as washing machines. We hear of cases of old and sick people dying because of lack of sufficient heating. Yet the Government are prepared to allow this savage increase of 20 per cent in the cost of electricity.

The credibility of the Government depends largely now on their response to this motion. If their response is not positive the promises they made to the people may very well be said to have been false. Those people on social welfare—the unemployed, the widowed, deserted wives and so on—will not be in a position to meet this increase in the cost of electricity but I am making a case for those working-class people who, through no fault of their own, are to be faced with ESB bills for a six-month period or, to judge from the way the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs is handling the Post Office dispute, with bills for a 12-month period. One cannot be blamed for wondering whether that Minister is aware at all that there is a Post Office dispute. Ministers, and Deputies too perhaps, will be able to pay their bills but we are here to talk about those people who sent us here to represent them, those people who have the power of the ballot box to send us here. The Government are here on the basis of false promises because they have not done anything since their return to office to control prices. In those two years the cost of living has soared and it cannot be said that inflation has been kept down. The removal of food subsidies has affected most the ordinary working-class people and those on social welfare payments.

Having regard to these facts it is vitally important that the Minister lets us know this evening when the application for the 20 per cent increase in ESB charges was received and brought before the Minister for approval. Also, we should be told when the increase was approved. If the Minister fails to answer these questions, his silence will be taken by the people as an indication of deceit on the part of the Government in the interests of political expediency and that would be a dreadful reflection on any Government. What the people wish for most is that the Government go to the country. We must be told, too, if further increases are to be announced or if there are applications in the pipeline for increases in the prices of other commodities or services. We want the answers to these questions now so as not to have a situation in which the workers will be encouraged to accept a 7 per cent increase in incomes as part of a national understanding and, having accepted that level of increase, to have foisted on them further price increases. I have been asked by the people I represent, the working-class people, to put these questions to the Minister. Like any of us here, the Minister has been sent to this House by the people to do a job but his tenure of office is for a short number of years. Luckily that is the situation that prevails, because if it were not for the democracy of the ballot box, matters would be even worse and there would be total contempt for the people.

The Government won an election on the basis of a manifesto that was prepared for that election but forgotten about soon afterwards. If it is the case that there are no applications with the Government for further price increases, we should be glad to hear that from the Minister. If he fails to assure us on this point we may only assume that we are to be faced with further increases of the order of 20 per cent.

Listening to Deputy Lipper one might be forgiven for thinking that he has confused totally the Fianna Fáil manifesto with the 14-point plan put forward by the Coalition at the time of the election which returned them to office.

That would be some confusion.

Deputy Lipper is utterly confused. In our manifesto we did not state that we would prevent price increases but we did say that we would reduce inflation. We said we would reduce inflation and we did. I would like to quote some figures to make my case. Inflation was lower each year since Fianna Fáil came back than in any year the Coalition were in office. It was down to 7.6 per cent last year compared with 14 per cent in 1977 and, even with the higher oil prices this year, inflation is estimated to be in the region of 11.5 per cent towards the end of the year. This will still leave our inflation rate less than any year during the Coalition Government. That is a fact. Nobody is happy about the price of oil going up. As the Minister stated, the Fine Gael and Labour parties recognise that there is very little one can do about the increases.

Will the Deputy talk about 1979?

The Deputy can make his own contribution later. I would like to read the Minister's amendment so that other people will be aware of what the Fianna Fáil case is. The amendment states:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:—

"notes the problems arising as a result of increased energy costs, especially for lower income families and individuals, and also notes the need to achieve greater economies in energy use, and approves of the steps taken by the Government to improve living standards for lower income groups."

What are the steps that have been taken by the Government? The Government gave an increase in the last budget of 16 per cent to long-term social welfare recipients. This is equivalent to just over £2 per week. We must add to the 16 per cent the £1 a week which was proposed under the national understanding and which, if the Government have their way, will still come into effect on 1 October next. I would like to refer the Deputy to the national understanding in regard to social welfare which states on page 10:

Social Welfare and Health.

The parties agree that policies for development should embrace social welfare and health elegibility improvements. The Government are already committed to maintaining the living standards of social welfare recipients by regular adjustments of the level of payments at least in line with the cost of living. The Government are also considering the possibility of some improvements in the social welfare schemes which are specially designed to assist those in greatest need during the winter months. Pending the outcome of this consideration, the Government will provide for an increase of £1 per week on all adult benefits, with pro rata improvements for dependants from 1 October 1979 until 31 March 1980.

That will work out at an extra 6 per cent. The total increases this year to social welfare recipients will be of the order of 22 per cent.

The estimated increase in the cost of living this year will be in the region of 11½ per cent, which includes food. Electricity is going up by 19½ per cent so that, even with the 22 per cent increase and forgetting about the 11½ per cent increase, which will be over the general items of food, clothing and so forth and just taking electricity, this increase will be more than offset by the increase in the social welfare benefits I have spoken about.

The consumption of electricity by the lower income groups tends to be lower than average. From the data in the household budget surveys and from ESB figures the average consumption of lower income groups in 1978 is shown to have been 2,600 units compared with an overall average of 3,450 units. The annual cost of electricity to the lower paid groups is £74.50. The application of the present increase in electricity prices will result in an extra £2.40 on each two-monthly bill or £1.20 per month, that is an average of 30p per week. That 30p should be added to the figure of over £2 a month, which has already been given in the Budget and the further 6 per cent which will be given on 1 October next, plus the fact that the Government are considering changing the fuel system whereby the people who get vouchers for a hundredweight of turf can change them at the post office. I know the Government are giving active consideration to this and I will not be the slightest bit surprised if they come up with a favourable decision.

Dublin Corporation made representations to the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy Cluskey, now the leader of the Labour Party, to do this. There was plenty of sympathy but nothing was done about it. I am quite optimistic that the Government will do something to help the people in the lower income groups. This will be a big help to them.

Another item I would like to refer to is the actual increases in ESB costs since 1977. The most recent increase in ESB charges was more than two years ago, which was a 10 per cent increase. Since then the charges were reduced on two occasions, the first being a decrease of 2½ per cent in October 1977 and a further 5 per cent in April 1978. It is not very usual to pass on those reductions to the consumers. This was done because of the favourable exchange rates prevailing and because fuel was paid for by dollars, which had fallen considerably. The present increase in electricity charges will increase the consumer price index by 0.36 per cent. The actual rise in the index from November 1978 to May 1979 was 7.1 per cent, which was still a lot lower than any year during the Coalition Government. That is expected to rise in the three months to mid-August by 2.5 per cent. Nobody is happy about increased fuel costs.

The Labour Party motion states:

"That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to introduce a subsidy for low income families and individuals towards the cost of their ESB charges."

When they refer to individuals I gather that they are referring to the lower income people. The Government, with the increases they have given, have more than allowed for the increased electricity charges, which they are not happy about but which are out of their control. We know that 40 per cent of the cost is wrapped up in higher fuel costs and other costs are built into it such as increased labour costs and depreciation. The real value increases in social welfare payments amount to nearly three times as much in the period 1977-1979 compared with the period 1973-1977. This Government have always emphasised their concern for old age pensioners, who have done better under Fianna Fáil than under the Coalition. It will continue to be our policy to give these people increases in excess of the cost of living. The income of a non-contributory old age pensioner increased in real terms by more than 5 per cent a year in the period 1977-1979 while the single contributory pensioner's rate of increase was marginally below that. These figures show an improvement in the standard of living of these people whereas their standard of living was declining under the Coalition.

We are conscious that the dissatisfaction is not because of increases in the cost of living, which people can bear as long as their incomes keep up. The real dissatisfaction and annoyance relates to problems like the dustbin strike in Dublin and the postal strike which prevents people from getting British pensions and money from America. I can understand the anger of the people and I know the Government are aware of it. But we are also conscious that, if we give in to unrestricted demands for huge increases beyond our ability to pay, we will start a round of inflation that will be reminiscent of the days of the Coalition and we will end up by being rejected. People might say that we were elected with a majority of 20 but we were not elected with a majority of 20, the Coalition were rejected by a majority of 20. Governments are not elected but rejected.

That is an awful admission for the Deputy to make.

It is true. We did a lot for the people by removing the rates from houses.

We will get back to the motion.

We are talking about higher fuel costs. The Coalition Government increased the price of petrol by 35p. Deputy O'Donnell must have nearly died when he heard Deputy Ryan introducing these savage increases giving as his reason that he wished to reduce the number of cars on the road. By so doing the Deputy was ensuring that only people with money could afford to drive around. Deputy Ryan put 35p on to a gallon of petrol as against the 12p put on by the Arabs. Deputy Ryan was known as the greatest Arab of them all.

We will get back to oil and electricity now.

The figure of just under 5 per cent which I indicated as an increase in real terms in the non-contributory old age pension compared with just over 2 per cent in 1977, which was the last year of the Coalition. In this year's budget the Government increased children's allowances by 23 per cent. We know that people have not got the money yet due to the postal strike, but it is in the pipeline. The national understanding, which unfortunately was rejected by the trade union movement, provided for a minimum flat rate increase of £4 and £2 over two phases in order to improve the position of the lower paid. That compared with an average increase of £2.40 for two months or 30p per week for the electricity being used. That is putting it in perspective. However, I know that this will not be reported by the media. We have learned to accept that that side of the story is never given.

Free electricity and free television were introduced by Fianna Fáil for old age pensioners living on their own without a supplementary income. The Deputy threw out the figure of £1 for a head of cabbage, but this was because last winter's frost destroyed three quarters of the cabbage crop. It was the worst winter in years.

Following the rejection of the national understanding we will need a certain amount of discipline. Nobody on this side of the House wants a whole spate of increases coming in which will start a spiral of inflation necessitating among other things further ESB increases, because they will be looking for increases as well. We must exert self discipline.

A question was raised about why we are unwilling to subsidise fuel for the lower income groups. One of our reasons is because by subsidising fuel we could encourage people to use more. It is far better to give money so that people can decide whether to use it on fuel or on other items. The Government are making grants available for insulation and so on and are trying to educate the people to conserve fuel. Advertisements have already been appearing in the newspapers in relation to various types of heaters for homes and I note that the old-fashioned pot-bellied stove is coming back. The people should be educated in relation to fuel conservation and perhaps RTE will be called on to do something constructive for a change in relation to putting on a programme advocating the proper use and conservation of fuel. Perhaps they could have a member of the IIRS on a programme which would regularly inform people about how to cut down on fuel costs. Fuel is a big item now not only in the budgets of lower paid people but also in the budgets of middle income people.

The cost of free electricity allowances is in the region of £6 million annually and if we were to extend the scheme to all social welfare groups it would be about £25 million, which would have to come out of the pockets of the hard-pressed taxpayers at a time when we have the PAYE people rigorously complaining about unfair taxation and on the other hand people hammering even harder at the Government to give subsidies for this and for that.

It is important to point out to the people to conserve energy, and cheaper electricity would encourage more and wasteful use of it at a time when we all know the importance of conserving fuel. We must cut out waste of energy and if people do that their electricity bills will be reduced. For instance, if they go out of a room and leave two bars of an electric fire switched on their electricity bills will be higher than if they had turned off one bar. I am satisfied that this increase can be absorbed by average households through conservation. I operate a budget system of payment and I therefore will not get huge electricity bills when the postal strike has finished. I will now increase my budget by £2 or £3 a month, making it £15 a month instead of £12, and if I get my 7 per cent increase it will more than offset the ESB increase.

Will we get it?

I hope we will get it with the rest of the public service.

It hardly arises on the motion.

I am afraid Deputy Lipper was confusing his manifesto with ours. During the Coalition time their leader said at the Curragh that 50 per cent of the inflation increase was caused in the home. As I have said, there is enormous pressure on the Government to increase subsidies. We have been concerned to control the cost of living so that it will not rise as steeply as it did under the Coalition. We are naturally concerned about oil supplies. God only knows what we will be using for fuel in place of oil in 1990. Of course, necessity is the mother of invention and I am optimistic that the human race will survive current difficulties. It is our greatest concern to protect the less well off section and we have managed to do so much better than the Coalition. On many occasions during their term I saw people with blankets around their shoulders because they did not have electric fires.

They will not be able to afford them now.

If the Deputy had been here earlier he would have heard the facts and figures I gave out in relation to the Fianna Fáil's performance. It was not any accident that the Coalition were rejected and we know what will be in the minds of the people at the next general election.

What about last week?

We are not discussing elections.

Deputy O'Brien is a new alderman and he is not used to it yet. Does he wear red cuffs or green cuffs?

The Deputy got cuffed in Mayo.

I do not think the Deputy is aware of the personal vote I got.

We are discussing an amendment to the motion.

We want to ensure that people will get work and that those at work will not lose their employment. I hope that next year we will be able to give vouchers in the fuel scheme. This will make the people wiser in the use of energy. We see advertisements in regard to the wasting of petrol. I suggest that we should involve the IIRS and the media, particularly RTE, in a series of programmes at certain times each week on methods in regard to fuel conservation, different methods for different types of houses. This is very important because we have been told by the chairman of the ESB that he envisages the possibility of electricity cuts next winter. We should be concerned particularly about conservation because it is no use giving money to people to pay for energy which does not exist because of wastage.

The alarming fact about the whole situation is that it is obvious that the Government's method of conserving energy in regard to people using electricity is simply that a sizable number of consumers will have their supplies cut off by the ESB because they will be unable to meet the increases in the cost of the supply. I have listened to Deputy Briscoe with interest——

He was very provocative.

I admire him a lot but I have sympathy with him in his trying to make a case, as the Minister for Economic Planning and Development here last night tried to make a case by quoting figures and statistics which were completely out of touch with life and the country. Irrespective of what figures are quoted a large majority of the 83 Deputies on the far side of the House are in touch with what is happening and I am sure that all of them are alarmed at what they see. People trying to lead ordinary, everyday lives find that costs are mushrooming around them and they are unable to meet the increases with which they are being hit daily. The Members of this House and of the Seanad recognise that the duty of every person elected to the Houses of the Oireachtas is to endeavour to treat all the citizens on an equal basis, to endeavour to obtain fair treatment for every person in this country. If there is a more major responsibility on the part of the people elected to these Houses it is to try to look after people who are not in a position to look after themselves, to help the weaker and poorer sections of our community and the sections who find that they are not able to cope. I am talking about widows and people on disability benefit, unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance. I am talking about people who are working on low incomes with large families. All of these people are being hit day in and day out with different price increases. This 19.5 per cent increase in ESB charges after all the other increases is something that people cannot meet or cope with. Yesterday we were told about an increase of 15 to 20 per cent in CIE fares.

This motion that has been put down by the Labour Party is a simple one and I am sure that the majority of the Deputies on the Government side would be fully in favour of adopting it. They know that it would be necessary to subsidise these ESB charges. The increase amounts to one-fifth or 20 per cent of these charges. Even before this increase came in many consumers were barely able to pay their ESB accounts every two months. This major increase of 20 per cent lumped on top of the existing charges will be the straw that will break the camel's back for many people. Deputy Briscoe talked about people putting on one bar of an electric fire. He spoke of people with blankets on their shoulders. He spoke about different rates of social welfare, different prices, the CPI and so on. All of this is interesting but it is poor comfort for people facing the coming winter. Many people then will be left freezing in their houses because they cannot pay their ESB accounts. It is a serious and sad fact that this comes from a Government who saw fit to abolish the wealth tax which affected only really wealthy people. They saw fit to abolish rates on the biggest mansions in this country owned by the wealthiest people.

Is the Deputy saying that we should not have done those things?

The Deputy is from Mayo. There are more poor people in poor houses in Mayo than there are in mansions.

All the people in the mansions are very happy that Fianna Fáil can keep those poor people happy.

(Dublin South-Central): Fine Gael would introduce rates again.

Their manifesto for the next election will proclaim the reintroduction of rates and tax on cars.

Deputy Enright is in possession and we cannot discuss car tax and rates on this motion.

County Mayo has thousands of houses that needed reconstruction work and the Coalition Government——

Deputy Enright is in possession. The motion is dealing with ESB charges. We are getting away from that.

(Dublin South-Central): Deputy Enright was talking about introducing rates again.

That has nothing to do with the motion before the House.

Until young Lochinvar appears coming out of the West——

There is no young Lochinvar in the House.

They cut out all grants to housing in County Mayo.

Deputy Flynn, please. Deputy Enright is in possession.

Young Lochinvar has come out of the West.

Deputy Enright, do not bring the House down on top of yourself.

As long as he does not bring Deputy Flynn down he is OK.

Deputy Enright is wasting his own time. He has only seven minutes.

Before Deputy Flynn interrupted me I was endeavouring to point out that the approach by the Government and their attitude towards distribution of wealth was such that they were robbing the poor to help the rich. That is something that every right-minded person would regret deeply.

The ESB charges will affect not only the weekly budget of a family. They will lead also to increases in the cost of other household goods and items right across the board. The charges will not end after payment of the account. They will lead to increased costs in production for industry. They will lead to increased labour costs and to increased costs in supermarkets. All of these are a spin-off of the increase in ESB charges.

The Government's amendment is an interesting amendment. It notes the result of increased energy prices and the need for greater economy in energy use. We must bear in mind that there is a scarcity of heating oil which has led to a sizeable number of people turning to electric heating and solid fuel. The Government should take note of this fact in their efforts to deal with the energy problem and endeavour to increase production of peat briquettes. I know they are making moves in this direction.

At present it is almost impossible for Bord na Móna to acquire bogland for development because they are restricted to paying a figure in the region of £70 per acre. Unless they can pay the market price they will meet widespread opposition in their efforts to acquire more bogland. There have been sizeable petrol queues in Dublin but I should like the Minister to see the huge number of lorries which arrive on Sunday evening at Garryhinch near Portarlington and wait to collect turf the following day. Such is the demand that some of them must wait until 5 o'clock on Monday evening. Solid fuel will be unbelievably scarce during the coming winter and we should at least accelerate the supply of baled briquettes.

The Government should subsidise ESB charges and I would also urge a subsidy towards CIE charges. It is reported in today's edition of The Irish Press that the Irish Petrol Retailers' Association have experienced a drop of 25 per cent in petrol sales and CIE have experienced a 25 per cent increase in passenger numbers on expressway buses and mainline trains since the petrol crisis.

This motion does not deal with CIE.

The Minister's amendment widened the scope of the motion. We have a duty to cut down on imported sources of energy.

I wish to reply briefly in support of our motion. The central issue is that there must be a reallocation and realignment of social resources towards the cost of heating the homes of low incomes persons. It is a bit odd that we could have gaily allocated in the past few years massive relief to taxpayers. We handed out £90 million of taxpayers' money to ratepayers. It did not matter whether they had one house or 20 houses in their possession; the more houses they had the more they benefited from rates relief. Individuals in my constituency can have a house worth £50,000 or even £90,000 on which they enjoy total rates relief, and they can own a house on the shores of a lake in County Mayo——

There are not many of them.

——on which they also enjoy rates relief. There are quite a number of such people. A family may have two cars and enjoy relief of car tax.

We in County Mayo have one of the last unspoiled areas in Europe and we would be delighted if these people would come there.

We were told these people would come back when the wealth tax was abolished. I did not see them giving employment in my area.

We must get back to the motion dealing with ESB charges.

(Interruptions.)

There is a glaring social contrast in the fact that the Government and this House had no difficulty in the most profligate distribution of taxpayers' money when giving massive relief to families throughout the country whether they needed it or not. This includes our own families. In the proposition put forward this evening we ask for a miserable £2 million or £3 million out of the State's expenditure of about £2,500 million in the budget to subsidise electricity charges for those in greatest need, in dire need, and in the coming winter in ever-increasing need, and the Government say blandly that there is no more money left in the kitty. We want to draw attention to that situation.

Deputy Briscoe assured us it would cost something like £25 million to implement this motion. We say it would cost £2 million or £3 million. As of now the free electricity scheme costs about £6 million and benefits 132,000 people. That excellent scheme gives a subsidy of about £45 per person. Next winter the breadwinners of about 30,000 families will be unemployed.

There would be many more unemployed if the Opposition were in Government.

There are about 3,000 or 4,000 deserted wives in this country. About half of them live alone with their children. They could qualify for the subsidised electricity. There are tens of thousands of people on low incomes between the ages of 65 and 66 years who could be brought within the net. Perhaps the Government will do that in the next budget. At the moment they are excluded. There are a large number of widows under the age of 66 years who live alone on the miserly, miserably low rate of social benefit applied to widows by successive administrations. In government we did our utmost for them. This Government are trying to do their utmost for them but, whether we like it or not, a widow living alone gets about £18.50 and out of that, if she is under the age of 66 years, she has to pay her full electricity bill. Many Deputies know from the Euro campaign that £18.50 would not go half-way towards paying for a round of drinks.

My central point is that the money can be found quite easily if we are seriously concerned and if we have a social conscience. I do not accept the endorsement by the Minister for Economic Planning and Development of the view of the IEA that domestic energy prices should be allowed to reach a level which encourages energy conservation. That is laudable enough in theory but in practice, if energy prices were allowed to reach that level, it would not be a question of conservation but a question of stoppage of use by persons on low incomes. I do not regard that as a realistic alternative policy.

It was suggested by the Minister as well that the Government would press ahead with a more selective conservation programme designed specifically to help the lower income groups. I would welcome that. It would be an identifiable assistance to persons on lower incomes but between now and next winter, and between now and the next budget, the Government should try to bring in a feasible and effective scheme. It has taken the Government something like two years to even think about doing something about the so-called free fuel scheme. That could be of major benefit and I hope it will be amended as anticipated by the Minister. He indicated that the Government are looking at it again and I hope it will be amended in the light of the situation which will face us next year.

Deputy O'Toole made a sensible suggestion about the abolition of VAT on insulation material which is currently subjected to a rate of 10 per cent VAT. At the moment one has to spend between £50 and £100 to qualify for minimal tax relief. A warm cardigan is about the most a poor person could rise to, not to speak of spending £80 or £100 to insulate the attic.

I urge the Minister to accept our motion. I favoured the national understanding, and the money which would have been allocated next October under that scheme could be set aside to subsidise ESB costs which will be increased by 20 per cent. I regret that we are not able to accept the Government's amendment to our motion.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 62; Níl, 39.

Tá.

  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Allen, Lorcan.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Brady, Gerard.
  • Brady, Vincent.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Browne, Seán.
  • Burke, Raphael P.
  • Callanan, John.
  • Calleary, Seán.
  • Colley, George.
  • Collins, Gerard.
  • Conaghan, Hugh.
  • Connolly, Gerard.
  • Cowen, Bernard.
  • Cronin, Jerry.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Fahey, Jackie.
  • Farrell, Joe.
  • Filgate, Eddie.
  • Fitzpatrick, Tom. (Dublin South-Central).
  • Fitzsimons, James N.
  • Flynn, Pádraig.
  • Fox, Christopher J.
  • French, Seán.
  • Haughey, Charles J.
  • Herbert, Michael.
  • Keegan, Seán.
  • Kenneally, William.
  • Killeen, Tim.
  • Killilea, Mark.
  • Lalor, Patrick J.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Lemass, Eileen.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Leonard, Tom.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Loughnane, William.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • MacSharry, Ray.
  • Meaney, Tom.
  • Moore, Seán.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Murphy, Ciarán P.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • O'Connor, Timothy C.
  • O'Donoghue, Martin.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Malley, Desmond.
  • Power, Paddy.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Tunney, Jim.
  • Walsh, Seán.
  • Wilson, John P.
  • Woods, Michael J.
  • Wyse, Pearse.

Níl.

  • Barry, Peter.
  • Barry, Richard.
  • Belton, Luke.
  • Bermingham, Joseph.
  • Boland, John.
  • Bruton, John.
  • Burke, Joan.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Collins, Edward.
  • Conlan, John F.
  • Cosgrave, Liam.
  • Cosgrave, Michael J.
  • Crotty, Kieran.
  • D'Arcy, Michael J.
  • Deasy, Martin A.
  • Desmond, Barry.
  • Enright, Thomas W.
  • Fitzpatrick, Tom. (Cavan-Monaghan).
  • Gilhawley, Eugene.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harte, Patrick D.
  • Keating, Michael.
  • Kelly, John.
  • L'Estrange, Gerry.
  • Lipper, Mick.
  • McMahon, Larry.
  • Mitchell, Jim.
  • O'Brien, Fergus.
  • O'Brien, William.
  • O'Connell, John.
  • O'Donnell, Tom.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Ryan, John J.
  • Taylor, Frank.
  • Timmins, Godfrey.
  • Tully, James.
  • White, James.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies P. Lalor and Briscoe; Níl, Deputies L'Estrange and B. Desmond.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.