“That Dáil Éireann:
— that energy prices are currently rising rapidly worldwide;
— the fact that data centres currently take up 11 per cent of electricity produced in Ireland is adding to upward pressure on energy prices, as predicted by Moody’s in 2018;
— that according to the Economic and Social Research Institute, one in six households were in energy poverty in 2019;
— that according to research published by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in collaboration with RED C Research & Marketing Ltd in March 2021, 19 per cent of people cut back on heating and electricity due to cost, including 42 per cent of those with an illness or disability and 36 per cent of lone parent families;
— that there are between 1,500 and 2,000 excess winter deaths each year, a large percentage of which can be attributed to inadequate heating;
— that many households could be facing an increase in heating and electricity costs of more than €500 annually as a result of the energy price increases;
— that the Fuel Allowance is only paid to 380,000 households, which means a majority 1727 of pensioners as well as low paid workers do not receive it and are not protected from these increases;
— that the low level of energy efficiency of the Irish housing stock means that households are particularly impacted by energy price increases and contributes to high levels of carbon emissions; and
— that the rapid electrification of all sectors of the economy including housing and transport and shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy for electricity generation is crucial if we are to transition to a zero carbon economy;
— the deregulation of the energy supply market and the privatisation of Bord Gáis Energy in 2014 was disastrous for ordinary people;
— when the ESB’s statutory requirement to operate on a not-for-profit and break-even basis was repealed in 2001 electricity prices rose dramatically, resulting in energy poverty, disconnections and an annual 2,800 excess of cold-related deaths;
— the Government has committed to increase carbon tax year-on-year, which is currently set at €33.50 per tonne on fuel and is set to increase by €7.50 per tonne next year;
— the Government’s retrofitting programme, which only targeted retrofitting 2,400 social homes in 2021 out of a total stock of over 160,000, is entirely inadequate; and
— carbon taxes are a regressive form of taxation, that disproportionately impact on lower income individuals and families, and are highly ineffective in making the necessary changes to decarbonise our economy; and
calls on the Government to:
— issue an emergency order under section 61 of the Consumer Protection Act 2007 in relation to the supply of electricity, gas and home heating oil;
— fix a maximum unit price on electricity, gas and home heating oil under section 62 of the Consumer Protection Act 2007;
— at a minimum, not to increase the carbon tax in Budget 2022, as a step towards replacing the carbon tax with a pollution tax on the profits of big polluters, including the fossil fuel industry, big agri-business and data centres;
— implement a national retrofit plan to retrofit every public building and home in the State by 2030, prioritising local authority housing and the homes of those facing fuel poverty;
— increase the rate of Fuel Allowance by €15 a week and increase the means test for eligibility for Fuel Allowance from €100 a week above the State Contributory Pension to €200 a week above the State Contributory Pension; and
— renationalise the energy supply sector, using a publicly owned and democratically controlled energy company to drive a rapid and just transition to a zero carbon economy, including large scale public investment in offshore wind energy.”
I am sharing time with Deputy Barry.
A huge crisis is either hitting and is about to hit hundreds of thousands of households across the country. It is the crisis of soaring bills for electricity, gas and heating oil. Many people will be faced with the choice of paying to heat their homes properly or putting food on the table. That choice is faced by one in five or six households. This is the number of people who struggle to pay their heating bills. Now, with those bills rising, they will be put under even more pressure. This is an international phenomenon. There is no question about that. There is an extra edge here, however, in terms of the data centres. I am sure we will come to that. Other governments throughout Europe that are far from being socialist, under pressure from below, in Spain and Italy, for example, have moved to take some action to defend certain sections of the population from this increase in prices and shield them from that choice of buying food or heating their homes. The Government here proposes to wring its hands, say how bad things are then, according to its countermotion, propose nothing to alleviate the burden facing people but reassure them that competition between suppliers is an important means of exerting downward pressure on electricity prices and that they should not worry because neoliberalism and capitalism will sort it out in the long term.
Energia recently announced its third price increase of the year. In total, it has increased electricity prices by 45% and gas prices by 42% in the past 12 months. That is more than €800 for the average household. Other companies have done something similar. What is the Government planning to do about this? Not only is it planning to do nothing to address prices, next week it plans to announce a further 22% increase in the carbon tax. With one in five already having to cut back on light and heat for their homes due to the costs, the Government plans to add to the problem and drive even more people into fuel poverty.
The carbon tax does nothing to help people reduce their fuel bills or their carbon footprints. Our motion says that, at the very least, it should not be increased any further in this year's budget. In reality, it should be scrapped and replaced with a pollution tax on those who are responsible for pollution. In other words, such a tax should be levied on the profits of the big business polluters, data centres, big agribusiness, fossil fuels and so on. It is time to tackle both the profiteering and the power of the private energy companies.
The Government likes to pretend that there is basically nothing it can do in the face of market forces driving energy prices up. It can actually do something extremely simple, however, and it could do it today. At the stroke of a ministerial pen, it could declare an emergency in the supply of electricity and energy. Another stroke of a pen could set a maximum price to protect people from these increases. The Government has in its power the capacity to put an end to these energy price hikes.
The greed of big energy companies has added fuel to the fire of rising energy prices here. Privatisation has not delivered the promised affordability and efficiency. It has been a complete disaster. Energy prices in Ireland were already 23% above the EU average prior to this crisis. Across the globe, energy price hikes are highest in states with privatised networks. Investment in improving services and switching to renewables has not happened; instead, we have had bloated marketing and managerial budgets and profit margins driving up prices. Instead of improving services for ordinary people, privatisation has made life more difficult, with customers having to spend hours researching every year to find the best places. The latter adds another unnecessary task to overburdened lives. The privatisation experiment is a failure from the point of view of workers, ordinary householders and, crucially, the environment.
As part of a socialist green new deal, we should bring the energy sector fully back into public ownership, cut out the profiteering, create thousands of decent jobs and invest in a rapid and just transition to 100% renewable energy. Instead of that green new deal, the Government is overseeing a dirty old industry. This year has seen the coal-fired Moneypoint station ramp up production. The Green party got into power and our use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, increased. Moneypoint is one of the most environmentally destructive sites in the entire country. The fact that we are almost one quarter of the way through this century and still reliant on coal energy plants is testament to the abysmal failure to invest in renewable energy production. Our usage of tidal power and offshore wind power is still minimal in comparison with similar-sized countries such as Denmark. Instead of the profits in the energy sector being reinvested into renewables, they have been siphoned off. Public ownership of the energy sector would allow us to direct all resources to the just transition to which I refer and shut the likes of Moneypoint down for good.
On the fuel allowance, the Government's countermotion simply refers to the current level. It is a payment of €28 per week for 28 weeks to more than 370,000 low-income households. That means a majority of those who will be hard hit and faced with difficult choices in the context of energy prices do not currently avail of fuel allowance. The level of the fuel allowance is inadequate. Something simple that can be done is to increase the fuel allowance by the level at which energy prices are rising, €15 per week, and extend eligibility in order that all those suffering and faced with that choice have the ability to avail of the protection afforded by it.
A crucial reason we are hit so hard by energy price rises is the poor state of our housing stock in terms of energy efficiency. The Government's plans, the targets in which it has not met so far, are completely inadequate. We should aim to completely retrofit all our public buildings and public homes, including local authority and approved housing body homes, by 2030. Instead, the Government's target was to retrofit 2,400 social homes in 2021 out of a total stock of more than 160,000. Retrofitting ordinary people's homes is a good example of the kind of policies that make up an eco-socialist green new deal. These are things that simultaneously improve people's lives while tackling the environmental crisis.
I will conclude by referring again to privatisation because I find it incredible that the bottom line of the Government's countermotion is that "competition between suppliers is an important means of exerting downward pressure on electricity prices". In other words, continue to let the market rip and eventually that will help ordinary people. There is no evidence for that. I gave the example previously of the difference in prices between European countries with privatised versus non-privatised markets. Non-privatised is better. In Ireland, the development of the ESB was historic and involved the nationalisation of 300 expensive, badly run, inefficient private and local authority undertakings.
This is from an article by Ms Sinéad Mercier. It was described by a newspaper at the time as the first fruits of Bolshevism in the country, but it was enormously successful. When it was privatised, the ESB was forced to artificially increase its prices to attract competitors into a new energy market on which the State spent million/+ creating. The very same story is seen internationally. For example, in Australia a study found that price rises have been highest in states with privatised electricity markets. Continuing the reliance on the privatisation of markets is a disaster from the points of view of the environment, workers and ordinary householders.