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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 7 Apr 2022

Vol. 1020 No. 7

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Táimid ag foghlaim inniu go bhfuil ardú 6.7% tagtha ar phraghsanna le bliain anuas agus go bhfuil praghsanna fuinnimh ag dul suas níos mó, thart ar 47%. Tá níos mó ná dúbailt tagtha ar chostais ola théimh le bliain anuas. Tá na hoibrithe agus teaghlaigh ar fud an Stáit ag fulaingt mar gheall ar chostais mhaireachtála. Caithfidh an Rialtas dul i ngleic leis seo. Ba chóir go mbeadh sé ag tógáil an ualaigh throm seo atá ar theaghlaigh ach ní hé sin atá beartaithe. Is é an rud atá beartaithe ag an Rialtas seo ná go mbeidh praghsanna ag ardú níos mó, mar gheall ar cháin charbóin a ghearradh ar an bhfuinneamh seo, taobh istigh de chúpla seachtain. Caithfear stop a chur leis seo.

Yesterday, my party leader pressed the Taoiseach on the need for further measures in the form of an emergency budget to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. We have been consistent in that call for some time. It would appear that the Tánaiste's Government has turned its face against this at a time when workers and families are really struggling. This morning's consumer price index shows that prices have risen by more than 6.7% in the past year, with energy prices increasing by 47%. The price of home heating oil has gone up by a staggering 127%. It is more than double. The cost-of-living crisis demands an urgent and comprehensive response from Government.

We acknowledge that households cannot be fully insulated from all of the prices increases we are seeing, but we know that Government can and must do more. That is what we heard from the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, last month. It is what we heard from the Central Bank just yesterday, when it said there is headroom for Government to act. Instead, it remains intent on pushing ahead with carbon tax increases, hikes next month and increasing energy prices, when efforts should be focused on reducing them.

Three weeks ago, the Minister for Finance categorically ruled out any further measures to support workers and families until the October budget. At that time, I said that he was out of touch with the realities households were facing and that his position lacked credibility. Now, it seems that Government is changing its position. At least, that is what is reported from utterances from the Tánaiste and from the Taoiseach last night that the carbon tax increases will be offset with other measures, despite the Minister for Finance having ruled this out.

However, we have seen no details. The carbon tax hike should not go ahead. Government should not push up the price of home heating oil, which has already more than doubled in the past year, or of gas. Efforts should be made to reduce the price of home heating oil and of other fuels, not to increase it, but we need a more comprehensive package.

We have called for a range of effective measures that would be targeted at workers and families. We have called for the Government to work with the Commission, as far back as November, to reduce the VAT on domestic energy bills to zero for a period of time. The Tánaiste and his Government rejected the proposal at the time but they have now changed their position and only began this work a couple of weeks ago. However, his Government is still ruling out reducing the VAT to zero on energy bills, even if the Commission gives it the flexibility to do so.

We have called on Government to extend the fuel allowance by six weeks. We have called for social welfare rates to be increased, in line with inflation, in order that the most vulnerable in our society will not experience that sharp drop in living standards. Will the Tánaiste consider that proposal?

We have called on Government to remove excise duty on home heating oil, as families struggle with a cost that has risen by more than double in the past year to try to keep themselves, their family and their children, warm in their homes. We have also called for cost-of-living cash payments directed at low- and middle-income earners and supports for those who struggle with unaffordable rents.

There is a need for an emergency budget. That need is clear and it is now. Will Government change course? Will it scrap the carbon tax increase it plans in the coming three weeks? Will it commit to an emergency budget in response to the cost-of-living crisis?

As the House will be aware, the Central Statistics Office, CSO, figures that came out today indicate that the annual inflation rate is now at 6.9%. It is estimated it will rise to approximately 8% later in the year, before falling off towards the end of the year and into next year. That will come as no surprise to anyone in this House, nor will it come as any surprise to people who have been experiencing the price increases in their everyday lives.

What the CSO is confirming today is what people have been experiencing over the past three to six months. We know that from the increase in the price at the pumps. We know it from the increase people are seeing in their utility bills. We know it from the increase people are seeing in their grocery bills. It is impacting on family and household budgets. It is also impacting on the cost of doing business. Government acknowledges that.

That is why we have acted already to help ease the burden of rising prices. The Deputy acknowledged in his contribution that no government can fully offset the cost of rising prices but we can offset it substantially. That is what Government has done through a tax and welfare package in the last budget to increase the pension and welfare rates and reduce income taxes for people on middle incomes, something the Deputy's party has opposed and continues to oppose.

People now see the €200 coming off their electricity bill. That has started to take effect. There has been a €125 fuel allowance increase for those most vulnerable houses because it is important we target what we are doing towards those who need it the most. We have had the biggest cut in excise duty ever with 20 cent taken off petrol and 15 cent taken off diesel, which more than reversed the carbon tax increases that occurred in recent years on petrol and diesel, as well as special measures for hauliers, tillage farmers and others in society.

There has already been a substantial response from Government to help people with the burden of rising costs, worth between €1 billion and €2 billion, depending on how one calculates it. That is not small and is much greater than has been done by other governments throughout Europe. However, we acknowledge that more needs to be done, given that prices continue to rise. We do not want to chase every price increase with an action that is not sustainable or credible. We want to look at it in the round, both in the next budget and before it.

With regard to the carbon tax increase due in May, it is important to say that does not apply to petrol, diesel or electricity. It applies to home heating oil and will add approximately €20 to the cost of filling a full tank with home heating oil and it will affect gas. It will increase the cost of gas by approximately €1.50 per month. If one does not have €20, it is a lot of money.

If one does not have €1.50, it is a lot of money. We will bring in measures before May to offset that increase. It is important to be honest about the scale of that increase. From some of the commentary, one would think that carbon tax is somehow responsible for all, most or even much of the increases people are experiencing. That is not the case. This will add about €20 to the cost of a tank of oil to heat a house and about €1.50 to gas bills, and we will offset that.

Regarding the Deputy's proposed solution of reducing VAT, which he has asked us to consider, we will of course consider that approach. Currently, however, that is not possible. We had an engagement with the European Commission. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance have had it. We already have a discretionary VAT rate in Ireland. We have one of the lowest VAT rates on energy in Europe. We are already down to the lowest possible rate in respect of excise on petrol and diesel. If we were to try to do what the Deputy is proposing now, it would not be possible because it is not lawful or legal. If we were to reduce the VAT rate to 12%, if that were possible, we would then have to put it back up to 23% because of the way the VAT directive is structured. In opposition, Deputies have the convenience of making proposals and promises that cannot be implemented. What the Deputy is proposing now, at least, cannot be implemented.

What that sums up is that the Tánaiste, as leader of his party, is completely out of touch. We at least have a bit of confidence that some of his backbenchers understand some of the pressures families are under. The proposal we put to him back in November was to engage with the European Commission to get the flexibility to reduce the VAT rate to 0%. The Tánaiste's Government and Minister of Finance did nothing. This issue was first raised when a letter was sent to the European Commission on 10 March. The Government sat on its hands as prices continued to increase and put pressure on families. This Government simply did not, and does not, get what is happening out there. We have seen the cost of home heating oil increase by 127% in the last year. Yet the plan this Government has regarding the price of home heating oil is to increase it by another €20 on 1 May. That is simply madness, and it is driving people to the breaking point.

We put forward not just one or two measures to the Government. We need a suite of measures to deal with the issues raised by the cost-of-living crisis. The Tánaiste's Government has allowed rents to go out of control. We need targeted measures which will reduce costs for those renting. Social welfare recipients, who are on fixed incomes, have seen an increase of just over 2% in those rates, while inflation has increased by 6.7%. Will the Tánaiste commit to introducing a social welfare package? We need a mini-budget and a Government that gets it and is willing to respond swiftly to these pressures.

No matter what response I gave to Deputy Doherty just now, his answer was going to be what he said. It is his catch cry-----

Those are the facts.

-----and his standard line. No matter what anybody says to him, he is going to say they are out of touch and do not get it. Of course we get it. As I speak, €200 is coming off people's electricity bills because we understand the burden people face from increased energy costs, albeit ones caused by factors outside of our control. This is why we have had the biggest cut in excise duties on petrol and diesel ever-----

Why is the Government putting up the price of home heating oil?

-----with 20 cent taken off petrol and 15 cent taken off diesel.

Deputies, please.

It is why we increased the fuel allowance. It is why we had a pension increase in the budget.

It is why the Government is increasing the price of home heating oil and gas.

It is why we reduced income taxes for middle-income people, despite opposition from the Deputy's party. That we have acted in that way is evidence of the fact we get it. More than €1 billion is being used to reduce the cost of living for people, but we are not in a position to chase every increase and to fully compensate people for every increase.

Stop introducing-----

We must be honest about this aspect.

The Government is bringing in the increases.

Regarding engagement with the European Commission, there has been ongoing engagement on this matter by the Taoiseach and by the Minister for Finance.

The reality is that the proposal the Deputy is and has been making-----

The Government sat on its hands.

-----is in breach of the European VAT directive and the European excise directive.

That is not true.

Deputy Doherty, please.

The Tánaiste is misleading the Dáil.

The reason Deputy Doherty cannot let me finish-----

Please, Deputy Doherty, let the Tánaiste speak.

The reason he will not let me speak and he continues to try to shout me down is that he does not want the Irish people to know-----

The time is up.

-----what a fake he is and that he keeps making proposals he knows cannot be implemented. That shows me he does not get it-----

Check the record. The Tánaiste is a disgrace. Check the record. He is misleading the Dáil.

-----and he will not listen to what I have to say because he does not want people to get him.

Check the record. We asked the Government to engage with the European Commission, but it refused to do so for months as families were under pressure.

Deputy Doherty, please, resume your seat.

Check the record and stop misleading the Dáil.

Resume your seat, Deputy Doherty, please. Please treat the House with some respect and adhere to-----

I will not allow the Tánaiste to mislead the Dáil-----

Please, treat the House with some respect. I call Deputy Bacik.

The Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, revealed today that inflation has surged to a 22-year high of 6.7%. The Central Bank of Ireland has projected that inflation is set to continue rising. Households are already squeezed financially and look set to be even further squeezed by this rise in inflation, given the rising costs of fuel, food and other commodities. As ever, these price rises and this increase in inflation will hit those on lowest incomes the hardest.

The Labour Party, however, believes the State can take action to address the hardships so many households are now facing. The reality is that for too long we have been a low-wage republic. We are saying that Ireland needs a pay rise. Far too many workers are on low pay. Ireland has one of the highest rates of low pay in Europe and the OECD, with 23% of people on low rates of pay. This is compounded by the rising cost of living. It is especially the case in Dublin, where we are seeing out-of-control rents and high costs for goods and services, as well as for early years education and childcare, which is leaving many households struggling to make ends meet and even to heat their homes and to put food on their tables. The Labour Party believes the best way to address this issue is to seek a way to increase take-home pay for working people and families. One way we can do this is to strengthen employees' power to negotiate pay rates and salaries and conditions with their employers. As a lifelong trade unionist, I believe we need to strengthen collective-bargaining rights and the ability of workers to negotiate these improved pay rates and conditions to ensure real and sustainable increases in income.

The State can also examine the national minimum wage. It is still only €10.50 per hour and this is significantly below the living wage figure of €12.90 per hour. We believe that a targeted emergency increase in the minimum wage would be one way of addressing the serious squeeze that the increases in the cost of living and the rising rate of inflation is putting on so many households on low incomes. People need a living-wage income. At the very minimum, they need an increase in the national minimum wage rate. We also believe that we must then set a pathway to achieving a genuine living wage rate.

Indeed, I note that the programme for Government of this Government promises to "Progress to a living wage over the lifetime of the Government", which means there is a de facto deadline of February 2025. Yet we have seen no movement to deliver on this promise. We have drafted a Bill that would change the mandate of the statutory Low Pay Commission and give us a genuine and effective pathway to achieving a real living wage rate. Therefore, we are calling first for an emergency increase in the national minimum wage rate of at least 30 cent an hour, to bring it up to €10.80 per hour. We are also seeking a pathway to achieving a genuine living income for those households being most affected and most squeezed and suffering the most hardships as the result of rising inflation and prices.

I agree with Deputy Bacik on a number of points but differ with her on a few others. It is absolutely correct to say that the cost of living impacts those on the lowest incomes the most. If we look at the data from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, however, the differential is not as wide as people may think. The most recent data produced by the CSO, and it is a little out of date, indicates that the rising cost of living impacts people in the lowest-income households, perhaps of the order 6% or 7%, while for middle-income households the equivalent rate is 5% or 6%. It is not as great a difference as people may believe it to be. That is why the Government decided we needed universal and targeted measures. Middle-income people, working people and people not on welfare are also struggling to pay the bills and to deal with increased utility costs. Even though we received criticism from people for doing it, I stand over the decision to take €200 off everyone's electricity bill, because even people on modest incomes and middle incomes are also struggling with their bills. If we only implement targeted measures, then working and middle-income people will lose out and that is wrong. That is why we need a combination of universal measures that benefits everyone, as well as targeted measures for those most affected.

Regarding wages, in Ireland they are approximately 36% higher than the OECD or EU average. As is often the case with statistics, it depends on how things are measured. Our minimum wage is the third, fourth or fifth highest in the OECD. If we compare what people are paid like-for-like, such as teachers, nurses, gardaí and construction workers, then Irish pay rates are higher than those in the UK and much higher than the OECD or EU average. When we adjust for the higher cost of living, that pretty much cancels that out. It can only really be argued that we are a low-pay economy based on relativities, and that is a particular way of working things out, in that because somebody in Microsoft is paid a fortune, that means we have relatively low pay. However, when we compare like with like, it is a much more complex picture and, as is often the case with statistics, it depends on how they are used. Certainly, compared to the average of our peers, wages are about 36% higher.

Our minimum wage is one of the highest in the world. I acknowledge that has to be offset against the fact that we have a higher cost of living and also by the fact that we have lower payroll taxes on people on lower and middle incomes than other countries do. Relativities can be used to prove almost anything and, therefore, can be misleading. The increase in the national minimum wage this year was lower than the rate of inflation. However, looking back over previous years, we have increased the national minimum wage well ahead of the rate of inflation. I think it has gone up by about 25% in the past five or six years. Inflation has not risen by 26% in the past five or six years. It is closer to 10%. With the exception of this year, we have had national minimum wage increases greater than inflation.

I will agree with the Tánaiste on one thing, which is that statistics can be used in all sorts of ways. Relativities are important. When one quotes statistics on wages, the key issue for everyone feeling it in their pockets is purchasing power, the actual relativity between take-home pay and the cost of living. Let us not forget that in Ireland we are paying for many things that other European countries provide for free, such as early years education and care and healthcare, particularly for children. We have higher costs for education and in many sectors than in other countries. The minimum wage has only increased by €1.35 in the last six years despite faster economic growth and higher inflation. We are clearly seeing a national minimum wage that has not kept pace with inflation. That has really caused a particularly difficult and tough squeeze on those households that are most in need and suffering most as we see the spiralling rate of inflation.

I agree that the best way to examine the situation is using purchasing power parity. That is fair. Irish people are paying more on average than our peers in Europe or across the OECD. We do have a higher cost of living and that needs to be factored in. What I do not think we should do is use relativities, because they can distort the picture. A small number of people who are paid an awful lot of money in the multinationals can move the average. It is misleading to use relativities of that nature. I agree that a fair comparison is purchasing power parity.

On the national minimum wage, I will check up on this. I acknowledge that the increase this year is less than the rate of inflation. I am pretty sure if the Deputy looks back over the last three, four or five years and takes it in the round, that the national minimum wage has increased ahead of the rate of inflation but I will double check that. On the living wage, I have finally got the report from the Low Pay Commission. The Minister of State, Deputy English, and I will consider it over the recess and will come back with a plan to move Ireland towards a living wage as committed in the programme for Government.

Would the Tánaiste agree that the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, has not got the attention it deserves due to the desperate situation in Ukraine and concerns about the cost of energy and security of supply? This report makes for alarming reading. It is another serious wake-up call. The world is nowhere near on track to limit global warming to 1.5°C by 2050. There is not a hope that will be met. In fact, the evidence points to a 3°C rise by the end of this century. We are heading towards catastrophic levels of warming with mass extinctions and the likely end of civilisation as we know it. Introducing the report, the UN Secretary General António Guterres said that countries and businesses were lying. "Lying" is a strong word. It is an extraordinary statement but unfortunately it is true. That includes Ireland and Europe.

It is now time to recognise that extreme climate change cannot be averted, never mind limited, as long as the current socioeconomic system of capitalism remains in place. It is a system where eight men have as much wealth as 50% of the poorest world population; where in the course of a deadly pandemic the already super-rich 1% got richer while the 99% got poorer; and where production takes place for the profit of the few as opposed to the needs of the many. This represents a world gone badly wrong.

The IPCC report calls for transformational change. We need not just a transition to a more sustainable world; we need a just transformation to a sustainable, healthy and just world. Instead of the mayhem of the market, we need to use the resources of the planet, which are limited, to meet the needs of all the people in a sustainable and healthy environment. People like me on the left have been arguing for such a transformation for far too long. Time is running out and the window to a better future is closing. We need to start a discussion about the transformation we need and how to go about achieving it. Capitalism offers only empty promises and at best half measures, too little, too late. It is time to stop the pretence. We need to get real. Does the Tánaiste agree it is time for real transformational change?

I thank the Deputy. I certainly agree with her initial statement that the IPCC report that came out the other day did not get the attention it deserved. It was very alarming, quite frankly, to read the summary, which I did. The Deputy is correct in her analysis that the war in Ukraine, the pandemic that still rages around the world, and the shocking rise in the cost of living meant it did not get the kind of attention it deserved. Sometimes when we are managing crises such as the war in Ukraine, the rising cost of living and the pandemic, we can lose sight of the mega-crisis which is climate change and the impact it is going to have and is already having on people.

I think the "blame capitalism" analysis is too simplistic. If we look at the state-planned economies like the Chinese economy, they are producing quite a lot of emissions which are rising very rapidly. Economies that were developed under socialist systems such as the former Soviet economies, Russia, for example, and North Korea, they are very much based on heavy industry and are really all about pumping coal, steel and all the rest of it. I think that is too simplistic. One good thing about capitalism is that it does tend to innovate and develop the kind of technologies that will allow us to deal with climate change. Technologies such as green hydrogen, offshore wind and carbon capture storage are all being developed and funded by capitalists, not by people who have different ideologies. I think that capitalist versus socialist thing is far too simplistic and far too ideological.

I agree that we need systems change. I remember saying a couple of years ago that if we were to achieve our climate targets and reduce emissions by what we had hoped we would reduce them by, we would need to shut down the economy and send everyone home. We pretty much did that during the pandemic and our emissions only went down by 6% or 7%. What that says to me is that we need systems change. We need to change the way we produce our energy, stop fossil fuels, and move to renewables and hydrogen. That is what we are doing but it will take time. We need to change our transport and food systems. We need to change the way we heat our homes. Systems change cannot be done overnight. It will take a generation to do it. We cannot just shut down the way things are. People still need to be able to live their everyday and normal lives. It will take a generation to go from fossil fuels to renewables, in my view. In the meantime, we have to live our lives.

People cannot live their lives at the moment. People in the Third World cannot live their lives at the moment. People in this country are finding it very difficult to live their lives at the moment with the cost of living and the systems in place for climate change.

To my mind, the vote last night did not reflect the debate that happened on carbon budgets. I am fundamentally putting to the Tánaiste that we need that transformational change. It is not me saying it but the UN Secretary General. That means tackling the massive profits of these energy companies, and tackling the wealth of that 1% of the richest people. It means tackling the dividends giving out to shareholders with governments intervening to take that money from their pockets and putting it into carbon change. We know people on low to middle incomes will not be able to afford the €25,000 for retrofitting. Therefore, those people are paying for the wealthy to get retrofitting and not them. We know that retrofitting is one of the key factors that could change people's lives as regards carbon emissions.

I understand where the Deputy is coming from but I am just not sure what she is suggesting we do in practical terms. We have a really ambitious retrofit programme which is very much under way. The constraint there is not money. We will find it difficult to spend the money we have allocated towards retrofitting that comes from carbon taxes paid by businesses as well as households.

Those businesses that produce the most carbon pay the most. However, the difficulty we will run into with retrofitting is having the skills and staff to make it happen; it is not a financial issue. If we took all the dividends in the world, they would not create an extra plumber or provide us with the additional capacity we need.

The Government has had years-----

I understand the Deputy's passion on climate action and I believe you are sincere on it. Not everyone in this House is but the Deputy is. I would love to know what she would do tomorrow to allow us to reduce our emissions suddenly and dramatically. You cannot replace everyone's car and all the heating systems in the country overnight, and you cannot just turn off all power stations. It will take a generation to make these changes happen and it will have to involve a combination of mitigation and-----

(Interruptions).

We cannot have a conversation about it across the House.

I welcome Councillor Frankie Daly, from Limerick, and his guests to the Visitors Gallery. It is nice to see guests back here again.

Irish electricity prices are the fourth most expensive in the EU. They are 23% above the EU average. Only Germany, Denmark and Belgium beat us. It is price gouging and it is a despicable attack on all our citizens, who feel hopeless and hapless. Inflation, as we note today, is at a 22-year high. The Government's inaction is startling. The issue is affecting every sector of Irish society, including farmers, business owners, families and charity organisations. Everyone is feeling the pinch. It is totally unsustainable. Our Government owns 95% of the ESB, which made a profit of €200 million last year and paid a dividend to the Minister for Finance of €120 million. Swift action is needed by the Government — it does not seem to be coming — to insist that the ESB cease ripping off consumers. A price cap on profits is needed and the Government can no longer bury its head in the sand. I plead with the Tánaiste. We cannot do this to our people.

Does the Government believe a State-owned electricity company should be making record profits when most consumers can barely afford to heat their homes? Some cannot afford to do so. Will the Government use its power and influence over how the ESB is gouging to reverse the latest price hikes? We have heard all the Irish electricity suppliers, including Electric Ireland, blame rising natural gas prices globally for record increases. However, the facts do not support this contention. For instance, figures emerged last October showing that many ESB power plants earned profits of between €132,000 and €138,000 per hour at different times during July and September of last year. Generators that I have mentioned were trying to buy electricity from the ESB.

Household electricity costs rose by 70% in 2021. This was before any mention of the desperate and despicable war in Ukraine, so the Government should stop hiding behind that Trojan horse. This is a perfect storm that the Government has created. We are blaming everything on the Ukraine conflict, as horrific as it is.

Bord Gáis recently announced further hikes of 27%. It has already been estimated that those hikes have added between €1,000 and €1,500 to the bill in every person's home. This is just not sustainable. I have raised this matter on numerous occasions and have written to the Taoiseach about it. I might as well have written to Santy Claus or the Easter Bunny, who is coming next week, for all the good it did me. Again, I urge the Government in the strongest possible terms to take swift action and direct the ESB to stop ripping off customers and place a cap on all profits generated in Ireland. This is necessary to ensure immediate reductions for all electricity customers. Direct Government intervention is needed. The Government should not stand idly by and promise something in October. It is not doing anything. It is supposed to represent the people and look after their interests but it is not. It is allowing the ESB to do what it wants.

It is absolutely the case that the ESB is a very profitable State-owned company. It generates very significant profits each year. It may well be the case that it will generate larger profits this year than in previous years. It is important to put on the record of the House what it does with its profits. Its profits form part of its balance sheet. With them, it invests in the grid to make sure we can bring power to all parts of the country and empower job creation and economic development. It also invests in renewables, which is the long-term solution to the energy-security problems and price instability we have. The profits do get reinvested. A good chunk of the profits come back to the State. They come back to the Exchequer through the corporation tax on profits that the company pays and the dividend to the State. We use that money. It goes into the Government's coffers. We use it to do things like increasing the fuel allowance and taking the €200 off people's electricity bills.

A three-card trick.

That is where the money goes. It is open to the Government to take a bigger dividend if it sees the ESB is making windfall or excessive profits and give it back to people, be it in the form of the fuel allowance or further reductions to bills.

I salute all the ESB crews and acknowledge their hard work, especially during storms or outages. Where is the Commission for Regulation of Utilities? What is its role? Is there just a fancy brass plaque on the wall, posh sheets and a board of members of a quango? It is standing idly by. It is useless, toothless and fruitless. That is what they are. The Tánaiste said "if it sees the ESB..." Everyone can see the ESB is fleecing people. How long is the Tánaiste going to wait to find out? You try to raise a family and you will see.

Low-usage charges must also be examined and scrapped by the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. Those who are making every effort to cut their electricity usage are being charged more for doing so. The Government really wants to penalise and punish the people. It is doing it every hour of every day and every second of every minute. It is punishing the people. The Tánaiste just said the Government gets the money back in from the ESB and spends it. What does it do? It gave Mr. Holohan a job in Trinity, with €187,000, that he never applied for, that no one advertised and that he is probably not fit for, and Paul Reid and many more people. People are sick and tired of the monkeys on their backs. The monkeys are sitting opposite — I do not mean anything personal to anyone — and the people are sick and tired of being harangued and downtrodden. They are going to rise up because they will not put up with this. They cannot afford to live.

We should not question the undoubted capacity and abilities of Dr. Tony Holohan.

A great job. A special job for him.

Let us not-----

Well, I question it.

Let us not cast any aspersions-----

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his advice but I question it.

-----on the man's ability.

A job for life and a pension as well.

Fundamentally, what drives the price of electricity in Ireland is the price of gas internationally. We make most of our electricity from gas and that is what determines the price point. The wholesale price of gas, which used to be 60p per therm, is now nearly £3 per therm. Therefore, we have seen an almost-fivefold increase in the cost of gas in international markets. Thankfully, we are not seeing a fivefold increase in electricity prices.

Not far away from it.

We would be having a very different conversation if we were in that position today. What we see-----

-----across Europe, including in Northern Ireland and Britain, are price increases in the region of 30% to 40%. Unfortunately, Ireland is no different. We are not immune from the dramatic rise in the price of gas that is happening internationally. We totally acknowledge the impact it is having on household budgets and the cost of doing business, and that is why we are trying to act. People will see the €200 coming off their bill-----

We have reduced excise. It is in addition to VAT. It €200 when the VAT is included, to be exact. Of course, we are examining other measures and things that we might do to help in the future.

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