The Minister tried to cover all the bad news with his shining Green Paper.
The Deloitte & Touche report contains a great deal of analysis of the ESB. It examines various issues relating to the market, which we are discussing in this amendment and this section, in a professional and thorough manner. The most interesting thing in the report, which was produced by a hard-headed consultancy company, is that one fifth of the people suffer fuel poverty. I am sure the Ceann Comhairle, with his medical background, will agree that is an extraordinary statistic. One fifth of the people of this country are suffering some degree of fuel poverty. This is a key issue.
How can Mr. Reeves and Mr. Tutty tell us that there will be an increase of 34%? It seems, as Mr. David Begg and my party leader, Deputy Rabbitte, said last week, that prices are being greatly increased in the expectation of bringing about competition at some future time. The problem, as we know from a study conducted by the department of social studies and sociology in UCD, is that some people will never enjoy those lower prices because they will not be around. One of the reasons they will not be around is that they will not survive our cold winters.
The Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, will agree that the last two winters were among the hardest we can remember. Perhaps they were the two coldest winters of our lifetimes. Some people could not afford to turn on the gas central heating or to get an extra fill of oil. I am sure the Minister of State met such people when he was travelling around his constituency of Galway West. I have often walked into the freezing kitchens of houses owned by older people who are afraid to turn on their heating, which is an incredible commentary on our situation towards the end of 2006, after ten years of amazing economic growth.
I am sure the Minister of State privately agrees with me that we should have a requisition on the Commission for Energy Regulation to consider the alleviation of fuel poverty as a key element of its work. It should not be something that it can choose to consider. I do not have the commission's consultation and decision documents on the increases of 34% in gas prices and 20% in electricity prices with me, but perhaps I should bring them in. Mr. Reeves and his colleagues said they approved the increase in gas prices because the increase in the price of imported gas over the previous two seasons meant that Bord Gáis was unable to get the return it needed. If one examines the company's accounts for 2005, one will see that the company made a profit of over €100 million. It is refurbishing the network throughout the country. Many places on the north side of Dublin are being dug up by Bord Gáis as it installs its upgraded future system.
The ESB, similarly, passed on a huge dividend of €77 million to the Government last year, from profits of €270 million. It is a remarkable, well-led, dynamic and forward-looking company. An additional increase of 20% in electricity prices will be faced by the public on 1 January next. In a few weeks, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, will deliver his Budget Statement from where the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, is currently sitting. I hope he will announce significant increases in social welfare benefits, the amount of electricity units and a range of social protections. The Government certainly has the money to make such increases. A few weeks later, however, on 1 January, just as benefits such as the State pension start to enter people's bank accounts and post office accounts, people will find they have to pay much more for their energy. This is a critical issue.
During the past five years of this Administration, there have been increases of 100% in the price of gas and over 60% in the price of electricity. We have had to deal with amazingly high prices to establish a future in which we will supposedly have much lower prices. Like many social commentators, I do not understand the logic that is operating at present. The deliberate decision to keep energy prices low was a key factor in the establishment of the Celtic tiger economy we have enjoyed, which has brought most people to a level of affluence. We have not seen the benefits of the EU requirements we have had to meet.
I have one of the Commission for Energy Regulation consultation documents with me, but I do not have the key decision document with me. The documents should have included a lengthy commentary on the measures which could have been taken to alleviate poverty, which would have resulted in a much lower increase in gas prices — perhaps in the single digits — for this season. As my colleague said, the price of energy supplies, including gas, decreased during a remarkable period over the last couple of months. As the Minister of State knows, there were a number of days when the Norwegian pipeline was spewing out gas that was free on the London market.