Working in the Community, Working for the Community

Seamus Healy TD raising the issues of heat and fuel poverty with An Tániste Eamon Gilmore at Leaders Questions and asks if Government is monitoring winter deaths due to cold weather.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
The Government has cut heating supports, such as the fuel scheme and the free units of electricity, in each of the last three years. In 2011, the number of free electricity units was reduced from 2,400 to 1,800. In 2012, the period over which the fuel scheme operated was cut by six weeks and in 2013, the household benefits package, including the free units of electricity was cut again. Even before these cuts were implemented, it is known there were more than 1,000 additional winter deaths in the Republic. Moreover, it is known the vast majority of such deaths were due to cold-related conditions and that such conditions exacerbated underlying medical conditions such as, for instance, respiratory illnesses. These facts are known on foot of professional research carried out and directed by Professor Goodman of the Dublin Institute of Technology. This research was peer reviewed and publicly funded through the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland and was launched by the Tánaiste’s colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte. It is known that before the cuts introduced by the Government, heating costs were significantly cheaper. Over the past three years, gas costs have increased by 22%, 8.5% and 2% in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively, giving a total increase of 32.5%. Similarly, the cost of electricity rose by 14.8%, 5.9% and 3.5% in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively, giving a total increase of 24.2%. In addition, the cost of oil rose by 18% in 2012 alone.
A recent press release from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul reveals that the increase in energy bills over the past three years has cost €500 per family. This wipes out completely the value of the fuel scheme for 2013-14. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul also revealed that it now spends more than €10 million per annum to provide heating supports for needy families.

tMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
A question please, Deputy.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
Is the Government monitoring the increase in winter deaths due to cold-related conditions caused by the Government cutbacks to heating supports? Does the Tánaiste know how many deaths the cuts relating to heating supports have caused since 2011? Will the Government reverse these huge cuts to needy elderly families?

Finian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
Hear, hear.

Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
The Government is very much aware of the increase in the costs of fuel and the pressure that is putting on households, families and elderly people. This is the reason a range of supports is in place to support people with the cost of fuel. One thing that is clear regarding fuel, energy and gas is that we in Ireland are receivers. We are receivers with regard to the cost of fossil-based fuels, including oil and gas, and are very open to the way in which the price of such commodities fluctuates on the world market. This is the reason the Government is doing two things on a strategic level. First, it is increasing the generation of renewable energy in Ireland to reduce our dependence on oil and gas and to enable the supply of electricity and energy at a lower cost. Second, the Government is addressing the retrofitting of homes in order that their energy efficiency is improved and the cost of heating them is reduced. Thus far, approximately 250,000 homes have been retrofitted. The Government is particularly concerned that the retrofit scheme would proceed for those households with low incomes. A total of €50 million has been provided to improve the insulation of 25,000 of the least energy-efficient homes over a three-year period and 1,000 of these improvements have already been carried out. Additional funding has been provided to address the retrofitting of local authority-owned homes to improve their energy efficiency. This issue must be considered in two ways. First, the support the Government provides for households through the fuel allowance, for example, must be maintained. In addition, the issue must be addressed at the level of the energy efficiency of the home itself. This is the reason the retrofitting of houses to get higher standards of energy efficiency and thereby reducing the cost of heating the home must be part of what must be done. Ultimately, that is the best way of doing this sustainably over a longer period.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
As usual, the Tánaiste has not answered any question I asked of him.

Finian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
Yes, it is disgraceful.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
It is the usual performance in this Chamber and sometimes one wonders whether it is worthwhile to ask any question. The Tánaiste naturally blames the world markets for the increases in prices and while that is well and good, the Government’s response to increased costs has been to cut supports to needy families by cutting the fuel allowance, the free units of electricity and the household packages. The Government has deliberately and knowingly cut heating supports. It is known that cold-related conditions mean additional winter deaths. This policy is an act of social vandalism and is a matter of life and death. Must Members wait until there are more elderly deaths before finding out what is the exact position? Will the Tánaiste answer my question now? As the Tánaiste does not know the answer, will he ask the Central Statistics Office, for instance, together with the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland, to ascertain how many deaths the Government’s cuts have caused since it came to power in 2011? I again ask the Tánaiste whether the Government will reverse the huge cuts that have taken place over the past three years and for which it is responsible?

Finian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
Hear, hear.

Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
There are occasions in this House when allegations are made that are seriously over the top.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
Like?

Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
The allegation the Deputy has made in this particular case falls into that category.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
Which allegation?

Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
No, let us concentrate on dealing with the problem.

Finian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
The Tánaiste did not answer the question.

Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
The issue of fuel costs is a matter of which the Government is aware—–

Michael Healy-Rae (Kerry South, Independent)
The Government has made it more expensive.

Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
—–and which it is seeking to address.
I have set out for the Deputy the way in which we are seeking to do that.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
By cutting the supports.

Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)
The Deputy has asked me to ask the Central Statistics Office to produce figures for us. We will do that and I have no problem with that. We will ask for advice from anybody who has advice to offer to us in this area. We will listen to what any of the organisations representing older people in this country have to say. We will take advice from wherever we can get it, but there is a difference between hearing that advice, addressing it in a reasonable way and making the kind of over the top hyperbole that the Deputy has just made.

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
Which one?

Eamon Gilmore (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dún Laoghaire, Labour)

The Deputy asked whether we would ask the CSO to produce figures for us. The answer to the Deputy’s question – let me be clear on this because he accused me of not answering your question – is: “Yes, we will.”

Séamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
What about my second question? I asked whether the Government will reverse the cuts, but the Tánaiste did not answer that one.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: