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Government must do more to tackle fuel poverty – Doherty

18 February, 2009

Speaking in the Seanad today Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty welcomed an indication from Bord Gáis that their gas prices are to fall by 25% over the course of the year but said fuel poverty will remain a major problem and the Government must do more. The Donegal Senator went on to warn against any possible future privatisation of Bord Gáis.

Senator Doherty said, "While the indication given by Bord Gáis today that their gas prices will fall by 25% over the year fuel poverty will still remain a major problem. An Institute of Public Health study in 2007 already stated that fuel poverty in this country was at an unacceptably high level by international standards and that was before the most recent steep increases in gas and electricity charges.

"Families on marginal incomes, and particularly elderly people, are most affected, sometimes to the extent of having to go into further debt in order to heat their homes, and it was estimated that there were in the region of 2,800 excess deaths per annum in the island of Ireland due to deficiencies in households being able to meet their energy needs.

"The most alarming aspect of studies on fuel poverty here is that rates of fuel poverty were increasing even over the years of highest economic growth and that the level of household income below which families were finding it hard to meet their energy needs was rising steeply. An indication obviously that energy prices and the relative proportion of household income required to meet their needs was rising at a faster rate than most other essentials.

"I would have reservations about Bord Gáis also committing itself to lowering electricity prices by 10% in competition with the ESB. Surely, given that we are dealing with two state agencies, it would make more sense for the Energy Regulator to allow the ESB to lower its prices to consumers to similarly reflect the global price trends that are expected to be reflected in falling gas charges.

"There is also the concern that in seeking to expand its share of the electricity market that Bord Gáis is in fact boosting its attractiveness to potential private investors in the event that it is privatised. Something which I do not believe would be in the interests of this country or Irish consumers.

"While the national insulation programme will address some of the problems associated with energy conservation and costs, as well as providing jobs, the Government is failing to tackle fuel poverty and failing to make the necessary investment in renewable energy to ensure that its targets are met.

"Of course the real reason that we need an insulation programme is because successive Fianna Fáil led Government's allowed their friends in the construction industry to continually cut corners and build homes without proper insulation." ENDS

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