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Concern that Fuel poverty strategy will fall far short of what is required

23 November, 2004

Sinn Féin Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has voiced concern that the Fuel Poverty Strategy due to be launched today is weak and falls far short of what is required to tackle the problem of fuel poverty.

Ms Gildernew said:

"Fuel poverty is at epidemic levels across the north - it affects 1 in 3 and each year over 1300 older people die because of cold weather. Speaking to many people working within in the sector it is clear that there is deep anger at the way the department has gone about trying to develop a strategy to tackle fuel poverty.

"Sinn Féin will be not be attending the launch of this strategy in Dungannon in a direct effort to get the department to look again at its response to this crisis. The publication of a weak strategy that falls far short of what is required is a missed opportunity.

"The reality is that fuel poverty levels here are higher than in either the rest of Ireland or in England. We have also seen oil prices rise by 60% in the last year, gas prices up twice in the past 12 month - 11% was the last increase and rising coal prices. Rising energy prices are forcing more and more households into fuel poverty yet the departmental response is weak.

"There are no extra resources being targeted at fuel poverty. This a key issue. The failure to commit the required resources and the failure to deliver new money shows that, clearly, the political leadership, will and determination to fight fuel poverty is lacking. Without real targets for eradicating fuel poverty based on committed resources fuel poverty will not be eradicated.

"Sinn Fein in our response to the consultation called for a Ministerial Task Force, inclusive of sectoral interests, to tackle fuel poverty, to give the issue political importance and drive. Instead we will have an inter-departmental group chaired by a part-time direct rule minister that is civil service driven. There would be no outside representation on this. Instead an unresourced Fuel Poverty Advisory Group is being proposed.

"The most vulnerable members of our community are most at risk from fuel poverty. Older people, people with disabilities, young parents, long-term sick and low-income families are being put at even greater risk because there is no political will to prioritise funding to tackle fuel poverty. What is needed is a radical response. This isn't it." ENDS

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