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Carbon Tax is "deepening fuel poverty" - Senator Máire Devine

27 September, 2019 - by Máire Devine

Sinn Féin Senator Máire Devine condemned the Government’s failure to alleviate energy poverty describing the situation as ‘inhumane’.  Speaking from Leinster House after a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action, Senator Devine stated that “The data revealed to the Committee by both the ESRI and the St Vincent de Paul, which detailed the extent and depth of energy poverty across the State, is a shocking indictment of this Government.

It demonstrates an abject contempt for the people of this country and inhumane disregard for our most vulnerable – children, older people and those living alone.” 

Senator Devine was speaking after the Climate Committee failed to reach a consensus on how Carbon Tax should be spent.

This was influenced substantially by concerns over the extent of energy-poverty across the State. Before adjourning yesterday evening the Committee heard evidence from both the St Vincent de Paul and the ESRI that last year more than 400,000 known households went without heat or electricity due to inability to meet the cost.

Senator Devine clarified the situation: “It is important to highlight that we are not just talking about people in receipt of Social Welfare benefits, but also about a much larger hidden problem of energy poverty.

Many of these people are working but already burdened with excessive housing costs whilst and many others are living in poorly insulated, single-glazed rural detached houses. This is a complex problem effecting a diversity of households in a variety of circumstances.”

Senator Devine stated that she was particularly astounded by the evidence presented by Dr Tricia Keilthy of St Vincent de Paul, who told the Committee that in 2018 SVP had spent more than €4m on fuel and utilities for energy poor families. 

“It is quite scandalous” stated Senator Devine “that a charitable body such as the St Vincent de Paul has to pay for oil, coal, gas and electricity to keep children, families and single people warm in their homes while the Government then claws back Carbon Tax, VAT and PSO levies from this €4m to generate revenue to benefit the wealthy. I am satisfied that the Climate Committee has heard no compelling evidence that Carbon Tax reduces emissions but has heard very compelling evidence that it is a contributor to household poverty. Not only can Government not justify increasing this regressive tax, it cannot justify its retention.”

Senator Devine also highlighted the penal qualifying period for Fuel Allowance entitlement for new Social Welfare beneficiaries.

“A person who becomes unemployed will not qualify for Fuel Allowance for 390 days which is a period of 15 months.  If someone becomes unemployed in September, they must endure two whole winters without any Fuel Allowance. Whilst is widely recognised that the Allowance itself is inadequate to meet costs, it is impossible for those receiving no assistance. We have people in this country walking round their homes, clutching hot-water bottles during the day and going to bed at 8pm, to stay warm. This is not an indicator of a so-called progressive society.” 

Senator Devine concluded by stating that: “Sinn Féin’s position is very clear.  We can mitigate Climate Change and alleviate energy poverty without increasing Carbon Tax.  Improving home insulation, in particular roof and attic insulation, along with upgrading from single-glazing, will remove thousands of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere. The Government needs to put these measures in place, sooner rather than later, instead of wrestling more stealth taxes from the poor and the vulnerable.”

“In the meantime I am calling on the Minister to immediately revoke the 390 day qualifying period for Fuel Allowance and make this an immediate entitlement upon receipt of a qualifying payment.”

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