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As the saying in politics goes: if you’re explaining, you’re losing

Inside Politics: Opposition smells blood after ‘shop around’ remarks by Minister

It can be quite unfair but there is an old saying in politics: “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.”

Fianna Fáil Minister of State Seán Fleming was explaining after an interview on RTÉ radio where he advised people struggling with the cost of living to switch suppliers of electricity, insurance and the weekly grocery shop.

Actually it is sensible advice, but would perhaps be better not coming from a well-paid junior minister.

And the delivery of the money-saving tips by Mr Fleming was somewhat bungled, as he said: “So rather than just complaining and saying, ‘What’s the Government going to do for me?’, you could actually have a serious impact on your own finances.”

When challenged by Drivetime presenter Sarah McInerney, Mr Fleming argued the targets of his criticism were Opposition TDs and said it “would be more practical” to give people suggestions.

The Opposition smelled blood and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald tweeted a headline for a news story giving an account of Mr Fleming’s remarks, accusing the Government of being “out of touch, indifferent, tone deaf”.

Labour’s Ged Nash posted online: “At this rate, there’ll be a lot of FF voters shopping around for better value at the next election.”

Mr Fleming released a statement late last night saying: “I did not intend to imply people shouldn’t complain about the cost of living, that wasn’t my intention and for that I apologise.

“I was urging people to also shop around for best value, in addition to the measures being taken by the Government.”

He insisted: “The Government and Fianna Fáil take the issues around the cost of living very seriously.”

Don’t expect this explanation to stop the Opposition from using the remarks as a stick to beat the Government with as the Coalition seeks to respond to high inflation and the spiralling cost of living – particularly in energy costs.

Mr Fleming was the latest Coalition figure seeking to reign in expectations of what will be on offer in a package of measures that is due to be finalised this week.

As we report today, the prospect of tax cuts as part of that package is receding ahead of key meetings this week.

Party leaders met Ministers from the economic departments last night ahead of Cabinet today and a subcommittee meeting on Thursday.

It had been mooted last week that tax cuts – especially to VAT – could form part of the package, but sources across Government downplayed this likelihood.

Help with energy costs, including an increase in the €100 cut in electricity bills, for all households is believed to be among the main areas being looked at.

The Government is keen to target any new measures at low-income households which are more vulnerable to inflation.

Measures could go through channels such as fuel allowance, living-alone allowance, qualified child payment or working-family payment.

Whatever it does, the Government is keen to avoid anything that would amount to a mini-Budget.

Cabinet business

The main business of Cabinet today is expected to be signing-off on a scheme that will save households money in the long-term, while helping Ireland’s contribution to fighting climate change.

Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan is expected to announce details of grants of more than €25,000 to help householders pay for deep retrofits.

The scheme for private homes will cover close to half the cost of a deep retrofit that would improve a dwelling’s energy efficiency to a high B2 rating.

Its success will be reliant on two things: public buy-in and the availability of workers to carry out the retrofitting work.

As we report here, ramping up the provision of training in retrofitting skills is to form part of the Government's ambition for 500,000 homes to be upgraded for energy efficiency by 2030.

Separately, a directly elected mayor for Dublin is to be examined by a Citizens’ Assembly later this spring, under plans going to Government today.

The Cabinet will also consider a report by the Commission on the Defence Forces that is understood to recommend a substantial increase in Defence Forces capabilities and resources, as well as an overhaul of its command structure.

And Minister for Culture Catherine Martin is expected to bring proposals to Cabinet to extend the Creative Ireland Programme until 2027.

Best reads

In our lead story, Conor Gallagher reports how dozens of soldiers attended a social event at the Defence Forces' Covid taskforce headquarters at a time when pandemic restrictions limited outdoor gatherings to 15 people. Minister for Defence Simon Coveney has ordered an external review of the matter.

Our Washington correspondent Martin Wall is in Jackson, Mississippi, with an in-depth report from the frontline of America's battle over abortion.

The Government is said to be "positively disposed" to the Football Association of Ireland's joint bid with England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to co-host the 2028 European Championships, but it wants more information on the costs and benefits before signing off.

Meanwhile, Gavin Cummiskey has a report on the FAI's strategy up to 2025, part of which includes the women's team qualifying for the 2023 World Cup and the men's squad getting into Euro 2024.

Playbook

Leaders’ Questions kicks off in the Dáil at 2pm.

From 6.15pm onwards there will be a debate on a Sinn Féin Private Members' motion calling for a commission of investigation to be set up to examine allegations of sexual abuse and harassment in the Defence Forces. The Women of Honour, a group of former Defence Forces members who have brought forward allegations of abuse, harassment and discrimination in the military, have been pushing for a full statutory inquiry.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris takes parliamentary questions from 8.15pm.

Topical issues follows at 9.45pm.

The main event in committee-land will be an appearance by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and his Department's secretary general Joe Hackett at the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence this evening. They are in to answer questions on Mr Hackett's "Review of the Workplace Arrangements in Iveagh House on 17th June 2020" – or, as it is better known, the day of the so-called "champagne party" celebrating Ireland's successful bid for a United Nations Security Council seat. The meeting starts at 3pm with an engagement with non-governmental organisations to discuss education in developing countries. Mr Coveney and Mr Hackett are up later in the evening.

Here you can find the full Dáil schedule, the Seanad schedule and the committee schedule.