Opposition politicians sought to turn up the heat on the Government on cost-of-living issues on Tuesday, as the Coalition prepares to agree a package of measures it plans to announce later this week to tackle rising household costs.
In the Dáil, Taoiseach Micheál Martin hit back at the Opposition criticisms, insisting that the Government understands the pressure families are facing and promising to “do more” to tackle the problem.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said households have been “hammered by a cost-of-living crisis that is out of control” and are being “crucified by the extortionate cost of housing, of energy, of fuel, of groceries, of insurance”.
But Mr Martin warned that the Government “can’t chase inflation”, and said that Sinn Féin proposals to cut VAT to ease pressure on households would mean that an EU derogation that enabled a lower VAT rate would be lost permanently.
But he said: “We’ve got to cushion the blow . . . for those most in hardship, those most at risk.
“We’ve got to target the measures and the Government is currently examining ways to do just that. That’s what we intend to do and to alleviate people more generally in terms of these pressures.”
He said the Government has a number of measures under consideration on cost of living and indicated that they would be announced later this week.
Ms McDonald accused the Government of “mañana, mañana” and “dither and delay” and reiterated her call for the planned increase in carbon tax due in May to be scrapped.
But Mr Martin said the Government would not abandon plans to increase carbon tax this year, insisting that it was a necessary move to tackle carbon emissions and climate change.
Earlier, Opposition parties had demanded a mini-budget and an increase in the minimum wage to ease the pressure of the cost-of-living crisis.
Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said: "Tinkering at the edges is not going to deal with this.
“If you’re going to do something that is targeted and meaningful, I think it is probably going to be in the area of a mini-budget.”
She suggested measures, such as an increased minimum wage and extending the fuel allowance for people on the working family payment scheme, were needed to help workers on lower incomes.
Labour finance spokesman Ged Nash also called for a commitment to a finance or social welfare Bill in response to the crisis and suggested a cut in VAT on fuel and energy costs.
He said a mini-budget should be implemented “if the package that is to be presented is going to be meaningful”.
Solidarity TD Mick Barry said he will be introducing a Dáil motion on Wednesday calling for an increase in the minimum wage to €15 per hour.
Meanwhile, the Taoiseach has said the views of Fianna Fáil junior minister Seán Fleming, who said in a radio interview on Monday that people should shop around to get better value for money amid the cost-of-living crisis, were "not the view of Ministers, and it's not a privately held view either".
“People do different things to try to make ends meet, people already do everything possible to reduce expenditures,” Mr Martin said.
Mr Fleming later apologised for his remarks but his comments were seized on by Opposition parties in the Dáil, with Ms McDonald saying that the “callous and indifferent remarks from a minister who’s paid €140,000 [a year] . . . reflect the attitude of a Government that is utterly out of touch with the struggles of ordinary people”.
Green leader Eamon Ryan said that "shopping between different suppliers is another way in which people can look to see how to bring their bills down. I think there's a whole variety of measures we all need to look at."