Green Party wants to examine heavier taxation of SUV-style vehicles in Budget 2023

Government looking at measures to help people with rise in energy bills – Eamon Ryan

Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan confirmed has confirmed his party wants to examine heavier taxation of SUV-style vehicles in the budget, saying it "does make sense for use to send a signal that we want to switch to lighter, cheaper and more fuel-efficient cars".

Mr Ryan also confirmed that using smart metering to encourage people to use more energy at night would be part of a package of measures to go to Government the week after next – as would measures to ensure people are being put on the cheapest energy tariff possible.

He said he had spoken with the Commission for Energy Regulation on that matter, which was examining it.

Mr Ryan indicated that the next round of supports would be targeted in the first instance at those vulnerable to fuel poverty, citing help on debt management and billing systems.

He said a lot had been done on a universal basis but “what we do need to do now is concentrate, target on those at risk of fuel poverty”.

He said the rise in bills is a shock to everybody but it has put some households in particular.

For everybody the rise in bills is a shock, but there’s some households, it puts them “in real difficulty and danger”, and efforts should be targeted at those homes, so we have to, I think, target our efforts on those.”

He also said he wanted to examine more medium- and longer-term measures such as encouraging the wider rollout of solar photovoltaic panels.

He said planning, regulatory and market changes would be published “within two weeks to try and help households”.

Speaking on Newstalk, Mr Ryan said: “What I’ll be going to Government discussing and saying is I think particularly because those at risk of fuel poverty are the ones we really have to address is that I think it may be better at this stage to do a very targeted approach”, with “two quite universal changes” already in place.

He said extending the fuel allowance period would be considered.

Time

Some measures, he said, will take time. “This won’t all be done in the next two weeks,” he said, pointing towards an examination of best practice in other countries where fuel allowances are varied based on wider energy prices. Some measures would be considered in the budget period, he said.

He said 500,000-700,000 households could take advantage of grants to insulate cavity walls and attics, which could bring down a home heating bill by 25 per cent.

On the future of Liquified Natural Gas terminals in Ireland – which is opposed by the Green Party – he said that the construction of such a terminal would be a medium term option, and that he felt a terminal for handling hydrogen converted from offshore renewable wind power, which would be less environmentally damaging option, could also be developed in the same timeframe.

“You want to make sure you’re going to invest in something that is going to be future proofed,” he said. The existing plans for LNG were predicated on there being increased demand, he said, which would also increase emissions.

Meanwhile Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said there was a need for emergency measures to alleviate the pressures arising from the cost of living crisis. She said the “scale of this crisis in households right across the land is really, really worrying” with many houses living in a “permanent state of panic as the bills land on the mat”.

"Government can't be a spectator in that, they need to intervene," she said. And while Sinn Féin accepted not every impact could be mitigated, more must be done, criticising leading coalition figures who have insisted no more measures would come until the budget. Sinn Féin has proposed a package of measures that is worth in the region of €1.4 billion, including the removal of VAT costs from domestic energy bills. She said the Government had only made contact with the European Commission on March 10th on this matter – whose assent is needed to ensure Ireland's historic derogations on VAT are maintained if rates are cut.

She said there was financial “elbow room” for the State to intervene, without additional borrowing, with a surplus projected next year. She said her party were open to the idea of revenue raising measures to fund expenditure, arguing that “vulture funds” are tax exempt.

Asked about the carbon tax and suggestions that savings made from forestalling raises due in carbon tax would be small – about €17 a year – she said that may be the case but the party was against the levying of further increases on households.

On Covid-19, she said Sinn Féin was concerned at reports doctors and nurses were under huge pressure, but did not explicitly back calls for the reintroduction of a mask mandate and wider work from home advice. She said she wanted “informed public health advice” and heard “very clearly” what the healthcare unions were saying. She said any decision to make something mandatory had to be supported by public health advice. “If the public health advice is for mandatory masks, let’s hear that and let’s respond,” she said.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times

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