Nothing ruled out in efforts to help households with cost-of-living crisis, Dáil told

Opposition piles pressure on Government over series of hikes in energy bills

Nothing is being ruled out in efforts to help households with the cost-of-living crisis but additional measures will not just be looking at the Government “always signing every cheque”, the Dáil has been told.

Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan made the remarks as the Opposition piled on pressure over hikes in energy bills announced by Electric Ireland, Bord Gáis Energy and Energia.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall accused the Government of wringing its hands as "families are squeezed for every penny that they're worth" and Sinn Féin's finance spokesman Pearse Doherty suggested there was "deafening silence" from the Government on the price hikes.

Ms Shortall demanded to know what Mr Ryan was going to do about the situation.

She said energy companies should be compelled to put customers on their most beneficial price plans “instead of instantly jacking up prices at the end of an introductory 12-month contract”.

She also highlighted how Age Action has said the Fuel Allowance is not keeping pace with soaring energy price rises for older people and it should be replaced with an energy guarantee that offers households free units each month instead of a cash payment.

Ms Shortall said this could protect people from sudden price shocks and asked if the Government would act on the suggestion.

Mr Ryan said: “We’re going to have to do a whole variety of additional measures. What we’ve done so far is not going to be enough. We’re going to need to do more.”

He said he met the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) and asked them to come up with further ways to help people.

“I would not rule anything out and would welcome ideas and suggestions.”

But he said the Government would look at “market mechanisms” and efficiency measures when considering further actions and “not just looking at government always signing every cheque”.

He said one example of measure under consideration is “time-of-day pricing” which would allow people to save money by using electricity at certain times of the day.

“We will come forward in the coming weeks with a number of other measures such as that that to try and help address this real crisis we have,” Mr Ryan said.

Earlier, Mr Doherty said he received a response to a parliamentary question to Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe that shows the Government only wrote to the European Commission about reducing VAT on energy two weeks ago.

Mr Doherty said Sinn Féin has been calling for the Government to engage with the Commission on the matter for five months.

The Government is waiting on an EU decision on whether a VAT reduction can take place without Ireland losing its existing derogation that allows the existing reduced rate.

Mr Doherty asked Mr Ryan if the Government intends to reduce the VAT rate on energy to 0 per cent.

Mr Ryan listed measures the Government has already taken, such as the €200 electricity bill credit and reduced excise on petrol and diesel.

He said social welfare, housing and education have to be paid for and costs in these areas for people fleeing the war in Ukraine will also have to be covered.

He said: “If we’re to stand up and promise we can cut every tax and cover every bill then actually that would be a false promise” and people would also have to be told services would be cut.

Mr Doherty said Mr Ryan was not answering his questions and he accused the Government of “deafening silence” on energy price hikes.

The Minister replied: “It would be very easy for me to come in here and say we’re going to cut VAT” but that the question from Mr Donohoe would likely be “how are we going to fund everything we need to do?”

He said: "We will continue to do additional measures. We have to. We will do it with the European Union. "