State intervention cannot go on forever, says Taoiseach

Sinn Féin leader rails against ‘dither and delay’ of Coalition regarding cost of living

The Government cannot cover everything and the “unprecedented” State investment over the last two years “is not something that can go on forever”, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

Mr Martin has also acknowledged that the package of measures announced to help with the cost of living last week "won't cover everything".

Mr Martin was responding to People Before TD Richard Boyd Barrett during Leaders' Questions in the Dáil on Thursday. Mr Boyd Barrett asked how people could make affordable rents, hundreds of euro in extra energy and heating bills if measures such as abolishing the Universal Social Charge (USC) was ruled out.

Mr Boyd Barrett said energy companies, corporations and landlords are "making an absolute fortune at the same time workers are hammered with cost of living [increases]".

Mr Martin said the measures announced last Friday are “designed to help as many people as we possibly could”. He described the €200 electricity credit as a significant help to people.

“It’s not going to cover everything, we’ve acknowledged that. This Government cannot cover everything . . . If we continue to fund every enterprise in the country . . . that was never what was on anyone’s agenda. It was to get through the pandemic.”

Mr Martin said there seemed to be a view that the Government can be “the bank of last resort” for everything in the country.

“It just cannot be, we need balance here” he said. The Taoiseach said the country had a significant State involvement in the economy and a strong social protection system funded by taxation.

He asked how would health, education and housing be funded if taxes such as the USC is abolished. He said wages will rise “in the next number of years” and that the Central Bank is predicting that such rises will outpace price increases over the next three years despite the spike in inflation.

Sinn Féin reaction

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Government “simply didn’t get it” and its cost of living package offered the bare minimum.

“In truth it won’t make a dent for people,” she told the Taoiseach. “It’s very clear that you need to do much more. Yesterday you said there won’t be any further interventions until the next budget so you show no urgency, instead you dither and you delay.”

Ms McDonald said people are shelling out huge money to live in cramped accommodation, “very often damp accommodation – kips, quite frankly”.

The Dublin Central TD said she had called on people over the weekend to share their cost of living stories. Ms McDonald said she received 1,000 replies.

She read out a response from a man named Ciarán, who said he and his partner had respectable jobs “but our apartment is an icebox. We have to choose between food and my daughter’s medicine or heat. Our daughter wears two pairs of pyjamas during the day and two at night while covered in two or three blankets to keep warm. We cannot afford childcare so my parents baby-sit. It’s impossible to get on the housing market and I feel guilty every night.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times