Taoiseach defends Government moves to protect public from cost-of-living pressures

Martin says compliance globally with the UN’s sustainable development goals has slipped against the backdrop of Covid, war and other geopolitical challenges

People “should not be cut off” by utility companies amid rising energy costs this winter, according to the Taoiseach, who insisted that Government interventions aimed at ensuring this is not the case have been sufficient.

Micheál Martin came under pressure in the Dáil on Wednesday to introduce a moratorium on disconnections and to increase protections for those on pay-as-you-go tariffs from being cut off. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald quoted comments from the Fianna Fáil leader on Sunday, when he said that “nobody would be disconnected from electricity supply this winter”.

Speaking at a press conference after launching a national implementation plan for the UN’s sustainable development goals, Mr Martin stopped short of giving an undertaking that nobody would be cut off, arguing that “the framework is there to prevent people from being cut off in this very difficult winter of all winters”.

He said there was a “combination of issues” which meant that “people shouldn’t be disconnected this year, in my view”. He pointed to lump-sum payments and increased once-off welfare payments announced by the Government, as well as other protections introduced by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities.

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Green Party leader Eamon Ryan warned that there may be difficult times ahead in the energy markets after this winter, and that the Ukraine war could prove to be “a longer conflict than any of us would want”.

“It’s not just this winter coming, it’s Europe having to refill its stocks after this winter and then face into another winter with potential for gas prices staying high,” he said, signalling the prospect of further Government interventions if needed. “Our budget was set with the expectation of those high prices and direct cash payments to help the poorest through it, and we may have to do that again.”

Mr Martin said that compliance globally with the UN’s sustainable development goals had slipped against the backdrop of Covid-19, international conflict and other geopolitical challenges. The international targets seek to end poverty and deprivation through strategies aimed at improving healthcare and education, reducing inequality and increasing economic growth, while also tackling climate change and protecting the environment.

“Against this difficult backdrop progress towards achieving a number of the sustainable development goals has been knocked off course,” he said.

He said the implementation plan was constructed with the aim of not being an “academic or administrative exercise...it is the imperative and agreed route to where we need to be”.

“It’s very, very important that we as a society commit to achieving them in our society, and then contributing to the global situation,” he said.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar refused to be drawn on speculation about a Cabinet reshuffle in December, saying Fine Gael Ministers were focused “on the job they have at the moment, not the jobs they might have in December”.

Asked about current opinion polling which show Sinn Féin ahead of the Government parties by some distance, the Fine Gael leader said polls do not predict the outcome of general elections. He said “anyone in any party who is measuring up curtains or planning for their ministerial Merc needs to reflect on that”.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

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