EU leaders will seek to agree a price cap on gas in the coming weeks amid continuing divisions over the scope of the planned intervention, as the Coalition looks set to intervene to help churches and parish halls keep their doors open this winter.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he expected “very significant work” to be done in the coming weeks by the European Commission in a bid to have a firm proposal on gas price caps ready for a summit in Brussels in a fortnight’s time.
Speaking in Prague on Friday, the Taoiseach said EU leaders had discussed a “two stage process” involving “an immediate process to have an impact on the energy market” and then “the redesign of the gas market itself” which he said could take six months.
The European Commission is already in discussions with suppliers of gas, he said.
Mr Martin said that EU leaders believed that “collective action is important and unity is important”.
Mr Martin added that a “critical issue” would be how an EU intervention in the energy markets would be financed, a response that hints at deeper divisions among EU leaders over joint borrowing and the EU’s own financial capacity.
“That’s probably where a lot of debate will take place between now and the council meeting towards the end of the month — as you know, that’s always a challenging issue in terms of collective action,” he said.
The EU leaders are due to meet towards the end of the month in Brussels for a “formal” summit by which time they hope to have the basis for a common EU approach worked out.
It comes as the Government looks set to intervene to help churches and parish halls with soaring energy bills this winter amid warnings that they may have to shut their doors.
A senior Government source said that assisting churches with their energy bills will now “have to be considered in the Government’s overall package.”
Separately, the Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys will intervene to help parish halls with their energy costs and is expected to hold meetings with the Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath next week on the issue.
A spokesman for Ms Humphreys said there are “a number of schemes being put in place to address energy cost increases in different sectors, including supports provided at local authority level.
“Where a church-owned property such as a parish hall is being used for a community service — for example, community creche, meals on wheels — it may apply for support.”
The Government has also decided that the €400 cost of living lump sum for those on the fuel allowance will now be paid from November 14th.
Ms Humphreys will today launch the start of the fuel season which will run for 28 weeks. Following Budget 2023, an extra 81,000 people will be eligible for the allowance.
Under a new means test for over 70s, a single person can have income of €500 per week and a couple can have income of €1000 per week. The weekly means threshold for those aged under 70 will also be increased by €80 per week, from €120 to €200 above the weekly rate of the contributory State pension. The changes are expected to take effect from January.
It comes as Minister for Environment Eamon Ryan held further meetings with energy providers on Friday.
A source said a range of issues are being explored including energy prices and charges, energy market projections and “hedging” for the coming months as well as customer supports for pay as you go customers and vulnerable customers.