Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

 

12:02 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)

As we speak, hundreds of truckers and hauliers are protesting outside the gates of the Dáil because they are being absolutely crucified. These are small and family businesses that are already put to the pin of their collar with rip-off insurance costs, extortionate utility bills and the domestic cost of living and sky-rocketing increases in fuel costs are the final straw for many. Hauliers are essential workers who played a huge part in keeping the show on the road during the Covid emergency. Their protest today is a reaction to the escalating cost of energy and the fuel crisis. The Government needs to show up for them now with an alleviation package that includes an overhaul of the diesel rebate scheme to make it really work for this sector.

People are under real, unbearable and ever-increasing pressure. Since last year the price of electricity is up by 16%, gas is up by 23% and home heating oil by an incredible 71%. How on earth can any family be expected to afford to heat their home with jumps like these? People are overwhelmed but the Government sits on its hands. Indeed, the Government has come along with a hike in carbon taxes which will undoubtedly make things even worse for families and businesses, including those who are demonstrating today. The carbon tax hike needs to be scrapped because it is the wrong move at the wrong time. The truth is that households face a real emergency in heating and lighting their homes and running their vehicles. The weather is getting colder and it is getting darker. Thousands of workers have now been told to work from home so people will have their heating and lighting on earlier and for longer and their bills, consequently, will go up even further. We know that workers and families have been through a very tough 18 months. Many were just getting back on their feet and just about coping. Christmas is a happy time but it is also a very expensive time of the year. People do not need the added stress of enormous energy bills landing through the door in December, January and February. The cost of staying warm is also incredibly stressful for our older people, for whom the cold weather can be especially dangerous. The increase in the fuel allowance simply will not bridge the gap and much more needs to be done.

We know that there are international factors at play in all of this and that big energy companies have passed the extraordinary global price increases on to customers. However, the Government must respond with ideas and actions to alleviate the pressure on families and businesses. Tá billí fuinnimh ag imeacht as smacht. Tá daoine agus gnóthaí faoi bhrú. Tá briseadh iomlán ag teastáil uathu. Iarraim ar an Rialtas an VAT ar bhillí fuinnimh a tharscaoileadh ar feadh trí mhí. There are things that can be done. Recently I asked the Taoiseach to engage with the European Commission and to temporarily waive VAT on energy bills for a period of three months but he refused to answer me on that occasion. I put it to him again that this is a common sense intervention that would make a real difference. It is something that has already been implemented by others in the EU seeking to protect their people from current energy hikes. Will the Taoiseach waive the VAT on energy bills for three months and give workers and families a real break?

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