Dáil debates

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

European Council Meeting: Statements

 

4:50 pm

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

I propose to share time with Deputy Brady.

I am very pleased to hear that the eastern partnership summit will be mindful of things like robust democratic processes, media diversity and gender equality. I welcome the moves to tackle corruption and strengthen actions in the promotion of gender equality, including adherence to the Istanbul Convention. Similarly, we might reflect on those things here at home.

The Taoiseach said the issue of energy prices will remain a topic of concern across Europe and that he would follow up on his discussion in October on the issue. Winter is now on us. We have dark nights with often very cold temperatures and our energy bills are soaring through the roof. People throughout the country have a cost-of-living crisis. Bills for electricity, gas and petrol are skyrocketing and people's pay packets struggle to keep up. I have raised this matter with the Taoiseach on a number of occasions and he has proved slow to act or respond to these realities. He has been slow to stand up in any meaningful way for ordinary workers and families.

The Government has at last proposed this scheme for a €100 relief. I again record my deep frustration and disappointment that the Government is unwilling to move swiftly on this matter. I proposed the Dáil would sit again next week if necessary to bring forward legislation on the matter and the Taoiseach has refused to do so, which I find astonishing.

Of course, people rely on energy other than electricity. The Taoiseach will know the statistics that 37% of households use home heating oil to keep them warm, and prices have increased by 71%. The cost-of-energy crisis is not going away and will be raised with the Taoiseach repeatedly. He will, of course, be aware that many of our European colleagues have made the decision to intervene in a meaningful way for their citizens. In October the European Commission launched a toolbox for action and support to tackle rising energy costs. Across Europe, governments have responded to soaring prices to shield households. In Spain, for example, VAT on electricity bills was slashed by 7%. In Italy the government has launched a package worth €6.2 billion to protect households from rising energy prices to the end of this year. I cite those two cases as a demonstration of ambition and commitment to delivery. I ask the Taoiseach to work with our European colleagues to deliver on this and put in place credible detailed plans to tackle the cost-of-energy crisis on an ongoing basis.

Of course, the Taoiseach will be aware that talks on the Irish protocol continue. Will he avail of the opportunity to make it clear the protocol has strong majority support in the North of Ireland among people, among business communities and at the elected assembly? Will he leave our European colleagues in no doubt the protocol is the best essential way to protect the all-island economy and the Good Friday Agreement, and to avoid a hard border on our island? Political brinkmanship from the British is a failure of leadership and cannot be pandered to. We must stand with our European colleagues in standing up for the protocol and the protections it contains.

We also have a duty to show political leadership on the TRIPS waiver. It is the best way and the essential first step to stand up for equality and ultimately to protect all against new variants of the virus. Despite more than 100 countries supporting a TRIPS waiver on Covid-19 vaccines, Ireland and the EU continue as a roadblock, which is an indefensible position. The waiver would facilitate the maximum roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines worldwide. This is necessary to protect everyone against the emergence of new variants. By refusing the waiver, we prolong the pandemic and the suffering of the poorest people in the world. I believe the Government's position is out of step with the public mood. I ask the Taoiseach to do the right thing on behalf of Ireland and raise with European leaders the importance of this global solidarity.

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