Wednesday, 12 October 2005
Question 83: To ask the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on the recent series of price rises for consumer and business gas and electricity users; the directions he has given to the Commission for Energy Regulation in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28331/05]
I have no function in the matter. Electricity and gas tariff increases are the statutory responsibility of the Commission for Energy Regulation, the independent regulator for electricity and gas, as provided for under the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 and as amended by the Gas (Interim)(Regulation) Act 2002. I have given no directions to the Commission for Energy Regulation in this regard because have no power to issue any such directions.
It is astonishing the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources can say he has no function in the massive increase in energy prices. If a senior citizen is unable to heat or light his or her house because he or she cannot afford to do so, the Minister has no function in that area. Is it not the case that we are facing fuel poverty and that under the national fuel scheme only a miserly €9 per week is available which barely covers the cost of a small bag of coal while a cylinder of gas costs approximately €21?
The recent increases in gas and electricity charges will be the straw that breaks the camel's back and plunges many low-income families into a desperate position. Does the Minister agree it is a dire situation and that since the Government took office in 2002, the price of electricity has increased by 44%? Since 1 October the price of gas has increased by an astonishing 25% while there will be a huge increase of 8% in the price of electricity for business after Christmas.
Is it not incredibly bad for the country on a personal and a business level that soon Ireland will be first or second on the EUROSTAT figures for energy prices? Does the Minister not have a responsibility in that area? When will he discuss with his Cabinet colleagues the dividend of €77 million being taken from the ESB this year? Is it not ridiculous given the problems with energy security and energy supply to Ireland that the Minister will get an extra stealth tax of €77 million from the ESB? Is that not his responsibility also?
Is it not the case that the Minister has a responsibility to issue directives to the Commission for Energy Regulation? Under the terms of the legislation he can tell the commission the broad general development of energy pricing and energy supply. That is the Minister's responsibility and it will not do to have the kind of cop out we have heard day after day from the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, saying that they have no responsibility in this regard.
The Minister has responsibility for opening up these energy markets to competition. Competition in the energy market is the mantra of the Progressive Democrats but where is it? There is no competition. We have two cartels, two dominant monoliths, which dominate the gas and electricity markets. What has the Minister done to open up the electricity market in any way? As far as I can see, he has done absolutely nothing since taking over his current portfolio. Over the past year, the Minister has told us repeatedly that the gas market will be opened up. We are now well into October yet I still do not see that market opening up. I ask the Minister to reflect on those points.
Does he agree that he has responsibility for that senior citizen who is in a cold house today because of Government inaction?
It is no more unparliamentary than somebody who will not allow people to answer questions.
As I said, the legal position is that I have no function concerning prices or price increases. Some time ago, the House in its wisdom handed that function over to the Commission for Energy Regulation. Therefore, I do not have a function in that regard.
Even though I do not know how it is related to this particular question, the Deputy also asked me about the dividend that the ESB pays to the Government. That dividend goes into the general Exchequer. It is used by the Government——
I cannot tell the Commission for Energy Regulation what to do and I have no power to issue directions to it. The ESB market has been liberalised since February of this year.
Over the next six weeks, will the Minister and his colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, be making any recommendations on fuel poverty to the Minister for Finance? Does the Minister intend to re-examine the legal position concerning the energy regulator and does he think it should be changed?
I have already indicated clearly that we are examining legislation on the CER. My colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, together with our other ministerial colleagues around the Cabinet table, will examine all aspects of social welfare matters at that time. If the Deputy has a question on fuel poverty he should direct it to the Minister for Social and Family Affairs.