Wednesday, 27 April 2022
Carbon Tax: Motion [Private Members]
That Dáil Éireann: notes that:— the regressive carbon tax was introduced by the Fianna Fáil/Green Party Government in 2010;further notes that:
— the tax initially applied to liquid and gaseous fuels at the rate of €15 per tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2);
— the tax was extended to solid fuels in 2013 under the Fine Gael/Labour Party Government;
— there were phased increases of the tax to reach €26 per tonne in 2020;
— Budget 2021 further raised the tax to €33.50 per tonne of CO2on automotive fuels in October 2020, and on all fuels as of May 2021;
— the Finance Act 2020 legislated for annual increases in the rate of carbon tax out to 2030, which will bring the tax rate to €100 per tonne;
— the 2022 hike alone is €7.50, bringing the overall rate of carbon tax to €41 per tonne, with this increase being applied from 13th October, 2021, for diesel and petrol and from 1st May, 2022, for all other fuels;
— the estimated additional yield from the current €7.50 increase in the carbon tax is €108 million in 2022, and €147 million in 2023;
— the carbon tax currently adds €7 to a 60-litre fill of petrol, and this will increase by an additional €1.28 each year to 2030;
— the carbon tax currently adds €8.10 to a 60-litre fill of diesel, and this will increase by €1.48 each year to 2030;
— from 1st May, 2022, the carbon tax:— on a 900-litre fill of home heating oil will increase by €19.40, bringing the total carbon tax applied to €106.07;
— on 11,000 kilowatt-hours of natural gas will jump by €16.95, bringing the total carbon tax to €92.62;
— applied to a bag of coal (40 kilogram (kg)) will increase by 89 cents, bringing the total carbon tax applied to €4.90 per bag; and
— applied to peat briquettes (12.5kg bale) will jump by 20 cents, bringing the carbon tax applied to €1.07 per bale; and— the primary purpose of the carbon tax is to act as a disincentive, which can only be effective if members of the public are using more energy than they require and if alternative options are available, however, this is not the case in Ireland as many people across all sectors of the economy are desperately trying to reduce their energy usage and despite this are struggling enormously to pay crippling existing charges;calls on the Government to:
— the Fuel Allowance is only paid to a relatively small number of households, meaning that the majority of households do not benefit from the modest payment and are therefore not shielded from ongoing drastic energy price increases;
— the carbon tax is a central contributing factor to Ireland's record cost of living increases, with the tax increasing the direct costs of everything from food and fuel to other goods and services;
— the carbon tax does absolutely nothing to address the infrastructure needed for a low carbon economy, infrastructure like a smarter grid or a network of electric vehicle charging stations;
— Ireland's carbon taxes are costing our people an increasing amount of money each year and are clearly not working from a public policy standpoint; and
— inflation is one of the key economic issues facing Irish families, farmers and small businesses and the carbon tax is making these tough times much tougher by making it more expensive to drive to work, run a farm, haulage, transport or any other type of business, or to heat a home or community facility; and— fully acknowledge that the carbon tax is first and foremost a tax plan and not an environmental plan;
— make life much more affordable for all Irish people by scrapping the carbon tax and only reintroducing any form of carbon taxation following the passage of a democratic referendum, supported by a majority of the people;
— commission and publish an independent financial analysis, which would determine the household and sectoral impacts of the carbon tax to Irish society, together with any possible benefits, prior to a referendum;
— recognise that a more effective climate change strategy would harness the full potential of new and emerging technologies, to spur innovations like the ones that have made solar one of the cheapest forms of energy in much of the world and electric cars a viable alternative to petrol and diesel-powered ones; and
— fully accept that this Government's climate policy logic, in which carbon pricing is the central policy response, is deeply flawed.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on behalf of, and with, my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group. This matter is most important because it is only now that the carbon tax is hitting home. Members of the Government might like to say that the war and other issues beyond their reach have caused the large spike in the increase in the cost of living, but what is happening in May shows why my colleagues, including Deputy Mattie McGrath, and I have always been so forceful in our concerns about the carbon tax.
I am not a climate change denier or someone who says that we should not be taking measures to protect our environment, but it amazes me that there is a simple measure that no one seems to be considering. How many plastic bottles of milk are going from shops to people's homes today? The people who were there before us were very smart. They did not put milk into plastic containers when it started being sold in shops. It was sold in glass bottles and a levy of a couple of pence was put on them. They were washed, returned and used again. If we were to stop using plastic bottles tomorrow morning, imagine the significant saving that would make for our environment. This would be a meaningful measure.
When the Green Party entered government, we believed that there would be many sensible ideas. Instead, all there seems to be is one stupid idea after another. Some of the ideas are stupider than one could have imagined, for example, the reintroduction of wolves, carpooling and shorter showers. I could go on forever. We have a Minister of State in charge of forestry who managed to plant 360 ha of forestry last year instead of the 8,000 ha mentioned in the programme for Government. What is that, only politicians asleep at the wheel at the head of their Departments? The forestry sector is in an absolute shambles. The national chairman of the forestry committee of the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, has publicly stated such. No notice whatsoever is being taken of big issues like that when it comes to trying to reduce carbon. Instead, we are getting nonsensical and stupid suggestions, such as stopping people from going to the bog and saving turf or selling turf to help other people to heat and fuel their homes.
This is why my colleagues and I are anxious that the carbon taxes should no longer be applied. A stay should be put on any further such tax. Sensible measures that would protect our environment and help us to reduce our carbon emissions should be undertaken, but all of these pleas and requests seem to be falling on deaf ears.
To me, our farmers are the real environmentalists. It is not someone in the Green Party or someone with a badge on his or her chest who is from an environmental agency or group. The real environmentalists are our fishermen and farmers and the people who own land. I use the word "own" in a sparing way because no one actually owns land. Someone is the custodian of a farm if he or she is lucky enough to be given one, has the wherewithal to borrow money to buy it or has struggled and worked his or her way up. We only own land while we are on this Earth, and we hope to pass it on to future generations in a better shape than we got it. The same applies to fishermen. There are traditional fishermen who have worked hard and had a hard living trying to survive on our waters. They are the real people who understand the environment. They are the real people who know what is good for the environment. They do not do harm to the environment. They do the exact opposite – they try to protect, enhance and improve it. Look at how many farmers have been involved in agri-environmental schemes down the years, be it the various rural environment protection schemes, REPS, or any of the other schemes where they planted hedgerows, put out bird boxes, protected streams by fencing them off and put in more effluent storage facilities. They operate their farms to the best standard they can. What thanks do they get for it? All they get is kicked by the Government and accused of being a part of the problem. They are not a part of the problem. They are the solution. To me, they are the absolute solution.
That is why this motion is so important. It is why we want to highlight what is happening and the folly of what is coming out of the Government and the three parties in it. Between the lot of them, they have done more harm to the environmental movement in Ireland and throughout the rest of the world by making us a laughing stock. For instance, we desperately need a liquefied natural gas, LNG, facility. In 2019, Fine Gael appointed a committee to determine what we should do about energy security. That happened under the then Minister, Deputy Bruton. The committee said that we should have an LNG facility and that it should be non-commercial. We have an ideal place for it in north Kerry at the Shannon Estuary in Tarbert and we want to see an LNG facility being provided there, but what the Tánaiste came out with completely contradicted what his own party's committee said we should have. Talk about mixed messages. Last week, there was the debacle of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, going on radio to say that he would be banning the sale of turf from 1 September, the Tánaiste saying the following morning that the ban was being delayed and the Minister going on radio again the next day to say that it was not being delayed. If the Government was a dog with rabies chasing its tail, it would not appear as confused as it actually is. It is no wonder that people have lost confidence. I will tell the Minister of State one thing that I know for a fact. Be it down to the carbon issue or the various workings of the Government over the past number of years – the Green Party does not come into the equation in rural Ireland – my strong message for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is that they have lost rural Ireland. I mean that. No matter what twisting and turning they do tonight with Sinn Féin's motion-----
-----and no matter what amendments and messing around with it they pursue, let the message go out from the floor of Dáil Éireann that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have lost rural Ireland in a way they will never be able to get it back and they will never be trusted again.
I care about the environment, but I also care about the people. My job as a public representative is to represent the people who elected me to represent them in the Dáil. I will give an example to bring it home for the Minister of State. Does he know how many briquettes are in a bale?
There are 22. I am reminded of that by people in the area in which I live. Pensioners are putting aside so many briquettes per day to heat their homes to keep themselves warm. The fact that people are counting the number of briquettes in a bale shows how serious this issue is.
Every rural person would point to the lack of transport infrastructure in their areas due to the failure of this and previous Governments to make such provision. That is the reason people who live beyond the Red Cow do not have transport provision. When the Minister of State comes back to Kerry, people in the area will want to know why they cannot buy a trailer load of turf to keep them warm. How will he face those people and tell them that he is backing the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who is for the birds? I do not mean to be personal but the Minister is not in touch with reality. The Minister of State is backing somebody in his party. I want him to ask his Government colleagues to allow a free vote on this motion this evening in order that he can vote in line with the wishes of the people who elected him and put him here to represent them
Because people have no alternatives, they buy a car and then pay increased vehicle registration tax, motor tax, a tax on motor fuel and a tax on the servicing of the car. I am all for the environment but give me alternatives. The Government has not given people alternatives. They have no alternatives because all those in government want to do is increase the population in cities like Dublin, put infrastructure in place in Dublin and increase the number of Deputies serving that area where there is a higher percentage of the population in order that they can further take from the representation of rural Ireland. That is what they are about. It is a controlling strategy to get the Government parties back into government again. Every person who lives in the city has family origins in the country. We ask the people in the cities to help to protect the areas from which they come from this Government, which is out of touch with reality. It is making its backbenchers vote for a measure with which they do not agree. If those in government agree with it, they cannot go back and face their electorate, as the Minister of State and his backbench colleagues will have to do.
I was interviewed on a radio programme during the week during which I was accused of not knowing what I was talking about when it came to the Government introducing energy grants. However, when the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, who was interviewed on the same programme, was questioned it turned out he did not know what he was talking about because 70% of the people in County Limerick rely on solid fuel and oil for heating but for what energy sources are the grants available? Gas and electricity. I called to the house of an elderly couple to sympathise with them on the death of their daughter, God rest her, who is being buried today. I could not be there today. They told me they were 100% reliant on oil because they are no longer physically able to bring in coal or blocks of wood to heat their home. They needed to have their house warm because people were calling that night. Their concern is that they are completely reliant on oil because they are not able to bring in a few blocks of wood or some coal or turf.
A record €7.1 billion in tax revenue was collected in March, which is €2.4 billion, or 52.4%, more than for the same period in 2021. Those in government have never had as much in the coffers as they have now. However, who is being penalised all the time? It is people from the counties. They have no alternative but to drive a car because they do not have transport provision. Who pays the most carbon tax? A person in the county because he or she has no alternative. That is why the Government is punishing them and has forgotten about them. It must scrap carbon tax until alternatives have been put in place. I am all for alternatives but they require investment in the counties, towns and villages in our areas. That fact that we do not have them is due to the failure of this and previous Governments. Sewage treatment plants have not been updated in 30 years. It is even more of an issue now with people arriving from Ukraine and the Government not being able to house them in the counties because there is not the required infrastructure in place, which is a consequence of the failure of this and previous Governments. I will be watching the way those in government vote on this motion this evening. I will tell every constituency in their areas to watch what the way they voted this evening.
I welcome this opportunity to speak on the important carbon tax issue. The Rural Independent Group of which I am part is the only group that has been consistently opposed to the introduction of a carbon tax. We did not enter into playing any games or calling for a stop to be put to the increase in the tax.. We called for the whole carbon tax to be scrapped because it is an unjust tax that will cripple families. For instance, this year alone it will cost the average household €500 on top of all the other costs that are increasing. It will cost farmers €600 this year alone, and this tax will increase. That is unfair to people who were already struggling to get by. This imposition of this tax is a serious injustice. Surely the Government realises that. Many of those in government are good, strong rural Deputies who represent their constituents very well in their constituencies but there is an injustice with the imposition of this tax. It could be done much better.
The programme for Government makes claims about trying to achieve climate action targets, afforestation and planting 8,000 ha a year, and the rolling out of microgeneration schemes. Farmers are still not able to get onto the grid, which is causing frustration. The Government is punishing the ordinary Irish people and it is not even achieving its climate action targets, which is unfair. I do not think it will be accepted. We need to reconsider what else can be done and I ask the Government to do that. There is a fairer way to do this. The extremism coming from the Green Party in its policies shows that the party is very detached. Having listened to what some Green Party Deputies and some climate action experts have said, it seems to me that they are coming out with all sorts of nonsense. They would want to educate themselves about rural Ireland. They do not understand how rural Ireland operates and how these policies impact on people. This is certainly one policy that will disproportionately impact rural people. I am part of this group because we stand up for the rural people and try to do our best. We try to be honest and straight. We are completely opposed to the carbon tax and we will stay opposed to it. We will not be doing any U-turns and that is the way it is. We appeal to the Minister of State and rural Deputies in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to put an end to this. There is a better way forward whereby all the targets can be achieved in a reasonable manner without punishing people.
As bad as things are now, unfortunately, there is no hope of improvement, given the provisions of the Finance Act 2020, which legislated for annual increases in the rate of carbon tax out to 2030, which will bring the tax rate to €100 per tonne. That is simply not sustainable. It is a smash and grab of people's hard-earned incomes and it needs to be abandoned. Even the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, which is handsomely funded by the Government, recognised in a paper last year that the strategy to implement carbon taxes, which increases the price of carbon-intensive commodities, will lead to many households being worse off in an economic sense, in particular lower income households that spend a large share of their budget on energy and other emission-intensive products. To offset this in Ireland, the ESRI says that a proportion of carbon tax revenues is used to finance transfers, but this is just needlessly creating a problem only to then go and develop extraordinary measures to solve it. It makes no sense.
The Government often asks how we can fill the gap in terms of the proposed loss of carbon tax revenue. That is very clear and not half as complex or insolvable as the Government would have us believe. We could save hundreds of millions, if not billions, by radically revising the measures contained in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021. I have repeatedly highlighted the fact that according to an analysis conducted by the International Monetary Fund, IMF, the cost of implementing the Government's Bill will be €20 billion each year until 2030. This country will be destroyed economically. It will be ruined and there will be no recovery. I call on the Government to recognise that as a fact.
That comes from the IMF, not the Rural Independent Group. All of this is for a Bill that explicitly deprioritises employment. It is incomprehensible. It must be rejected before irreparable damage is done and the costs skyrocket.
An excellent and detailed series of analysis has been carried out by the Irish Climate Science Forum, which has said that it seeks to bring rationality to the current climate debate. The forum seeks to ground its projections in less hysteria and in more solid, verifiable evidence of how we should be responding to mitigate whatever climate threats may emerge. Are Members aware that according to Professor Michael Kelly of Cambridge University, the practical challenges of the UK pursuing its 2050 net zero carbon ambition would exceed £3 trillion? He said that this target was simply unattainable. At least they copped on and realised that. A parallel study for his home country, New Zealand, led to a similar conclusion, as did his recent analysis of Ireland’s climate strategy. According to Professor Kelly, the cost to Ireland out to 2050 of pursuing its zero carbon agenda would comfortably exceed €375 billion, with a workforce required comparable in size with the health sector. We have people languishing on hospital trolleys and waiting for operations. That is not right. That is just not right. I ask the Minister of State to go back to the Cabinet with this information.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following: "notes that:
— the carbon tax is not behind the current spike in energy prices as the annual rate of consumer price inflation, as measured by the European Union's (EU) Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices, picked up sharply over the course of last year, and stood at 6.9 per cent in March - the highest reading since the series began in 1997;
— the key driver of this increase is increases in wholesale energy prices as a result of the rapid rebound in global demand and, more recently, the war in Ukraine;
— in this context changes to carbon tax rates are having a relatively small impact on current energy prices, with the Budget 2022 carbon tax increase, which came into effect in October last year, adding approximately 2 cents per litre in tax to petrol and diesel;
— the increase in rates for home heating fuels such as kerosene, gas, and solid fuels was delayed until 1st May, 2022, to mitigate against impacts during the winter heating season, and the May 2022 increase will add approximately €21.56 to a 1,000-litre fill of kerosene and 20 cents (VAT inclusive) to a 12.5 kilogram bale of briquettes;
— many of the drivers of current inflationary pressures are global in nature, and therefore Government policy is limited in what it can do to mitigate these trends;
— the Government has nonetheless taken significant action in this regard, Budget 2022 contained a large range of measures to protect households from the rising cost of living including a personal income tax package worth €520 million and a social welfare package of over €550 million;
— there was an increase in the weekly rate of the Fuel Allowance by €5 to €33 a week so that €914 was paid to eligible households over the course of the winter and an additional lump-sum payment of €125 was paid to the 370,000 households receiving the Fuel Allowance in mid-March 2022, with a further €100 again to be paid in April;
— a further package of measures, to the value of €320 million, was introduced with effect from 10th March, reducing the excise duty on petrol, diesel and Marked Gas Oil (MGO) by 20, 15 and 2 cent per litre respectively, and these measures are being extended to 12th October, 2022, with an additional 3 cent reduction for MGO, costing €97 million;
— VAT will be reduced from 13.5 per cent to 9 per cent on gas and electricity bills from the start of May until the end of October, costing €46 million, and there will also be a reduction in the Public Service Obligation (PSO) levy to zero by October 2022;
— from April all residential electricity customers will see the Electricity Costs Emergency Benefit Payment of €200 (including Value Added Tax (VAT)) credited to their accounts; and
— these measures more than offset the increased costs associated with the carbon tax increase; and
— carbon tax is a key pillar underpinning the Government's Climate Action Plan to halve emissions by 2030, and reach net zero no later than 2050;
— the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future committed to increasing carbon tax and the Finance Act 2020 provides for a 10-year trajectory for carbon tax increases to reach €100 per tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 2030;
— a significant portion of carbon tax revenue is allocated for expenditure on targeted welfare measures and energy efficiency measures, which not only support the most vulnerable households in society but also, in the long-term, provide support against fuel price impacts by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels;
— previous analysis undertaken using SWITCH, the Economic & Social Research Institute tax and benefit model, to simulate the impact of the carbon tax increase and the compensatory welfare package has confirmed that the net impact of the combined measures is progressive and households in the bottom four income deciles will see all of the cost of the carbon tax increase offset, with the bottom three deciles being better off as a result of these measures;
— in the long run, the best way to protect Ireland from the impact of international fossil fuel prices is to reduce our dependence on them, and we will achieve this through the progressive decarbonisation of Irish society and through the steps that will be taken to meet the Government's commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; and
— furthermore, recent analysis undertaken by the Department of Finance using SWITCH has confirmed that the suite of recently announced measures more than offset the carbon tax increases for all income deciles, with the following measures being included in the analysis:— overall, in net terms, all households see increases in disposable income, with lower income households seeing the greatest proportional gains, reflecting the progressive nature of the measures.— the lump-sum increase in the Fuel Allowance of €100;
— a cut in the VAT rate on gas and electricity from 13.5 to 9 per cent;
— a reduction in the PSO levy of €58.57 annually; and
— an extension of the cut in excise duty of 15 cent for diesel and 20 cent for petrol from 31st August, 2022, to the Budget Day in October; and
On behalf of the Minister for Finance, I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Private Members' Motion tabled by the Rural Independent Group calling, among other things, on the Government to scrap the carbon tax in its entirety. The Government proposes to reject this motion. Carbon tax is a key pillar underpinning the Government's aim under the climate action plan to halve emissions by 2030 and reach net zero no later than 2050. A further key component of the Government's carbon taxation policy is the use of revenues raised from these rate increases to fund important just transition measures. It is important to note that a significant proportion of carbon tax revenue is allocated for expenditure on targeted welfare measures and energy-efficiency measures, which not only support the most vulnerable households in society but also in the long term provide support against fuel price impacts by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.
The motion calls on the Government to recognise that a climate change strategy should harness the full potential of new and emerging technologies. This is precisely what the Government is trying to achieve through the use of carbon tax funds particularly in retrofitting and new agricultural policies. The motion also asks for a financial impact analysis on households and society. This has already been done. Analysis undertaken using the ESRI's tax and benefit model, SWITCH, to simulate the impact of the carbon tax increase and the compensatory welfare package has confirmed that the net impact of the combined measures is progressive. Households in the bottom four income deciles will see all the costs of the carbon tax increase offset, with the bottom three deciles being better off as a result of these measures. This is the financial impact. In the long run, the best way to protect Ireland from the impact of international fossil fuel prices is to reduce our dependence on them. We will achieve this through the progressive decarbonisation of Irish society and through the steps that will be taken to meet the Government's commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The context for the recent conversations we are having on carbon tax is the pressure being brought about by the global rise in fuel costs. More recently as a result of the ongoing war in Ukraine and Russia's role in global energy supply, oil and gas prices have risen further and these increases will feed into higher inflation over the coming months. The energy market has been impacted by these global trends across the board. The fossil fuels we rely on for home heating have been subject to significant price increases. The final retail price of fuel is determined by a number of factors, including the costs of production, distribution, global market factors, international exchange rates, taxation, wholesale market contracts as well as individual retail pricing policies. In this context, it should be noted that changes to carbon tax rates are only having a relatively small impact on current energy prices.
For instance, the budget 2022 carbon tax increase, which came into effect in October last year, added approximately 2 cent per litre in tax to petrol and diesel. The increase in rates for home heating fuels such as kerosene, gas and solid fuels was delayed until 1 May 2022 to mitigate impacts during the winter heating season. The May 2022 increase will add approximately €21.56 to the cost of 1,000 l of kerosene. It is clear, therefore, that carbon tax is not the cause of current energy price inflation. Taxation on energy products is not behind current price increases. Therefore, removing the carbon tax would serve very little purpose and have little effect in mitigating the cost of energy for consumers. However, it would undermine the Government's climate strategy. That is why we cannot support this motion.
I will turn to the Government's response to the increase in energy prices. Last month, the Government brought a Financial Resolution into this House providing for excise duty decreases on mineral oil taxes with effect from 10 March.
This provided for a 20 cent reduction in the excise rate for petrol and a 15 cent reduction in the rate for auto diesel, with a proportionate 2 cent reduction in the excise rate on marked gas oil, MGO. These measures were VAT inclusive and were set to last until 31 August 2022. This was estimated to cost €320 million. Last week it was announced that these measures would be extended and enhanced. We have taken the decision to extend these reductions until 11 October 2022. The Government is also providing for a further reduction in the excise rate on MGO, which amounts to a VAT-inclusive reduction of 3 cent effective from 1 May until 11 October. The excise reduction extension and the further reduction in the rate applied to MGO will cost an estimated additional €97 million.
The Government is also taking action beyond autofuels. From 1 May and effective until 31 October we are also providing for a reduction in the rate of VAT on the supply of gas and electricity from 13.5% to 9%, resulting in estimated annual savings of €49 on gas bills and €69 on electricity bills for households. This will more than offset the 1 May increase in carbon tax. The VAT reduction will cost an estimated €46 million. These tax reductions strike the balance between passing a significant benefit to consumers while managing the tax base and respecting the constraints of the energy tax and VAT directives.
In terms of revenue impacts, the combined impact of the fuel tax reductions alone is €436 million. The Government believes that this represents a significant response by it to tackle the unprecedented challenge which we are currently facing. However, this is not all the Government is doing. These measures come in addition to the measures in budget 2022 and the February package of measures to alleviate the impact of the increased cost of living on households.
In this regard, budget 2022 included a personal income tax package worth €520 million for this year alongside a social welfare package of over €550 million, while the February additional package of measures made changes to the value of over €500 million. This package included an increase in the energy credit to €200, including VAT, which is estimated to impact just over 2 million households; a lump sum payment of €125 on fuel allowance, which was paid in early March to 390,000 recipients, and an additional €100 payment announced in April; a temporary reduction in fares of 20% from the end of April to the end of the year to reduce the burden on people returning to the workplace and people using public transport, which will impact approximately 800,000 daily users; a further reduction in the drug payment scheme threshold to €80, which will benefit just over 70,000 families; the bringing forward of the working family payment budget increase announced on budget day from 1 June to 1 April; reduced caps for multiple children on school transport fees to €500 per family post primary and €150 for primary school children; and a reduction in the public service obligation, PSO, levy to zero by October 2022.
As mentioned, the evidence confirms that the measures taken by the Government to date are progressive. In this regard, recent analysis undertaken by the Department of Finance using SWITCH has confirmed that the suite of recently announced measures more than offset the carbon tax increases for all income deciles. The lump sum increase in the fuel allowance of €100, a cut in the VAT rate on gas and electricity from 13.5% to 9%, a reduction in the PSO levy of €58.57 annually and an extension of the cut in excise duty of 15 cent for diesel and 20 cent for petrol from 31 August to budget day in October were included in the analysis.
Additionally, the Government continues to drive public investment in energy efficiency with an overall investment of €267 million this year, €118 million of which is allocated to making homes of those at risk of energy poverty warmer, healthier and cheaper to heat. In response to increasing energy costs, new grant rates have been introduced that will cover approximately 80% of the typical cost of attic and wall insulation. These are very cost-effective upgrade measures that can be deployed rapidly and at scale this year. The typical cost savings from cavity wall insulation is €300 per year on a home heating bill.
Cumulatively, the Government has spent approximately €2 billion on additional cost of living and welfare supports since budget 2022.
The Government is very conscious of the negative impact that the rapid rise in consumer prices is having on society. We know things are difficult for many. This is why the financial measures I have outlined have been introduced in budget 2022 and in the months since.
The Government remains committed to its current policy of carbon taxation. The carbon tax is critical to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and ensuring a just transition to a decarbonised society. We therefore cannot support a proposal to scrap carbon tax. Doing so would not make a significant impact in the context of the current rise in prices and instead would leave those who rely on the welfare support measures that are funded by the carbon tax worse off. It would also jeopardise the suite of measures that are central to our emissions reduction goals. The Government believes that this House should reject this Private Members' motion on the removal of the carbon tax and instead support the Government's countermotion on this matter.
I am very glad to get another opportunity to talk about the serious matter of the infliction of extra charges to people all over the country. The Minister wants to carry on his crusade of increasing the carbon tax and penalise many sectors and people all over the country, especially in rural Ireland. Sadly, I believe he is not doing any good, only harm, in Government. I was brought up being told that if you cannot do any good for people, please do not hurt or harm them.
The understanding was, in the first place, that the carbon tax on diesel, petrol and kerosene was a measure by the Government to coax people away from those fuels and types of vehicles to electric vehicles and to use electric heating in their homes. However, the Government does not have the infrastructure in place for electric cars and it certainly does not have the facility to generate extra electricity. The Minister has to realise that the savage global increase in the cost of fuels in the past six months makes fuel already more expensive than people can bear or afford. This carbon tax has not one iota of an effect on reducing emissions. The Government must realise that enough is enough and there is a place called stop. It has to forget about another increase in the carbon tax.
This carbon tax increase will mean that car users will pay more than €10 more to fill their tanks. Lorry drivers will pay €80 or €100 in carbon tax to fill their tanks on top of excise and VAT. I fear the haulage industry will grind to a halt. Farmers and agricultural contractors are now being asked to pay €50 to €70 per day in carbon tax alone to keep their tractors going and do the vital seasonal work that has to be done to ensure a fodder supply for our animals and that crops are sown and reaped to have food for all the people of our country.
From 1 May, the carbon tax increase on top of the current carbon tax will mean people will have to pay €106.07 more in carbon tax on a 900 l tank of home heating oil. The Minister of State said the Government is giving money back to the people. What is it giving back to the people in respect of rural public roads? It gave money for 12 schemes out of 676 schemes that are on a list below in Kerry. People are banging in and out of potholes and ruts in roads with tractors and cars. That is what the Government gave them back out of all the tax they are paying.
The Minister of State said the Government is giving more out in fuel allowance, but people on benefit payments do not qualify for any fuel allowance. People on jobseeker’s, illness, enhanced illness, occupational injuries, maternity or disabled benefits, or a pensioner living with a cancer patient on illness benefit, will not qualify for the fuel allowance. Yet the Government wants to cripple these people further by increasing the carbon tax for heating their homes and driving their cars. Shame on the Minister.
This Government has made no attempt in providing alternative energy since it started. It has closed down Bord na Móna. The cost of electricity has gone up every day and there is no real alternative, only drawing coal from Russia to keep Moneypoint going. There are incentives in place for private sources to supply energy to the grid. There are several options that could be explored, such as solar panels, and people could be exempted from tax on those. I ask the Minister to ensure that, if he opens up that scheme, he will not raid people’s properties that are supplying carbon tax.
The Minister crossed the line with turf. He went far beyond the line when he suggested that people should stop cutting and selling turf. It is all the same because when you mention turf in rural Ireland, you are hurting everyone in rural Ireland.
We had a vote on the carbon tax a couple of weeks ago. I am asking Sinn Féin respectfully now to-----
The introduction of carbon tax to this country has been one of the biggest robberies carried out by white-collar people in this island. Everything the Rural Independent Group said when it was introduced has come true. We said it would price car fuel and home heating oil through the roof, and it did. We said electricity bills would go through the roof, and they have. There is so more - I could go on for the day.
What saddens me is that it was a Green Party dream to grab this money from the rural people for their little pet projects, mainly in our capital. They were aided and abetted by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, the Social Democrats and a few nod-and-wink independents. Even then we were making it very clear that this would hurt hard-working people, mainly in rural areas but also urban areas. One cock-up after another has been announced by the Green Party as it dishes out the carbon tax money on its pet projects, such as €2.4 million on three electric buses in the capital, while rural areas are seeing poorer public transport delivery as Connecting Ireland is turning out to be disconnecting Ireland. Some 20% delivery and a proposed 50% decrease in public transport cost for our youth is now only being delivered in the capital, as rural commercial operators cannot deliver it outside the capital. It is another farce and kick in the teeth to those who within their parties support the carbon tax.
Sinn Féin Deputies come into the Dáil day after day shouting against any carbon tax increases. However, they wrapped their arms around the Green Party the first day and voted for the increase. They should stop running with the hare and chasing with the hound. They cannot have everything. Sinn Féin is either for carbon tax or against it. When it supports it, it must accept that it will inflict huge pain on the ordinary people of this country. Sinn Féin Deputies should now come out and accept their errors by supporting the Rural Independent Group.
People are suffering severely because of the Government's decisions. They are in their homes, unable to turn on their heating because they cannot afford to do so.
Our elderly, our youth and the sick will all perish with the cold in their homes this winter thanks to the Government supporting this shocking tax, which has been disguised in the name of so-called climate change. You cannot buy a bag of coal with the price of it in this country. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, aided and abetted by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, will not allow us to buy a bag of turf now. Next, it will be a bit of timber.
All I am listening to on the radio and in the Dáil is waffle. Last Saturday morning, RTÉ had an expert on who was more like a comedian. He said that burning wet turf was bad for the environment. What in God's name is wrong with the man? No one in rural Ireland ever burned wet turf. In God's name, why do the television stations not have people on who know what they are talking about? I could not believe my ears last night when I heard a Deputy say we should be mining turf. If he was in a Popeye comedy sketch, he would not come up with that kind of comment. Another Deputy from the same party falls over herself at every opportunity to shout down fossil fuels. I see her driving a diesel-guzzling van every day coming and going from the Dáil. It is the same with so many other Deputies. They say one thing and do another. They expect that people will not see and think they will get away with it.
The Rural Independent Group is the only group the public can rely on. In a recent poll I carried out in the constituency of Cork South-West, I asked my constituents if carbon tax should continue. An emphatic 85% said "No way". It was a straight "Yes" or "No" poll, but many went on to vent their anger and the reasons this cruel and hurtful tax should be stopped. I promise that 85% of the people of west Cork that I will fight tooth and nail to get rid of the carbon tax, lock, stock and barrel. Imagine the promise that was made in the Dáil for its introduction. Now we see carbon tax raking in €652 million in 2021. Only €130 million of that was ring-fenced. The rest went into the big black hole that is our Government. We want to know where the rest of this money is and why it has it not gone to the climate action Government Deputies are shouting about, rather than wind projects in their constituencies so they can get themselves across the line in the next election. You will not succeed because the people are waiting out there for you, lads.
Imagine our Taoiseach went to Europe a few weeks ago to get a so-called VAT reduction on fuel only for the other European leaders to hear that he came back here and proposed an increase in the carbon tax on fuel so the Government can grab more tax again from the most vulnerable in our society. Look at the haulage companies, farmers, contractors and boat owners. There all see that the most valuable machines they have on their properties are the tractor, lorry or boat that is parked up.
For some time, I have been saying that the Government has been grinding this great country to a halt as it has destroyed our great economy. Some farm contractors are facing wipeout. One of them, in west Cork, told me that his costs have increased by €140,000 this year. No one can sustain these hikes in costs.
I thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing this motion to the floor and allowing us have an opportunity to discuss carbon tax. I was very interested to listen to the Minister of State's response. It was useful also to be able to read it and the justification for the carbon tax. The term "behavioural change" is not used once. When the carbon tax was introduced behavioural change was the entire premise on which it was sold. It has now switched from being a behavioural change mechanism because it clearly does not work. If simply increasing the prices of carbon-based products and forcing people to change worked, there would have been a huge shift in the past six months. Instead, it has been turned into a revenue-raising argument by the defenders of the carbon tax. That does a huge disservice to climate action and is inherently unfair.
The Green Party principle, which has been adopted by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and was articulated by other Members of the Opposition last night, has equated climate action with punitive measures on ordinary workers and families. There is a suggestion, as Members of the Government have told us in Dáil debates and in TV and radio studios, that if we oppose penalising workers and families through measures like the carbon tax, we are opposed to climate action. There are others in the Opposition who grasp on to that argument and very cynically equate carbon taxes with climate action. We heard the argument that anyone who supports climate action targets ipso factosupports carbon taxes. That argument has been repeated this morning but it is not the case. I will say again that my fundamental and very strongly held belief is that it is possible to reach our carbon targets without giving people who have no alternative a kicking every single time.
To deal with the big issues of the day, be it housing, health or climate action, we must agree what needs to be done and set that out. We know what needs to be done in terms of renewables, retrofitting and transitioning away from fossil fuels. One then sets out how it is funded. What the Government has done, however, is turn that on its head. It has said we will charge people who do not have alternatives for using their cars to travel to work or for burning home heating oil and, at some point in the future, we will let people know how people will be allowed to transition. Fundamentally, what is wrong with this is that by those actions the Government is undermining the potential for us to reach our climate action targets because it is undermining support for the very concept of climate action among those who want to be partners.
This is what is happening. Next week, in the middle of a cost-of-living emergency, the Government plans to increase the cost of home heating oil. People who are at the pin of their collars will be expected to pay more to heat their homes. They do not have any alternatives. That is not climate action and it will do nothing for the environment. All it will do is to penalise those who use home heating oil, in the same way that increasing the cost of motor fuel does nothing for somebody who has to drive to work and who cannot afford a new car. The only thing that increasing the cost of fuel does is make their lives more difficult. Again, that is unfair. To my mind, and to paraphrase the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, there is a better, fairer and more credible way of achieving our climate action goals. This Government and the cheerleaders of carbon taxes have consistently undermined the very objective to which they say they are committed.
The reality for people living in the west and north west is that at least two thirds of the homes are heated with home heating oil. The figure is probably higher in County Donegal. Someone looking to fill a tank with 1,000 l of oil would have paid about €600 just over a year ago. Today, that person will pay more than double that. The tank must be filled a number of times every year. When households are already struggling to get by I do not need to explain the impact this is having on families in the rural west and north west. I can speak with absolute clarity about what is happening in Donegal.
What has the Government done to assist with that huge burden? Absolutely nothing. We asked it to reduce excise duty on home heating oil but it would not do it. The Government is now insisting on increasing the carbon tax in the next week. That is the context and there is anger in rural Ireland. There has been a significant increase in the price of coal, on which nothing has been done for working families. The final straw has been the issue of turf. This affects 4% of homes, which is a small number. The people affected are often older and living in isolated areas and do not have much money. Turf is the one source of fuel that has not significantly increased in cost, yet now is the time the Government has chosen to go after them. This is after doing nothing for rural families when it came to increases in the prices of home heating oil and, to a lesser albeit significant extent, coal.
This is how people heat their homes. The Government has done nothing to give people proper financial assistance to change or engage in retrofitting. There has been nothing in the years since the carbon tax was introduced. The carbon tax was supposed to penalise people who have not changed direction. How can people change direction when they cannot afford to and the infrastructure to do so is not there? Every time, people are given the stick and never the carrot in order to achieve objectives that people agree we need to move towards for the future. That is the problem. It is the cause of the anger in rural Ireland and in counties such as Donegal. The issue of turf, as I say, is the straw that is going to break the camel's back. The Government is going to have to back down on the issue. It will have to reconsider its approach with respect to home heating oil and the imposition of carbon tax increases at the worst possible time.
Climate action is vital and we all have our part to play. Considerable efforts must be made. However, everybody must be supported to help make those changes and the regressive carbon tax falls short in that regard. I thank the Rural Independent Group for giving us the time to discuss this issue.
Is the carbon tax designed to take into account energy poverty? The answer is a simple "No". Yet the people who suffer from energy poverty are the very ones who are paying disproportionate amounts of their incomes on carbon tax when compared with those who actually emit the most carbon. The carbon footprint of the top 10% is eight times greater than that of the bottom 10% but there is no sense of proportion in the carbon tax. That is one of the reasons I said during Sinn Féin's motion on rising fuel costs and the prohibition on the sale of turf yesterday, and I do so again, that this Government is undermining the climate action message with a fixation on punitive measures. Fianna Fáil backbenchers claim they are waiting for the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to come up with new proposals. That is their way of not supporting Sinn Féin's Bill. They are using that claim as an excuse and as political cover to kick it into the future.
There is also the manner in which the measures are presented. The amendments tabled by the Minister for Finance are prime examples. One point made by the Minister is that a significant portion of carbon tax revenue is allocated for expenditure on targeted welfare measures and energy efficiency measures which not only support the most vulnerable households in society but also, in the long term, provide support against the fuel price impacts by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. This is misleading. It does not represent climate action but climate mitigation. This is how the Government's focus on penalising households rather than supporting them to make the change will result in the money being spent on fossil fuels. What about our carers who take so much pressure off the health service but many of whom cannot get the fuel allowance? What does that say about not leaving behind anyone in energy poverty? For the Minister to say this is part of the progressive decarbonisation of Irish society is disingenuous at best.
Sinn Féin would establish an expert group on energy poverty to identify those living in energy poverty, whether on the fuel allowance or not, and develop policies to support them in a just transition and lift people out of fuel poverty. In line with this, we have proposed an increase of €125 million for retrofitting in 2022, which would be funded via other tax increases and not carbon tax increases. A targeted scheme should have been introduced. That amount is €44 million more than the Government has committed. The punitive approach by the Government to climate action undermines climate action measures.
I welcome the opportunity to speak again in opposition to the carbon tax and the turf ban. It is truly hard to fathom why the Government remains so wedded to this idea. We were told originally that this tax was a revenue-raising measure and intended to provide an incentive for people to move away from fossil fuels but incentives only work where alternatives are in place. This argument has been dropped since energy costs began to spiral. We are now told that revenue is needed for environmental measures. People across the State and in rural Ireland know we must tackle climate change and biodiversity loss. They have played, and will continue to play, their parts. Our approach needs to be fair, equitable and capable of delivering the change we need. To tax petrol when people have no alternative transport and to tax home heating oil when it is the only option for many people is absolutely not the answer.
This Government is out of touch with what is happening in rural Ireland and Government Deputies know that to be the case. That is why they are racing around Mayo and telling people they do not believe in the carbon tax increase. Those Deputies are either in government or not. They have an opportunity to vote against this tax. What they are doing to people in rural Ireland is outrageous and they need to stop. It is not that people in rural Ireland do not play their part in climate action. In fact, since 1997 and even before that, people in rural Ireland have more than played their part. They do it in designations. They were promised compensation by Government after Government but never got it. They do not trust Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Green Party. The idea that the Green Party made the Government take these steps does not wash in rural Ireland any more. The Government needs to be called out and I am doing that. Government Deputies must show which side they are on. They are either in government or not.
Working families, pensioners and small rural family households are facing a cost-of-living challenge they have never faced before as inflation reaches record peaks that have not been seen here for the past 20 years. Rising prices of petrol and diesel have wiped away families' disposable income in an instant, condemning lower income households to a meagre existence. For months now, Sinn Féin has been warning the Government about how working families are being snowed under by financial strains. Rents, the cost of childcare and energy costs are skyrocketing and becoming the dearest in Europe. What does the Government do? It decides to increase carbon tax in May and ban the sale and commercial use of turf.
This Government is failing to see that rural Ireland operates on a completely different plateau than large urban areas and cities. The carbon tax, the Government argues, is supposed to encourage people to use alternatives but in reality, no alternatives are available. The Government is, as the saying goes, putting the cart before the horse. Let us take transport as an example. Does the Minister realise that public transport is non-existent in most rural communities, including my constituency in County Wexford where almost 75% of people live in rural settings? The closure of rural post offices, Garda stations, local shops, credit unions and rural banks is evidence enough that our country way of life is being undermined by these thoughtless policies that have not been rural-proofed. What do we say to families who are already struggling to make ends meet at the end of their working week? How can we tell them to use life-changing alternatives without a fair transition or supporting plan? On top of that, purchasing an electric vehicle is dearer than a monthly rent or mortgage repayment. It is way out of reach of most ordinary families, particularly in Wexford.
The climate crisis is real. The science is there. However, we must progress our climate protection measures on the principle of a just transition and transparent and rural-proofed supporting policies. We cannot leave low-income families, pensioners and vulnerable members of our communities behind. The motion before us makes a valid point about fuel allowance and fuel poverty. We in Sinn Féin have outlined several ways to tackle these issues. Take the latest turf ban fiasco. The Government should have identified those who are dependent on turf and at risk of fuel poverty and supported them in transition. This is the very definition of a just transition and just one option the Government has ignored.
I thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward this motion and giving us an opportunity to speak on these important issues.
There are two Sinn Féin speaking slots remaining but only one of the relevant Deputies is in the Chamber. Deputy Ó Murchú has either two and a half minutes or five minutes. That has brought a smile to his face.
It has not in any way, shape or form. It should not take five minutes to point out the fact that everybody accepts what needs to happen in opposition to climate change. We can all see the failures involved. If carbon tax is intended as a means of changing behaviour, it has not succeeded. That narrative has stopped. We are being told about how much is being ring-fenced from the carbon tax. I heard that for every €100 raised through the carbon tax, approximately €14 is ring-fenced. We have all seen, on some level, a supercharged carbon tax in the context of the inflation with which we are dealing. There were already supply chain issues before the start of the criminal war by Russia in Ukraine. However, the fact is that we keep using terms such as "just transition" without getting down to the brass tacks. We are talking here about people who are struggling to pay for home heating oil. There are people who remain reliant on turf. We have not put the pieces in place to carry out any element of a transition, just or otherwise.
These difficulties are common across Europe. People see that climate change is being associated with putting pressure on individuals through additional payments. Those pressures are falling on those who cannot afford to pay. If opposing climate change is going to be associated extra taxation and more pressure on those who are in poverty, it is destined to fail.
We all know where the game-changing pieces are. We know the change needs to be done at governmental level.
We know the Government has to do the heavy lifting. The one thing we learned during the pandemic is that the State is necessary and is sometimes the only institution that can step in and do the necessary business. It will be states that will have to step up to the plate to carry out these sorts of actions, no more than to deal with the humanitarian crisis caused by this war. I accept that it is not going to be easy but we need to look after people properly and to put in place infrastructure that is fit for purpose. Carbon taxes will not do the business. Behavioural change is not happening because people do not have the alternatives they need.
We really need to get the wind energy piece in place. All of us, or at least a considerable number of us, get that we have the opportunity to become a superpower with regard to renewables and wind energy. On some days, you only have to put your head out the window to realise that. We are an island and have certain advantages, including our capacity for offshore generation, but we are not where we need to be. We know the difficulties we have with regard to planning. I accept that there are now frameworks in place and that some of what is necessary to develop this sector will finally be in place by the end of this year but the fact is that we still have major clogs and difficulties with regard to planning across the board. The Attorney General is looking at some of these issues. There are issues with An Bord Pleanála and judicial reviews. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of these operations and anything that needs to be changed, it is obvious that we need to provide resources as these bodies are part of the necessary infrastructure. We need to ensure we can deliver upon our plans.
People have spoken about the difficulties we have in respect of home heating oil, particularly in my constituency where it is used by a considerable number of people. However, there are also other issues that need to be looked at. Carlinn Hall in Dundalk has a gas-powered communal heating system. This was meant to be powered by biofuels. I have spoken to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and others on this matter. They are to follow up with officials because this system has been utterly inefficient. In the long term, it will need to be changed and improved but, at this point in time, there are people who are suffering as a result of gas prices. There are no protections for them as domestic users. Beyond that, they are suffering because of the inefficiency of this system. We need rules and regulations that ensure there will not be further cases of this kind but we also need to give protection to the people affected at this point in time.
On two occasions in the last few days, I have witnessed very disturbing sights while I have been in checkout queues in supermarkets. I have experienced people simply not having enough money to pay for all of the shopping in their trolleys. I have seen this with my own two eyes. It is disturbing. There is no dignity in this. It saddens and shames us as a society. I have witnessed people having to put shopping back and having those difficult conversations with checkout staff. That is the sad reality for far too many people in this country this very day and week. It is an experience that is recounted to me continuously in my constituency clinics and constituency office. It is sadly all too reminiscent of experiences many of us had in our families in the 1980s and early 1990s before the Irish economy took off.
We know we are experiencing an almost once-in-a-generation spike in inflation and rise in the cost of living and that these are not impacting on everybody equally. The Government will say that it has done all it can to mitigate the impact of the rising cost of living on those experiencing it most adversely but the truth is - and this is not just a cliché or trope that is usually trotted out by the Opposition as the Government routinely claims - that there is more the Government can do. We know that many aspects of the cost-of-living crisis are beyond the control of the Government. That is the truth and we all accept that. However, the Government has not used every tool available to it to address the rising cost of living and the adverse impact this is having on those who are on low incomes, those who live in rural areas and those who are not sufficiently covered by the social protection system. The signature measure of €200 off energy bills is a case in point. The bulk of this money was directed at those who, it can be argued, do not need it most and have not felt the pinch in the way that those who most need support have. This is what the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, has said, so the Minister of State does not need to trust me on that point. The additional measures the Government needs to be planning ahead of budget 2023 need to be properly targeted to ensure that those who need the most support get the most support from this State and Government.
In truth, Ireland needs a pay rise. We are a low-pay economy. Some 23% of all Irish workers are considered to be on low pay. Those in the teeth of this cost-of-living crisis are the low-paid and older citizens. We should use pay policy and the tools at the disposal of the Government to help people to make their income go further. What do I mean by that? I mean the Government using the resources available to it cleverly to, for example, reduce health costs by introducing free GP care for all children. This has been promised for a long time but it will only be delivered for the under-sevens in the coming months. I also mean investing in something for which my colleague, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, has been calling for many years, that is, €20 million a year to ensure that schoolbooks are free for all children going to primary school and €20 million to ensure that schoolbooks are free for children going to secondary school. The Government has made some announcements with regard to access to public transport but more needs to be done and many of the announced initiatives have been delayed. One of the key things we need to do is to expand eligibility for the fuel allowance. In the context of the cost-of-living crisis we are experiencing today, it is criminal that so many people are outside of the fuel allowance threshold. As everybody in this House knows, that means they are also outside of the eligibility criteria for the warmer homes schemes.
We should not pretend that the motion before us today is motivated by a deep-seated concern for the working class, child poverty or the elimination and obliteration of fuel poverty or by a passion for making Ireland a country that is much fairer and more equal. We know that the Rural Independent Group opposes carbon tax and carbon pricing. It always has and has made no secret of it. In a way, that is fair enough. It is honest and upfront about that. There are other groups - the Sinn Féin Party, for example - which want to have it every way. They want to have it both ways, at the very least. If it was poverty that was keeping members of the Rural Independent Group awake at night, they would be arguing for the redistribution of wealth in this deeply unequal society, day in and day out, in this Chamber and elsewhere. They would not, as they routinely do, oppose increases in the national minimum wage to increase the incomes of the lowest paid people in this country. Indeed, some of the signatories of this particular motion even argued, in the context of debate on last year's Finance Act, that the universal social charge should be dramatically reduced, if not abolished. That would have been an assault on lower paid people in this country who depend on the public services the USC supports day in and day out.
This is about opposition to the carbon tax; it is not about supporting those who are on low incomes. That was never the case with the Rural Independent Group. It seems to have had some sort of Pauline conversion-----
-----to the interests of working people, which it has not expressed before. This is opportunism at its worst.
Carbon pricing has a role to play in addressing climate change. It is not the ultimate role but it has a role. We are honest that we support the principle of carbon pricing once it is the case that carbon tax is directed towards mitigating measures to ensure we can insulate homes and increase the fuel allowance system to support those who are in fuel poverty and those who are at risk of fuel poverty. We know the planet is burning and if we do not take the kind of action that is required, the rural Ireland the Rural Independent Group claims to love will be no more. We have a biodiversity and ecosystem crisis in this country.
We see that with our eyes day in and day out. Failure to act will effect agribusiness and the rural Ireland all of us in this Chamber profess to love. We want to secure, conserve and preserve that into the future to make sure it works.
Is it too much to ask that we can have an evidence-based and informed debate on this most crucial of issues in this House? If we do not have an informed debate on the impact of climate change and an honest debate on carbon pricing, then we are doing a disservice to all the people of this country.
I acknowledge the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward this motion. We are in the midst of an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis, with inflation running at nearly 7%, the highest it has been for more than 20 years. The carbon tax is not the predominant cause of this inflationary spike. We must be clear about that, but carbon tax adds an additional cost to energy prices. The coming increase next week will add approximately €17 to annual gas bills and it will add an extra €20 to a fill of home heating oil. It will not add further costs to petrol or diesel prices. These additional costs will not be felt by everybody in society equally. There are many well-paid people in the country who will not notice these increases at all. However, those who are desperately trying to get by and who strictly account for every single cent in their weekly or monthly budgets will feel this increase and they will wonder where the money to pay it will come from.
This includes people like renters, who have already seen their rents skyrocket wildly. This morning we learned from Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, that the cost of new tenancies increased by 9% nationally in the last quarter of 2021. Based on these figures, renters in Dublin today will pay €12,000 more in rent per annum than they did in 2011. That is €12,000, which is just the annual increase. The average annual amount they will spend on rent in Dublin is nearly €24,000. For context, workers on the minimum wage – a paltry €10.50 per hour – earn just €21,840 in a year. How are workers on the minimum wage, and there are plenty of them, supposed to survive when average rental costs now exceed their annual gross pay? Rents are unsustainable, not just in Dublin but throughout the country. According to the RTB, rents in Roscommon increased by a whopping 25% in the fourth quarter of last year, rents in Waterford were up 24%, rents in Longford were up 20%, rents in Westmeath were up 18%, rents in Donegal were up 17%, and rents in Clare were up 16%. I could go on. There were double digit rental increases in 14 counties in the final quarter of last year.
It is not just renters who are being relentlessly squeezed. Families are struggling to pay childcare costs that are equivalent to their monthly mortgage or rent payments. Increases in the price of food are set to add an average of an additional €780 to bills over the next 12 months. Transport costs have risen by nearly 20% in the past year and energy prices have increased by unprecedented amounts, with some providers seeking increases of nearly 50% in recent weeks. These latest energy price increases are coming less than six months after most providers increased bills by up to 30% last year. The cost of home heating oil, in particular, has risen hugely. Home heating oil is up by nearly 130% in the past year alone. In just one month, February, prices increased by nearly 60%. This is not sustainable.
There is a regional dimension to this. The impact of this inflationary spiral in energy costs is uneven across the country. According to the Central Statistics Office, CSO, in the Border region, 66% of households use home heating oil, and in the west of the country, 58% of households use home heating oil. However, just 8% of homes in Dublin use home heating oil because most people are connected to gas networks. This must be acknowledged by the Government and to date it has not been. Prices throughout the country are soaring and it is the job of the Government to mitigate those price increases for those who can least afford to bear them, those on low and middle incomes.
Those on low pay spend a disproportionate amount of their incomes on necessities like food and fuel costs and they must be insulated from price increases they cannot sustain. To date, regrettably, the Government has not done this. It has been slow to act, and when it finally did, the measures it adopted were insufficient and not adequately targeted. It failed to broaden the eligibility for the fuel allowance. This means, for instance, families in receipt of the working family payment have no entitlement to the payment, nor do carers. It failed to increase core social welfare rates despite the fact core rates have increased by just a miserly €5 in three years. People on fixed incomes, like elderly people on pensions, are particularly vulnerable to price shocks, and it bears repeating that the Government has seen fit to increase their core payment by just €5 in three years. Workers on low and middle incomes are also struggling to get by as prices rocket. The Government could have put €300 back into the pockets of individual workers earning less than €50,000 using a refundable tax credit. This was suggested by the Social Democrats but the Government refused to listen. It preferred to give households a €200 universal electricity credit, which many people still have not received, by the way, so that millionaires got the same benefit as those on low incomes.
The Minister, Deputy Ryan, or whoever is stepping in for him, will likely tell us all about the retrofitting programme and what a difference that will make. The reality of that programme is delays of two years and more for the warmer homes scheme. That is the initiative that is supposed to be targeted at those who need it most, low-income households at risk of fuel poverty. How can the Minister continue to crow about the programme's success when it is failing those who need it most? He and the Government need to get real.
The Social Democrats are aware we are facing a climate emergency that not only threatens our lives but the sustainability of life on this planet. We have just eight years to halve our emissions, but under this Government, emissions are going up, not decreasing. That is not my opinion; it is according to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Government must take radical action to reduce emissions. What is happening instead? Three huge data centres on the east coast and midlands have received planning permission in recent days alone. Meanwhile, the Government failed to support a Social Democrats motion calling for a moratorium on new data centres last year. It cannot continue to talk out of both sides of its mouth on climate change.
The Social Democrats believe, given the impending climate catastrophe, that the carbon tax is necessary but the money raised must be ring-fenced and used for those who can least withstand soaring energy prices. The Government has yet to publish a detailed breakdown of how the carbon tax collected every year is spent and where the money is going. It must do that as a matter of urgency in the interests of transparency. It cannot simply impose a carbon tax and use its existence as evidence that it is taking the climate emergency seriously. That is not fooling anyone. All of the Government’s policies, in every Department, need to be climate-proofed and that is not happening. The evidence is our consistent failure to meet our climate targets.
Time is running out for us, for our children, for our grandchildren and for the planet. Enough of the sermonising and the platitudes from the Government benches, please. Reaching our climate targets will not be easy and no politician should claim it will be. There will have to be widespread changes in the way all of us live and that will not be easy, but it is the job of the Government to ensure that, as we make this transition, the most vulnerable in our society are protected to the greatest extent possible. It is failing at that job and that is being felt in the homes of people throughout the country, be it in rural or city environments. That failure cannot continue.
I would like to read out the first few lines of the People Before Profit amendment. I always do this because any debate or conversation about climate change and climate policies has to start by recognising the stark facts that are constantly being put in front of us by the United Nations, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, and the conference of the parties, COP.
However, we seem to be able as an economy and society to ignore them and continue on our merry way. The amendment states:
- recent extreme weather events are a warning that climate change is accelerating, its impacts worsening, and its consequences are increasingly disastrous for large parts of the earth, its human population and all life there on;
- these ... [extremes] include, record temperature extremes ... unprecedented temperature anomalies at both poles [So that is both Antarctica and the Arctic] and ongoing droughts, floods and storms affecting millions of people;
- current polices, based on market mechanisms, private corporations investment decisions, and carbon taxes on individual consumption are failing and will continue to fail to limit fossil fuel related emissions; and
- attempts to defer action on the premise of future technological advances are fatally flawed [All we ever hear is the phrase "future technological advances". We do not have them yet but we are completely dependent on having them in the future] and have been warned against by eminent academic and climate experts, and further run the risk of delaying real action until catastrophic warming becomes irreversible.
That is the beginning of our amendment.
There has been a pretty large and, by some standards, quite successful campaign by the Green Party, not just here but internationally, and others to say that if you are serious about tackling climate change, then you have to support carbon taxes on ordinary people's consumption, to say the academic debate is settled, to present carbon taxes and their impact as a success and a fact, and to dismiss any alternative. When I say this has been a successful campaign, I mean it has been successful among academics, policy advisers and most political parties in this House, but in working-class areas, which are the type of area I represent, and in rural Ireland, the campaign is far from accepted or successful.
We in People before Profit are serious about climate change and doing the right things to tackle it, but we oppose carbon taxes. In fact, in terms of the climate action plan of 2018, People before Profit issued a minority report on it and went into some detail as to why we do not believe carbon taxes on ordinary people will reduce emissions and, therefore, cannot be the only tool in the box of measures that attempt to deal with climate change. Carbon tax is based on a fallacy and a neoclassical understanding of economics. It seems to be acceptable to the fossil fuel industrialists. Some of the biggest oil companies in the world think carbon tax is great because it does not affect them, just ordinary people. It also puts the most polluting firms in the world first and before the needs of ordinary people. It offers the illusion of action to reduce emissions while permitting business as usual for the entire corporate sector. What it does not do is reduce emissions on the scale needed and in the time we have left to save the planet from being uninhabitable.
Despite reams of academic texts suggesting or hinting otherwise, particularly in terms of where most studies have been done, such as in Norway or Canada, specifically British Columbia, where emissions in any jurisdiction have been reduced, there have been attempts to claim this as proof of the success of carbon taxes whereas there have been other reasons behind the reduction. For example, in one of the studies that was done in British Columbia the reduction in emissions occurred in the middle of a recession. Other reasons included an alternative source of energy or fuel being brought in, or offshoring of the industry to another country, or offsetting, which is never really accounted for when people put forward these arguments as proof in other jurisdictions. A carbon tax sows the illusion that what is needed is a change in the personal behaviour of individuals, but that pushes responsibility away from the biggest polluters on the planet - the fossil fuel industry and the plastics and related industries.
Carbon tax has shifted the policy debate and that is why we constantly debate the matter in this House. The focus and the plans to deal with climate change are away from a systemic approach or any analysis of the underlying reasons CO2emissions are increasing globally. Since Kyoto, we have pumped 60% more CO2into the atmosphere. That happened not because we did not impose high enough carbon taxes on ordinary people but because the major fossil fuel corporations continued to explore, mine and burn fossil fuels while amassing vast fortunes and profits. It happened because no one challenged the logic of the capitalist system and its endless drive to expand, accumulate profits and create new markets, an incessant drive to expand that was fuelled by the fossil fuel industry.
Now, as we look into the abyss and at the latest IPCC report, which tells us that the window to avoid climate catastrophe is rapidly closing, we are again offered increases in carbon taxes as a solution, a tough decision and a mature political policy. It is a fraud; it does not work. If the Green Party and the other Government parties do not understand that, ordinary people do instinctively. In my life I have found ordinary people are often way ahead of leaders and political advisers. They know it is a con. They know it is to hike up energy and fuel prices for them while at the same time there is no problem with planning to locate a liquefied natural gas, LNG, operation in Shannon or elsewhere.
In France, the yellow vest movement exploded not because they were climate deniers or because of Russian machinations but because they knew this was a con to drive up fuel prices while at the same time shutting down and reducing rail services people needed and forcing the retirement age up to 68. There are always economic reasons governments decide to pass on the responsibility to ordinary people and not look at what is happening at the top. As I always say in this Chamber, the fish rots from the head. If we do not look at what happens at the top of society, then we will not deal with how things need to change at the bottom. I believe things need to change. We need to be all honest with each other. Whether we drive diesel vans or are some of the biggest corporate landlords in this House, we need to be honest with each other. While doing so, we need not to deny the facts of climate change but to demand support for those of us who say we need to reduce consumption and that giving permission to more data centres or LNG operations to locate off our coast is much more damaging to our environment and possibilities for the future than arguing against the increases in carbon taxes, which, by the way, I remind everybody, although everybody knows this, are coming at a point in time when the cost-of-living increases are crucifying ordinary people. If the carbon taxes increase on 1 May, that will just embitter and embolden people who want to fight back and say they are not taking this any more.
I sincerely hope we see, and I will help to advocate and plan for, feet on the streets in response to the rise in the cost of living in the same way we saw feet on the streets in response to the attempt to introduce water charges or, indeed, to force women to live in the dark ages. These are things ordinary people can change, but they can only do it together in big numbers. Us standing here in the House is not going to make all that much difference except that we can point out the contradiction between going after the ordinary people while allowing corporations and fossil fuel industries completely off the hook.
I am sharing time with Deputy Fitzpatrick. There is increased resistance to the idea of imposing a carbon tax on people who are not seeing the benefit and will not see a benefit for the foreseeable future. I am very concerned this plan to transition us away from fossil fuels to green energy and the elimination of the fossil fuels is in tatters. I say that because there is no joined-up thinking and there is no plan where we can see the annual targets that may be achieved. We have something that will be achieved in the next ten to 15 years but we do not know how we are going to get there. There is no step-by-step approach.
The deep retrofit scheme is still not in place and will not be in place until the end of this year. We all know that, as part of the warmer homes schemes, people must wait up to two years to get a survey done on their house, and these are the most vulnerable people who get the fuel allowance. In my own constituency, that the ESB is decommissioning a 49.9 MW wind farm at Derrybrien, which has generated green electricity to serve 44,000 homes since 2006, is something we need to examine very closely. I ask the Government to intercede and bring in emergency legislation to keep that vital green energy going. We have made a mess of it between planning and substitute consents. We need emergency planning to get that right. We need to hold on to what we have. At the same time while we are losing that green energy, we want to tax people in the constituency of Galway East for the fact they have no alternative.
I will give another fine example of how the plan is not working. A large number of people in this country have invested in installing microgeneration in their homes.
They did so on the premise and the promise from Government that they would receive payment for any excess electricity that went back into the grid. They were supposed to get paid since 1 July 2021. To date, free electricity has gone to the grid and consumers are charged an enormous price for it. The poor people who invested in microgeneration get nothing for it. They do not know how much is going out. It is not metered and there is no action to do so. This is making a mockery of the microgeneration scheme. When asked how it is working, people in my constituency say not to touch this with a 40 ft. pole, because it is all about putting in money to give something back, and getting no return for it.
Under the warmer homes scheme, the SEAI is continuing to install fossil fuel heating systems in houses for people in receipt of fuel allowance. They will then be charged the carbon tax for the fuel that they will use. I cannot believe that we are still doing that and putting public money into it in this day and age. As recently as the last six months, I saw a fine new oil-fired Firebird boiler on a footpath outside a house where the warmer homes scheme has just been completed. The house has been tested and passed everything, yet we are still using a fossil fuel. This is a farce. In a constituency with no public transport, very few facilities to charge electric vehicles, and a ban on the sale of turf, it is time for a wake-up call and to make sure that we do something for what is called a just transition.
I welcome the opportunity to speak. I thank Deputies from the Rural Independent Group for tabling this motion. We are in extremely difficult times and face many challenges following the many restrictions imposed on us by Covid and with the rapidly rising cost of living, which is affecting everybody. I fully believe that climate change is a problem that needs to be addressed. It cannot be ignored anymore and we need to act now. We need to put in place necessary measures to reduce or eliminate climate change. Carbon tax is, unfortunately, one of the main tools in the Government's effort to reduce climate change.
In the Private Member's motion, the Rural Independent Group highlights how the carbon tax was introduced and summarises how it affects oil, gas and solid fuels. There is no doubt that this is having a real effect on the cost of living for many, especially people in fuel poverty. As I said, we are just coming out of a pandemic and there is the Russian onslaught on Ukraine, which is causing great problems for the Ukrainian people. With all of this happening, I feel the Government should consider a temporary pause in the increase in carbon tax which is due to happen. I feel that people have had enough. Every day, we hear of price increases and to add further to this with an increase in carbon tax is wrong.
There is no doubt that renewable energy is the future, but we cannot increase taxes on other forms of energy if we cannot offer an alternative renewable source. The Government has published its plans for the retrofitting scheme, but it will not be solved in the immediate future. The Government has indicated that heat pump technology is the way forward, which I agree with, but retrofitting houses which have oil or gas boilers with heat pumps will require a significant effort and injection of capital funding. People dealing with fuel poverty will not be able to afford the costs of insulation or heat pumps. The Government needs real and workable solutions if this is to happen.
Another issue is the fact that heat pumps use so much electricity. I know there will be a serious shortage of electricity. We face many challenges with the national grid. How can we manage it if every house in the country is using electricity as the primary source of energy?
It is important that we start using commonsense. I know, and I am sure the Minister of State knows, that people are not putting their heat on because they cannot afford to and they are feeding their families. I was reading an article which stated that the three main causes of fuel poverty are low income in a house, fuel costs and the energy efficiency of the house. It is frightening when one realises how bad it is. There are thousands of households with children who are in fuel poverty. They just cannot afford to heat the house. People cannot afford to buy a house in the first place, then most rented houses are of poor quality. It is frightening to see the actual prices.
I keep saying that we should start using commonsense. It is the wrong time to introduce taxes. We hear about how there could be a general election because of issues with the Green Party. There is a coalition Government, which is doing a pretty good job. It is doing a good job from a European perspective too, taking in so many Ukrainians. If the Government sat down to think about this, it could find a solution to help people. While I do not agree with scrapping the carbon tax, I call on the Government to delay temporarily the increase in the tax. I ask the Government to sit down and use commonsense.
I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling this motion. We have had several motions on the rising cost of energy and fuel and the huge impact that has on the cost of living for ordinary people. It drives some people into energy poverty. Energy poverty means that people cannot afford to heat their homes or to turn on the hot water for their shower. It means they live in fear of rising energy costs and money that might be set aside for school books, urgent home maintenance or whatever else is eaten up day by day as people try to keep themselves and their families warm. While I do not fully agree with all of the proposals in this motion, I fully support its thrust and intent, which is to lower taxation on fuel, home heating oil, gas and energy in general so that rising energy costs do not drive people into fuel poverty. It would mean that people can go to work and bring their children to school, and haulage companies, taxis, buses and the travel industry can continue to operate.
Everything has a context. As I said, this is not the first or second time that we have discussed the escalation in the cost of living or the spike in inflation. Much of this is driven by the increasing cost of fuel. While it is not our first or second time, I want to say to the Rural Independent Group that the timing of this motion is most opportune. Just overnight, I heard one report that Gazprom has cut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, while another report stated it is still flowing. We know what is happening and we know the direction of travel. We do not buy Russian gas in Ireland. We buy on the international markets, but we know that the squeeze in supply will hit all of us. Last night, in response to the threat by Gazprom, there was a 17% rise in gas prices. Norway tells us it is exporting at full capacity. Countries such as Poland and Bulgaria will now enter a shrinking market. They will look to countries like Germany to help them with their gas supply. That will mean an increase in fuel prices. Ireland, like many other countries, will be hit by these increases. That is why this motion is timely and opportune.
I understand that the Government has little or no control over the actions of Gazprom and Russia, but it has control of the taxation on fuel and energy.
I am not saying it has full control. I recognise the fact VAT rates are not fully at our discretion but other levies and taxes are. Simply removing carbon tax will not solve the problem, though it would certainly ease it. Excise and VAT are where the Government can really make a difference.
I recognise the Government has made efforts on the fuel allowance and that is welcome for the approximately 500,000 people who receive it. However, there are many other families who are struggling and do not receive fuel allowance. Time and time again I have raised the issue that carer's allowance is not a qualifying payment for fuel allowance. Just two weeks ago I was happy to facilitate the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice and Family Carers Ireland when they launched a report on the cost of caring in Ireland. It is one of many but the cost of caring is exacerbated by increases in the cost of transport and heating and it would make a huge difference to families who care if carer's allowance was made a qualifying payment for fuel allowance.
We also have the €200 energy credit and while I have heard many people speak about all the millionaires getting it most of the people I know who receive it will be glad to. However, most of those people also agree these type of payments need to be better targeted and not just to those who are happy to get it. We need more targeted payments. We need to ensure carer's allowance is a qualifying payment for fuel allowance and crucially, as this motion asks, we need a decrease in tax and duties on fuel.
As a final point, no debate on fuel poverty and the cost of energy, certainly in my view, would be complete without reference to the ongoing debacle on the sale of turf. The most recent proposal I have heard is if you live in a community of 500 or more people you cannot burn turf but you can if you live in a community of fewer. I do not know about the Minister of State's constituency but I have looked at my own. I looked at two towns in north Sligo that are 9 km apart. In Cliffony you can burn turf but if you are 9 km away in Grange, which has just a few more people, you cannot. In Leitrim, if you live in Drumsna you can burn turf but if you live in Drumod, which is fewer than 10 km away up the road, you cannot. It is nonsense, it unenforceable and it makes a mockery of any legislation or regulation we might propose. I therefore ask that proposal be set aside.
The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, spoke about consultation. I do not know if he understands people are cutting turf now. That turf will be sold in September or October. It is too late for consultation. There are possible solutions and the Independents will be bringing forward a motion next week around such solutions relating to the levels of moisture in turf. Maybe if we look at the science we can find solutions here. We need a just transition for the 4% to 5% of households that burn turf, not a half-baked announcement without proper planning, proper research and without any impact assessment. It is not good government. I look forward to hearing proposals that are reasonable, that will guarantee a just transition and will work.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I have listened carefully to the comments of many of the Deputies and I understand what they are saying. While I might not agree with some of what has been said I understand the full sentiment behind it. Members will be aware of the important actions this Government has taken in the space of climate action and meeting emissions reduction targets. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act enshrined carbon budgets and our targets for emissions reductions into law. The Act identifies the specific mechanisms, plans and strategies that will be used by Government to achieve the national climate objective. These objectives include a series of national carbon budgets. Under the system of carbon budgeting established in the Act, the carbon budget represents the total amount of greenhouse gases that may be emitted in the State during a five-year period measured in tons of carbon dioxin equivalent. The first two carbon budgets in the programme provide for a 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the State by 2030 relative to 2018, as set out in the Act.
Carbon tax offers an effective, cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed necessary to effect meaningful change. It is therefore very necessary to us achieving these emissions reductions and doing our part to prevent climate disaster by 2050. This explains the Government's being opposed to any motion to scrap the carbon tax. Deputies calling this morning for the Government to review carbon pricing are reminded we have done it in a progressive way. The various analyses show those in most poverty benefit most from all the measures that have been introduced. The excise reductions, VAT and PSO cuts, the €200 utility bill credit and enhancements to the fuel allowance will mitigate the price increase across energy products and assist those who need it most.
In summary, it is necessary we respond to the current energy price dynamics and the Government has outlined what it has been doing to date. The Government remains committed to its current policy of carbon taxation. The carbon tax is critical to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and ensuring a just transition to a decarbonised society. We therefore cannot support the proposal to scrap carbon tax. It would also jeopardise the Government's legally-binding commitments to reduce emissions by 2030 and 2050. The carbon tax is therefore linked with complementary expenditure measures that are critical to a just transition to a decarbonised society. A removal of carbon tax would not only undermine emissions reduction targets but also the welfare supports and initiatives that support the most vulnerable people.
For the benefit of everyone present, I state the carbon tax raised €652 million last year. If Members want to scrap that they must be honest and tell the people that €652 million cannot be spent on the areas on which it is being spent currently. The number of households that benefit from the fuel allowance is 390,000. Those people need it most. Everybody knows that due to the extended period we provided for in the budget, the increases we gave and the extra one-off payments in that sector, people in receipt of the allowance get an actual cash benefit over an extended period of time of over €1,000 per person. The benefit to those 390,000 people who get that costs €390 million. If Members want to abolish carbon tax, they should tell the people they are going to abolish the fund that raises the €390 million that pays for the fuel allowance. They should tell the people who are involved in agricultural environment schemes the money for them is gone because we have abolished the carbon tax. They should tell the people who want to retrofit their houses, even the smallest job of insulating the walls and ceiling, that they need not do it anymore if they expect money from the Government because some Members want to abolish the carbon tax. Society works by people paying tax and the Government spending it. The Government cannot spend it on those schemes if it does not raise it. We would all love to be in a situation where we did not have to pay carbon tax but most honest people would prefer to pay some tax to ensure the 390,000 people who are most vulnerable are getting €1,000 at minimum each, which every one of them needs and deserves to heat their homes. We should be going further with our retrofitting schemes and we need funding to do that. If Members are against all these schemes they should just say so and people will judge who is being fair and reasonable. The issue with being in government-----
-----where the Rural Independent Group is coming from. Its Members are consistent in what they are saying. However, I look at the Members beside them who are not here. I highlight Sinn Féin. I am going to watch how Sinn Féin Deputies vote tonight. Sinn Féin's pre-budget submission last year was based on collecting €652 million in carbon tax. Sinn Féin did not oppose it in its own pre-budget submission. It accepted the need for the €652 million. If its members come in and vote in favour of this motion they will be voting against their own pre-budget submission as it was laid out. That submission is contingent on, and made no reference to abolishing, carbon tax.
They have built this €652 million into their pre-budget submission. Let us see how they vote tonight. Will they stand by their own pre-budget submission or vote against it?
The new leader of the Labour Party has said she wants targeted measures that include VAT reductions. Such reductions help everybody. They are not targeted. Let us see how Labour Party members vote tonight.
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an iar-Sheanadóir, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Mairéad, our Members and all the office staff who supported us in putting this motion together. We put it together in sincerity. We are consistent, if nothing else. We have opposed this unjust, punitive, anti-small man or woman, and anti-small family tax. It is totally discriminatory against people. I have great respect for the Minister of State but he made remarks about us doing this, that or the other. I will ask him one question. Cá bhfuil na Teachtaí go léir? Where are all the Deputies? There is not one Fianna Fáil backbencher in the Chamber. There is not one backbencher from-----
I see Deputy Canney, but there is not one backbencher and, look here, féach anseo, Sinn Féin is missing in action. God, their Members will all be here in ten minutes' time. I am sorry for invoking the name of God, but I cannot believe it. We then have some people telling us we should mine turf. I, or any of us, do not profess to know everything, but we know that turf is not mined. We get lectures from people in white vans about what we should do regarding liquefied natural gas and everything else. That is fair enough, but I say to the Minister of State that this appalling vista has a sense of déjà vufor me and for him. He is a member of a proud party and was in the same fine room as me, on the fifth floor, full of Deputies, Ministers and Senators, with the then Minister for the environment, John Gormley, and then Taoiseach, Brian Cowen. I think Deputy Byrne chaired this meeting where we spent two hours discussing - excuse the language - when a breeding bitch would be a breeding bitch. That is the déjà vu. That was the last time I walked out of that parliamentary room because I knew the whole thing was gone loo-lah. We are back there again.
I know there is awful trouble in the Minister of State's party. There is worse trouble in Fine Gael. The Tánaiste likes to be flippant and tell them all that taking turf off the people is like taking wine off the people. It is a sexy kind of talk. It is nice and emotive and everything else. The Ceann Comhairle said to ask him about it when he comes back to the Chamber. We will ask him, but when we left the Chamber two weeks ago there was only a rumpus about turf. However, members of the Government are all forgetting one thing. This measure from the Minister, Deputy Ryan, is in the big book, the leabhar. It is in the programme for Government. Members of the Government stuck to it, they are welded to it and they have to honour it. The Taoiseach said, in Geneva or someplace - it was not in Cork, Kerry or a bog and I suggested he was lost in a fog in a deep bog - that this would all be smoothed over and he would do whatever. There are rumours he is now doing a secret deal with the Green Party and forgetting Fine Gael.
Deputy Berry is in the Chair so I cannot comment on him, but I cannot forget the Regional Independents who consistently vote in this Chamber. They are not Independents. They are Fine Gael backbenchers who consistently vote for every measure, but the measures today are hurting the people. The Minister of State knows this more than anyone. He is from the midlands, which is the place he talked about in respect of just transition. It is the most unjust transition and imposition that was ever dreamed of. It must be some of the 36,000 NGOs the Government has now, costing €5 billion a year, that come up with these lovely acronyms and lovely names, such as "just transition". It is the most unjust, regressive, punitive legislation. Why? There are no alternatives. People are frozen in their homes because they cannot go to the bog.
Easter Sunday was the day, and Easter was late this year, to be anxious about it. People headed for the bog on Easter Monday morning. They always observed the Sabbath as most in rural Ireland still do. They went off to the bog with their flask of tea and, my God, they would have a sore back and would be sore in many places after cutting the turf for the day with the sleán and throwing it on the bank. Thankfully, machines can come in, cut it and leave it out for them without people having to go out to turn it. It was a family event that was part of our heritage, our dúchas, our beliefs and what we lived for. It also sustained us and we had the meitheal spirit to help each other. I remember there were often ten men with a tractor and trailer who went to Monaincha Bog. There were also women. It was equal opportunities. They loaded the turf in bags and double trailers, brought it home, had a fine feed of bacon and cabbage, a drop for the road, maybe a bag or two of turf for the driver of the tractor, and they gave stuff to their neighbours. It is more important to the people of rural Ireland than wine, which is an elite drink. The Taoiseach waxed lyrical recently about wine being like the berries. I do not know what he said, but he then said that whiskey tasted more like bog. You would know he never stood in a turf-cutting position with a sleán, or took turf in a wheelbarrow out across the bog, or he would know well the taste of the cold tea he would have had and the sandwiches that might have gone stale. He would have had that and earned it.
A trip back to the bog is what the members of the Government all need now and a trip back to rural Ireland, which they profess to represent. They need a trip to the feirmeacha beaga, the small farms, and the small industries. The microgeneration industry was mentioned by the Deputy across the floor of the House. People and families in good faith put up mini-turbines and solar panels. They are supporting the ESB by selling back to the grid but it has been robbed from them because they are not getting paid for it. There is no sign of legislation that will deal with this. What kind of bad taste and bad incentive is that?
There are so many other things I could say but the NGOs have plundered this country and the Government is talking about bringing in a carbon tax. I have the figure for last year, which was €670 million, of which €126 million was spent on climate actions. Where is the other €500 million-odd going? It is a con job. It is a three-card trick. The ducking and diving backbenchers are doing is such that the Garda sub-aqua team could recruit a pile of them. They go down so deep so fast and come up again while consistently stating they are all against the carbon tax and the rising price of diesel. If they do not make the Garda sub-aqua team, for other reasons they should go in for Olympic deep diving and swimming, because I never saw the like of it. There is a huge sense of déjà vu- I can sense it - where the Government at the time imploded with the Green Party. I said at the front gates of Leinster House - I was stopped going out one evening because I was kind of angsty - that the next thing it would try to stop is the cat chasing the mouse. It is coming to that. It is utter folly. Members of the Government should not go away for two weeks' break because the Minister, Deputy Ryan, gets these ideas. I have personal respect for the man and have had good conversations with him, but he comes up with these utopian ideas and it is only driving a wedge among the people. Ní neart go chur le chéile. I want to bring people with us. It is not all a big bata or stick such as the old schoolmasters had. The Government must bring the people with it using a carrot and stick.
We need to get real and we need to get support. The Rural Independent Group is consistent. Other Teachtaí Dála will come in and out of the Chamber and say they are for it and everything else, but they have all been indoctrinated by the army of NGOs we have now. It is said we have no army and we have not; we have an army of NGOs. There are some very good people but there are 36,000 NGOs, costing €5 billion annually. We always had NGOs. When I was a buachaill óg, women and men in the missions went all over the world and did work in Third World countries, bringing water schemes to water parts of Africa and God knows where, including Biafra which was sold out to the Middle East. All the different magazines state there were cynical aims to those missions, but they did not cost €5 billion. They got nothing but dedicated their lives to that work.
All the Irish people want now is to live out their lives in a modicum of peace, not be perished in their houses, and not be frightened about the turf police that will come along. Most of the police I know do not have squat because they do not have the numbers in the Garda. We are picking things out of our heads so that we might have this or that. We will now have a limit on the population, so we will not be able to move from one village to the next village because a population of under 500 will be needed to burn the turf. Did you ever hear the like of it? The lunatics are definitely running the asylum when we hear these kinds of statements. It is not a plan; it is regulations with new consultation.
The people of Tipperary, west Waterford, and into north Tipperary and such places are in the bog already cutting the turf for this winter. The Minister of State knows that; he is close enough to see them. They are hoping to go out to turn it out in two weeks' time, and to turn it again two weeks after that to dry it. An expert stated on an RTÉ programme last week that we are all burning wet turf. I can tell the Minister of State that a gallon of petrol would not burn one sod of wet turf. What will the Fianna Fáil leader do when he goes back to his parishes? Previously, people all went back with pitchforks and the lighted sod of turf. I know what to do with that sod of turf. It will not be up on pitchforks but someplace else. The Government is scorching the people, they are really hurting and they are sick and tired of it. Tá sé in am do scoitheadh an Rialtas sin. It is time to call an election.