Dáil debates

Thursday, 22 September 2022

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Energy Policy

10:40 am

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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95. To ask the Minister for Finance his views on the policy response of the Government to the energy crisis to date, given that recent research (details supplied) has found the economic supports put in place by the Government to shield households and businesses were the second lowest as a proportion of GDP in the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46292/22]

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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For some time, we in Sinn Féin have been calling on the Minister to bring forward a comprehensive plan that would assist families, workers and households that are struggling at this time, particularly with the rising cost of energy but also with the cost of living in its totality. Research by the Financial Timesand by Bruegel, which was updated yesterday, shows Ireland is the worst in Europe in terms of supports being brought forward for households and business to deal with rising energy costs since September last year. How does the Minister respond to that?

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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The Government recognised the great challenge of rising prices since last October in budget 2022, in which we brought in measures worth €1 billion to help anticipate a change in the cost of living. In February, the Government went further and agreed an additional package of €505 million, including the €200 energy credit and a lump sum payment of €125 for those in receipt of the fuel allowance. We also changed the rate of VAT on electricity and gas and cut excise, among other measures totalling approximately €2.4 billion.

In the study to which the Deputy referred, the measure that is used is GDP. As he is well aware, modified domestic demand is a more appropriate metric for how national income is measured in Ireland. GDP, which is the measure used in the study that was published yesterday, is well identified and well known as an inaccurate measure for how to look at national income in this country. If the more appropriate measure for national income in Ireland is used, the measures we have put in place are equivalent to approximately 1% of our national income, not 0.5%. In addition, the figures to which the study refers do not include the taxation measures that have been brought in, such as the reduction in excise, and include for other countries measures they have announced for 2023 and 2024, whereas the Government, at this point, has only announced measures for 2022.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Even if GNI* were used, we would still be below Slovakia. The Government would still be one of the worst in Europe. The Minister can dice and slice the statistics all he wants but there has been independent research done and whatever metric is used, we are still way behind what other countries have done. Many of those countries are borrowing to support families and businesses at this time.

We have put it to the Minister time and again that there are measures he could introduce. For years, we have been putting forward to him the idea of providing a refundable tax credit for renters. He has completely ignored that. What we need specifically in this budget is certainty. We need the Minister to do what is being done in other countries right across Europe. We need him to cut electricity prices back to where they were pre-crisis and to cap them at that level. Caps have been introduced in different forms in France, Austria, Poland, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and elsewhere.

Yet, the Minister for Finance is adamantly against the idea of bringing that price certainty for families and households this winter. In the mouth of this budget, will the Minister do a U-turn on this issue? Will he do the right thing and follow the trend in Europe of bringing price certainty to electricity prices for customers by reducing them to pre-crisis levels?

10:50 am

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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I keep hearing talk of the Sinn Féin budget but it has not yet appeared. The budget it is trailing has had more instalments than "Star Wars" in the way it is being brought forward, and we are still waiting for it to come out. Before the summer, Sinn Féin demanded that the Government bring forward an emergency budget. The country awaits with interest - perhaps that is an overstatement but some of us await with interest - when Sinn Féin is going to bring forward its overall proposals, which it has not yet done. As Deputy Doherty well knows, the database of information he is referring to only includes measures for Ireland for 2022, whereas it includes measures that other countries have brought forward for 2023 and 2024. My concern, which is my responsibility and not a responsibility the Deputy has, is that anything we bring forward is sustainable, affordable, works for consumers and the country and does not create new risks. That is what the Government will do.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister can dress this up all he wants. We have been at him for months now about the cost-of-living crisis. We have put forward proposal after proposal but he has ignored them all. He will ignore them all until he is forced into a U-turn, just as he has been with regard to the windfall tax and decoupling, when he sees the light that the measures that we on our benches have put forward make sense.

The Minister cannot escape the reality that he is the finance minister who has the worst record in Europe according to the Financial Timesand Bruegel on supporting households and businesses during the energy crisis. This is according to GDP. If we use GNI*, the Minister is still at the bottom of the class. He is that finance minister. We have the ability to support people. I will put a proposal to the Minister. This is a measure that is being taken across Europe. In the past 48 or 72 hours, the Dutch and the Danes have announced they will bring in a form of price certainty in electricity prices for their citizens. They are doing this for their citizens, just as France, Poland and Austria have done it. Why will the Minister for Finance not give the same certainty to people who are so afraid of those bills landing through their letterboxes this winter?

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Doherty is so busy trying to devise a budget that brings together all the figures that cannot be added up and involves going against the advice and warnings many are giving regarding overheating our economy and not creating new risks tomorrow that he is busy over there imagining U-turns that have not happened. What I have done at all points is acknowledge that there is not an easy or simple solution to some of the challenges that households and businesses are facing.

The Deputy pointed to my record as the Minister for Finance.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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The Financial Timesdid that, not me.

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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Of course, I am also the Minister for Finance who had the privilege of being in office during Covid to put in place the supports that played such a role in our country getting to where we are today, working with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, and the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Fleming, on this and many other matters. While this challenge is fundamentally different from Covid, I will be guided by what the Government believes is right for the people of Ireland as opposed to blindly copying what other countries do.