Electricity price and carbon tax increases “couldn’t come at a worse time” according to Sinn Féin.

As electricity price increases kicked in last week and carbon tax hikes land next month, Senator Lynn Boylan is calling on the government “to do more for people struggling to pay their bills”.

It was announced in Budget 2021 that the carbon tax on fuel will increase by €7.50 from €26 per tonne to €33.50 per tonne – this increase has applied to auto fuels since October, and will now apply to solid fuels from May.

‘The stakes are high when it comes to energy poverty’

Senator Boylan published a report on energy poverty in January, which showed that people “are already put to the pin of their collar”.

 “The experts all agree that unaffordable energy, along with inefficient homes, is one of the main reasons that people end up in energy poverty. Ireland has the fourth highest energy prices in Europe,” the senator said.

“It doesn’t make sense to tackle energy poverty by focusing on inefficient homes while neglecting increasing energy costs.

“The stakes are high when it comes to energy poverty. On the island, research estimates 2,800 excess deaths over the winter months due to energy poverty.

“Unfortunately, the government currently has no strategy for tackling energy poverty. That’s why we have this lack of joined-up thinking. We need an energy poverty strategy urgently.”

Bill to introduce ban on disconnections

Boylan’s party colleagues introduced a bill to the Dáil this week that would see a ban on domestic disconnections of electricity and gas during the fuel allowance season (usually runs from October to April each year for 28 weeks).

Sinn Féin spokesperson on climate action Darren O’Rourke said that “in the same way workers and families are facing financial difficulty in the current pandemic and should not have their power of heating cut off, thousands of households find themselves in the same difficult financial position each winter and deserve similar protections”.

“The Commission for the Regulation of Utilities has introduced a disconnection ban throughout Level 5 restrictions. While this protection during the pandemic is welcome, we want to ensure these protections are afforded to people every winter,” he said.

“Workers and families are already seeing big hikes in their bills as a result of the increased PSO and carbon tax. With carbon tax increases now locked in for each year for the next decade, more and more people will face financial difficulties during the winter months.”

Sinn Féin spokesperson on social protection Claire Kerrane added that this bill “is one small way we can protect these families going cold in their homes during the winter”.

Party colleague TD Réada Cronin said that in 2019, 5,008 households had their electricity disconnected for non-payment while 2,424 gas customers were also disconnected.

‘Shame and humiliation’

“Disconnection brings shame and humiliation on families and our bill would stop this,” the Kildare North TD said.

“Sudden inability to pay utility bills can hit any of us, and when it does, we need help – not stress and punishment. This is 2021. Heat and light are the basics of living, and should not be denied to people in the coldest, darkest months. 

“This bill would allow us to do vastly better and kinder by people as a society.”

Despite a number of hikes this week, Electric Ireland’s announcement of the continuation of its disconnection moratorium has been welcomed.

“At a time where many are going to be suffering financial hardship, they can have peace of mind that they will not be left unable to heat their homes or without power,” Eoin Clarke, managing director of Switcher.ie said.

“It’ll be interesting to see whether other providers follow suit and decide to protect their customers from what could be the hardest times of many peoples’ lives.

“With people staying at home, energy consumption is going to increase – meaning bigger bills for families who simply won’t be able to afford it.”

‘They will all suffer from carbon tax’

This week, the Rural Independent Group brought a private members’ motion in the Dáil seeking to “hold the government accountable” for delivering infrastructure in rural Ireland.

Deputy Danny Healy Rae, member of the group, is highly critical of a number of the green policies being implemented. He said in the Dáil this week that people will “suffer” from carbon tax:

“Every man and woman on the road will, from here on, have to pay more in carbon tax, whether that is the young fella going to work at 6:30am; the housewife taking the children to school; the employer employing people; or the businessperson with a van.

“They will all suffer from carbon tax; all because the government wants to stay in power and to keep following what the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications is telling us to do.”