Minister for Justice Simon Harris has rejected calls for price caps on energy after being told that a pensioner was forced to pay a “colossal” electricity bill instead of purchasing a headstone for her late husband.
Mr Harris has said the Government is “not going to follow the example of Liz Truss” by introducing price caps on energy.
During Leaders’ Questions, Mr Harris said the “Trussonomics” implemented by the former UK prime minister “tanked the pound”.
He was responding to a question from Sinn Féin TD Sorca Clarke who said a Laois pensioner was forced to spend money on her electricity bill instead of a headstone for her late husband’s grave.
“She received an electricity bill for €760, a colossal amount of money that she simply cannot afford.
“She applied for an additional needs payments to help cover the cost. Shockingly she was refused support.
“Why? Because she has a small amount put away from her pension over the last year saved for a headstone for her late husband’s grave.
“Because of that refusal for help, she was forced to spend the money on the electricity bill instead of the headstone.”
Ms Clarke said the woman was distraught she would not have the headstone in time for her husband’s anniversary.
“When her family called around to visit her last night, they found her sitting in the dark, terrified of switching on the lights, worried sick about what the next bill might be and when these nightmare costs are going to end.
“This is appalling and what does it say about us as a society that we’re living in, under Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.”
Ms Clarke said families have put to the “pin of their collar” over grocery bills, mortgage interest rates, rents and energy prices.
“Government is merely sitting on its hands,” she said.
Asking what the Government intended to do about energy prices, she said Sinn Féin had brought forward a plan to cut and cap energy prices.
“You act like spectators to the catastrophe unfolding for workers and families the length and breadth of this State.”
Mr Harris said the cost-of-living crisis is real and requires action, adding that Government had taken action in the form of energy credits and fuel allowances for older people.
However, he said price caps had not worked in the UK.
“Unfortunately for you, Liz Truss became the British prime minister, albeit for a very brief period of time.
“And during that time, I don’t know whether she stole (Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald’s) homework or Mary Lou stole her homework, but you ended up with a scenario where they went ahead and did what you advised and they brought in price caps.
“And in bringing in the price caps she managed to tank the pound.”
Mr Harris said the Economic and Social Research Institute said the introduction of price caps would disproportionately benefit high-income earners and allow energy providers to “jack up prices” in the knowledge it would be covered by Government.
“That’s why we will not bring in a plan that is bad for the economy, bad for households, bad for climate and the only people that would benefit is energy climates.”
Instead, he said, Government would legislate for a windfall tax to hit energy companies “where it hurts – their profits”.
Ms Clarke responded: “The message that’s coming from Government at this point is very clear to everybody across the State who is struggling in the here and now.
“You have no interest in tackling the struggles that they are facing.
“You have no interest in assisting them at their time of need.”
Mr Harris said Sinn Féin was previously in support of the windfall tax but said he was “not sure” if that was the party’s position now.
“We will say to these companies in a very practical way, if you’re going to continue to profiteer on the back of Irish people, we’re going to tax you for it.
“That’s what we’re going to do, what we’re not going to do is Trussonomics.”
By Cillian Sherlock, PA
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