Carthy presses Tánaiste on cost-of-living crisis at his first Leaders Questions
In his first time standing in for Marylou McDonald on Leaders Questions, Cavan Monaghan Deputy Matt Carthy last Thursday pressed the Tánaiste on the response of government to the cost-of-living crisis.
In an exchange with Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar, Deputy Carthy accused the government of failure to recognise the impact of rising prices on ordinary workers and families.
Deputy Carthy told the Dáil:
“At this stage, we are running out of words to describe the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on ordinary workers and families. Households simply cannot keep up. They are struggling to make it to the end of the week. Their hard-earned money is going out faster than it came in.
“While people watch every cent they spend and do everything they can to provide for their children, they also hear that the wealth of Ireland’s nine billionaires rose by €16 billion since the start of the pandemic.
“This cost-of-living crisis is happening at a time when inequality and the lack of fairness in Ireland is writ large. It is up in lights for all to see. People are working long, hard hours but they cannot afford to pay utility bills, put a roof over their heads, put fuel in the car and put food on the table.
“It is an understatement to say the packages the Government has introduced do not go far enough. They did not make a dent in the astronomical living costs people face.
“The €200 energy credit was overtaken before it was delivered. The excise measure to deal with the soaring costs at the pumps was wiped out virtually overnight.
“Incredibly, the Government still has not done anything to reduce the cost of home heating oil. In fact, at the beginning of this month it did the exact opposite, hiking the cost even further.
“What has been the result of the Government’s slow and sluggish response? The impact is felt sharply right across the board. The price of groceries is now soaring, as farmers warned us it would. Increases in the prices of essentials like milk, bread and butter have hit people hard and more and more families are depending on food banks and charities like St. Vincent de Paul. All the indicators point to further dramatic rises in food prices.
“Fuel prices are now back to the levels they were at before the Government introduced a measure it was told was not enough. In some places, in fact, the price at the fuel pumps is even higher today than it was then. It is Groundhog Day for those who are paying huge sums to fill the tank to get to work or get the kids to school. We have all heard the stories from people like nurses, teachers and many others who simply cannot afford to run their cars any more. These people live in communities where there are virtually no public transport options. The car is the only option.
“For too long, the Government has skirted around the edges of this crisis. We know international factors are at play. We accept that reality and I accept the Government cannot do everything, but the truth is it can and should do a lot more.
“People struggling to make ends meet today do not want to hear what the Government did three months ago. They certainly do not want to be told they have to wait until the budget in October. That is for the birds.
“There are options. Sinn Féin has presented a comprehensive package of measures that would make a real difference. We called for a mini-budget but the Government has sat on its hands.
“What is the Government’s plan for now, for 26 May 2022, knowing the reality faced by so many workers and families who are struggling to make ends meet and who do not know how they will reach the end of the month? People want to know what the Government is going to do now, today, to help the people who are going without lunch so they will be able to put fuel in the car on their way home. That is happening today. This situation is beyond a crisis. We need to hear that the Government intends to act and we need to hear that right now.”
In his response the Tánaiste acknowledged that Ireland, and the entire world, is facing a cost-of-living crisis driven by inflation. However, while stating that new measures would be explored, Mr. Varadkar did not specify any further actions that the government plan to introduce.
Time for exploring is over
In his follow up remarks Deputy Carthy stated:
“On the back of a piece of paper, I can think of: rents, mortgage interest costs, childcare costs, insurance premiums and healthcare access. These are all areas where Irish workers and families were already paying among the highest rates in the world under your Government, and all of that has been added to by the soaring cost of electricity and fuel prices that are quite simply out of control, and now we know grocery prices are also going to soar even further.
“I asked the Tánaiste what the Government is planning to do today to help those families. His response was, essentially, that it is exploring things. The time for exploring is over.
“We have given the Government options and measures that will support workers and families in the here and now, put money back into the pockets of hard-pressed workers in the here and now and reduce costs today.
“I will ask the Tánaiste again. What can the Government do to assure those people who at this moment are scratching their heads and wondering which choice to make, such as whether to put fuel in the car or miss work, or whether to put food on the table and not pay the ESB bill?
“Does the Tánaiste have a proposal to provide them with the supports they need here and now?”
In his final reply the Tánaiste said:
“One thing we want to avoid as a Government is getting into a situation whereby we are using borrowed money. Interest rates for government borrowing are rising too, and we want to avoid a situation whereby we borrow money to help people with the cost of living because that is false help. We would then have to take it back off them down the line, and that is something we want to avoid. Whatever we do, we need to make sure we do it in a way that is prudent, helping people with the cost of living but not using their own credit card to pay for it, and that is why the Government has put so much effort into securing investment and employment, which drive the growth we need to pay for things.”