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'Significant intervention is needed': Coalition leaders to meet to discuss rising energy costs

Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan will bring a memo to Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting setting out a series of options.

COALITION LEADERS WILL meet tomorrow to discuss options for the budget on energy security and energy consumption in Ireland for the winter months.

Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan will bring a memo to Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting setting out a series of actions to shore up energy supply.

Looking at actions the public sector can take to reduce consumption, it is understood the likes of turning off public lighting of state buildings, similar to what Germany has already done, is one option being considered. 

A windfall tax on any energy companies is expected to be part of the strategy. 

Ryan, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste will also discuss the supports businesses might need to deal with sky-high gas and electricity bills.

Initiatives that are described as similar to Covid supports, such as tax warehousing, are understood to be on the table, as well as energy credits for businesses and households.

It is understood Government is very aware of the threat rising costs are having on businesses around the country and ministers do not want businesses to close down.

The meeting tomorrow comes ahead of Europe energy ministers also meeting this week where they will discuss expediting the delivery of alternative energies such as solar and wind.

Speaking to The Journal in Drogheda this morning, Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said “we’re going to need a plan for our country in relation to this and indeed a plan at a European level”.

The minister said he spoke to a number of businesses in his Wicklow constituency over the weekend, stating:

There is a real concern and real worry there, perfectly viable businesses, businesses that are beginning to do well again after the Covid pandemic and they are genuinely fearful about opening the envelope with the electricity balance.

“It is very clear that there is going to need to be an intervention – a significant intervention – in the budget to help people with the cost, both homeowners and businesses.”

Up to now, the Government has provided some assistance to homeowners, he said.

“We need to do more. We haven’t provided assistance to business and what is absolutely crystal clear, abundantly clear to me, and even more so after engaging with small and medium businesses in my constituency, is this is going to be really important to ensure businesses remain viable,” said Harris. 

“The energy crisis won’t last forever. And there is an absolute onus on us as a Government to do everything we can to make sure we get people through that period of time,” he added.

“I think we showed a willingness and ability to do that during Covid. We’re going to have to look at how we can do that now as well,” said the minister. 

Harris’ comments come as the Small Firms Association (SFA) launched a cost of doing business report today, which examines the cost of doing business in Ireland.  

Director Sven Spollen-Behrens said the SFA is calling for measures to support the retention and upskilling of staff to help small businesses survive.

Student grants and college fees 

Speaking about what his own department, Harris said today he published an options paper which examines the costs associated with a range of options available to support students with the cost and accessibility of higher education.

A 25% increase in student grants and a considerable reduction in third-level fees are among the measures being considered.

A cut in the €3,000 college contribution charge under consideration. 

“You can improve the student grants system, both in terms of the amount and making sure more families qualify. And you can also look at the registration fee,” said Harris, stating those are two levers at his disposal.

“We definitely will be doing more in the budget to help students, to help families with the cost of living,” he said, adding that there are two elements of this year’s budget – measures that kick in immediately and measures that won’t take effect until next year. 

“I’m very clear about my view that students, third level students, their families, parents need to be a part of both elements of that budget,” he said. 

The paper published by his department today outlines options of adjusting income thresholds to qualify for the standard rate of student grant, stating that increasing the threshold by €250 would cost the State €0.9 million while on the upper limit a increase of €1,000 in the threshold would cost €3.7 million and would see 4,700 extra students qualify for supports.

The paper also sets out what reducing the qualifying distance to avail of the non-adjacent maintenance grant from 30km to 24km would entail, as well as increasing the postgraduate maintenance grant rates.

Separately today, ALONE, a charity that supports older people, has also released its Budget 2023 submission, calling for an increase the State Pension by at least €20 this year and next year. 

It also wants the Fuel Allowance season to be set at 35-weeks and increase by €20 per week to minimise the impact of energy inflation and repeated energy supplier increases.

A number of other commitments are also called for, such as benchmarking the Living Alone Allowance to one quarter of the State Pension, as well as an increase in funding of Housing Adaptation Grants for older people to €84.5 million annually and commit to multi-annual increases. 

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