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File photo of Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan. Leah Farrell
Energy prices

Eamon Ryan warns that this winter will be a 'dramatic and difficult period in energy'

The first Cabinet meeting since the recess took place this morning.

LAST UPDATE | 31 Aug 2022

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER EAMON Ryan has said that this winter is set to be a “dramatic and difficult period in energy” because of price rises, but that Government will do “everything we can” to avoid blackouts. 

The Minister was speaking on his way into the first Cabinet meeting since the recess in July, which is set to be dominated by the current energy crisis. 

His comments come after Eirgrid told an Oireachtas Committee yesterday that the risk to Ireland’s energy supplies this winter are similar to last year, but did admit there was a “heightened risk” due to the rest of Europe’s energy supplies being “tight”.

Speaking at Dublin Castle, Ryan said that households being unable to pay their energy bills this winter is “the really big certain challenge” rather than blackouts. 

“Our energy supply is tight, our electricity supply is tight, but as Eirgrid said yesterday in the Oireachtas committee, we’re going to do everything to avoid blackouts. We can’t be absolutely certain because equipment breaks, but we managed it last winter,” he said.

“But the one thing we know we can’t avoid is the price increases that are coming because of the war in Ukraine. We’re on the front line in this in the sense that gas has been used as a weapon of war.”

Russian energy giant Gazprom has suspended gas deliveries to Germany on the Nord Stream 1 pipe line for “preventative work” at a compressor unit, the latest in a series of supply halts that have fuelled an energy crisis in Europe.

Ryan said the invasion of Ukraine is the main reason why the gas price has gone through the roof, “and that would have knock on consequences in every Irish home”.

“We have to also plan and prepare for that and protect our people as best we can. We can’t cushion the full blow but by helping with good advice on energy efficiency, supports the likes of what we did last year doing again, working collectively to try and switch to alternatives, that’s what we need to do and that’s the one certainty facing us this winter,” he said.

“It’s going to be a dramatic and difficult period in energy, particularly because of the price rises, but we will have to manage it.”

Pay deal approved

The Government has also given its approval for the proposed public sector pay deal, which would see public servants pay increased by 6.5% over the next two years.

Unions are set to ballot their members on the deal in the weeks ahead, which will see a 3% increase backdated to 2 February, a 2% increase from 1 March 2023 and an additional 1.5% from 1 October 2023. 

This is alongside a 1% increase which is due on October 2022 under the previous pay agreement.

Public Expenditure Minister, Michael McGrath, said that the proposed pay deal struck the “right balance”.

“I believe the proposals put forward by the WRC yesterday morning strike the right balance between providing a deal that is fair to public servants in the midst of cost of living challenges and one that is sustainable and affordable for the taxpayer,” said McGrath.

“The proposals, if adopted by unions and representative staff associations, will provide stability in a period of significant global uncertainty.”

He added that the Government must now “respect the democratic process” as unions ballot their members on the proposed pay deal.

New energy poverty plan

At the Committee yesterday, Ryan announced that a new plan to combat energy poverty will be published shortly after the Budget. The plan is currently in the public consultation period.

Ryan said today that the plan is still “in the middle of the consultation period” and that the Government is listening to different stakeholders on the matter.

“We are meeting with the community and voluntary pillar today in Government. This has to be part of a wider government approach, because the cost-of-living mainly driven by the price of energy, but also because of other factors, is putting pushing people to the pin of their collar,” he said.

“We will work with community voluntary stakeholders, trade union movement, and then apply the measures in the Budget.”

Ahead of the Cabinet meeting, Taoiseach Micheál Martin met with senior ministers earlier this week to discuss ways to reduce soaring energy costs for customers.

The EU also pledged this week to reform Europe’s electricity market in a bid to reduce soaring costs.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the limitations of the continent’s electricity market were being exposed by rising prices.

“It was developed for different circumstances. That’s why we are now working on an emergency intervention and a structural reform of the electricity market,” she said.

“We need a new market model for electricity that really functions and brings us back into balance.”

Energy ministers from EU member states will hold urgent talks in Brussels on 9 September.

Additional reporting by Tadgh McNally

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