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Energy prices: Government moving to ease financial pressure but 'won't be able to do it all'

Martin said he expects the European Commission to suggest alternative cost-cutting measures by the end of the month.

Image: Shutterstock

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said that the Government is exploring further options to alleviate financial pressures on households following Bord Gáis Energy’s planned hike in prices from next month.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Martin and Energy Minister Eamon Ryan said efforts are ongoing at an EU level to stem rising energy prices but “we won’t be able to do it all”.

Martin said he expects the European Commission to suggest alternative measures by the end of this month but warned that the ongoing crisis is “going to be very volatile”.

Earlier, Bord Gáis Energy announced that both electricity and gas customers will face steep increases in their bills from next month, signalling that the average electricity bill will rise by 27% while the average gas bill will rise by 39%.

The energy company blamed the price rises on “the persistence of high demand on gas worldwide, reduced supplies, low storage volumes, geo-political issues and late winter conditions.”

Responding to the price hikes, the Government said that “the significant retail price increases announced today by Bord Gáis Energy are a matter of strong concern to the Government, particularly the impact on low-income households”.

It added that “it may not be possible to shield consumers from the full impact of these increases”, but that other “significant actions” had been taken to ease the pressure on ordinary citizens.

These include the €125 increase in the Fuel Allowance, the cuts of 15c per litre of diesel and 20c per litre of petrol implemented last week; and the €200 electricity credit which has yet to be paid.

Minister Ryan told reporters in Washington that more would have to be done to tackle the “dramatic increases” including “pushing energy efficiency and other measures to reduce our dependence on gas and on oil and coal as well”.

“We’re very conscious that the effects of this war are hitting home and we have to do everything to protect our people in this time, as well as the Ukrainian people coming to our country.”

Ryan said the changing of the season should help households as “the use of gas will naturally fall in the heating sector” but that other measures are being considered.

He said Government would follow the advice issued later this month by the Commission, “because doing this collectively will make us stronger.”

When asked whether considerations were being made on taking dividends off the profits of energy companies, Martin said it was a “ broader European question” but that nothing was being ruled out yet.

“Okay, we have the ESB and others in Ireland, we will examine all of those. But the amount of monies involved in a dividend isn’t hugely consequential in the overall scheme of things in terms of the scale of increase in energy pricing, but we rule nothing,” said Martin.

“But this is one of the prices now that we’re paying, because of this illegal and immoral war. And we will have to, collectively, across the European Union, see how best we can work to shield our people and our citizens from these impacts. We won’t be able to do it all but we’ll certainly continue to see how we can alleviate the pressures on people.

The war is an enormous shock to the economic system across Europe and across the world be under no illusions about that. And governments will not be able to shield citizens entirely from this shock.

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“It’s a new reality. It’s really brought about by war on the continent of Europe, and very fundamental decisions have been taken in respect of sanctions that are the most severe list of sanctions ever taken against the country in a situation like this. And those sanctions in themselves will represent a significant shock to the economic system across Europe and across the world.”

- Additional reporting from Christina Finn in Washington

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