The Government will give consideration to further actions to help people and businesses with rising energy costs, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.
However, Mr Varadkar said the Government had to be honest with people and that there were “many other demands on the public purse”.
Mr Varadkar was responding to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald during Leader’s Questions in the Dáil on Tuesday, who said Bord Gáis had recently announced “massive price hikes” for gas and electricity.
Ms McDonald said workers and families had been hit by “a barrage of energy hikes; more than 30 in the last year”. The Dublin Central TD called on the Government to engage with the European Commission and to remove VAT on energy bills for at least a period of three months and for excise duty on home heating oil to be removed.
In response, Mr Varadkar acknowledged that Ireland and other countries around the world were seeing an “unprecedented increase” in the cost of energy.
“In relation to further action, of course the Government will give consideration to further actions that we can take to help people and help businesses with the bills,” he said.
“But we do need to be honest with people. We’ve already set aside €1 billion to reduce the cost of energy; that’s already happening.
“We have to see what else we can do beyond that, that’s affordable. There are many other demands on the public purse as people will know. The budget is still in deficit, we have to bear that in mind as well.”
Mr Varadkar said the Government would examine additional measures in co-operation with the European Commission and the European Union, “to help families and help businesses a little bit more”.
“That’s part of discussions that are going to take place in Brussels later on this week,” he added.
He said the State’s response to the energy crisis had been significant and “much greater than the response in Northern Ireland and by Sinn Féin in particular”.
Mr Varadkar said Sinn Féin’s vice-president Michelle O’Neill had praised her party for giving a €200 deduction to “low-income households only and nothing to those [with] middle incomes”.
Ms McDonald said Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe had recently said the Government had no plan to intervene with further measures before October’s budget.
“October is seven months away. That’s a very long time for households when every single euro counts and when the sky-high bills just keep coming and coming: for the rent, for the mortgage, for groceries, for childcare, for insurance. It’s endless, everything going up and up,” she said.
The Sinn Féin leader said according to the charity for older people Alone, many were now choosing between “heating or eating”.
“Nobody should have to make a choice like that and we also know that this isn’t the end, we know that there are more energy hikes coming down the tracks,” she said.
“The real impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on energy costs won’t in fact be felt until the back end of the year.
“So we need to get ahead of this, we need to get on top of this crisis and people expect Government to respond with speed and urgency that matches the unprecedented difficulties that they now face, to intervene with measures that work that will get energy bills down that will keep money in people’s pockets and to give some breathing space.”