Price fixing on fuel prices at a time of war has been condemned as “morally reprehensible” by Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
Speaking at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting, Mr Martin said that reports of profiteering on rising fuel prices was completely unacceptable.
He told the party’s TDs and colleagues that “any exploration of a barbaric war such as this is morally reprehensible. Such profiteering on fuel prices is completely unacceptable.”
It came after a cut of 20c per litre on petrol and 15c on diesel from midnight was agreed by Cabinet on Wednesday.
The Taoiseach suggested that the Government wished to cut fuel prices by more but was constrained by doing so by EU laws.
He said there were limitations imposed by the Energy Taxation Directive which set thresholds on the changes that could be made on price.
“As a government we are engaging with the commission on what can be done.”
He also briefed colleagues that energy security was now a serious issue in Ireland.
“We must ensure we accelerate our use of renewables and ensure we have gas as a back up in the longer term to reduce our dependence on oil,” he told colleagues .
The serious disturbance to the grain market will also have a marked, and worrying, impact domestically.
Setting out the context, he said the bombing by Russia of a maternity hospital was shocking. He said there were ongoing discussions on further sanctions at an EU level.
“I will be meeting other leaders in France (on Thursday) to further discuss our shared challenges across the EU,” he said.
According to a person who was at the meeting, the party’s TDs and Senators strongly reaffirmed their commitment to the principle of carbon tax and its ring fenced benefits. The mood, said the source, was that there was a need to address other measures. “There was broad agreement there are no easy answers,” said the source.
The Minster for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath also gave what was described as a “bracing” analysis of the long-term impact the war will have on the Irish economy. One TD who was present at the meeting described it as stark and said that it could have an impact on the recovery of the economy.
Too little too late
Separately there have been calls from Fine Gael backbenchers to stall planned increases to the carbon tax, due to kick in in May – with excise cuts dismissed as “too little, too late”.
Senator Tim Lombard and Carlow-Kilkenny TD John Paul Phelan suggested the increase should not go ahead as planned and as outlined in Budget 2022 last October, with the meeting also hearing that more should be done on excise duty.
Annual increases to the carbon budget are a key part of the Coalition’s climate policy, and are included in the programme for government, which envisages a level of €100 per tonne of CO2 by 2030, with legally mandated rises of €7.50 per year.
The higher rates are to apply to all non-auto fuels from May 1st this year – diesel and petrol went up straight after the budget.
However, some rural TDs in particular have pushed back against the plan to hike the tax, amid widespread inflation that was driving up the cost of living even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the Government cuts to excise duty, announced on Wednesday, were also criticised as “too little too late” by Clare TD Joe Carey, and then Mr Phelan. Responding to concerns, Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said that the excise duty cut – which is set to last until the end of August and cost €320 million – is a “wartime measure”.
She said, however, that there was no room for a further cut in fuel excise duty unless there is agreement at European level – arguing the country is at the minimum amount which excise duty cannot go below without a decision across Europe.
She said those who criticised the fuel cuts will “always have the same negative approach to every measure implemented by Fine Gael to reduce the cost of living”. She said on the issue of Ukranian refugees, a “coordinated approach across all Government departments was required to work with all those fleeing the war”.