By Michelle Devane, PA
The Taoiseach has been accused of “spin” over his commitment that no pre-pay electricity customers will be cut off this winter.
People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy told the Dáil that there is no mechanism in place to guarantee pre-pay energy customers across the country do not get cut off, despite the Taoiseach’s assurances to the contrary.
Micheál Martin rejected the accusation, saying it was “not spin”.
The Fianna Fáil leader said on Sunday that the Government will not allow people on pay-as-you-go energy meters to be disconnected over the winter.
Mr Martin said the Government was engaging with suppliers on the issue.
He insisted people who found themselves in such situations would be helped by the social welfare system.
Mr Murphy said his words would have caused people to have “a sigh of relief to say if I don’t have money this winter, to put money in the machine to top up the meter, my lights won’t go off or my heat won’t go out.
“The only problem, Taoiseach, is they’re not accurate. Are they?
“They are spin. Spin like you tried to give earlier to Deputy McDonald. You’re just playing with words.”
He added: “As things currently stand these people will be cut off electricity or gas when their meters run out of money and they run through the €20 overdraft. No-one has emergency credit.
“These are amongst the lowest income people in the country. They include 90,000 households who have previously experienced electricity debt, and they are not being protected from disconnection this winter.”
In response, the Taoiseach rejected the accusation, saying the Government has intervened.
“We have intervened. I would reject your presentation of this,” Mr Martin said.
“The measures we have taken, putting cash into people’s accounts in reducing the bills is unprecedented.
“Those measures we have taken have impact. And the impact they should demonstrably have is that people shouldn’t be cut off by definition, given the scale of it.”
He added that social protection is there to protect people from being disconnected.
“People should not be cut off in the middle of winter in terms of heating or in terms of electricity and government will work with providers.
“And obviously the CRU as the statutory body regulating for this. But I think you’re too dismissive of the extraordinary measures that we have included in the Budget.”
The Taoiseach told the Dáil the Government has introduced a series of measures announced in the Budget to mitigate the impact of soaring costs, including a €600 electricity credit for households.
Earlier Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said households struggling to pay their bills remain “in danger” of disconnection, despite the Taoiseach’s assurances .
“It’s a very real and present fear,” Mrs McDonald said.
“We know that 712 households were disconnected in the first half of this year.
“And that of course is before the impact of the huge increases in bills this winter.
“So workers and families, Taoiseach, need more than words, they need a real plan from Government that gives them the certainty that they will not be disconnected.”
There are some 340,000 electricity customers on pay-as-you-go meters and about 120,000 gas customers on these meters.
The Dublin Central TD called for an immediate ban on energy disconnections in a bid to assist people under severe financial pressure amid rising energy costs.
She said the ban should remain in place until at least the end of March next year.
Mrs McDonald told the Dáil the Government’s energy credits have already been “gobbled up” before they have even been issued.