Labour claiming credit for extra €20 fuel payout
LABOUR is claiming credit for the decision to extend the winter fuel allowance by one week at a cost of over €800,000.
Party TDs say they raised it recently with Social Protection Minister Joan Burton due to the bitterly cold weather – compared to this time last year when there was a mini-heatwave with temperatures of up to 20C.
It is another sign of Labour adopting a more aggressive stance on claiming credit ahead of Fine Gael for government policy shifts at a time when the party's ratings have been slipping in the opinion polls.
But Ms Burton was forced to deny that giving an extra €20 fuel allowance payment to 410,000 households on social welfare was an attempt to influence those voting in the Meath East by-election yesterday. She said it was purely due to the cold weather conditions.
"This will make it easier for recipients to heat their homes and I hope this will give them peace of mind," she said.
Labour Dublin South East TD Kevin Humphreys said the lobbying of Ms Burton on the issue by party TDs was behind the decision.
"There was concern among Labour members and the parliamentary party, and it was responded to in a very speedy fashion by the minister," he said.
In the Dail, Taoiseach Enda Kenny held open the possibility that a further fuel allowance payment could be given next week if the current cold spell continues.
But Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams pointed out that the Government had cut back the fuel allowance payments from 32 weeks to 26 weeks two years ago.
"I ask the Taoiseach to bring this payment period back to exactly what it was previously and to extend the payment while the severe weather prevails," he said.
Fianna Fail social protection spokesman Willie O'Dea said the extra one-week payment of fuel allowance would only give struggling households a "temporary respite".
"There are over 2,000 excess winter deaths in Ireland every year and we must do more to protect these vulnerable people," he said.
Last December's Budget also cut the gas and the electricity allowance for older people receiving the household benefits package.
The Active Retirement Ireland group criticised the Government's decision to extend the fuel allowance by one week as "too little, too late".