The ongoing absence of a Stormont executive is “totally unacceptable” given the latest rises in energy prices in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill has said.
The Sinn Féin vice president was commenting as the most recent wave of price hikes announced by several local energy providers came into effect in Northern Ireland yesterday (Friday July 1).
Powersharing at Stormont is on ice after the DUP refused to re-establish a devolved executive following May’s Assembly election in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has created economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Ms O’Neill restated her appeal to the DUP to “get around the table and start to support people”.
The DUP’s Gavin Robinson hit back at the criticism, saying his party is doing what it can to help people.
Speaking to reporters in Belfast, Ms O’Neill said: “People are struggling, they’re struggling to heat their homes, it’s going to get even more difficult into the winter months, they’re struggling in terms of being able to afford to put food on their table for their children.
“That’s totally unacceptable that we do not have an executive in order to be able to help people to actually put money into their pockets. We have money to spend, we want to give it to the public but the DUP, unfortunately, are blocking the formation of an executive.
“But I encourage them again today on the back of these latest hikes to actually join the rest of us and actually get around the table and start to support people.”
Ms O’Neill said the UK Government has not been doing enough to support people through the cost-of-living crisis, as she called on the Tories to tax “the big companies”.
She said: “There are things that are within the gift of the British government that we do not have the powers to do and they should be taxing the big companies, they should be making sure that there’s a windfall tax that actually allows us to put that money directly to the public to help them through the cost-of-living crisis.
“What the British government have done to date is not good enough. It does not cut the mustard, it does not support people enough.
“So, what we need to see is an executive formed and the British government need to tax the big companies and put the money into people’s pockets.”
Mr Robinson criticised Sinn Féin’s continued abstentionist stance when it comes to the UK Parliament.
The East Belfast MP told reporters: “I think people can see through the blame that she’s laying at our door.
“That doesn’t give any comfort to folks that are receiving an increase again today, or, depending on who their provider is, a significant increase between 20 and up to 46%. It is big.
“Three weeks ago, I stood outside Westminster with one of her colleagues, a Sinn Féin member of parliament who refuses to take his seat. That day, we supported a Labour motion that was providing a windfall tax from energy companies so that money was coming off energy bills.
“We were in, we were voting on those issues and that motion was ultimately successful, but Sinn Féin stayed outside the room.”
Mr Robinson said the Northern Ireland Protocol is standing in the way of the region benefitting from any “hugely significant” VAT cut on energy bills and fuel costs.
He said: “The secondary issue that we have been highlighting for weeks, and that Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is writing to the chancellor today upon, is the steps that they intend to take around VAT.
“Because the reduction of VAT on energy bills and on fuel costs will be hugely significant, much more significant than the three or four or five pennies taken off a litre of petrol, for example.
“As it stands under the Northern Ireland Protocol, those moves cannot apply to Northern Ireland. We want to see not only significant action from the Government on energy bills and the cost-of-living crisis, but it needs to be applicable right across this United Kingdom.
“I don’t think we can stand for a situation where such seismic decisions could be taken, but don’t apply to consumers and hard-pressed families here in Northern Ireland.”
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