'Huge pressure' | 

Taoiseach warns consumers of ‘rocky’ times amid EU decision on Russian fuel ban

Taoiseach: "No doubt in my mind that it was part of Putin's strategy to create an energy crisis and then to create a food crisis"

Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: James Manning/PA

Senan Molony

THE Taoiseach has warned consumers of "rocky" times ahead with high fuel prices now built in for the foreseeable future after a decision to end EU dependency on Russian oil and gas.

Speaking in Brussels this morning, Micheál Martin said: "We are looking at a different era now in terms of pricing around fossil fuels. The war has really exacerbated this and created huge pressure. And there's no doubt in my mind that it was part of Putin's strategy to create an energy crisis and then to create a food crisis."

Higher energy costs will feed into prices all round, and sustain inflation, with the Taoiseach warning that consumers would find the time ahead "challenging," adding that there would be no cost of living moves before the Budget - when an windfall tax on energy companies making record profits could come into the reckoning.

"We will do everything we can to alleviate the pressures on consumers," Mr Martin pledged.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin speaks to media as he arrives for the European Union leaders summit, as EU's leaders attempt to agree on Russian oil sanctions in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Brussels, Belgium May 30, 2022. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

"It is very, very clear that if you reduce permanently, your dependence on Russian oil and gas, that has implications for the global market over time. There will be a lot of experts analysing that. There'll be a lot of shifts in that over the next couple of years. But it will be challenging.

"There's no point in saying anything other than that it will be challenging."

He said the decision late on Monday night to end all Russian oil and gas imports was "a watershed moment in terms of fossil fuels in general, but one which will make for fairly rocky territory over the next number of years in terms of pricing around fossil fuels.

"We cannot get away from that. But on the other hand, what's clear from the presentation from the President of the Commission is that there's a need to double down on renewables."

On Budget relief for households, Mr Martin said: "We have initiated exploratory discussions around the best way as a country to respond to this unique and very challenging set of circumstances, which has created very difficult customer issues for people.

"We acknowledge that. I think we have to be really strategic in terms of how we respond to that.

"And that's why we've commenced these exploratory talks with us around pay, but also around other measures in terms of services, and childcare, education, and housing in particular, to show that that we can arrive at an agreement that doesn't make the situation worse from an inflationary point of view."

Asked about the record profits generated by electricity companies like ESB and Energia last year and the British impose of a windfall tax, raised as a possibility by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Mr Martin indicated it could come into the equation for the Budget.

"Our situation is somewhat different to the UK," he said. "We will assess that in the round and in terms of what make sense overall, in terms of sustainable market for us in Ireland.

"We import a lot of fossil fuels. We're not exactly masters of our own destiny in that regard. I think the most important thing we can do as a country is to double down on renewables and really get moving on the timelines around offshore wind.

"That's the big game changer for Ireland over the next decade, no doubt about that. Because ultimately, by the mid-2030s, it would enable Ireland to become an exporter, as opposed to a chronic importer of fossil fuels at the moment."

Mr Martin welcomed the ban agreed by the 27 on Russian fuel imports in a sixth round of sanctions.

"It's a significant decision in terms of the the banning of the importation of Russian oil into the European Union. It's accounting for a very significant volume of Russian oil, and that will hit Russia.

"Clearly there are significant challenges for some member states, which have to be taken into account, given their dependency.

“But from the beginning of this war, the actions of Vladimir Putin have made us united more than ever before. And I was struck at the first round of sanctions at unanimity and the quickness of that.

"That's following through now. We're at the sixth round of sanctions, which, as you go from round to round, becomes more challenging, particularly given the dependency on on Russian oil and gas at some member states. What is very clear, though, is that we are at a watershed moment in terms of the European Union's dependency on oil and gas."

A "fundamental break" in that dependency dovetailed with the climate change agenda, he said, emphasising renewable energy and "the need to get offshore wind projects in place much sooner than would have been the anticipated."

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