Increase in gas and ESB costs criticised by consumers

A RISE in gas and electricity bills couldn’t come at a worse time, consumer groups warned yesterday, after the announcement that Bord Gáis was set to apply for an increase.

The Consumers Association of Ireland (CAI) warned yesterday that a pattern of rising costs for essential items, such as lighting and heating, will have a negative impact on people's spending.

Bord Gáis has applied to the Commission for Energy Regulation for a large increase in transmission charges, which applies to its main industrial users. The company has sought an 18% rise which, if granted, is likely to be passed on to its business customers.

Consumers are worried that Bord Gáis will apply for a similar increase in the price of gas for households.

However, a Bord Gáis spokesperson pointed out that the company had operated a guaranteed price freeze until 2003 for several years. "The price of gas for domestic customers has effectively remained static for the past 15 years," he said.

However, it is expected that any increase may be introduced on a phased basis over a 12-month period to ease the burden of a large-scale rise in the cost of gas. Yesterday, CAI chief executive Dermot Jewell acknowledged that Bord Gáis had provided consumers with a price guarantee for many years, although he said any increase should be fully justified by the company.

"News that Bord Gáis are looking for a price rise couldn't have come at a worse time for consumers as there have been so many other increases recently," said Mr Jewell. "Others are going to lose out as people have no discretion about paying gas bills. Gas is essential for lighting, heating and cooking. Any increase in the price of gas will force consumers to cut back on other goods and services, so that other businesses will suffer."

Consumers have been particularly angered by the decision of Energy Regulator, Tom Reeves, to sanction a 13.25% increase in the cost of the average household ESB bill from next January. It follows another increase of 9% in the cost of electricity earlier this year.

Age Action Ireland (AAI) also expressed concern about the impact any gas increase would have on the income of pensioners.

Although people aged over 70 are given free electricity or gas, those aged 65-70 are subject to a means test to qualify for free units.

"Some people, even those on low incomes, do not automatically qualify for free gas. Any increase in the price of gas will have a significant effect as older people are more reliant on gas because it is vital for heating and cooking," said AAI spokesperson, Paul Murray.

Report prompts tranquiliser concern

Counselling a better option,

top psychiatrist warns doctors

Evelyn Ring

A TOP psychiatrist has warned doctors to avoid prescribing tranquilisers after a study found that one in five married women had taken them at some time.

Professor Patrick McKeon, who is also chairperson of Aware, a network of self-help groups for people suffering from depression, said tranquilisers were capable of doing harm as well as good.

People coping with relationship break-ups, serious illness, deaths and emotional traumas needed somebody to listen to them, maybe professional counselling, not tranquilisers, Prof McKeon insisted.

"It has been shown, time and time again, that sedative medication of any sort limits the ability of people to emotionally digest what they are going through," he stressed.

A Women's Health Council report points to research showing that 20% of married women and mothers had taken tranquilisers at some time, compared to only 7% of single women and those who had no children.

Prof McKeon, medical director of St Patrick's Hospital in Dublin, said the figure for married women was a surprisingly large proportion.

Results of surveys conducted by St Patrick's and Aware of women attending general practitioners were not anywhere near that figure, he said.

A study of women in the workplace found that only a third of the 10% of women who had significant anxiety or depression to warrant a clinical diagnosis actually sought help.

When anxieties, other fears and sleep disturbances were factored in, the prevalence of depression among all women increased to about 16%.

"It is now clearly recommended to all doctors to avoid the use of tranquilisers except in exceptional acute situations," Prof McKeon said.

He said women were more likely to go to GPs and have sources where they could obtain tranquilisers.

It was also widely known that women who were married, had children and worked outside the home were under more stress and pressure than single women.

"There are now quite a number of research studies that show that, from an emotional point of view, marriage is bad for women and good for men," Prof McKeon said.

The professor pointed out that Ireland had come through an era where tranquilisers were used and said the

report might be referring to the tail-end of greater usage of such drugs.

"What is very important now is that we ensure that when people are being assessed for anxiety or depression they receive the appropriate treatment."

Daisy Days, Aware's largest annual fundraiser got underway yesterday and will run until tomorrowThe organisation needs to raise 500,000 this year to maintain its services.

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