Labour leader Pat Rabbitte said Social and Family Affairs Minister Seamus Brennan unveiled a €5 rise on October 1 — ten months after it was already announced in the Budget.
Mr Brennan’s announcement coincided with a 34% increase in gas prices.
“That is such a cruelly dishonest statement because the five euro increase was announced in the Budget last year,” Mr Rabbitte said.
“Unfortunately older people in fear for their health, living in poor circumstances with damp and inadequate heat, fearful of how they are going to survive a difficult winter, get statements like this.”
Mr Rabbitte cited a recent consultant’s report that claimed that one-in-five Irish people was experiencing fuel-poverty.
“You can imagine the impact that the 34% increase will have for older people, for social welfare recipients, for people on disability and for people on low income who are not receiving any benefits.”
He asked Taoiseach Bertie Ahern: “Is it official policy to allow outrageous, disproportionate price increases in order to increase profits in the energy sector, so that new entrants can be attracted in order to provide competition to keep prices down?
“This country is gone mad on ideological competition. This is becoming an intolerably high-priced environment.”
Mr Ahern pointed to escalating international energy prices and the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Ireland is currently buying 86% of its gas from abroad.
He said: “If what I am being asked is to undermine Bord Gais Éireann and the ESB and damage the staff of those organisations, well let us be honest and say it.
“The situation is that international energy (costs) has increased by large amounts but we have protected older people from it.”
This month’s 34% gas increase was approved by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) after Bord Gais complained that the growing cost of gas had added €150 million to its costs.
The new price rise applies to domestic and small commercial and industrial users.
The latest hike comes on top of a 25% increase on October 1, 2005.
The CER said it regretted the unprecedented rise but said it would promote competition and safeguard supplies in the long term.
Bord Gais described the increase as hugely regrettable but added that it was unavoidable due to global market conditions outside the company’s control.
Wholesale gas prices are expected to stabilise from next year, the company said.