Backlash against Varadkar over heating remark

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is facing an angry public backlash after saying he will not write a “blank cheque” or “pick up the bill” for elderly people who keep their heating on constantly during the sub-zero ‘Beast From The East’ storm.

Backlash against Varadkar over heating remark

Mr Varadkar was criticised by opposition parties and elderly groups after flatly rejecting Minister for Older People Jim Daly’s earlier plan for pensioners to keep their heating on 24/7 over the coming days.

Speaking as the National Emergency Co-ordination Group (NECG) urged the public to take all precautions as Ireland becomes blanketed in the worst snowfall in four decades, Mr Varadkar said extra elderly funds are available.

However, despite Met Éireann predicting sub-zero temperatures, “significant” snow fall, 110km winds ,and thunderstorms, he said a “blank cheque” will not be written for the elderly.

“If we tell people that they can put on the heating 24/7 and the Government or somebody else will pick up the bill, regardless of what it is, we will send out the wrong message to them,” Mr Varadkar told the Dáil.

His comments came after Mr Daly told pensioners to keep the heat on constantly during the cold snap, saying there was no point putting money before health.

However, Mr Daly last night backtracked on RTÉ’s Six One News after Mr Varadkar said the view “is not the advice of Government”.

Mr Varadkar and NECG chair Sean Hogan yesterday said the €22.50c weekly fuel allowance helps 338,000 households and two extra supports — an exceptional needs payment and urgent needs payment — are also available.

However, when asked, NECG member and Department of Social Protection official Helen Faughnan did not say this will cover all bills, instead saying claims will be dealt with “in a sensitive manner”.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin yesterday said Mr Daly’s initial suggestion is “pragmatic advice”, while his party’s spokesperson for older people, Mary Butler, attacked Mr Varadkar for spending €5m on “spin” instead of an €8.5m extra week’s fuel allowance.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said the Government is failing to give “absolute clarity” on its own advice, while Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald added bluntly: “Elderly people in very cold weather don’t need a pep talk, Taoiseach, they need action.”

Contacted by the Irish Examiner last night, Age Action Ireland spokesman Justin Moran said Mr Varadkar is wrong to say elderly people are looking for “a blank cheque”.

“We are asking for a once-off double fuel allowance payment this week,” he said. “The Taoiseach’s was the wrong message, it was that this Government isn’t interested in ensuring older people are warm and safe.”

The comments came as a separate snow row descended last night after record figures showed more than 9,000 people — including 3,267 children — are now without homes.

The NECG is expected to announce today a nationwide red weather warning for Thursday evening, with schools expected to close, the Dáil likely to shut, and hospital services disrupted.

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