Campaigners have warned there will be fuel poverty deaths this winter unless Stormont “urgently” introduces regulations to curb rising energy costs.
People gathered at a protest in Belfast city centre on Saturday afternoon, calling for Minster Gordon Lyons to take “immediate action” to stop the cost-of-living crisis spiralling further out of control.
The demonstration, organised by the Cost of Living Coalition, took place outside the Department for the Economy on Adelaide Street.
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People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll, who attended the demonstration, warned the outlook would be “bleak” unless the Economy Minister introduces energy price reductions and caps to stop rising energy prices.
He said people cannot afford any more increases in energy prices.
“People are really struggling to get by,” he said.
“They’re angry that they’re being told that the increases are due to global pressures when there are actions that Governments can take to alleviate some of the pressures on people.”
He added: “We need interventions now. Otherwise we fear there’s going to be more and more people dying this winter. It’s not hyperbole. That’s the reality.
“Things are looking very bleak unless there’s urgent action. That’s the reason why we’re calling on the minister to come up with a strategy.”
A spokesperson for the Cost of Living Coalition said: “Working class people are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with rising energy costs but Stormont Ministers are asleep at the wheel.
“The Economy Minister has refused to challenge the electricity, gas, and oil companies who are racking up record profits, largely at the expense of our poorest and most vulnerable.
“Our Utility Regulator, which is overseen by the Department for the Economy, approved 17 of 19 proposed energy hikes in the past five years alone. This is unacceptable.”
A spokesman for the Department for the Economy acknowledged the “serious impact” of rising energy prices but said the department had “no control”.
He said: “The unwelcome significant rise in energy prices are due to the unprecedented 600% increase in wholesale gas costs since the same time last year, over which we have no control.
“Since these wholesale gas costs make up over half of a typical consumer’s electricity and gas bill in Northern Ireland they are having a significant impact on the bills payable by all consumers.
“We entirely acknowledge the serious impact this is having on all consumers and we are working with stakeholders to do all we can to mitigate that impact.
“In Northern Ireland the Utility Regulator regulates the prices of three electricity and gas suppliers (Power NI, SSE Airtricity Gas supply, and firmus energy – in the Ten Towns area).
“They scrutinise every element of the electricity and natural gas tariffs to ensure they reflect the actual cost of purchasing and supplying energy to homes and small businesses and ensure that consumers are required to pay no more than is appropriate.
“Additionally, there is also a competitive energy market in Northern Ireland which means that other electricity and gas suppliers compete to provide a choice of tariffs to consumers.
“The department has also published The Path to Net Zero energy strategy and accompanying action plan as a longer term strategy for Northern Ireland to become less vulnerable to these volatile global energy markets over which we have no control.”
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