The Government could restrain the ESB from making “hyper profits” this year – and use any excess windfall to reduce electricity costs for ordinary people.
Tánaiste and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar made the pledge after being told by People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett that the ESB had made €616 million profit in 2020, and €356 million in the first half of 2021. It would make profits of well over €700 million in a full year.
Mr Boyd Barrett said another name for inflation was price-gouging and profiteering by powerful companies and individuals.
The Tánaiste replied: “I do not believe that the ESB should make hyper profits or bumper profits this year.
“We've a mechanism for dealing with that. The ESB is a State-owned company. It pays the State a substantial dividend every year.
“We can take a larger dividend. So it's not the case that they can just run up huge profits and put them in a bank account somewhere.
"We are the shareholder and we if the ESB runs up huge profits this year, we can take a bigger dividend.
“And we can use that to help pay for some of the measures that we are announcing today.”
Mr Boyd Barrett said that another power company, Energia, had seen their profits jump by 46pc last year and 45pc the year before, and was paying million in dividends to their shareholders. “So there are winners and there are losers.”
The same happens with rents, he said. “Rents in this country have gone up by 60-61pc in the last decade. Rents in the rest of Europe have gone up as well, but only by 14pc.
"So you are allowing the landlords to cream it on the back of the housing misery of ordinary working people. That's the reality.”
Mr Varadkar, in his reply, noted that Mr Boyd Barrett had also mentioned companies like BP and Shell, which were international companies, not based in Ireland and not taxed here “in the round.”
He added: “It does show that this is an international problem. The main driver of inflation is the rise in gas and oil prices, which is affecting us here.
“And then of course, that drives up the cost of other things as well. So the main drivers are international.
“That's the underlying cause, but we have to treat the symptoms of that by helping people with their family budgets.”