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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Pat Flanagan

Pat Flanagan: Left in a state after utilities sold off

“RIP-OFF firm to buy Bord Gais for €1BN” ran the headline in the Irish Daily Mirror on December 13, 2013.

This week Bord Gais proved that the above was spot on when it hiked the price of gas by almost 40% and electricity by 27%.

The article I wrote back on that Friday 13th nine years ago was criticised by the then Government as scaremongering.

I doubt the company’s 730,000 residential and business customers would disagree with the article’s claim that it was a disaster to sell off the State’s gas company to buccaneer capitalists with a reputation for ripping off its customers.

While a rise in energy prices was inevitable because of Russia’s war in Ukraine a near 40% hike in the price of gas after just for weeks of conflict is akin to extortion.

Winston Churchill once said “never let a good crisis go to waste” and Bord Gais’s parent company Centrica is taking his advice by exploiting its customers to make massive profits.

On average, gas bills will jump by 39% while electricity bills will soar by 27% from April 15.

This will add around €350 a year to the average household’s gas bills, and €340 to the average annual electricity bills. It should be remembered that the supplier had previously raised electricity prices three times last year and gas prices twice.

Not content to pretend that the price of gas on world markets has risen by these percentages, the company is also raising its standing charge to €300 in a move which consumer groups claim is price gouging of the worst kind at the worst possible time.

Even if households cut back on their use of gas and electricity, or use zero amount, they still will pay more.

We were warned that hiving off this valuable State asset to a firm with a track record for fleecing its customers would not end well.

For a country with absolutely no oil and limited gas supplies to hand over a strategically important energy supplier was not only short sighted, it was described at the time as an act of treachery.

Ironically it was Labour Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte who sold off Bord Gais to Centrica despite claims by the British Labour party that the company was ripping off its customers across the water.

And the Irish Labour party wonders why no one trusts them. A month before that article appeared, the Irish Mirror revealed how the greedy energy giant issued a warning lamenting it was only expecting to make €3.2billion profit that year. But the Fine Gael/Labour austerity Government was hell bent on selling off State assets, including the National Lottery, while paying billions to the bondholders of bust banks.

Labour went all neo-liberal and spouted nonsense about how more competition would result in lower prices.

At the time Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins called the sale a “treacherous betrayal of the Irish people”.

He said that Labour’s capitulation to “neo-liberal capitalism” was “total and irreversible” and was spot on again.

The criticism of the sale at a knockdown price was not confined to the left.

Then Fianna Fail energy spokesman Michael Moynihan described it as “deeply cynical” and a “mistake”.

He added: “There is no justification for dumping a well-run and valuable State asset at fire sale prices and it is something I fear we quickly come to regret.”

Every home and business which are facing massive price rises would do well to remember why they are being screwed by a company taking advantage of an energy crisis brought about by war.

Had this supplier remained in State control there can be little doubt that the price rises, although inevitable, would not nearly be on the scale of those imposed by Bord Gais.

The reality is that even if the war against Ukraine ends tomorrow and the price of gas returns to pre-conflict levels on world markets the savings will not be passed on to Bord Gais Energy customers.

For firms like Centrica, whose primary aim is to maximise profits rather than supply energy as cheaply and as efficiently as possible, when it comes to price the only way is up.

It’s now time for gas and electricity public utilities to be returned to public ownership once again.

There’s little point in beefing up the Defence Forces if the public are being attacked and exploited from within.

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