Sammy Wilson hits back at Sinn Fein over cost-of-living energy bill discount uncertainty due to Stormont powersharing deadlock

The DUP MP Sammy Wilson has accused Sinn Fein of “cynically using vulnerable people to advance their political goals” amid a row over an energy support package announced on Thursday.

By Niall Deeney
Friday, 27th May 2022, 11:56 am
Updated Friday, 27th May 2022, 12:39 pm

Mr Wilson’s comments come amid uncertainty over whether a UK government scheme to help struggling families could be held up in Northern Ireland by the ongoing Stormont deadlock.

A £400 discount for energy bills was one of two measures announced by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Thursday, alongside one-off lump sum payments to those in receipt of tax credits, certain benefits and pensioners.

While the ‘cost-of-living payments’ announced by the Chancellor — worth up to £650 — will go ahead in Northern Ireland, regardless of whether Stormont is restored, doubts have been cast on whether the energy bill discount can be made available to households without a functioning government at Stormont.

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DUP MP Sammy Wilson

Both the one-off ‘cost-of-living payments’ and the ‘energy bill support scheme’ are to be funded by an additional tax on the profits of energy companies, Mr Sunak said.

The UK government said the lump-sum payments will be made directly to those eligible, but with differences in the way Northern Ireland’s energy market operates the government has promised “equivalent support” to the energy bill discount scheme in the autumn.

Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy said, at a Stormont press conference, that there is “no guarantee” households here will receive the money.

In a statement, however, Mr Murphy’s department said the Treasury is “exploring all options for how equivalent support can be provided to people here in the absence of an Executive.”

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson, in a statement, said: “It is extraordinary that Sinn Fein is cynically using vulnerable people to try and advance their political goals. They should stick to facts rather than trying to manipulate fears.

“The £650 payment for people who receive means tested benefits will be delivered in Northern Ireland the same way benefits were adjusted during the three years when Sinn Fein blocked devolution over the Irish language.

“People in Northern Ireland will also receive the £300 increase in the winter fuel payment.”

He continued: “In England, Scotland and Wales, energy companies will be giving the discount direct to consumers. Energy companies in NI should do the same. Given this Finance Minister failed to agree a budget when the Executive was operating, there would be a real danger if he got his hands on the money, it would only lead to dither and delay. The best way to alleviate poverty would be for Westminster to get the money to consumers via their energy bills.”

The DUP MP continued: “Sinn Fein also fail to mention that the Chancellor has also opted not to reduce VAT on energy bills because once again the NI Protocol would make it difficult to apply to Northern Ireland. A VAT cut would have been one of the best ways to get money into people’s pockets as there would have been zero administration or bureaucracy.

Whilst Sinn Fein is quick to latch onto the £400 energy payment from the UK Government, they fail to mention that Northern Ireland households are already losing out on tax reliefs for energy schemes because of the NI Protocol. People living in Great Britain have had a VAT cut on energy efficiency schemes but Northern Ireland has lost out because of the NI Protocol.”

He added: “Of course, if Sinn Fein, Westminster and Brussels had recognised the concerns of unionists when we raised them more than two years ago, devolution would still be operating.

“The NI Protocol is infecting all our politics and the sooner it is replaced with arrangements which can command unionist support the better for everyone.”