Fuel hikes and cost of living crisis ‘a new pandemic’ - Derry rally told

Politicians have been warned they must stand up for the people of Derry who are struggling or unable to meet the costs of soaring energy prices.

Attendees at the Derry Against Fuel Poverty rally in Guildhall Square at the weekend were told that an average family will have to find an additional £800 this year just to heat their homes as gas, oil and electricity prices continue to soar, with further gas price hikes to arrive on February 24.

Sinead Quinn from the newly formed, apolitical group told those gathered at the protest on Saturday afternoon - one of several dozen held across these isles - that politicians here and elsewhere needed to stand up for the people who elected them into office at this time of crisis: “Whilst our Assembly will tell us their hands are tied and they only have so much money, there is loads of money flying about and particularly at Westminster. Our colleagues in Scotland, England and Wales will be fighting hard today for themselves and for us too today. That kind of solidarity is what we need across this campaign.”

It was pointed out that the Derry protest was the only one in the north at the weekend.

Some of the attendance at the Derry Against Fuel Poverty rally in Guildhall Square on Saturday afternoon last. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2206GS – 136

“Derry is a city that always rises off its knees,” Sinead Quinn said, while calling on every city and town in Northern Ireland to set up a similar campaign. “If you need support, advice, whatever you need we are here to help those campaigns get started as well.”

Speaking about the recent Executive schemes introduced to try to mitigate against the cost increases for some low income households, Sinead Quinn said the measures were totally inadequate, with many people in low income jobs but living in poverty struggling to make ends meet receiving no help.

“We do not want charity, we want solidarity. The government has a responsibility to its citizens. This is a new pandemic; the cost of living crisis is a pandemic. We are struggling and at the minute. I hear nothing coming from Assembly level. The conversation hasn’t even started when it comes to this topic in the halls of Stormont.”

Those gathered were told that the crisis is expected to last at least 36 months and that local households will have to find on average £800 more this year than last to heat their homes. “You tell me please the last time anyone that is living in our area in Derry got an £800 bonus a year?” Sinead Quinn asked, while calling on all elected reps locally to find solutions.

Sinead Quinn speaking at the Derry Against Fuel Poverty rally in Guildhall Square on Saturday afternoon last. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2206GS – 139

“We have to apply the pressure directly where it needs to be - Stormont and Westminster. We will no longer accept minimum wage jobs, we will no longer accept zero hour contracts, we will no longer accept families living on £800 a month. That is not acceptable in this city... we need ethical investment from the government.”

People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin commended the new group for the action it was taking and warned those gathered “we are in for the fight of our lives right now” as he listed how workers from various sectors were having to take industrial action and launch campaigns.

Aontú Councillor Emmet Doyle also spoke about the impact locally as he addressed those gathered, while a poem about the current crisis was recited at the event by local community worker Eamonn O’Donnell.