Ireland has some of the highest electricity prices in Europe yet it seems our current Energy Minister, Green TD Eamon Ryan, does not appear too perturbed about it. Last Sunday, on TV, he defended the position rather weakly at a time when the energy market really needs competition.

Bord Gais is giving ten per cent discounts for business and also for residential users and there is a clear take up on this offer. According to the current rules of Government, the ESB is not allowed to reduce its prices as they are set by the regulator. This seems preposterous at a time when the country badly needs to get more competitive.

The Minister is clearly guilty of top-down thinking and putting ideology ahead of the needs of the people and businesses that are really struggling in the recession. This was a clear view of how little sympathy the Energy Department has for consumers.

The Minister should not delay and allow the brief of the regulator to change so that the ESB can respond to price changes without allowing them to put competitors out of business.

Last weekend a large march of protesting workers complained about the public sector pension levy. It may be some relief to them if they saw that their energy bill could be cut by 20-30 per cent. Fine Gael spokesman Simon Coveney clearly had the upper hand in the debate with Minister Ryan. It is time for the Minister to act on this front and give business and the consumer a break on high energy costs.

The ESB paid out the latest pay round without considering the consequences on costs for everybody. The Government needs to wake up and stop acting at a snail’s pace. This is like sleep-walking back to the Eighties when thousands of jobs were lost due to bad leadership in Government, high taxes and general costs. Poor industrial relations meant some plants closed that could have been retained if pain was allowed for a short term. Are we heading for the same wrecked economy again, it is beginning to look more like it.