Tuesday, May 16, 2023

By David Young, PA

Nothing is off the table when it comes to potential Government action to prevent profiteering within the retail sector, a minister has vowed.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys made the pledge as she rejected Sinn Féin claims of inaction on rising costs in supermarkets.

Ms Humphreys, who was responding to Leaders’ Questions in the Dail in the absence of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, said the Government was considering a “suite of measures” to address the issue.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald had pointed to Mr Varadkar’s claim that there was some evidence of profiteering amid the inflation crisis.

Northern Ireland council elections
Mary Lou McDonald accused the Government of inaction on price gouging (PA)

She also derided a recent meeting minister of state Neale Richmond had with major retailers as a “cosy chat” for the optics.

“This meeting was talked up by government but appears to have amounted to nothing,” said Ms McDonald.

“Government tried to paint up the meeting as a big success but the reality is now clear and the upshot of it is that nothing has changed for consumers who continue to face these crippling costs.

“There was nothing more really than a cosy chat between government and the retailers for the sake of optics, yet another PR exercise to give the impression that government is doing something on extortionate food prices when the truth is government is doing nothing at all.”

She added: “It’s time for government to get your act together and deliver for hard-pressed households. The Taoiseach has now said on behalf of government that there is evidence of profiteering, so what’s your plan to tackle it? And how will the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission get to grips with price gouging?”

Responding, Ms Humphreys insisted the Government had spent billions of euros supporting people struggling with soaring bills.

“Deputy Neale Richmond he met the retailers, he got them all into a room,” she added.

“And what’s happened since? All of a sudden we start to hear that some supermarkets are cutting their prices, and some have cut the price of bread, some have cut the price of butter, and we want to see more of that.”

Ms Humphreys said enterprise minister Simon Coveney would be meeting the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) to discuss the retail sector.

She said while Government could not fix prices, she said Mr Coveney was preparing to take action to combat price gouging.

“There can’t be profiteering on the back of hard-pressed Irish shoppers,” she said.

The minister added: “Nothing is off the table. And minister Coveney is considering a suite of measures. For example, more transparency on profits in Ireland. And he’s meeting with the CCPC and they have powers to investigate if there is a price gouging, that’s their role.”

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