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Dan White: Cutting off most vulnerable while ESB is raking in the cash is an unconscionable act of greed and cruelty

Imagine how desperate things must be if you can't pay your electricity bill.

Modern living -- light, heat, cooking, TV, radio, washing machine, fridge, vacuum cleaner, computer and just about every other gizmo and gadget that we and our kids rely upon -- just isn't possible without electricity.

Unfortunately, things are that desperate for thousands of people, with the ESB cutting off electricity from 900 people per month, up from about 750 last March.

That's over 200 families, parents and kids condemned to a mediaeval, pre-modern existence every week.

Sure maybe the ESB is short of a few bob and can't afford to cut these desperate people some slack. Not so.

Short of a few bob are the last words one would use to describe the ESB. It recorded pre-tax profits of €580m last year, more than double the €273m it racked up in 2008.

In other words, at the same time as the ESB is earning almost €12m per week it was cutting off hundreds of its poorest and most financially distressed customers every week.

Meanwhile, the folks at the ESB continue to live high on the hog.

Chief executive Padraig McManus was paid a mere €751,000 last year, almost €15,000 per week. That's enough to pay a lot of electricity bills, Padraig.

Meanwhile, the ESB's almost 7,800 staff, who were one of the few groups of workers in the country to receive a pay increase last year, were paid an average of more than €84,000 last year.

This makes ESB staff by far the best paid in the public sector and, in these recessionary times, among the best paid anywhere in the Irish economy. Nice work, this electricity lark, if you can get it.

Even rescinding last year's 3pc ESB pay increase would save almost €20m, more than enough to help many of the thousands of families who now find themselves in such desperate difficulty paying their electricity bills.



SCANDAL

And what is the government doing about this scandal? Surely if the ESB is too obtuse to see just how outrageous it is to be racking up such huge profits and paying such gigantic fat-cat salaries to its bosses at a time when so many of its customers are experiencing such dreadful difficulty making ends meet, our caring, sharing Energy Minister, Eamon Ryan, can be relied upon to make it see the light.

Not a bit of it. Instead Ryan proposes to add a further 5pc to electricity bills next October. Apparently this is supposed to save the planet or some such nonsense. All of which begs the question: what planet are you on, Eamon?

That a government minister could seriously propose to deliberately raise electricity prices at a time when many ESB customers are facing extreme difficulty in paying their existing bills, beggars belief.

This represents the ultimate triumph of blind ideology over practical reality and will be duly punished by outraged voters at the next general election.

This combination of a blinkered, out-of-touch government and a sheltered state-owned company is one that has contributed to Ireland already having some of the highest electricity prices in Europe.

At a time when they should be doing everything possible to ease the burden on hard-pressed electricity customers, the government and ESB instead combine to heap an even greater financial burden upon them.

Just how many thousands more customers will have their electricity cut off before they begin to see sense?

Truly those whom the goods wish to destroy, they first make mad.