'Families had budgeted for payment before Christmas'

Concerns over the delay in the £600 energy support payment were voiced at a meeting of Antrim and Newtownabbey Council on Monday.

They came during debate around a Sinn Fein motion that also noted many families struggling to pay soaring energy bills will have budgeted for this payment being made before Christmas and called on the Government to provide clarity on the delivery of the payments.

It stated that “as a result of the DUP boycott of power-sharing, responsibility for delivering this payment rests with the British government”.

Speaking at the meeting of the council, Glengormley Sinn Fein Councillor Michael Goodman said: “I think we should be concerned that we have had these promises in the past. People in the six counties have been told it was coming in November, before Christmas and now before the end of January.”

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Cllr Goodman went on to say that ratepayers need the energy support payment immediately “never mind before the end of January”.

He continued to say that by “staying out of the Assembly, the DUP is “penalising their own constituents and ours”.

“I would ask that they reconsider their position and get this issue sorted out.”

Seconding the motion, party colleague Macedon Councillor Taylor McGrann said: “We need an Executive that is up and running.”

He urged the DUP to “reconsider its position and get back to work”.

DUP group leader Airport Councillor Matthew Magill said he found it “disappointing” that on such an important issue that Sinn Fein has decided to “politic”.

Working Tirelessly

He acknowledged this is an issue causing difficulty right across the community. “I can assure them the DUP is well aware of that and is working tirelessly for those people.

“Sinn Fein are attempting to make out the DUP have made the people of Northern Ireland promises in terms of delivering this payment. We do not have control over fiscal responsibility. It is of course the government who make promises to the people of Northern Ireland."

He added: “It is regrettable these payments were not rolled out in November.”

Cllr Magill proposed an amendment which seeks to “support those most genuinely in need across our community”.

Seconding the amendment, Dunsilly SDLP Councillor Ryan Wilson commented it will provide “tangible support” by asking officers to bring an “urgent report to what we can deliver for our ratepayers at this time”.

Glengormley Ulster Unionist Alderman Mark Cosgrove noted people in the community are suffering and the amendment should get “significant support” in the chamber.

Glengormley DUP Councillor Paula Bradley said: “I would be happy to accept Cllr Wilson’s backing of our amendment. I was saddened when I saw this motion come forward.

“Bringing something to this chamber in order to try to force our party to get back into the Assembly will not work. We are all concerned about the promises made by the Government in the past.”

She noted that every other region has received their energy payment “some time ago”.

“They did it on purpose to weaponise and politicise Northern Ireland. It is not acceptable that we should be treated differently to other people in the UK. We want what is best for our ratepayers and to get this money in their pockets as soon as possible.”

Voting Against

The amendment was accepted after 31 votes in favour with four Sinn Fein councillors voting against.

On Monday, the Government announced that households in Northern Ireland will receive a single payment totalling £600 to help with their energy bills.

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Households without a domestic meter or with a non-domestic electricity contract will also receive a £600 payment this winter regardless of how they heat their home.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter