The pandemic had barely abated as the main political issue, when pasta was being discussed on the floor of the Dáil.

The cost of your favourite fusilli or preferred penne has gone up by 5% since the start of December, TDs heard as they gathered on Tuesday afternoon for the first time after their Christmas break.

And that's less than the more basic household staples, like bread, milk and butter - which have risen by between 10 and 30%, the Labour Party leader, Alan Kelly told the Taoiseach.

If the first week back of new Dáil term was anything to go by, then the rate of inflation and the consequential soaring costs of basics living costs - a topic already being debated in the background of Covid - has now replaced it as the predominant political issue.

We’re not alone. It’s being hotly debated and experienced in the UK, US and across much of Europe, with 2022 already being billed as "the year of the big squeeze".

But while it may be global in nature, it is personal to almost every citizen who experiences its consequences from when they butter their toast in the morning until they turn on their heating at night.

Like Covid, it is a political issue that is real and tangible to the electorate, making the need for solutions more pressing. The problem for the Government is that those potential solutions are difficult and expensive.

The figures speak for themselves.

According to the Consumer Price Index, rents have increased by 6.6%, electricity by 22.4% and gas by 27.7% from the start to the end of 2021. The price of chicken has gone up by 3.5%; bread by 5.3%, coffee by 2.5% and tea by 1.9%.

The annual rate of inflation has risen for fourteen months in a row, reaching 5.5% in December, the highest in over twenty years. The situation is similar in the UK where inflation is at 5.4%, in Germany at 5.3% and the United States at 7%.

The Government argues that the causes are global. But that does not stop the opposition from seeking more urgent and bolder action - a message they have clearly identified as having resonance with an electorate that, as a result of the pandemic, has a higher expectation of their leaders to come up with big policy solutions for issues that affect their everyday lives.

Rising energy costs have increased household bills significantly

"Being ourselves again," according to the Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, "means the stress and struggle of trying to keep up with soaring costs while wages stay the same".

The Labour Party leader added up the increased cost of food, electricity, gas and home heating and said it all amounts to €3,000 or €4,000 extra for families over the past year.

"How many families can absorb that," Deputy Kelly asked. "Ultimately the people of Ireland need solutions."

It is clear from the debate this week that opposition TDs will seek to fuse the cost of living concerns with other strands of discontent circulating among the electorate.

These are concerns around housing provision, around childcare, around the health service and what many TDs argue is the extra burdens coming down the track as a result of climate transitions.


In the Dáil on Thursday, the Independent TD, Michael Fitzmaurice, said fertiliser has gone from €350 or €400, to €870 or €970.

He said that in March 2020 a litre of green diesel for a tractor was 41 to 42 cent, for the farming community and contractors that do the work. "Yesterday it was between 92 and 94 cent."

He asked: "What is going to happen the contractor that cuts the silage, with you putting in another carbon tax in May that is going to put green diesel up to one euro?"

The Taoiseach did not have any great words of consolation for farmers, warning earlier that the build-up of Russian troops at the border of Ukraine could drive up prices of gas and fertiliser.

Micheál Martin acknowledged there was a "very serious issue" facing farmers due to the rising fertilizer prices. He said that the issue would be raised with the Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue.

Generation Rent

Another sector that is really feeling the pinch from the cost of living crisis is so-called Generation Rent.

On a week when the Government started to fight back on the housing issue, pushing the message that a corner has been turned with 30,724 houses commenced last year, the opposition has made every effort to link it to the big squeeze.

A Labour Party private members motion on the cost of living stated that the rise in inflation is being driven by higher rents and mortgage payments, as well as the rising cost of food and fuel.

It saw housing policies as part of the solution, calling on the Government to introduce an immediate rent freeze, and a roadmap to reduce mortgage interest rates in Ireland to the EU average.

Ms McDonald said all the Government is offering is "more of the same" and "the proof of this is that house prices are up 14% and rents are up 8%. The truth is that the Government has continued with the same approach."

Public servants

Another concern for Government is that the cost of living crisis will inevitably lead to demands for higher public sector wages.

The issue will frame the backdrop for talks between the Government and unions on a replacement for the current public sector pay deal, which expires at the end of the year.

Kevin Callinan, president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, told the Business Post last week that public sector workers would be expecting a wage increase to deal with the rise of inflation: "It is fair to say members will be expecting that we address the cost of living issue," he said.

But the Taoiseach said that while the Government would engage with social partners "we have to avoid a wages spiral that would just create a further inflationary spiral".

So far, the Government's solutions have involved knocking €100 off everyone's energy bills, agreed in cabinet last week as well as a number of measures that were part of the Budget including a €5 increase in the fuel allowance, the pension and other social welfare payments.

There was also a tax package worth €520 million, which the Government claims will leave 1.8 million families with more take home pay.

The Taoiseach has hinted that more will be done. But after what has arguably been his best week in office, one in which he announced the lifting of restrictions as well as the highest rate of home building in more than a decade and one in which the Central Bank predicted a remarkable bounce back for the economy, it seems his next big challenge will come down - quite literally - to bread and butter issues.