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Minister’s ‘shop around’ comment in relation to cost of living concerns a ‘Marie Antoinette moment’

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A government minister has said that people who are worried about the cost of living should “shop around”.

Sean Fleming, the junior finance minister, told RTÉ’s Drivetime that people should look for alternatives instead of “complaining”.

Asked by host Sarah McInerney about measures being taken by the Government to tackle the cost of living, Mr Fleming said that savings could be made by changing providers of utilities or shopping at a different supermarket.

“It takes effort to shop and switch and if people make an effort they can save a lot of money.

Mr Fleming clarified that the complaining reference was in relation to opposition TDs, whom he said did not offer any practical suggestions to people.

“Instead of people complaining, because you’ve listed two or three opposition TDs who have complained, I’m saying it would be more practical and give people suggestions. If you move around you can get better prices and that’s in our own hands,” he said.

The junior minister told the show that his net income is around €1,000 a week but that his advice was applicable regardless of income.

Mr Fleming said that he has changed providers himself in different areas and does the weekly food shop in his own home.

“The best thing to do is if you need to change your supermarket, change your supermarket.

“If you need to change who you order your oil from every so often, change that too,” he said.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald described the comments as “out of touch” and “indifferent”.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy described Mr Fleming’s comments as a “Marie Antoinette moment”.

“Instead of telling people to shop around, the responsibility has to be on the Government to actually take the action that makes a meaningful difference for people who are making a choice of heating their homes or indeed, paying the rent,” she said.

Labour TD Ged Nash tweeted: “This really is something else, and from a junior minister for finance too.

“Energy and fuel bills up by over 30% abs his solution is… stop ‘complaining’ and shop around!

“At this rate, there’ll be a lot of FF voters shopping around for better value at the next election,” Mr Nash wrote.

Hitting out at the suggestion that families shop around to make reductions on their energy, insurance and grocery bills, Mr Nash said: “No amount of shopping around gets you the kind of significant reduction that families need in their utility bills.

“Remember, if you look at fuel bills and energy books combined, over the last period of time, there has been a 30% increase.”

In a statement released after the interview, Mr Fleming said: “I did not intend to imply people shouldn’t complain about the cost of living, that wasn’t my intention and for that I apologise.

“I was urging people to also shop around for best value, in addition to the measures being taken by the Government.”

The statement added: “The government and Fianna Fáil take the issues around the cost of living very seriously. We are taking action to help ease the cost of living pressures many are currently facing.

“I am very aware of the cost of living pressures that are currently confronting people and businesses.”

Asked about the comments, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said: “I didn’t hear Minister Fleming, I know that he’s apologised for the comments.

“I’m not sure if what he said was what he intended. What I do know is that he, the same as myself and my colleagues in Government, are very much aware of the fact that the cost of living has increased.

“It’s already having a significant impact on a lot of households and we are absolutely committed to trying to provide support where we can,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme.

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