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Tuesday, 12 September, 2000, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
Unions consider fuel price action
Petrol pumps out of use in England
Panic buying in the rest of the UK has depleted supplies
Northern Ireland farming, haulage and fishing unions are to meet on Tuesday to consider action over rising fuel prices.

In protests over the rising prices in Britain lorry drivers and farmers have blockaded oil refineries.

The rise has resulted from a recent increase in the world price of crude oil from $10 to $30 a barrel, but the protesters want the government to reduce its 80% UK taxes on fuel.

The government is preparing to use emergency powers to control the distribution of fuel across the UK as hundreds of petrol stations in England have run dry, sparking panic buying by motorists who are forming huge queues to try to fill up.

There has been no disruption to petrol supplies coming to Northern Ireland from England, but industries particularly affected by the rising prices are considering how they should demonstrate their concern.

'No disruption plans'

However, speaking to BBC Radio Ulster before the Ulster Farmers' Union meets the Northern Ireland Road Haulage Association and the Fish Producers' Federation, a farming union spokesman said there were currently no plans to disrupt Northern Ireland petrol supplies.

We would much prefer to adopt the approach that the Petrol Retailers Association have been indicating, which is effective dialogue with the government where the responsibility ultimately lies

Joe McDonald
Joe McDonald from the UFU said people were "frustrated" at the situation but denied farmers had planned to block Northern Ireland roads with tractors.

"I want to deny those rumours. It would be wrong to speculate on today's meeting, but at this stage those types of plans have not been considered," he said.

"We will wait the outcome of the meeting before we consider our further action.

"We would much prefer to adopt the approach that the Petrol Retailers Association have been indicating, which is effective dialogue with the government where the responsibility ultimately lies."

'Blockades would sink retailers'

Northern Ireland trade and enterprise minister Sir Reg Empey said any attempt to blockade in Northern Ireland over fuel prices would put many petrol retailers out of business.

Sir Reg Empey:
Sir Reg Empey: "NI petrol retailers could not cope with blockades"
He said they were already struggling because of currency differentials with the Republic of Ireland and higher customs and excise duty.

"It would absolutely knock them for six," he said.

"What is happening in England is going to become a law and order issue, a test of strength between the government, farmers and road hauliers."

Government action

Prime Minister Tony Blair has cancelled a regional tour of Yorkshire and is returning to London for emergency meetings on the fuel crisis.

Ministers are insisting that they will not capitulate to pressure from the protesters seeking a cut in petrol prices.

The Privy Council and the Queen have granted the government special powers which could be used to maintain essential services like hospitals and schools.

Secretary of State for Industry Stephen Byers said: "It is important that vital services are maintained.

"The government has therefore invoked powers under the Energy Act 1976 as a prudent and precautionary measure."

The Cabinet's civil contingency committee decided not to use soldiers to control the situation, but the option remains open.

Mr Blair has blamed the rise in fuel prices on the increase in world oil prices.

"The sensible way, indeed the only right way, to deal with this problem is to put pressure on Opec itself, not to let them off the hook by caving in to blockades here," he said.

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See also:

11 Sep 00 | Business
World 'faces oil crisis'
12 Sep 00 | Europe
Fuel protests build across Europe
12 Sep 00 | Wales
Fuel crisis in Wales deepens
11 Sep 00 | Scotland
Fuel protest traffic chaos
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