High fuel prices spark protests across Celtic countries
- Published in Monthly News
Summer of demonstrations as hauliers and fishermen say soaring fuel prices will drive them out of business.
Thousands of lorry drivers and fishermen across the Celtic countries organised blockades and demonstrations in June to protest against the high price of fuel.
Haulage unions said companies were on their knees because of crippling costs and called upon governments to reduce the duty on diesel.
In Ireland, the Irish Road Haulage Association said the industry was facing a crisis on a scale not seen since the 1970s, and that many hauliers were just weeks from going out of business.
Industry representatives told that fuel prices have doubled in the space of 18 months and accused their respective national governments of not doing enough to help the sector.
Haulage unions decided to take action and brought motorways to a standstill as thousands of drivers took part in national protests against the soaring cost of fuel.
The Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen told unions that Ireland already had lower fuel tax than most of the EU and that hauliers would have to pass on their higher costs to customers.
In the United Kingdom, British Chancellor Alistair Darling announced that fuel duty increase would be deferred until later on this autumn.
There were further industrial actions in Scotland, Wales and Cornwall as tanker drivers working for oil company Shell organised blockades of refineries in June over a pay rise.
Although only Shell refineries were due to be affected, motorists fearing fuel shortages queued to fill up at petrol stations causing a ripple effect at other filling stations which also ran out of supplies.
Fishermen also organised blockades and demonstrations in Ireland, Galicia and Brittany over rising fuel prices, low quotas and fishing regulations.
In Ireland, fishermen blockaded Cork and Waterford ports, effectively preventing commercial shipping from entering or exiting the harbours.
Sean O'Donoghue, CEO of the Killybegs Fishermen's Association, told that "At the moment we are in severe crisis. We have never been here before. Fishermen are absolutely on their last legs."
Mr O'Donoghue told that “fishermen are faced with the threat of having their homes repossessed and many are unable to pay the mortgage or in some cases even the interest on their fishing vessels, some of which cost up to €6m."
Following the demonstrations carried by fishermen in early June, the European Commission decided to agree an emergency aid package for the fishing industry.
But in late August, Irish, Galician and Breton industry representatives expressed their disappointment and threatened of “further action” as it was revealed that funding will not be available before 2009.
Blockades and demonstrations organised by hauliers and fishermen in June as a protest against the high price of fuel were met with mixed feelings by the public.
While many motorists agreed with the demands of the demonstrators over the rising fuel prices, others like the Irish Association of Seafood Companies described the industrial actions as “unhelpful”.
Brendan Keating, CEO of the Port of Cork said that blockades would inevitably hit at local businesses and customers.
Scottish company Sandray Shellfish on Barra, in the Western Isles, was one of the many business affected by the hauliers' actions. Company owner Eddie MacNeil told "I have got a number of people employed directly, 100s people indirectly and about 300 homes that are depending on our business. We've told all the boats not to fish because we can't guarantee there is going to be a market, or going to be able to transport the shellfish to the markets."
Environmental groups warned on Europe's reliance on oil and sait the time has come to think creatively and diversify energy sources. Mike Childs of Friends of the Earth told "Government must fast track investment in public transport and backing for smarter cars that use less petrol so our society is not held to ransom by our reliance on a dwindling and insecure natural resource.”