Ulster ‘won’t be hit by UK petrol panic’

The threat of strike action has caused panic fuel buying in parts of Britain
The threat of strike action has caused panic fuel buying in parts of Britain

NORTHERN Ireland is expected to escape any serious impact from a likely fuel tanker driver strike across the UK.

Yesterday the coalition Government faced increasing criticism over its handling of the drivers’ dispute amid signs of panic buying by motorists and a controversial call to fill up jerry cans with petrol.

In many parts of Britain sales of petrol shot up 45 per cent, with diesel sales up 20 per cent. There were also reports of longer than normal queues at some forecourts across Northern Ireland.

Bob Miller from the union Unite said just four drivers from Northern Ireland would be taking part in the UK-wide action and warned against “scaremongering” on this side of the Irish sea.

“There will be no or minimal impact in Northern Ireland with the looming petrol tanker drivers’ strike,” said Mr Miller last night.

His comments were echoed by Stormont Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, who also moved to dispel any fears.

“We understand that of the 15 companies which deliver fuel around Northern Ireland, only one company’s drivers have voted for a strike.

“At this time, we believe that the strike will not have a significant impact in Northern Ireland,” said Mrs Foster.

Unite union drivers, who supply fuel to around 90 per cent of UK forecourts, have voted to take strike action in the coming weeks.

Petrol station operators on the mainland said the Government appeared “intent on creating a crisis” which could see forecourts run dry within days as some garages start rationing fuel.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has come under fire after suggesting that drivers should fill up any spare jerry cans with petrol and keep them in garages even though motoring organisations and energy firms have urged people not to panic-buy.

The Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU) said the advice should be withdrawn because of the threat of fire, warning it would “massively increase” fire and explosion risk.

Prime Minister David Cameron denied he was trying to “raise the temperature” in the dispute, telling a press conference in Downing Street that the Government was delivering a “very calm, very sensible” message but there was “absolutely no justification” for a strike.

He chaired a meeting of ministers to discuss contingency plans if a strike goes ahead. Mr Maude said a “couple of hundred” military tanker crews would be trained to cover for striking tanker drivers in a bid to maintain supplies to garages as well as hospitals and schools.