By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — An offer of negotiations by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has led to the suspension of fuel-price protests by haulers that threatened to escalate and affect gas and diesel distribution.
Thousands of truckers caused widespread traffic disruption on most of the country’s main roads last Friday when they staged a one-day nationwide campaign of go-slow convoy protests.
The stoppage and protests were organized by the Irish Road Haulers Association after it failed to win a commitment for a 33 percent cut in excise duty on diesel at a meeting with Ahern and Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy earlier in the week.
The association was told the tax issue could only be dealt with in the context of the December budget.
The taoiseach said he accepted the haulers had competitive problems. He asked his officials to study the situation but told the IRHA nothing could be done in the short term.
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The truckers’ protests focussed on main national routes, bridges and rotaries leading into Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Sligo and Galway.
The impact of the protests varied from area to area. Overall, traffic was lighter than normal, as many people had taken the advice of gardai and motoring organizations and avoided unnecessary journeys. Others had gone to work early in anticipation of the day of action.
After the day of protest, the IRHA met to consider further tactics. More militant members were reported to be in favor of escalating the protests and following the example of colleagues in the UK and on Continent.
Widespread disruption would seriously damage the economy as Ireland has a far higher reliance on exports and imports than other EU states. An estimated 92 percent of freight is moved by road
However, an overnight intervention on behalf of the taoiseach, and the promise of an interdepartmental committee to investigate the haulers’ grievances, led to a suspension of protests.
The IRHA, which represents 1,200 of the country’s 4,000 licensed haulers, said that members would be contacting their customers in a bid to get agreement on temporary fuel surcharges of about 10 percent.
It also warned it was sticking to its demand for an excise tax cut and the protest campaign would resume if a solution is not found.