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Daily Telegraph: IRA fuel smuggling 'drove oil giants to abandon Ulster'

By Tom Peterkin, Ireland Correspondent
(Filed: 31/01/2006)
Fuel smuggling by the IRA has contributed to major oil companies pulling out of Northern Ireland, it was claimed yesterday.
Esso, BP and Shell no longer directly own filling stations in Ulster, where police believe cross-border fuel smuggling and illegal selling of treated diesel is rife.
Less than 48 hours before the body monitoring IRA activity publishes its next report, the Petrol Retailers' Association claimed that “gangland” fuel smuggling had had a bearing on the commercial decisions made by oil companies.
The trade is estimated to be worth £130 million a year and illegal petrol and diesel is thought to account for 50 per cent of road fuel used in the province.
Ray Holloway, the director of the organisation representing 6,000 businesses, has been asked to give evidence to MPs on the Northern Ireland affairs committee next month.
He claimed yesterday that diesel laundering, whereby criminals remove the dye that identifies cheaper off-road diesel, had affected the quality of fuel available in Ulster.
The dye is removed by adding acid to the fuel, which is then sold to drivers at a profit. Unless the acid is neutralised, the fuel can ruin engines.
“Fuel integrity is probably part of the whole review process the oil companies carry out when they are looking at Northern Ireland,” Mr Holloway said.
“The commercial ability to trade in that total environment is what the oil companies are looking at.”
Tomorrow sees the publication of the International Monitoring Commission's latest report into paramilitary organisations. Any suggestion that the IRA is still engaged in criminality after its promise to embrace democracy last year will prove damaging to the peace process.
Police have long suspected the IRA of running a sophisticated cross-border smuggling operation.
Ian Paisley Jnr of the Democratic Unionist Party said: “My understanding is that the IRA is by far the biggest player in fuel crime here, and the Government hasn't any idea how it is going to deal with it.”
According to Mr Holloway, the tax differential that results in fuel being substantially cheaper in the Republic of Ireland had led to smuggling.
South of the border a litre of unleaded petrol costs around 72p compared with 90p in Northern Ireland. Diesel is also around 72p per litre against 96p in Ulster.
Esso, Shell and BP logos are still seen in Ulster though the petrol stations are not directly owned by the companies but run by businesses licensed to sell their fuel.
Mr Holloway said the companies' decision to sell was also influenced by the rise of supermarket petrol stations, a UK-wide trend to sell, and cross-border shopping.

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