Civil service seeking NI volunteers for emergency fuel operations

The civil service in Northern Ireland is seeking volunteers to oversee fuel distribution in the event of an emergency.

The move is not in response to Brexit but comes weeks before the EU exit as businesses stockpile goods in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Sinn Féin suggested advocates of a no-deal Brexit should be left to staff pumps and explain the disaster.

Officials, in a letter sent to many staff on Thursday and without reference to the EU divorce, said disruption to supplies was unlikely but it was necessary to put emergency response plans in place.

The advocates of a no-deal Brexit should be left to staff the pumps and explain the disaster of a no-deal Brexit

They said Stormont’s Department for the Economy would work with the oil industry to ensure that organisations and individuals providing key functions, such as hospitals and healthcare workers, continue to receive fuel until normal supply is restored.

The letter said: “These organisations and individuals would be directed to a network of strategically located filling stations spread across Northern Ireland and identified as a priority for supply from reduced stocks.”

Two civil servants would be located at each of the designated filling stations for the period of an emergency to monitor fuel demand and ensure that the process runs effectively and efficiently.

Volunteers would check the validity of fuel permits presented by individuals identified by their organisations as a priority to receive fuel from designated filling stations, the letter said.

“Details must be recorded of the amount and type of fuel purchased so HQ staff can track demand patterns.

“Training will be provided and they will explain the scheme to customers, thus leaving filling station staff free to dispense fuel and take payment.”

The last time serious disruption happened to the oil industry was in 1974 during the loyalist Ulster Workers Council strike in protest at proposals in the Sunningdale Agreement which would have given the government of the Republic of Ireland a direct say in the running of Northern Ireland.

The letter said: “However, the structure of supply chains continues to evolve, as does demand patterns so we need to ensure we have emergency response plans in place to reflect the developing challenges faced by the industry.

“This process is not new and all departments continually review emergency arrangements in light of events such as flooding, animal disease, severe storms, or to mitigate the impacts of potential problems like pandemic influenza or transport accidents.”

The request does not suggest that any problems are imminent, or anticipated.

Sinn Féin South Down MP Chris Hazzard said: “In the event of serious fuel shortages after a no-deal Brexit, scenes at filling stations could become fraught and tense and it should not be left to volunteer civil servants to police such situations.

“The advocates of a no-deal Brexit should be left to staff the pumps and explain the disaster of a no-deal Brexit.”

A press statement from the department said for many years it had worked closely with industry.

It said: “This process is not new and is a routine exercise to bring the resource back to the required capacity.

“There has been considerable change in the Northern Ireland Civil Service over the last couple of years with the restructuring of Government departments and the Voluntary Exit Scheme.”

Due to staff changes it was considered “prudent” to reissue the call for volunteers.

- Press Association