Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly said failure to secure the long-term future of the country’s only oil refinery would leave Ireland in a precarious situation in the event of a Brexit.
Should the UK vote to leave the EU in the June 23 referendum it would no longer be bound by EU energy regulations which require member countries to share resources in certain circumstances.
“In Ireland, 80% of the petrol we use is imported. Of these imports, 70% come from the UK meaning that the UK supplies us with well over half of the petrol we consume. The figures are similar if we take the heavier gas/diesel oil, of which 50% of our final consumption is imported from the UK.
“In the event of a crisis and [the UK wasn’t] in the European Union, we would be in a very bad position because we’d be dependent on their goodwill more than any obligations on them. So it’s fraught with uncertainty at the moment,” Mr Kelly said.
The refinery’s future remains up in the air after its US owner Phillips 66 put it back on the market in November 2015.
Phillips 66’s contractual obligation with the state to operate the refinery comes to an end days after voters go to the polls in Britain.
While there is no indication that it won’t operational past the July cutoff point at present, the long-term future of the refinery remains a cause for concern with about 300 staff employed in Whitegate.
Close to 160 workers are directly employed at the refinery with an additional 130 or so contractors on site.
Phillips 66 said at the time the facility was put back on the market that it expected the sales process to last “several months”.
UK company, PTFPlusOne Ltd, is known to have expressed an interest in purchasing the refinery but no decision has been made.
Mr Kelly said the refinery must be a priority for the next government, adding that it is “without doubt of key strategic importance to the security and reliability of the Ireland’s fuel supply”.
“We would be totally reliant on external supplies on more or less an ad hoc basis. We wouldn’t have refinery capacity and that would leave us even more vulnerable [if Britain leaves the EU].
“So it’s something I think that the new government will have to look at very strongly. The whole question of energy supply is something we have to take a far more strategic line on,” Mr Kelly said.