The Government has been urged to set up a taskforce to secure the future of the country’s only oil refinery and nationalise it in the process.
Cork County Council has written to the government saying this must be done as a matter of urgency, ahead of a possible pull out of the refinery by its current operators, Phillips 66.
Concern has been raised that the US multi-national energy company will withdraw from the refinery at Whitegate, Co Cork when its contract to run the facility expires next July.
Independent councillor Noel Collins, who is based in Midleton, near the refinery, got cross-party support from colleagues when he raised the issue at a meeting in County Hall on Monday.
He called on the Government to set up a taskforce to examine the upgrading of Whitegate refinery to ensure its retention and the livelihood of 400-plus employees and contractors and in the interests of the motoring public.
Mr Collins said that, in 2013, then Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte said he would set up a taskforce to examine the refinery’s future.
Mr Collins said that never materialised and many people associated with the refinery were now very concerned about its future.
He said it needed a major upgrade to safeguard a large number of direct and indirect jobs associated with it and even more importantly to safeguard the country’s fuel security.
“The refinery supplies 40% of our petrol and diesel and is the only refinery in the country. There’s a guarantee it will operate up to July 2016, but nothing after that,” said Mr Collins.
“The Government must liaise with the oil industry. Now is the time to react, not after the horse has bolted.”
Fine Gael councillor Michael Hegarty said the motion was very timely.
“It’s also a big employer in the region from which many engineering and haulage firms benefit,” said Mr Hegarty. “It’s extremely important it is retained and I think the national oil reserve should be located there.”
Fianna Fáil councillor Aaron O’Sullivan said it was very important that the refinery’s position was safeguarded as it was vital to the State’s future.
Sinn Féin councillor Pat Buckley agreed with the sentiments expressed by previous speakers, but added that Mr Collins’ motion should be amended to state that the refinery should be taken back into public ownership, having been sold off by the State in 2001.
Independent councillor Marcia D’Alton told colleagues that she was a non-executive director of the refinery a number of years ago and pointed out that 45% of freight coming into Cork harbour goes to Whitegate.
“We’re obliged [under EU legislation] to keep a minimum of 90 days stock,” she said. “From a strategic point of view it may be small and may be uncompetitive, but it’s vital for the local economy and we need to remind the government of that.”
Sinn Féin councillor Des O’Grady said he knew some of the workers at the refinery and he said they had told him that Phillips 66 will pull out next July.
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