The Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA) has called on the Irish government to use emergency powers to lift the drivers’ hours and tachograph rules for vehicles caught up at Calais.

The call came after recent strikes by French ferry staff and a surge in migrants trying to cross the Channel illegally led to escalating delays.

IRHA president Verona Murphy told Motortransport.co.uk that the association had requested the move under Article 14 of EU Regulation 561/2006, which allows EU member states to grant exemptions for up to 30 days to the normal hours and tachograph requirements in exceptional circumstances.

Describing the recent problems at Calais as “a state of emergency”, Murphy said an informal agreement had been reached between the UK and Ireland under Article 12 of the regulation – which permits drivers to depart from normal requirements to ensure the safety of persons, vehicles and loads – but that this “does nothing for us with any mainland European countries who decide to enforce”.

The DfT has not so far responded to a request for comment on this point.

Murphy also called for the French army to be deployed in Calais, suggesting that the current level of policing there is “appalling”.

Around 40% of IRHA members routinely travel to mainland Europe via the UK and the association is “very concerned that it will be the death of an HGV driver before action of any substance is taken at ground level”.

“I can see it’s going to escalate before they bring in the army; but I feel there will be no resolution until they do,” she said.

Recent migrant deaths will only serve to harden the attitude of would-be stowaways, she warned. “I think the migrants are going to take that onboard and become far more militant, because they know there are no resources there to combat them,” she said.

Irish hauliers caught up in the problem have little choice about the matter since using other routes such as Portsmouth-Caen is “neither cost- nor time-effective”, said Murphy, adding “in the region of €250” to the cost of each load.

Murphy, who is MD of Wexford haulier Drumur Transport, said the recent problems in Calais “must have cost millions” in insurance claims and went on to express concerns about the possibility of a rise in goods-in-transit excess levels which some fear may result - along with rising premiums and, potentially, route restrictions – as insurers face rising costs for spoiled loads.

Drumur, which faced an excess after a stowaway-related goods-in-transit claim three months ago, could not sustain any increase in excess levels, she said. “If they increase mine, I’ll just go out of business. I couldn’t pay any more – and we’re a virtually claims-free operator,” she said.