Prominent Northern Ireland LGV operator Willie Oliver has called for stiffer penalties to be applied to those found using laundered fuel.

Oliver, who is MD of Coleraine-based Oliver Transport Services and a board member of the RHA, has also thrown his weight behind the recent suggestion by RHA director of policy Jack Semple that the forthcoming Irish fuel duty rebate will increase the lure of illicit fuel.

Current penalties for those found driving around with illegal diesel simply do not go far enough, Oliver told Motortransport.co.uk recently.

“Taking into account that a lorry carrying 1,500 litres can save up to £750 in one fill by using rebated fuel, it is little wonder operators are happy to take the chance of avoiding detection,” he said. “In the first instance, you’re fined £500; in the second, an amount related to the capacity of your tank. But if you’re saving £750 or £1,000 a week and you run for a month [before getting caught], you’re quids in.

“At the end of the day, unless these people are going to be jailed - and jailed for a long time - the problem’s not going to disappear,” he added.

The introduction of a 7.5 cent per litre fuel duty rebate in the Republic of Ireland from July is likely to exacerbate the problem, he said. While it may reduce demand for illicit fuels in the ROI itself, it will lead to even more Northern Irish vehicle operators fuelling up in the south and so make illicit fuel more attractive to those competing with them, he said. “The launderers aren’t going to go away,” he warned.

Oliver also called for stiffer penalties for those found supplying illicit fuel and suggested that one solution to the whole issue might be to do away with rebated fuel entirely. “Rebated fuel was brought in during the Second World War to help with the supply of food and you have to ask why we are still using it,” he said. “If the farmer was paid the proper price for his product, we wouldn’t need subsidised fuel.”