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Hauliers' strike threat in fuel row

Hauliers are threatening to cripple the country's freight system and withhold their taxes in an escalating row with the government over rising fuel prices.

Hundreds of truck drivers are expected to gather in Limerick on Saturday for a conference to decide on whether to strike and stop paying VAT and PRSI payments.

Vincent Caulfield, president of the Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA), said anger among members struggling to survive soaring costs has reached boiling point.

"Rising fuel costs forced over 250 haulage companies to fail or cease trading in 2010 and almost as many are currently on the brink of closure," he added.

The haulage industry contributed more than €1bn to the public purse last year and employs more than 50,000 people, according to the IRHA.

They want the government to introduce a fuel duty rebate for tax compliant hauliers and to permit licensed freight carriers to pass on carbon taxes to customers the same as VAT. The association said Transport Minister Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Michael Noonan have snubbed requests for a meeting.

"The anger amongst delegates has been intensified by the new government's failure to engage on the issue or to recognise their role in guaranteeing the provision of professional and reliable transport services," said Mr Caulfield.

Fuel price hikes have increased the running costs of an average truck - burning 1,000 litres of fuel every week - by as much as €15,000 a year, the association said.

Hauliers representing more than 1,000 companies meeting at this weekend's IRHA annual conference will vote on separate motions to withdraw their services nationwide in protest and withhold VAT and PRSI payments until the government responds.

"There is a growing consensus that the association must take decisive action, the course of which will be defined by the motions before the conference," said Mr Caulfield.

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