Fuel shortages may threaten State’s capacity to ‘maintain societal function and civil order’

Supply choke scenarios drawn up to cover fuel allocation to different user categories and intensified roles for Garda, Army and Minister for Environment

Officials fear that a long-lasting major disruption to fuel supplies would place the State’s capacity “to maintain societal function and civil order” at risk and would require the “curtailment of normal societal functions”.

The assessment is contained in a confidential briefing note for the group of officials central to the Irish response to the energy crisis sparked by the war in Ukraine, the Energy Security Emergency Group (ESEG).

It was drawn up in advance of an exercise run in late May to establish how the Government and industry would react to situations of increasingly dramatic fuel shortfalls.

The document details the cause, response, risks and mitigations to each level of threat.


The worst-case scenario, for an enduring 50-100 per cent supply reduction of diesel into the country caused by very significant geopolitical upheaval, would see “rationing or curtailment of fuel for non-priority use” and the allocation of fuel to different classes of users under an emergency response plan, including “fuel allocation to emergency and critical services only”.

Demand restraint

There would be a risk to the “capacity to maintain societal function and civil order” in this worst-case scenario. The response would include the “curtailment of normal societal functions”. Three other scenarios are mapped out, ranging from minor disruptions to enduring shortfalls of 20-50 per cent of diesel.

Even less serious scenarios envision an active role for the National Oil Reserves Agency (NORA), which manages Irish oil reserves. At more serious levels, “demand restraint” measures and a “significant role for An Garda Síochana and potentially defence forces” would come into play.

An enduring 20 per cent supply reduction could still lead to depletion of strategic oil stocks held by NORA, which would move to strategically replenish stocks and disperse supplies to accessible locations.

The most benign scenario would still see NORA’s emergency response model, used to monitor supply levels, being rolled out.

The exercise was planned, records reveal, to determine a “pivot point… when the State takes control of remaining fuel stocks”, to identify the key triggers that would worsen the situation and result in additional measures being brought in.

Details of the emergency planning for this exercise and other pinch-points in the State response to the crisis are contained in a cache of documents released to The Irish Times under Freedom of Information laws.

Allocation scheme

They also outline concerns over the impact of running gas-fired powerplants on diesel – which is technically possible – in the event of a gas crunch, and the wider impact on resources.

Minutes of the ESEG show it discussed the risk of “fuel-switching in the event of a gas disruption eroding supplies quickly”, with remaining available fuel having to be divided between different categories of user under a framework called the Oil Emergency Allocation Scheme (OEAS). Logistical challenges around getting alternative fuel to power stations would have to be overcome.

The group has also assessed what will happen in an electricity shortage “including detailed examination of what, how, in what order and over what timeframe disconnections would take place” and the “hierarchy of sectors” in such a scenario.

This is playing out against a backdrop where the capacity to refine crude fuels has been lost, along with skilled labour.

The papers also reveal that radical new powers could be given to Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan, including to “control the use of fuel”, as well as establishing an emergency suppliers list.

A spokeswoman for the department confirmed that, as part of ongoing preparations, it has been considering potential legislative amendments that can aid planning generally. “These include areas such as placing certain plans on a statutory basis, some enhanced data-sharing between State agencies and the maintenance of registers to aid communications with the oil sector. This work is still ongoing and proposals in this regard are likely to be brought to Government in September.”

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times