Hauliers clash with Minister as migrants become ‘more militant’
Donohoe rejects claims he is ‘not co-operating’ with Irish Road Haulage Association
Tents and makeshift shelters in Calais where migrants and asylum seekers attempt to hide on lorries headed to the UK. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters
Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe has rejected an assertion by the Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA) that he is not co-operating with it on the escalating migrant crisis in Calais.
Traffic through the Channel Tunnel has been severely disrupted over the past month as striking French ferry workers have blockaded the port over restructuring.
The tailbacks have led to thousands of migrants attempting to stow away in queuing hauliers’ vehicles to gain access to Britain.
IRHA president Verona Murphy said on Thursday that she welcomed the UK’s decision to relax the enforcement of EU drivers’ hours rules. The temporary move means those caught in tailbacks will no longer be subject to fines for moving their trucks during rest periods.
Ms Murphy said she lobbied the Government for the move, but received “very little co-operation” from the Department of Transport and “no co-operation” from Mr Donohoe.
“I’ve not yet spoken to him,” she said. “I was elected president of the IRHA over three months ago and I’ve had no contact with him. I’m not happy because they are not supporting us. They want us to say they’re co-operating and supporting us. They’re not.”
A spokeswoman for Mr Donohoe said Ms Murphy had requested a meeting with him when she took office, but he “wasn’t available at the time”.
She said Ms Murphy was offered a meeting with the Minister’s special adviser, Stephen Lynam, and the department’s head of the freight and logistics division.
“Had another meeting been requested, it would have been facilitated,” the spokeswoman said. “It was not. Since coming to office, Mr Donohoe has met with the IRHA on numerous occasions . . . and has given it the highest level of access at all times.”
The spokeswoman also pointed out the Government has no jurisdiction in the UK or France and could not relax the rule relating to drivers’ hours there.
A haulage operator is fined £2,000 per migrant found in a vehicle, regardless of whether the driver was aware or not.
Mr Donohoe’s spokeswoman said many of the claims made were incorrect and that the department was attempting to verify them.
Ms Murphy said drivers faced a 40km tailback on Tuesday and that migrants were becoming “more militant” in their attempts to stow away.
Drivers have been threatened with iron bars, broken bottles, and knives, she said.