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Taoiseach says fuel price gouging 'morally reprehensible' as watchdog receives 25 more complaints

It comes after allegations of price gouging by service station chains were aired in Dáil Éireann yesterday.

Image: Shutterstock

Updated Mar 10th 2022, 6:25 PM

IRELAND’S CONSUMER AND competition watchdog has said it has received 25 further complaints following the government’s cut to excise duty on petrol and diesel yesterday.

A spokesperson for the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) told The Journal that the complaints will be examined by its Competition Enforcement and Mergers Division.

It comes after allegations of price gouging by service station chains were aired in the Dáil. 

In recent days, people have been sharing photos on social media, showing sharp, seemingly overnight increases in petrol and diesel prices at their local service stations ahead of the Government’s well-flagged decision to cut excise duty on fuel.

Against the backdrop of soaring global crude oil and oil derivative prices, the CCPC said it has received 33 complaints about service stations so far this year.

Only four had been made prior to yesterday, with four more yesterday and now 25 today.

Of the 33 complaints, 27 related to fuel prices, a spokesperson for the CCPC told The Journal.

Four complaints about pricing practices were lodged with the CCPC in the 24 hours before the Government’s decision to cut excise duty by 20c on a litre of petrol and 15c on a litre of diesel.

The spokesperson said, “These contacts have been forwarded to our Competition Enforcement and Mergers Division where they will be examined as part of the complaint screening process.” 

In a statement this morning, Minister of State for Consumer Protection Robert Troy said price increases at the pump are a concern for consumers and said his department is working with the CCPC on the issue.

He urged consumers to notify the Commission of any evidence of unfair pricing practices.

“Global events continue to have an increasing impact on everyday life, and the rising energy and fuel prices as a result of war are adding huge pressures on people in every part of the country,” he said.

“I have conferred with my officials, who are working with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, to ensure consumers are aware of their rights and businesses are aware of their obligations in this regard. If any consumer has evidence of cartel behaviour or abuse of dominance with regards to high fuel costs, they should contact the CCPC who can investigate.”

Speaking about the matter in Versailles, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that any price gouging underway was “morally reprehensible in the context of the barbaric war that’s underway.”

“The CCPC is there an others to make sure that there’s no price fixing, or any cartels operating and if they are, and if people have evidence, they should bring that to authorities,” he said.  

‘Price gouging’

During Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil this afternoon, Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty TD said that petrol stations were “undoubtedly engaging in price gouging”. 

“Last night, the government introduced a so-called reduction in excise duty on petrol and diesel, but passing any filling station this morning nobody would have noticed because the price in most filling stations this morning is more than what the were on Tuesday morning, with many still charging over two euro per litre,” he said. 

Labour’s Duncan Smith TD said that the government had been “played for mugs” by the major fuel providers and he called for “an emergency meeting” to “look at a true price transparency mechanism for fuel petrol and diesel”.

Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said that the government has been “in daily contact” with the fuel supply industry because there is “supply issue as well as a price issue”. 

He said that the CCPC will have a “laser focus” to investigate any potential price gouging. 

He added, however, that there is a lag of a number of days when the Excise cut may be visible to consumers as Excise Duty is applied before it reaches pumps in filling stations. 

“It is very complicated, because different forecourts have different circumstances. The Excise applies when the fuel leaves the depot in Dublin or in Whitegate or Derry, Shannon or Galway, not when it’s sold at the pump,” he said. 

So the relevant excise rare varies depending on when the fuel was purchased and the gap of time. It’s also complicated, because as I said earlier, the price on the wholesale market tends to have a two or three day lag from the for the retail price, it went up €22 on Tuesday and came down a similar amount on Wednesday.

Ryan also said that the government must not respond in a panicked fashion. 

“We can’t be exactly certain where it’s going to go or where this war will go. We will have to manage it. It will serve no one if we panic. We have to be methodical and keep responding the same way as we did with Covid, by being flexible and quick.” 

Speaking yesterday, People Before Profit/Solidarity TD Paul Murphy said a petrol station around the corner from his home in his Dublin South-West constituency increased the price of diesel by 15c at lunchtime yesterday and called for price controls.

“They’ll reduce it presumably, tonight by 15c and they’ll have made a very tidy profit for themselves,” he said.

In response to suggestions of a price cap on a litre of petrol, Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said this was not possible as it could “result in the closures of businesses or put at risk stable supply into Ireland.”

In response to claims of price gouging, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told the Dáil yesterday, “The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission can go after anybody where there is evidence of price gouging… That authority works independently and has its responsibilities and obligations.”

Separately, he told a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party that price-fixing and profiteering are “completely unacceptable” and “a barbaric act of cruelty on a civil population”.

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He told his party colleagues that “any exploitation of a barbaric war such as this is morally reprehensible” and that “such profiteering is completely unacceptable on fuel prices”.

Asked earlier this week by The Journal how prices at the pump are determined, Kevin McPartlan, chief executive of oil and fuel industry lobby group Fuels for Ireland, said, “It’s quite complex, to be honest with you.”

He said, “Companies will enter into contracts on a six-month basis. So there is fuel being brought into the country today that would have been ordered six months ago or the contracts would have been entered into six months ago.

On a month by month basis within those contracts, the fuel companies tell their suppliers the precise quantities that they want per month… and then the price is actually fixed a day or two before it comes into the country. For example, very often, this is fixed when a vessel leaves its last port before it lands in Ireland. So the answer to the question is six months, a month and two days ago.

“There are different elements involved.”

He added, “Why you’ve seen stories of prices changes overnight or within a couple of hours is because the price will be fixed for each delivery to the forecourt.

“So if you’re running a forecourt in a sleepy rural town, you might get a delivery once or twice a week. If you’re running a forecourt on the M8, I’m getting three or four deliveries a day but each delivery is a different price.

“We tend to price for each delivery to reflect the current situation.”

A statement from Circle K said: “We categorically refute claims that price changes across petrol and diesel were implemented as a result of yesterday’s government announcement regarding the reduction in excise duty.”

The company said its pricing is set in line with local and international markets and wholesale market costs.

The statement also said that there will likely be a continued “pressure on prices in the coming weeks” as the market continues to fluctuate. 

A statement from Applegreen said the reduction in fuel excise duties are welcome but “do not go far enough to mitigate completely the cost price increases we have experienced”. 

“While we cannot predict when international markets will return to normal, we will continue to ensure we are offering the maximum value that is within our control to our customers,” the statement said. 

 — Additional reporting by Christina Finn, Gráinne Ní Aodha, Rónán Duffy and Orla Dwyer

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