A major Garda investigation is now under way in Mayo into a suspected contaminated fuel crisis and the matter has been raised in the Dáil.
Some 400 people packed into a public meeting on the problem, attended by gardaí, local councillors, and TDs, in the Gateway Hotel, Swinford, on Tuesday night.
One of the organisers of the meeting, Bernard O’Brien, a hackney driver from Midfield, said 257 motorists have now registered with them, claiming their car engines have been destroyed and their mechanics are advising that bad fuel is to blame.
He said when he went to his mechanic he was told to “join the queue”.
Hundreds of thousands of euro in damage has been caused to cars, according to Mr O’Brien.
Sergeant Richard Taheny spoke at the meeting.
“Locally, we have never come across anthing like this before,” he said.
The Border, Midlands, and West (BMW ) region appears to have been affected but the problem has not hit the east coast or Dublin.
He said he believes they are looking at a situation where components such as ethanol or kerosene are added to petrol to bulk it up.
He did not indicate where the contaminated fuel is coming in from.
He called on anyone who thinks they may have been affected to contact local gardaí as a register has now been opened in the Garda station.
Gardaí are liaising with the National Bureau of Criminal Investigatons in Dublin on the issue.
“We will push this investigation and we will try to get it to court,” said Sgt Taheny. However he warned the investigation could be “long, protracted, and slow” because of its complexity.
Deputy Michelle Mulherin, who was also at the meeting on Tuesday, has brought the matter to the attention of the Dáil. She is urging the Minister for Finance in conjunction with the Minister for Justice to “urgently tackle” the problem and “to provide assistance to car owners who are significantly out of pocket”.
The Mayo Advertiser spoke to a number of motorists at the meeting.
One woman, Christine Loftus from Charlestown, said the engine in her 08 Seat Leon was “melted” and her mechanic said the damage was caused by contaminated fuel.
“It’s a big loss,” she said. “I’m a young mother and it is my only way of getting around.”
Another woman, Margaret Duffy, from Swinford, was going to the Novena in Knock when she noticed smoke streaming from her one-year-old Volkswagen Polo.
She said the damage amounted to €5,000 and her three-year new car warranty will not cover the cost.
Eddie Bowes, of Bowes Motorcycle Training in Foxford, described how three of his motorbikes were destroyed.
“That’s €30,000 worth of bikes practically written off,” he said. “I started out in busienss two years ago and last year was my best year. Now that’s gone.”
Mr O’Brien said many motorists are alerted to the problem by a knocking sound in the engine.
“By the time you hear that knocking sound, it’s too late,” he said.
Mr O’Brien and other members of the temporary committee formed to campaign on the matter are calling on Government TDs to support them to find a way to have car owners compensated for their loss.
“This is a crucial issue. Such devastation is being caused. This is a huge cost for people who simply cannot afford it.”