Shell is planning to pull out of Ireland, lock, stock and barrel. The news follows Esso’s announcement last month that it is withdrawing from Northern Ireland.

Shell is in negotiations with prospective buyers for its retail and commercial businesses in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The move is indicative of the fierce competition seen in the Republic of Ireland since the supermarkets entered the market in 2002.

According to Catalist, at the end of 2004 there were 2,314 forecourts in the Republic of Ireland and 603 in Northern Ireland. While the supermarkets have just 22 sites in Northern Ireland, they have a 20% share of fuel volume.

Dr Frank Bergin, director of Shell in Ireland, confirmed that the company “hopes to make a decision in the coming weeks”, adding: “For reasons of confidentiality we are not able to disclose the prospective buyers, or to discuss this matter in more detail at this time.

“If we decide to proceed with a sale, it would be Shell’s intention to sell the business as a going concern. This announcement is consistent with our group strategy of more upstream and profitable downstream.” While Shell is keeping names under wraps, it is believed that the interested parties include Maxol, Statoil and Esso, and it is thought that the business could fetch more than E50m.

Shell currently supplies 160 service stations in the whole of Ireland. There are 55 company-owned sites in the Republic with the remainder independently operated. And of the Shell-branded forecourts in Northern Ireland all are dealer sites.

The businesses up for sale include its entire service station network, supply and distribution assets and facilities, commercial fuels, lubricants and marine businesses.