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the site. Last September, the contractor was refused permission to use a local site as a dumping ground for the tunnel spoil.

And earlier it ran into problems with the Irish Department of Marine, which refused it permission to use sand from nearby sandbanks.

The project is due for completion by mid-1998. But it now looks like the deadlock could drag on at least until the end of the month, when the Irish Labour Court is due to report on the dispute.

John OBrien, southern region director of the Construction Employers Federation, said it was unlikely that a return-to-work formula could be agreed ahead of a meeting to be held on February 29.