Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - EC Full Cabotage.


asked the Minister for Tourism and Transport the main difficulties he foresees for Irish road hauliers surrounding the introduction of full cabotage in the EC: and the way in which he proposes to overcome them.

I should explain at the outset that the issue raised by the Deputy, i.e. that of cabotage, refers to the point-to-point haulage of goods within a state by hauliers based in another member state. At present, this type of operation is not permitted within the EC member states but the European Court of Justice has ruled that the Council of Ministers has an obligation under the Treaty of Rome to introduce cabotage within "a reasonable period of time".

There is concern among Irish road hauliers that operators from other member states whose basic transport costs may be lower than those obtaining here would be able to undermine the Irish haulage industry, if full cabotage were to be introduced. While I have some sympathy with this concern, their fears may be somewhat overstated. Cabotage is a two way process and will provide Irish hauliers with opportunities to expand their limited penetration of international markets, particularly in the context of the 1992 Single Market.

The cabotage question has been under consideration in the Council of Transport Ministers but no agreement has yet been reached. The incoming Spanish Presidency will be pursuing the matter during the coming six months with a view to resolving the issue, possibly on the basis of a phasing in of cabotage arrangements over a number of years. The Deputy can be assured that I will be mindful of the interests of Irish hauliers in these discussions.

The road haulage industry employs upwards of 5,000 people and it is very important. What attention is the Minister giving to the overriding question which concerns all road hauliers here and which will have to be dealt with before full cabotage is introduced? I refer to the difference between the South and the North in terms of tax regimes and general costs for road hauliers. It is quite different to talk about other countries on the mainland of Europe as Irish hauliers are faced with this grossly unfair competition from Northern Ireland. What does the Minister intend to do, as a first step. before we proceed to full cabotage?

That is precisely what I meant when I said I had some sympathy with this concern. Being from a Border constituency, I am fully aware of the position. Irish hauliers suffer considerable disadvantages with regard to the price of diesel and the price of the vehicle. However, our tax is not as expensive as that applying in other countries. In the Council of Ministers it became apparent to me that in some countries an ordinary truck is taxed at the rate of £5,600 per annum. This heavy tax must be taken into consideration in the context of a part solution to the cabotage problem at European level. As 1992 approaches, other Departments and other people will be necessarily exercising their minds with regard to the difference in excise duties on vehicles and fuel. A step by step solution seems to be the only one which would not put our hauliers in serious trouble. I understand that the hauliers approve of my suggestion in regard to taxation. Instead of using the territoriality principle, which is being pushed very hard by powerful European states, we should have a tax which is an average of all the taxes in the Twelve countries. Our hauliers would prefer that to the very high taxes which the territoriality principle would imply.

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable illegal cabotage by Northern Ireland hauliers in the Republic? Is he further aware that 50 per cent of all lorry loads leaving this country go from Northern Ireland and that the ferry rates from Northern Ireland ports to the UK are half of what they cost in the Republic's ports? These aspects should deeply concern us.

I am not aware of the extent of illegal cabotage although I have heard reports in my own area that it exists. This is a matter for my inspectorate and the Garda Síochána. On two occasions I gave instructions to my inspectorate to go to the area to check as vigilantly and frequently as possible. I have not merely a national interest in the matter but also a personal and regional interest in seeing that it is applied. I do not have the exact statistics in regard to the number of hauliers using the Larne-Stranraer ferry but it is substantial. I cannot deny or verify the Deputy's figure of 50 per cent. The figure was high because there was trouble at Dublin port last year. However, the problem has been resolved and Dublin port is now recovering. It must be cheaper to travel from Northern Ireland because the journey is very short from Larne to Stranraer. I am sure the Deputy has made the crossing as I have on a number of occasions and you can see your destination when you set out from Larne. However, the short sea journey is, in a sense, counteracted by the long road journeys that have to be made by the hauliers when they go to the North and that applies even more to the south of England.

Question No. 23.

I am not satisfied with those answers.

I have called Question No. 23.