There are a couple of questions to the Irish Road Haulage Association. Deputy Shortall mentioned bridges. I want to assure people that there is no question of road safety being compromised. We sit on a committee with the railway inspectorate and we are conscious of any bridge strikes. We are fully aware of any difficulty or concerns Iarnród Éireann may have in regard to railway bridges. We will not ask for bridges to be raised.
The implications for industry have been dealt with by the Irish Exporters Association. Deputy Shortall asked about the capacity to increase the length and width of trucks. We are generally governed by manufacturers. Trucks are generally manufactured to European specifications. Therefore, it is not currently an option. However, we should never dismiss a potential option. In 1983, the total weight limit in this country was 32 tonnes gross vehicle weight; it is now 44 tonnes. At the time trailers were 12 metres and they are now 13.5 metres. We cannot legislate for what may happen in the future.
On the question of whether we were caught napping, around the time the Dublin Port tunnel was announced we were one of the few organisations who came out in favour of it. We were very excited about the prospect. At the same time, there were many genuine concerns by residents in the area. We were afraid that if we made too much noise, we might add to the debate and make it worse. When the Portlaoise by-pass was announced, we did not measure every bridge on the by-pass because we assumed it would be built to a certain height. It was only in the last four years that rumours began to emanate that the tunnel might not be high enough. In the beginning it was taken as a practical joke but it then became an issue.
Deputy Naughten referred to tolling the tunnel. We met with the Minister, Deputy Brennan, around the time the rumour and press report issued that the tunnel would be tolled. We have serious concerns about tolling on the tunnel and tolling in general. Perhaps we can discuss road tolling at another time.
Regarding the Shannon tunnel, because people said we were caught napping on the Dublin Port tunnel, we decided to be ahead in this instance. We wrote to Limerick County Council and, as was pointed out earlier, we were told it would measure 4.9 metres but we are now told it will measure 4.65 metres. It is not so much the Limerick port tunnel, but people in Limerick will be very conscious of the new Sligo-Cork corridor. People in Limerick will be conscious of this new corridor and what happens in that regard will have a major effect in other areas.
A large number of regulations are in place covering the transportation of hazardous chemicals and goods. We are confident in this respect but would like established routes and decisions on what is and is not considered safe to transport through the tunnel.
Senator Dooley stated this issue may not affect him as he is from a rural area. It will affect everyone because anyone trying to operate in a rural area will realise that capacity and productivity are important. As most products are coming down in price, the pressure comes on transport, either in price or productivity. It is essential, therefore, to carry extra freight in a truck. If the height limit is reduced to coincide with the height limit of the Dublin Port tunnel, it will have major implications for factories in more rural parts.
Senator Browne referred to rail freight. This is a separate mode of transport. Businesses are discerning and if it is more efficient to use railways, freight will shift to rail. Government inducements or additional income are not required. It is not a question of railway versus road because freight is suited to transportation either by rail or road. This is a policy decision for Government rather than the road haulage industry.
On the question of the number of trucks more than 4.65 metres in height, the Irish Road Haulage Association is currently surveying its members and expects to have an indication of the number of such vehicles in five to six weeks. The survey includes a question to operators who do not transport goods into Dublin on the number of trailers which would be made illegal by the introduction of legislation reducing the height of vehicles to Dublin Port.
Deputy Powers asked a straight question on closure on this issue. The Irish Road Haulage Association has been accused of being a vested interest in representing its members. Originally we tried to represent the people for whom our members worked but encountered a certain reluctance on their part. We even received letters from two fairly high-profile companies asking us to avoid inadvertently using their names as firms which would benefit from high-cube trailers. While we understand that some people might be afraid of the public relations impact of being associated with our position, unfortunately, we were left hung out to dry and took much of the media flak in that we were accused of profiteering and standing to gain significant benefits.
In 1985 Eamonn Morrissey, who spoke last night, was getting the same price to run a truck to Germany as he is now, yet we now carry considerably more freight. We are not asking for our money back. We are saying, however, that our offering to the Celtic tiger is the additional productivity we are delivering to Irish industry. We are not prepared to take abuse for making a contribution to the economy. That said, we have to represent our members.
When noise abatement plans were introduced in various airports in Europe, companies such as Boeing were not told they could not operate 747s from the following week onwards, but were given a five year wash-out period. In the same way, our members will expect that if a height limit of two metres is introduced next week, we will be given a ten or 15 year period to wash our old equipment out of the system. Introducing a new limit will not eliminate the problem overnight.