Brexit has been identified as my Department’s highest strategic risk and my Department along with other Government Departments and key Agencies, has been preparing for Brexit for three years. My Department has been consulting extensively with the Maritime sector, including shipping, port and other key maritime stakeholders, regarding Brexit issues on an ongoing basis. These consultations have included a Transport and Logistics All Island Sectorial meeting in Dundalk in January 2017, three Brexit Maritime Transport Workshops / Seminars (in April 2017, March 2018, and January 2019) with a further Maritime Transport Workshop / Seminar planned for September 2019.
Eight meetings have been held specifically with shipping companies and shipping interests in January and February 2019 alone, and these discussions with shipping companies have been continued by my Department since then as well by the Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO) who report to my Department.
The 2018 IMDO report on the Implications Of Brexit On The Use Of The Landbridge acknowledges that “for Ireland, maritime links represent a key means of ensuring its direct connectivity with mainland Europe, particularly in view of the uncertain evolution of trade flows passing over the United Kingdom 'land bridge'. The viability of the ongoing use of the landbridge route to access the single market in a no deal Brexit scenario is a serious concern for Irish importers and exporters and the impact of any disruption to the landbridge cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty, particularly in a no-deal scenario.
The assessment of my Department and the IMDO, based on extensive and ongoing consultations with the shipping sector, is that sufficient capacity should be available on direct routes to continental ports following a ‘No Deal’ Brexit and should demand for further capacity arise, the shipping sector can respond quickly to meet such demands.
In the context of Brexit, there has already been a significant market response evidencing the capacity of market participants to respond to shifts in trade patterns resulting from Brexit. In 2018, CLdN launched MV Celine, the World’s largest RoRo vessel, and in 2019 launched the MV Laureline RoRo vessel, significantly increasing capacity on the Dublin–Rotterdam and Zeebrugge routes.
Irish Ferries' investment of €150 million in its newest passenger and freight vessel, MV W.B. Yeats, provides year-round freight capacity between Ireland and France of 165 HGVs per sailing or 60,600 HGVs per annum. This additional capacity alone will be sufficient to cater for a substantial switch of UK landbridge traffic to direct links to EU ports, should such a demand arise. Also, in May 2018, Brittany Ferries' launched a direct route from Cork to Santander in northern Spain, and a vessel of similar size to the W.B. Yeats is due to be delivered on the Irish Sea routes in 2020.
Furthermore, as announced this week, BG Freight Line is commencing a direct Waterford-Rotterdam weekly LoLo freight service, which will act as a deep-sea feeder through Rotterdam port and onwards to worldwide destinations for Irish importers and exporters.
If disruption is to arise, it would likely be most acute in the immediate period following a no-deal Brexit as a result of a short time lag between an increase in demand for direct connectivity to the Continent and a market response, as shipping companies assess the actual difficulties and implement a response. The clear view of my Department and the IMDO is that the optimal solution in response to increased demand for extra capacity to continental Europe in a ‘No-Deal’ Brexit scenario is for industry to respond to market changes in a timely manner.
Overall, this has been happening to date as I have set out above. A number of actions are being implemented by my Department and the IMDO to encourage this responsiveness. These will include a focussed awareness campaign by early September aimed at shipping companies, importers and exporters to create a dialogue between them to identify any new market demands as early as possible.