Friday, 6 September 2019

Questions (1653)

Bernard Durkan


1653. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the extent to which he remains satisfied that all possible actions have been taken by his Department in anticipation of a UK crash out from the EU; if the necessary air and sea options are being pursued to ensure importers and exporters have alternative direct access to the rest of the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36927/19]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

It is the Government’s assessment that there is a significant risk of a no deal Brexit on 31 October. Work on no deal Brexit preparations therefore has the highest priority across Government. To be clear, a no deal Brexit will have profound implications for Ireland on all levels. These include macroeconomic, trade and sectoral challenges, both immediately and in the longer term. 

In terms of Ireland's preparedness measures, the Brexit Contingency Action Plan Update, published on 9 July, reflects the extensive work which has taken place at EU level and on a whole-of-Government basis, including the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Act 2019 (Brexit Omnibus Act), to prepare for a no deal Brexit.

The Action Plan sets out the next steps to be taken, by Government Departments and State Agencies, businesses and individuals, between now and 31 October. It puts particular emphasis on the need for increased preparedness measures, by exposed businesses in particular.

In parallel with our preparedness work at national level, the Government is working closely with the European Commission on how, in the absence of the Withdrawal Agreement, to meet the shared twin objectives of protecting the integrity of the Single Market and Ireland’s place in it, and protecting the Good Friday Agreement.  On 4 September the Commission announced its intention to extend Regulations which will guard Ireland's connectivity in the fields of aviation, cross-border bus and international road haulage in the immediate term following a no-deal Brexit.

While the full implications of Brexit for our air and maritime transport are not yet clear, I do not anticipate that direct maritime or direct air services by community air carriers between Ireland and continental Europe will be affected, even in a no-deal Brexit scenario. 

That said, a significant proportion of our goods destined for EU markets are transported via the UK landbridge to access these markets. Brexit could impact on the efficiency of the landbridge route particularly where there are increased border and custom procedures and associated delays, or were the UK to subsequently apply differing standards, road charging or regulatory regimes. The landbridge is the fastest route to continental Europe and as such is relied upon for the transport of time-sensitive products, such as those in the agri-food/perishable goods sector, just-in-time and high value goods. Any delays or barriers to this key route to European markets will be detrimental for certain sectors. Significant work has been and continues to be undertaken through the Landbridge Project Group, chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in seeking to ensure continued access through the landbridge to markets in continental Europe.

In relation to shipping, in the past shipping operators have responded to economic developments and increased or reduced capacity in response to market demands. Following a series of meetings between my officials and the major ferry companies operating at Irish ports, I am confident that shipping services can be expected to adapt to changing market demands that may arise and we have seen the evidence of this with the increase in shipping capacity on direct routes to continental ports. These services include the MV Celine which was last year launched from Dublin Port and will serve routes to Rotterdam and Zeebrugge and the MV WB Yeats, which is operating between Dublin and Cherbourg since March 2019. Additionally, a new ferry route to Santander in Spain commenced from the Port of Cork in 2018.

If disruption to the landbridge does arise, it is likely to be most acute in the immediate period following the UK exit. My Department, along with IMDO, is implementing a number of mitigating actions to encourage a market response in a timely manner. This includes a focussed awareness campaign aimed at shipping companies, importers and exporters aimed at creating a dialogue to identify new market demands as early as possible. On the 4th September, my Department in conjunction with the IMDO, hosted a workshop in relation to Maritime connectivity.  A range of stakeholders attended, such as importers, exporters, ferry companies, haulage companies and business sectors. The aim of this workshop was to provide a forum to consider the risk posed by the UK Landbridge and the options for future direct connectivity to continental ports.

In response to the Deputy’s query regarding adequate travel provisions in the air travel sector, Regulation (EU) 2019/502 on common rules ensuring basic air connectivity aims to ensure the continuation of a basic level of air connectivity for citizens and business between the UK and Europe in the event of the UK exiting the EU without an agreement. While certain provisions within this Regulation have entered into force, the majority will only apply if and when the UK exits the EU without a deal.  The Regulation was adopted on 25 March 2019 with an original expiration date of 30 March 2020. The European Commission has recently published a proposal to extend the date of application of this Regulation until the 24th October 2020 to coincide with the end of the IATA summer season. Furthermore, my officials have been advised that there are currently no capacity constraints in relation to the air freight market.