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 participates in the co-ordination structures established to facilitate a whole-of-Government response to the issues raised by Brexit, including participation in the interdepartmental group on the EU and Brexit and the Brexit co-ordinators' group.
Consultations by my Department regarding Brexit with key maritime stakeholders including ports has 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 in January 2019) with a further Maritime Transport Workshop/Seminar took place earlier this month (September 2019) focussed on Maritime Connectivity and Brexit preparedness.
I do not believe that tariffs will apply on goods passing through the UK or using the UK landbridge for transit to access the Continental EU market to and from Ireland, as such product is going from one EU market to another and tariffs do not apply between EU countries. Some tariffs could, of course, apply to goods exported to and imported from the UK.
There is potential for the use of the UK landbridge to become disrupted for Irish exporters and importers in a scenario where the Dover - Calais route in particular may become heavily congested in a no-deal Brexit to the extent that significant numbers of Irish businesses may seek alternatives including direct routes to and from France. My Department together with the Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO) has examined the maritime capacity for direct sailings between Ireland and continental EU ports as a potential alternative route for trade currently using the Landbridge. Based on extensive consultations with the shipping sector and wider, I believe that sufficient capacity should be available on direct routes to continental ports following a ‘No Deal’ Brexit and should demand for further capacity arise, because of disruption to the UK landbridge, the shipping sector have assured my Department and the IMDO that they can and will respond quickly to meet such demands. In the context of Brexit, there has already been an additional increased capacity over the past two years on direct routes with more planned for 2020. My Department has also established that there is capacity in ports other than the two main ports dealing with Roll-on / Roll-off traffic (RoRo) traffic, Dublin and Rosslare, that could be of some assistance in the event of a hard Brexit. The main spare capacity available in 2019 is in relation to Lift-on/ Lift -off (LO-LO), in particular at the ports of Waterford, Shannon Foynes, and Cork, and for bulk traffic. However, shipping services are market driven and I believe that ferry operators will respond to economic developments and increase or decrease capacity from particular ports in response to market developments. There have already been responses from the shipping companies adding additional freight capacity on direct sailings to the continent. To take one example, the Port of Cork saw the addition of a new route in May 2018 with Brittany Ferries’ commencing the service to Santander and Roscoff with the Connemara, whose capacity is 27,414 GT.
As regards freight train or rail freight capacity, Irish Rail is actively engaging with a number of parties regarding emerging rail freight opportunities within the container and bulk markets and will focus on the commercial, environmental and wider economic value that rail freight offers within these markets.