Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Questions (48)

Marc MacSharry


48. Deputy Marc MacSharry asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on whether the transport system particularly at major entry and exit points is adequately prepared for the ramifications of a no-deal Brexit. [39769/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Transport)

Does the Minister believe that the transport system, notably at our major entry and exit points, is adequately prepared for the ramifications of a no-deal Brexit? As he is aware we face the distinct possibility, particularly in light of the proposals coming from the United Kingdom in the past 24 hours, of a no-deal Brexit. It is an outcome that would have disastrous implications for the island of Ireland. Among the many problems which will arise is the impact it will have on Ireland's importers and exporters, most notably at our ports and entry points.

The Government has extensive preparations in place for a possible no-deal Brexit on 31 October 2019. In its action plan published in July 2019, the Government acknowledged that a no-deal Brexit will be highly disruptive and will have profound implications across all aspects of society.

It would be impossible for the UK to maintain the current seamless arrangements with the EU across the full range of sectors, including transport connectivity, trade flows and supply chains.

The contingency plans in place, including in the transport sector, will mitigate but cannot eliminate the impacts of a no-deal Brexit. The reintroduction of customs or border controls as a consequence of Brexit will undoubtedly increase transit times for all traffic travelling via or from the UK to continental Europe, including for many Irish importers and exporters. The three locations for which Ireland is heavily dependent on connectivity to the UK are Dublin Port, Dublin Airport and Rosslare Europort. The OPW has worked with relevant agencies and Departments in delivering the required facilities for agriculture, health and customs checks at these locations. Temporary facilities are now in place to meet the needs of these agencies. Additional staffing in customs and excise and the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Health have been recruited and trained to provide the necessary support and to manage the efficient movement of freight and people through these locations. The necessary associated staffing and IT systems are also in place. I understand that testing of the relevant IT systems is continuing. Communications with stakeholders is ongoing and will continue during October 2019. My Department is also working closely with other agencies to have appropriate traffic management plans in place in the event that there is significant congestion in Dublin Port that impacts on wider traffic flows in the surrounding road network.

Regarding wider transport systems and services, the EU has adopted time-limited measures to ensure basic transport connectivity with the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The temporary measures cover air transport connectivity to the end of March 2020, road freight connectivity to 31 December 2019 and cross-Border bus connectivity, also to 31 December. The EU is considering proposals to extend these arrangements to 24 October 2020 in respect of aviation and to 31 July 2020 in respect of internal haulage and cross-Border bus services.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In respect of rail, Iarnród Éireann and Northern Ireland Railways are working together to ensure the Enterprise service continues to run post Brexit.

There are concerns about potential disruption to the UK landbridge immediately after the UK's exit. My Department, along with the Irish Maritime Development Office, has met all the main ferry companies and has been assured that not only does sufficient capacity exist on alternative direct routes to continental EU ports, but should the demand for additional capacity arise as a result of Brexit, the shipping companies can respond. It is recognised, however, that these longer direct routes may not be a suitable alternative for all goods, particularly time-sensitive products.

I thank the Minister. Only 200,000 of the 1.3 million containers arriving in Dublin Port originate from outside the EU. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, that figure would rise to 1 million, which would be an astronomical increase in customer requirements. Dublin Port is our largest port, handling 38 million tonnes of cargo per annum. The equivalent of 13 km, or approximately 8 miles, of containers are dispatched and offloaded in the hour before dawn. The port's CEO has been open about the mismatch between the unpreparedness of hauliers, importers and exporters and the capacity of State agencies to cope. It would be negligent of us not to plan on the basis that there could be congestion. I am concerned that our only response to this so far is to make arrangements to text message truck drivers and ask them to pull in at truck stops and wait until the congestion passes. This is hardly a foolproof plan underpinned by a substantial vision to deal with the problem before us. We hear that Rosslare may be able to assist, but its arrangements will not be in place until January 2021.

Has the Minister confidence in the ports' ability to handle a no-deal Brexit? Have the systems he has planned been road tested?

I have full confidence in what Dublin Port has done. I cannot guarantee that there will not be disruption. We are anticipating disruption in a no-deal Brexit, but we are doing everything possible to mitigate those circumstances. Dublin and Rosslare ports have taken all necessary measures possible. There will also be congestion at Dover, Calais, Holyhead, Liverpool and elsewhere, but what measures are taken there will be outside our control.

The Deputy is not completely right about the preparations at Dublin Port. I will outline some of them. A traffic management group chaired by my Department is considering the potential knock-on impacts on the wider area and city traffic management of any potential disruption at Dublin Port in a no-deal scenario. The group is focusing on possible disruption and associated traffic management communication contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit.

I feel sorry for the hauliers who are going to get the text message. God knows where they will be when they get it. Some 40% of our unitised exports will go via the landbridge, as the Minister well knows. We have a great deal of time-sensitive agricultural and pharmaceutical produce. Has the Minister met Dublin Port and the major ferry companies to establish alternative routes to the landbridge that would be attractive and quick to market for time-sensitive goods in the event of a no-deal Brexit?

I have met the ferry companies on various occasions, as have my officials. It is important that we have contact with the ferry companies, given that the landbridge could be a flashpoint. It is anticipated that there could be difficulties if there are queues at Dover. The question for the ferry companies has been whether they would be able to provide the additional capacity that might be necessary in the event of queues at Dover, other British ports and elsewhere and hauliers deciding to take a direct route to the Continent. The companies have assured us that they would have the capacity to take the extra demand and that they would respond rapidly to queues and difficulties at ports as a result of the landbridge.

There are alternatives to the landbridge. There is air freight, but that is probably only for high-value, low-volume freight. There is lo-lo, which will obviously take longer. There are direct routes to the Continent that can be taken. We are looking at these alternatives aggressively. Communication with ferry companies has been ongoing for months. We are confident that the necessary measures will be ready if we need them.