As has been signalled since the publication of the report ‘The Implications of Brexit on the Use of the landbridge’ by the Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO) in 2018 there is likely to be disruption to the UK landbridge when customs and border controls between the EU and the UK are introduced, which is now due to happen from January 2021. Since the publication of the 2018 report, my Department, in conjunction with the IMDO, has been keeping the issue of direct shipping routes to the Continent under close review.
Shipping companies have assured the IMDO and my officials that they will respond to any increases in demand for direct connectivity at the end of the transition period. The reality is that currently there is very significant spare capacity on the Ireland to Continental Europe route and shipping companies have been adding capacity even during the Covid-19 pandemic in mid-2020.
The Government considers that State intervention to establish new State-supported shipping routes directly to the Continent, in the current circumstances and in the context of the end of the UK’s transition period, would be likely to undermine a market response resulting in an insufficient, inadequate and costly intervention being put in place. Such an intervention would be likely to create difficulties for the State in extricating itself from the shipping market, would be likely to result in legal challenges from incumbent shipping providers, breaches of EU state aid rules and consequent requirements for repayment of the state aids with interest, with resulting adverse impacts on the viability of any companies receiving such aid.
My Department, together with the IMDO, is continuing to closely monitor and keep under review the evolving situation regarding maritime connectivity to continental ports, and will remain in close consultation with the maritime sector and other relevant stakeholders on this issue. We will also continue to engage with ports, hauliers, shipping companies and other stakeholders regarding the processes and facilities at Dublin and Rosslare Europort to deal with traffic post the end of the UK’s transition period.
As set out in the Government’s updated Brexit Readiness Action Plan, published on 9th September 2020, businesses are being asked to consider moving, in advance of the end of the transition period, to direct route options for the movement of goods from Ireland to the Continent, to avoid potential delays and the new procedures that will be introduced associated with using the UK landbridge. Shipping companies should also continue to assess expected future demand requirements and remain ready to respond to increased capacity demands, and all the indications are that this is happening. My Department, together with the IMDO and other relevant Government Departments and Agencies, is engaging in a communications campaign with stakeholders in this regard over the remaining weeks up to the year end.