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Haulage Industry

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 4 November 2021

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Questions (82)

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

82. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Transport his views on the challenge facing the road haulage sector here in view of increasing fuel costs and the shortage of drivers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53878/21]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Transport)

I raised this issue at our previous session with the Minister and I do so again to have it on record. This is not a reflection on the Minister of State but it is frustrating and disappointing not to have the senior Minister here. In particular, the fact that we did not receive correspondence shows the worst of form. These sessions are arranged well in advance and we could have rearranged today's session.

I ask the Minister of State for her views on the challenge facing the road haulage sector. We have a crisis in the supply chain.

I thank the Deputy. I am taking questions this morning for the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who must attend Cabinet. As Members know, the climate action plan is being launched later today.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. Like many other sectors of the economy, road haulage is facing the dual challenges of rising costs and labour shortages. The global oil price has increased substantially in 2021. However, the Minister for Finance has retained the diesel rebate scheme for the present. The scheme, first introduced in 2013, allows haulage and bus operators licensed by the Department to apply to Revenue for a rebate on tax paid on diesel purchased in the State. The rebate rate is based on the average purchase price of diesel provided by the Central Statistics Office, CSO. The rebate amount is capped at 7.5 cent per litre. VAT-registered businesses are also eligible to claim a refund on the VAT paid for diesel used in the course of business activities.

In relation to the shortage of heavy goods vehicle, HGV, drivers, the national logistics and supply chain skills group, chaired by the Department, has been engaged on this issue since it was established in 2019. All relevant Departments and agencies, as well as the haulage and logistics sector, are represented on the group. I have asked the group to examine the HGV driver shortage issue and make recommendations. In the meantime, I have been working with colleagues across government to help address the current difficulties. Following engagement with the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy English, and discussions between the Department of Transport and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the quota for employment permits for HGV drivers from outside the EU is being removed. In tandem with this, the Road Safety Authority, RSA, is pursuing HGV driver licence exchange agreements with a number of non-EU countries to allow drivers from these countries to apply for Irish employment permits. I have had a range of meetings with the haulage and logistics sector to discuss the issue and get their perspective on the key actions that will help ease to the current shortage of drivers. I have also written to the education and training boards in relation to the matter.

I thank the Minister of State. It is worth pointing out three of the five priority questions are on this issue, which highlights its importance. We are in the run-up to Christmas and there considerable focus on it, as there needs to be.

The Minister of State referred to a number of issues and I will reflect on some of them from the perspective of the sector. On the fuel rebate, the sector is saying the scheme needs to be reviewed and expanded and must support the transition to alternative fuels. The sector points to the fact that gas is currently more expensive than diesel and is not included in the scheme. Fuel accounts for one third of operators' costs. The sector points to the impact of the carbon tax and the fact it is not recirculated into the sector. I ask the Minister of State to respond on those points, after which I will discuss HGVs and workers.

On the carbon tax, as the Deputy knows, the Minister for Finance sets policy on tax and excise duties on fuel. The increase this year, which related to the already planned carbon tax, amounts to between 2 cent and 2.5 cent per litre of petrol and diesel. Revenue from any increase in carbon tax is ring-fenced and goes directly towards alleviating negative effects for those who cannot afford increases in the price of energy. I understand the pressures on the sector. I have been engaging with the Irish Road Haulage Association, IRHA, and the Freight Transport Association of Ireland, FTAI, as well as other haulage companies throughout the country to highlight the needs of the sector and to ensure we have a robust supply and do all we can on a cross-government level to address the driver shortage issue. This is not just an Irish issue, as the Deputy knows, but a European and global problem.

I am sure other Deputies will come in on the same points. On fuel costs, the Government needs to act where it has an opportunity or is in a position to do so. There are such opportunities with the rebate, the carbon tax and elsewhere.

I will now focus on the issue of workers. I am hearing a number of things from the sector. The issue is one of bureaucracy. According to the sector, the Department with responsibility for business is struggling to cope with the process and there are hold-ups with the RSA in terms of the licence checking process. The Minister of State mentioned guidance to the sector. The expert skills group was to have delivered a report in September. It is now November. Guidance for the sector has not been provided. I am trying to be constructive and point to ways to address this problem that are in the Government's gift. I am conscious that not everything is within its gift but there are measures that could be taken to help alleviate the crisis.

The skills group will report back shortly. It is important to note, however, that a great deal of work is under way in the meantime. My engagement with the Minister of State, Deputy English, on the quotas for work permits is one example. On the RSA, it is the authority's role to engage in relation to securing licence exchange agreements with other countries.

This is a long process and in such circumstances both countries have to ensure they meet the standards. We are focusing on a number of countries in response to what has come from the sector itself though my engagement with representatives of the road haulage and logistics sectors. The Road Safety Authority is focusing on Argentina, Moldova, North Macedonia and Ukraine in respect of those licensing exchange agreements. For example, I met with the ambassador of Argentina to see what we can do to try to progress these exchange agreements and make sure we are not coming up with challenges unnecessarily. The Department of Foreign Affairs is assisting the Department of Transport with that diplomatic engagement.

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