Ireland is well served by ferry links to the UK and continental Europe and offers a diverse range of maritime links to and from the State to facilitate trade and tourism, providing vital income streams to the Irish economy. Over 90% of Ireland’s trade moves by sea and there are currently 22 shipping operators providing a mixture of daily to weekly scheduled shipping services from Ireland. This includes companies providing year round scheduled passenger services between Ireland and the UK and France.
It is important to note that all shipping companies servicing routes to and from Ireland are commercial companies. Any new initiatives to enhance services are market driven, as it is not government policy to fund international shipping services as this would be contrary to EU State Aid and Competition law.
Activity in the sector proved positive last year. Irish shipping and port activity rose by 3% in the third quarter of 2013 when compared to the corresponding period of 2012, according to the latest figures produced by the Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO). In terms of passengers, figures in 2013 show that ferry passenger numbers travelling to and from Ireland increased by 1% when compared to 2012. In 2014, Irish Ferries introduced a new direct passenger car ferry service linking Dublin with Cherbourg while another company LD Lines announced a new passenger and freight ferry service linking Rosslare with the French port of St Nazaire and the Northern Spanish port of Gijon.
Competition in the ferry sector is encouraged and I expect services to continue to develop and expand to meet any increased market demands in the future. My Department through the IMDO works closely with all existing operators and continues to promote Ireland as a location for new services. Fáilte Ireland is also involved in active promotion and marketing of sea access routes to Ireland in their role of promoting Ireland as a high quality and competitive tourist destination.