Thursday, 6 December 2018

Ceisteanna (8)

James Browne


8. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans for the introduction of a border control post at a location (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50974/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

What are the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine's plans for the introduction of a border control post at Rosslare Europort?

My Department has been working to assess the infrastructure requirements at ports and airports that handle consignments of plants, animals and plant and animal products from the United Kingdom. This work is part of a co-ordinated Government-wide approach involving the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Department of Health and the Office of Public Works.

On leaving the European Union, the UK will become a third country and as such checks to ensure compliance with EU rules, so called SPS checks, will be required on consignments of plants, animals and plant and animal products originating in the UK. These checks will be required whether the UK leaves with a deal or leaves with no deal. EU legislation requires that these checks are carried out at ports or airports that have designated facilities called border control posts, BCPs.

Consignments that will be subject to SPS checks when the UK leaves the EU are currently entering Ireland at Rosslare Europort. For this reason, Rosslare Europort has been identified as a future location for a border control post. Work is under way, in conjunction with the Office of Public Works, to identify a suitable site for the construction of the BCP. The BCP will be located in a central control compound that will also house the required facilities for the other governmental bodies.

The location, design and functionality of this compound needs careful and precise planning to ensure that it is fit for purpose and achieves value for money. The facility must meet and be operated in compliance with EU legislative requirements.

As a result of the co-ordinated Government-wide process involving the various impacted arms of the State, certain efficiencies and savings have been identified through the potential to share specific areas of the facilities. My Department will continue to look for innovative, cost-effective solutions throughout the planning, design and implementation process.

Rosslare Europort is a serious bone of contention for people in Wexford because it is owned, controlled and managed by CIÉ. It makes €2.5 million profit per annum which has effectively been sucked out of it every year to subsidise other parts of Iarnród Éireann. I appreciate that is not the Minister's area of responsibility but one of the benefits of CIÉ abandoning that port and using it as a cash cow is that there is space there for the Office of Public Works, OPW, and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to put in place the necessary buildings and works there. I understand the OPW is examining potential sites there but I know from Wexford County Council that it has not yet reached the planning application stage. For Rosslare Europort to start to reach its potential it would be important that these Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine facilities, with customs and gardaí, are put in place.

In the case of a hard Brexit in particular, there will be mayhem in Rosslare Europort for roll-on, roll-off trucks if the facilities are not in place.

I appreciate those points and some of the history, which I was not familiar with, in respect of Rosslare. The infrastructure required is significant in the context of a border control post, including inspection bays and parking for trucks, dedicated areas for live animals, public offices, etc. A lot of the detailed planning is ongoing on the part of the Office of Public Works in terms of the overall Government approach to the infrastructure required to deal with Brexit. Traffic management, planning applications, staff requirements, IT systems and all those details are all part of the Brexit preparations. They are also evidence that, however effectively we pursue our negotiations with the UK, the arrangements we currently have are far better than any that will replace them in the context of the impact on trade and the cost of the infrastructure requirements. Plans are well advanced, however.

As the Minister will know, 80% of goods by volume to the Continent cross the UK land bridge. The concern of the road hauliers is that even if the land bridge is left open via customs checks, things like checks and tolls, or even the fact that many of their drivers may be Polish or Romanian, will mean that even if there is not an actual technical block to them going over the UK land bridge, doing so may become uneconomical. The development of Rosslare Europort for direct links to the Continent will become very important. There was a surprising reported statement from the head of Rosslare Europort to Wexford County Council recently, to the effect that he reportedly said that the Government's policy is not to invest in ports. I hope he is being misquoted in the local newspaper because that would be quite a shocking statement to make. It would be interesting to have that clarified, but it is not the Minister's Department.

I can certainly say that substantial financial provision has been made in my Department in the context of Brexit planning for infrastructure, staff, IT systems etc. It is inevitable that some of that investment will be in port infrastructure. Much of it will be through the OPW as well. I do not want to draw conclusions on what other people have said, however. The land bridge issue is really important for our access to the rest of the European Union markets. However, it is equally important to reflect on the fact that we are the land bridge through which the UK exports many of its products destined for Northern Ireland. It is important to acknowledge the signalled intention of the UK to remain in the convention on common transit, which would enable us to continue to access the European Union markets via the UK land bridge. That is very important for all sectors of the economy but particularly for the agrifood side.