Brexit has been identified as my Department’s highest strategic risk and the Department, along with other Government Departments and key Agencies, has been preparing for Brexit for three years. This preparation is continuing through extensive contingency planning and stakeholder engagement. While planning continues for both a no-deal Brexit and the ‘central case’ scenario, the Government’s preparations for a no-deal Brexit increased significantly in recent months in the lead up to the end of March as we faced a possible no-deal Brexit.
While the full implications of Brexit for our air and maritime transport are not yet clear, I do not anticipate that direct maritime or direct air services by community air carriers between Ireland and continental Europe will be affected, even in a no-deal Brexit scenario.
That said, a significant proportion of our goods destined for EU markets are transported via the UK landbridge to access these markets. Brexit could impact on the efficiency of the landbridge route particularly where there are increased border and custom procedures and associated delays, or were the UK to subsequently apply differing standards, road charging or regulatory regimes. The landbridge is the fastest route to continental Europe and as such is relied upon for the transport of time-sensitive products, such as those in the agri-food/perishable goods sector, just-in-time and high value goods. Any delays or barriers to this key route to European markets will be detrimental for certain sectors. Significant work has been and continues to be undertaken through the Landbridge Project Group, chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in seeking to ensure continued access through the landbridge to markets in continental Europe.
In relation to shipping, in the past shipping operators have responded to economic developments and increased or reduced capacity in response to market demands. Following a series of meetings between my officials and the major ferry companies operating at Irish ports, I am confident that shipping services can be expected to adapt to changing market demands that may arise and we have seen the evidence of this over recent months with the increase in shipping capacity on direct routes to continental ports. These services include the MV Celine which was last year launched from Dublin Port and will serve routes to Rotterdam and Zeebrugge and the MV WB Yeats, which is operating between Dublin and Cherbourg since March 2019. Additionally, a new ferry route to Santander in Spain commenced from the Port of Cork in 2018.
Officials from my Department have also been heavily engaged with the work at EU-level to minimise the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the aviation sector. The recently adopted Regulation (EU) 2019/502 on common rules ensuring basic air connectivity aims to ensure the continuation of a basic level of air connectivity for citizens and business between the UK and Europe in the event of the UK exiting the EU without an agreement. While certain provisions within this Regulation have entered into force, the majority will only apply if and when the UK exits the EU without a deal.
In relation to infrastructural requirements, the Government’s Project Ireland 2040 recognises the role and infrastructural plans of ports and airports in supporting continued enhancement of Ireland’s high-quality international connectivity. Key actions planned include a new runway for Dublin Airport, continued development of Cork and Shannon Airports, investment in Ireland West Airport Knock, and for smaller airports under the Regional Airports Programme. There will also be major development of Dublin, Cork, Shannon-Foynes and other ports, as well as investment in transport connectivity to ports.