I propose to take Questions Nos. 680 and 683 together.
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 is focussing its preparations on a no-deal Brexit on 31st October 2019.
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.
If disruption to the landbridge does arise, it is likely to be most acute in the immediate period following the UK exit. My Department, along with IMDO, will be implementing a number of mitigating actions to encourage a market response in a timely manner. These will include a focussed awareness campaign from early September aimed at shipping companies, importers and exporters to create a dialogue between them to identify new market demands as early as possible.
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.
In response to the Deputy’s query regarding adequate travel provisions in the air travel sector, under EU law, air operators must fulfil certain ownership and control (O&C) criteria in order to be classified as an EU air carrier. The European Commission has been clear from the outset that it is essential for air operators for whom Brexit may lead to a failure to comply with these requirements to take appropriate counter measures. The EU Contingency Regulation on Air Connectivity set down a timeframe for restructuring plans to be submitted to national regulators. All affected air operators licensed in Ireland have submitted their respective restructuring plans to the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR), within the 11th April deadline under the EU basic connectivity regulation. CAR has issued its determinations on these plans and is in ongoing contact with these airlines in relation to their restructuring plans and these determinations have been notified to the European Commission. It is understood that the Commission will review all such proposals.
In addition, 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.