Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Ceisteanna (2317, 2318, 2319, 2374)

James Browne

Ceist:

2317. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has discussed with his UK counterpart the interest of the UK in the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbours Company in the context of UK-Irish relations. [32179/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

James Browne

Ceist:

2318. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has applied to the EU for exemptions under state aid rules to allow State investment in Rosslare Europort. [32182/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

James Browne

Ceist:

2319. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has addressed the issue of the ownership of Rosslare Europort with his UK counterpart in view of the threats of Brexit and the need to develop ports to ensure businesses can access markets. [32183/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

James Browne

Ceist:

2374. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has discussed with his UK counterpart the ownership model of Rosslare Europort. [32178/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2317 to 2319, inclusive, and 2374 together.

Rosslare Europort is unique among the State-owned ports, as it is not a commercial company operating under the Harbours Acts, but is instead operated on a commercial basis as a division of Iarnród Éireann. Technically, the port forms part of the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbours Company, which is a 19th-century joint-venture company, consisting today of Iarnród Éireann on the Irish side and Stena line on the Welsh (Fishguard) side.

The status of the port, and whether its current status potentially inhibits its development, was considered in a strategic review, commissioned by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and carried out by Indecon Economic Consultants.

Their report concluded that the creation of an independent port authority would be extremely difficult, given the port's complex legal structure. Instead, it was recommended that the port remain in public ownership and that the possibilities for increased private sector involvement be investigated.

In order to assist Iarnród Éireann's overall consideration of how best to move forward, the company then engaged consultants to assess market interest. The assessment was largely positive in terms of the potential for increased private sector investment in the port. However, it did identify possible implementation issues due to the complicated legislative basis of the port.

Following that assessment, the Department sought and received detailed advice from the Office of the Attorney General on the matter. That advice identified a number of legal issues with any such proposal and those issues remain under consideration by my Department. If there are any new developments I will of course consider them. In the meantime, I am satisfied that Rosslare Europort as a division of Iarnród Éireann is effectively managing operations at the port and looking at the potential of the port to develop further and take advantage of any new opportunities.

I have met individually with my UK counterpart, Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling, to discuss Brexit matters on three occasions since mid-2017. I most recently met the Secretary of State, at his request, in Dublin on 8 November last. Our discussion fully respected the mandate of the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier. The Secretary of State outlined key areas of concern for the UK in relation to transport.

While I did not specifically raise the issue of ownership of Rosslare Europort with the Secretary of State, I set out the importance of continued transport connectivity between Ireland and the UK, including in relation to ports, aviation, road transport and cross-border rail services.

The port is targeting growth and new business opportunities and recently received the approval of the Iarnród Éireann Board for a strategic plan to grow the port’s business. Iarnród Éireann and Rosslare Europort briefed my Department late last year on the company's plans for strategic development of the port over the coming years. This includes investment plans for up to €25 million in customer facilities and port infrastructure, port assets and new technology. The port is engaging with a number of potential new shipping customers to supplement existing operators and offer greater choice to freight and passenger business. Investment in the port is, in the first instance, a matter for its owner, Iarnród Éireann which is a commercial State body, and, while EU State Aid Rules restrict the scope for direct State investment, the company is exploring appropriate investment possibilities in connection with its strategic development plans.

Finally, Brexit will have implications for a number of key ports and airports and Rosslare continues to work closely with my Department and a range of other relevant Government Departments and Offices in preparing for the additional border controls that will arise from Brexit. In this context, my Department has met Rosslare Port management on a number of occasions over the past year about the infrastructural requirements of the port in connection with Brexit.