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.
However, both I and my colleagues in Government remain concerned about the impacts of a no-deal Brexit for Irish trade using the UK landbridge for accessing EU markets. This is something that remains under active consideration.
A significant proportion of our goods, estimated at €21 billion, destined for or coming from EU markets are transported via the UK landbridge. 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 will be detrimental for these sectors in particular.
Recent reports from the UK indicate the potential for significant reductions in traffic volumes through key ports such as Dover and Holyhead as a result of the additional requirements for customs and other regulatory documentation and procedures. Significant new infrastructure, and associated staffing, is in place in Dublin Port and Rosslare Europort to implement the additional customs, agriculture and environmental health controls that will be required in Dublin and Rosslare when the UK leave the EU. While these are are designed to minimise the level of disruption that may arise from the additional checks, some disruption can be expected.
The main alternative to the UK landbridge is the direct shipping routes to continental EU ports. Following a series of meetings between my officials and the major ferry companies operating at Irish ports, I am assured that sufficient capacity exists on direct services and that shipping companies can adapt to changing market demands that may arise.
We have seen the evidence of additional capacity and services recently 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, on the Dublin – Cherbourg route from March 2019 for the summer season. 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, is implementing a number of mitigating actions to encourage a market response in a timely manner. This includes a focussed awareness campaign for shipping companies, importers and exporters aimed at creating a dialogue to identify new market demands as early as possible. On the 4th September, my Department in conjunction with the IMDO, hosted a workshop in relation to Maritime connectivity. A range of stakeholders attended, such as importers, exporters, ferry companies, haulage companies and business sectors. The aim of this workshop was to provide a forum to consider the risk posed by the UK Landbridge and the options for future direct connectivity to continental ports.
However my Department is continuing to monitor and to assess the potential implications on connectivity to EU markets in the lead up to a potential no-deal Brexit.