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. Consultations regarding Brexit with key maritime stakeholders has included a Transport and Logistics All Island Sectoral meeting in Dundalk in January 2017, three Brexit Maritime Transport Workshops / Seminars (in April 2017, March 2018, and in January 2019) with a further Brexit Maritime Connectivity ‘Be prepared’ Workshop held on 4th September 2019.
A significant proportion of our goods destined for Continental European 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 some in the fresh 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.
Eight Meetings have been held with shipping companies and shipping interests by my Department and the IMDO in January and February 2019. These discussions with shipping companies have been continued by my Department since then, up to recent days, while the Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO) who report to my Department have been consulting extensively with the Maritime sector, including shipping, port and other maritime interests regarding Brexit issues on an ongoing basis. A number of consistent views have emerged from the meetings and consultations with the shipping companies. Shipping companies remain confident that the market will be responsive in meeting any challenge in a no-deal scenario should there be a switch in demand to direct services.
In the context of Brexit, there has already been a significant market response evidencing the capacity of market participants to respond to shifts in trade patterns resulting from Brexit. This includes:
- In 2018, CLdN lauched MV Celine, the world’s largest RoRo vessel, and in 2019 launched the MV Laureline RoRo vessel, significantly increasing capacity on the Dublin-Rotterdam and Dublin-Zeebrugge routes.
- In May 2018, Brittany Ferries commenced a service from Cork to Santander and Roscoff.
- Irish Ferries investment of €150 million in its newest passenger and freight vessel, MV W.B. Yeats, provides year-round freight capacity between Ireland and France of 165 HGVs per sailing or 60,600 HGVs per annum and a vessel of a similar size is due to be delivered on the Irish sea routes in 2020.
- In July 2019, BG Freight Line announced the commencement of a direct Waterford-Rotterdam route weekly Lo/Lo freight service, which will act as a deep sea feeder through Rotterdam port and onwards to worldwide destinations for Irish importers and exporters.
In the light of my Department’s continued consultations with shipping companies, I am of the view that shipping services can be expected to adapt to changing market demands that may arise as a consequence of Brexit. We have seen the evidence of this over the last few years with the increase in shipping capacity on direct routes to continental ports that I have mentioned.