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Haulage Industry

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 4 November 2021

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Ceisteanna (85)

Carol Nolan


85. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Transport if he will address concerns in relation to the haulage and logistics sector which is under significant financial and operational pressure due to increases in carbon tax and the lack of available HGV drivers; if his Department has conducted an assessment of the supply chain repercussions of these challenges; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53431/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (19 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

I thank Deputy Carol Nolan for allowing me to take this slot. I ask the Minister of State to address concerns that the haulage and logistics sector is under significant financial and operational pressure due to the increase in carbon tax and the lack of available HGV drivers. Has the Department conducted any assessment of the supply chain repercussions of these challenges?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. My response to Deputy O'Rourke's question earlier outlines the position in relation to the driver shortage and increasing fuel costs for the haulage sector. I will focus in this response on the overall position as regards the road haulage sector and supply chain issues.

The programme for Government includes a commitment to publish and implement a ten-year haulage strategy, the first of its kind in Ireland, which will be focused on improving efficiencies and standards, and helping the sector move to a low-carbon future. A public consultation was held earlier this year and the responses to that consultation are being examined. Other forthcoming Government policies and initiatives such as the climate action plan and the new road safety strategy will be relevant in the context of the development of this new road haulage strategy. The intention is to carry out a further consultation on the draft strategy when these initiatives have been published.

Like many other sectors, road haulage is facing the dual challenges of rising costs and labour shortages. The latest consumer price index release for September 2021 shows that prices, on average, were 3.7% higher in September 2021 year on year. The highest increases were in transport and fuel costs. In relation to the shortage of HGV drivers, the national logistics and supply chain skills group, chaired by my Department, has been taking action since it was established in 2019 on future skills needs across all areas of the supply chain. All relevant Departments and agencies, as well as the haulage and logistics sector, are represented on this group. I have asked the group to examine the HGV driver shortage issue and make recommendations.

In the meantime, I have been working with colleagues across government to help address the current difficulties. For example, I have engaged with the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy English. Following those discussions, the quota for employment permits for HGV drivers from outside the EU is being removed. The Road Safety Authority is also pursuing HGV driver licence exchange agreements with non-EU countries. I have held a range of meetings with the sector, as well as writing to Education and Training Boards Ireland to offer support for the many HGV driver courses offered by the ETBs right across the country.

Some 1.5 million Irish homes are to be retrofitted with the support of the State through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. This programme was costed by the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, at €8 billion. The SEAI is costing it at €35 billion over 35 years, as per its website, under deep retrofit. A house will burn in one year what a truck will burn in one week. I ask the Minister of State to do the obvious thing and cut emissions. There are 5 million km to be covered daily by trucks in order to keep Ireland moving. How much could be achieved if the national fleet was upgraded to Euro 6 engines? Why is 45% of our national fleet over ten years old? There is a lack of investment or incentives for hauliers to upgrade their trucks. The value of older trucks, such as Euro 2, Euro 3, Euro 4 or Euro 5 vehicles, went down in the UK and we bought them. A fleet of Euro 6 engine trucks would reduce emissions at a cost of only €108 million and the Government is spending €8 billion on houses, when fuel for a house for a year is fuel for a week for a truck.

The climate action plan will be produced later today. We are going to need emissions reductions across every single sector and, as we are all aware and I am acutely aware from being in the Department, transport faces one of the bigger challenges in this area. We need to ensure that we can support the sectors that need the support most. We need a robust supply chain and that is why I am engaging with the Irish Road Haulage Association, the Freight Transport Association of Ireland and the logistics sector to ensure we can have a robust system. I spoke earlier about the diesel rebate scheme. That is just one part of it, as part of our ten-year haulage strategy. We need to be looking at where the sector will be over the next ten years. Now, with Covid and Brexit, this is a good opportunity to ensure we have a fit-for-purpose sector that is not only responding the climate crisis but also ensures we have a robust supply chain and can keep foods and products on our shelves.

The national HGV fleet of articulated trucks is made up of 24,000 vehicles responsible for 86% of the movement of goods for the Irish economy to function. It does 1.9 billion km per year, as per CSO figures. This equates to over 5 million km travelled per day and over 1.5 million l of fuel consumed per day.

This works out at almost 500 l per truck per week, which supports the statement that a truck burns in one week what a house will burn in one year. There are 10,800 trucks in this country that are more than ten years old. To upgrade these vehicles to a Euro 6 engine would cost only €108 million, not €8 billion. Fuel rebates could be tied in as an incentive.

Last year, 330,000 new trucks were sold in Europe. That confirms that the only way of moving our goods in Europe is by truck. Let us incentivise the use of trucks, bring in Euro 6 engines and reduce our emissions. It is common sense.

I share the Deputy's concerns in regard to ensuring supports are in place. We introduced a grant scheme for alternatively fuelled HGVs and the uptake was extraordinary, which shows there is demand for this, although we need to do more. Technological advances will be required for the sector.

I take the Deputy's point that we need HGV drivers. We can consider other matters through the ten-year haulage strategy regarding that final mile of delivery and what we can do to help reduce emissions. This is why we have opened the public consultation. We have had positive engagement from the sector but we need it to help the Government to help drivers to ensure there is a fit-for-purpose sector whereby we can reduce emissions but in a way-----

Not without the Euro 6 engine.

-----that is fair and-----

The Euro 6 engine is the only engine that can be modified to do it.

-----whereby we are leading the way-----

The Euro 6 engine is the only engine that can be modified in that way.

I heard the Deputy's point clearly-----

It is the only engine that can be modified.

-----and I am responding to him. I hear these concerns every day. I have met the Irish Road Haulage Association, IRHA, and the Freight Transport Association of Ireland, FTAI, and I know their concerns-----

We are the only country in Europe that does not have Euro 6 engines.

We want to reduce our emissions-----

The Euro 6 engine.

-----while ensuring we have a fit-for-purpose logistics and supply chain sector.

We are the only country in Europe that does not have it.