By Pádraig Hoare
The Government has been urged to commission a report on the ability of Irish ports to handle new routes and extra cargo bypassing the British mainland and going direct to mainland Europe in the event of the UK leaving the customs union.
Port of Cork commercial manager Captain Michael McCarthy said the volume of traffic from Irish ports using British roads to travel onto mainland Europe was so great that an adverse impact on Irish importing and exporting was certain unless alternatives were found.
He was echoing the call of the Irish Academy of Engineering in its submission to the draft National Planning Framework, in which it urged the Government to commission a report to examine “the capacity of our ports — including road and rail access — together with options for increasing air freight and the speed and frequency of cargo ships/ ferries to the continent”.
“As an all-island body, the academy is particularly concerned with the possible impacts of Brexit,” said the academy’s submission.
“If, as appears likely, the UK exits the EU customs union, we should ensure that alternative trade routes to [mainland] Europe, which avoid the land bridge through the UK, are made as attractive as possible for exports and imports,” he said. Mr McCarthy echoed the call, saying: “We should be looking at getting from A to B in as shortest time as possible, but we are still reliant on the most convoluted ways. Some 60% of cargo that we are sending to the continent is going via the land bridge of the UK.
“Post-Brexit, that just won’t be possible. Even if we have a hard or soft Brexit, there will be customs inspections and other obstacles. No matter what the Brexit outcome, it will be different to what it is now and we simply must prepare our ports for that.”
Mr McCarthy said he had been exploring new ways for cargo and freight to reach continental Europe even before the Brexit vote.
“Even pre-Brexit we should have been looking at the situation. As it stands, most exporting out of Munster goes up to Dublin, onto the UK and then the continent. There is a huge case to be made for the likes of Cork to be utilised to import and export straight to and from the continent,” he said.
Chief executive of Dublin Port Company Eamonn O’Reilly said recently it was seeing increasing demand for direct freight services to continental Europe.
He said a new ship introduced at the end of October — the MV Celine which will operate between Dublin Port and the ports of Zeebrugge and Rotterdam — was a result of the shipping sector reacting to Brexit.
“Brexit is creating a lot of uncertainty and the introduction of the new ship shows the shipping sector beginning to provide additional capacity to create more options for importers and exporters. We expect to see more new services to Continental Europe during 2018,” he said. Meanwhile, Bank of England deputy governor Sam Woods said it was possible that the UK’s financial sector could lose up to 75,000 jobs as banks and insurers shift operations to the EU after Brexit.
Woods told MPs that the 65,000 to 75,000 estimate was drawn up in a report from consultants Oliver Wyman and not the Bank of England but that in terms of the long-term possibility, such a scenario was “plausible”.
Additional reporting Reuters
This story originally appeared in the Irish Examiner.