THE Government can fund up to 30% of the cost of operating a new Swansea-Cork ferry service EU officials have confirmed.
According to Fine Gael MEP Colm Burke, about 30% of the likely costs could be met through central government funding.
He claims European Commission legislation would allow the Government to provide significant financial support for re-opening the link to Britain with Ireland’s south-west.
Tourist accommodation and services providers in Cork and Kerry said the loss of the ferry over the past two years is running into tens of millions. Mr Burke said he had approached European Commission officials seeking information on whether the Irish Government would be allowed to back a new ferry operation.
“The commission, in their response, outlined that the Government can fund up to 30% of the cost of operating this route for a period of three years.
“The ball is now in the Government’s court to supply the strategic funds to restart this route which is of immense importance to the south-west region,” Mr Burke said.
The Port of Cork is in discussion with potential operators to reopen the route which closed in 2006. It is estimated the loss of the ferry link has cost the south-west economy a staggering €38 million annually.
The Port of Cork and British Associated Ports — which controls Swansea port — have agreed to offer incentives to any company willing to restart the service.
Michael McCarthy, Port of Cork marketing manager, said any financial support from the Government would be most welcome.
“We are currently working with a number of interested parties on the project. A business case study has shown potential in terms of a ferry carrying passengers and cargo. We have identified this as a profitable service.
“Providing funding to get it off the ground would represent a vital cog in the route’s long-term viability,” Mr McCarthy said.
Port of Cork officials are actively engaged in developing specific proposals for improving maritime links between Ireland, France and Spain through the Western Europe Sea Transport & Motorways of the Sea (WEST-MOS project).
Mr Burke said these potential routes can be funded as part of the Motorways of the Sea which is a stated priority under the EU’s Trans-European Networks Programme.
It would offer enormous potential for reducing costs, CO2 emissions and congestion on land motorways for consumers, hauliers and public authorities alike.
“In 2007 the Port of Cork had a record throughput of 10.7 million tonnes, proving that it is the premier port on the south coast of Ireland,” the Ireland South MEP said.
“It’s obvious that investment costs for Motorways of the Seas would amount to only a fraction of what new terrestrial motorways would cost.
“It is time that the Irish Government took this issue seriously and supported investment in maritime links between Cork and Swansea and Cork to Spain,” Mr Burke said.