Supplies of food, groceries, and parcels could face fresh delays after France introduced a requirement for truck drivers travelling from Ireland to produce a negative Covid-19 test result.
Supplies from continental Europe into Ireland — including fresh food, groceries, and online shopping — could face disruption as a result of the measures. Introduction of a similar regime for British truckers before Christmas led to major tailbacks at the English Channel ports.
The Irish Government has activated parts of an emergency plan originally designed to mitigate major disruption from a no-deal Brexit by setting up two free-of-charge Covid centres for truckers going to France through Dublin and Rosslare ports.
Hauliers bound for France won’t be able to board ferries in Ireland without first showing proof of a negative antigen or PCR test.
Irish trading capacity will be reduced “to about the 1980s" if supply line problems due to Covid-19 and Brexit are not dealt with immediately, Verona Murphy, a former head of the Irish Road Haulage Association and now TD for Wexford, has warned.
The so-called Brexit red tape disruption has led to significant delays in parcel deliveries and to some food lines at some British supermarkets in Ireland.
Aidan Flynn, general manager of the Freight Transport Association Ireland, said: “it is almost impossible that there won’t be disruption” from the new testing regime coming on top of the challenges of the Brexit delays.
He said the supply chain of foodstuffs and parcels from the continent will face even more uncertainty.
Mr Flynn said deliveries of fresh foods from Spain and other parts of southern Europe would likely try to transfer on to the direct ferries from France to Ireland — but that there could be capacity constraints on those services.
“There are just so many things. It is one thing after another” for the haulage industry, he said.
Truckers back from France could require two tests in the same week if they are setting off with a second load, and the industry could struggle with the driving hours they are permitted to clock up.
John Whelan, managing partner at the Linkage Partnership, a trade consultancy, said the new testing regime will add to the problems seen in late deliveries to Irish supermarkets and delayed parcel deliveries to households.
It will also raise the question for the Government of prioritising hauliers for vaccinations when the shots become available, he said.
“There will be disruption to a wide range of supplies to Ireland because the country is at the end of a supply chain,” Mr Whelan said, adding that drivers should be considered for priority vaccination in light of this “major problem”.
The new regime has effectively destroyed an EU initiative known as the "green lanes" which has been in place since the onset of the pandemic last March, under which truckers were deemed essential workers and didn't require testing for Covid-19, and which no longer applies to British truckers since Brexit.
“Hauliers should be aware that if they do not present evidence of a negative Covid-19 test result, they will be denied boarding a ferry to France,” transport minister Eamon Ryan said.
The testing sites are located at Dublin Airport’s Blue long-stay car park and at the Gorey Motorway Services. And, according to Mr Flynn, a third testing site closer to Rosslare is under consideration.
Ms Murphy was critical of the sites provided, saying the M11 site organised by the Department of Transport could cause delays that would make drivers miss their ferries.
“So, we will have product, fresh meats, fresh fish, pharmaceuticals, that may end up left in the port of Rosslare because the ship will either have sailed or the ship will be delayed in which case their deliveries will be delayed.”
A spokesperson for Lidl said they are not expecting significant delays on goods coming into Ireland.
"We do not expect to have any significant delays on goods coming into Ireland due to new requirements for hauliers in France. We are confident our shelves will remain stocked as usual. We have invested in a robust logistics infrastructure which includes three distribution centres across Ireland and therefore have ample stockholding to maintain consistent supply for our customers."
John Curtin, Group Buying Director, Aldi Ireland confirmed: “We have a good supply of products across all of our 145 stores and all stores receive deliveries daily, in some cases multiple times a day.
“We continue to encourage customers to shop safely in all of our 145 stores and adhere to the comprehensive safety measures we have in place in all of our stores.”
Tesco and Dunnes did not respond to requests for comment.