Irish Examiner view: We need to secure vital travel links

The importance of sea links that allow us bypass Britain's landbridge have been highlighted by the ban on passengers or freight from the UK
Irish Examiner view: We need to secure vital travel links

Freight traffic parked up on the M20 in Kent near to Folkestone services whilst the Port of Dover remained closed after France has closed its border with the UK over fears of the mutant strain of coronavirus Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA

It’s over 50 years since The Ludlows had a hit with 'The Sea Around Us', which included the line “thank God we’re surrounded by water”.

The song survived for many years as a sing-song staple but, like the comparative innocence of those days, it has passed to that place where old ballads go to fall silent until events make them relevant once again. We may have reached that point.

Lorry queues stretching across Kent after France, India too, announced a 48-hour ban on passengers or freight from the UK underlines the vulnerability, and ironically, the security of isolation.

How that ban, if it is to achieve its objective, might be effective after just 48 hours is altogether unclear but it is certainly having an impact.

An element of that is that Irish truck drivers trying to reach the Continent are stranded at UK ports. Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has promised that everything possible will be done to quickly repatriate those drivers. 

His optimism was, however, not shared by Independent TD and former president of the Irish Road Haulage Association, Verona Murphy. 

“He has no idea it would appear,” she told RTÉ. She suggested that the number of trucks caught in the loop was closer to 700 and that, understandably, “many drivers are refusing to go out because they're not going to get caught up in it."

Those who are in Cherbourg trying to get home for Christmas are very concerned.

Though this bottleneck is a consequence of a new, more active strain of Covid-19 sweeping Britain it, as some of those who oppose Brexit are all too happy to point out, a plausible dress rehearsal for what lies ahead if the divorce negotiations end inamicably. 

The Sunday-night chaos at some British airports, as people tried to beat the midnight travel ban is another consequence of the temporary — for now at least — exclusion order. 

Those events on the fringes of ferry ports and at UK airport, like all important events offer lessons that reach across political philosophies and the particular vulnerabilities of a small island society.

Just as the privatisation of eircom left swathes of rural Ireland in broadband darkness, the sale of Aer Lingus means we have no control over the air connectivity we rely on. 

Who would have thought that when Irish Shipping was liquidated in 1984 sea links that allowed us bypass Britain's landbridge would again be so important? 

Who would, even a decade ago, have imagined that economic growth might be defined by what we can get off the island rather than what we can produce?

Irish Shipping was allowed to fade, Aer Lingus was sold off and a state-controlled ferry service does not exist. This is reckless for a small island off Europe.

If the celebration of the line “thank God we’re surrounded by water” is to be made real, we need to establish at least one of these lifeline services in a way that will be reliable, and controllable, in nearly any circumstances. 

Let us, in a practical rather than a fanciful way, assert our sovereignty by securing conduits to the greater world, the one we rely on.

   

  

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