Growth in facility's traffic 'consistently underestimated'


"THE MOUTH of the economy," is how Enda Connellan, chief executive of the Dublin Port Company, describes the port, where containers packed with consumer goods roll off the ferries at 5am and arrive in store warehouses at 7 or 8am, writes Laura Slattery.

"These flowers on the table, these scones and sandwiches, they all crossed the Irish Sea last night and arrived in Marks Spencer this morning," he says from the Port Centre boardroom in East Wall.

Growth in traffic through the port had been consistently underestimated, he says. Now there is a danger that the decline in trade will be overestimated.

"There is no doubt about it, we do have a downturn in the economy, but is it as bad as commentators are saying? Throughput was down less than 1 per cent in the first half of the year compared to last year," he points out.

Throughput is likely to be flat or slightly reduced in 2008 as a whole after a record 2007. But while this would mark the first fall in throughput since 1992, Connellan believes the port's statistics suggest tales of woe about the Irish economy have been exaggerated. "I don't think it has deteriorated as much as people thought," he says.

Some 90 per cent of the Republic's gross domestic product (GDP) is exported, with 42 per cent of that setting sail from Dublin Port.

And, after 15 years of growth, which has seen the port service the transport of goods into major new retail centres such as Blanchardstown and Dundrum, there are still more new shops to fill: some four million square foot of retail development in Dublin city, as well as the much-hyped arrival of Ikea in Ballymun next year.

Dublin Port handles two-thirds of containerised trade to and from Ireland. Over half of all trade travelling through the port is destined for the greater Dublin/M50 area.

Although capacity constraints are partly to do with a trend toward larger ships, the fact that Connellan is more concerned with expanding the port than a drop-off in trade could be seen as encouraging.

It's not just consumer goods, it is consumers too. Tourist numbers have grown since the company launched a marketing campaign to promote ferry travel. In addition, some 80 cruise liners are expected to call at Dublin Port this year.

This generates a tiny percentage of the port company's turnover, but it is an "important connection" to the city, according to Connellan, bringing in 75,000 passengers and generating €35-€50 million in indirect spending to the local economy.