Cargo volumes plummet at Dublin Port due to Brexit effect

First-quarter decline in freight from British ports contrasts with increased trade with EU

Brexit triggered a major reduction in cargo volumes at Dublin Port in the first quarter of this year. The Dublin Port Company said trade volumes fell by 15.2 per cent in the first three months of 2021.

The main driver was a decline in freight from British ports, which fell by 29 per cent to 160,000 units. In contrast, trade with EU ports rose by 18 per cent to 158,000 units.

The decline in overall cargo volumes follows a 7.8 per cent increase in the previous quarter which may have reflected stockpiling by companies in the run-up to Brexit.

Many Irish firms are thought to have switched from using the UK as a landbridge to export into Europe to going directly to the continent or to going into Britain via Northern Ireland in order to avoid Brexit-related bureaucracy or red tape.


Dublin Port’s chief executive, Eamonn O’Reilly, described the figures as very weak but said it was unclear what the full impact of Brexit is likely to be.

“It is too early yet to say what the long-term effects of Brexit will be and whether the declines we have seen so far in 2021 will persist at the same level for the rest of the year,” he said.

"With two ferry lines [Irish Ferries and P&O] now operating services both from Dublin Port to GB and across the English Channel from Dover to Calais, we are optimistic that the landbridge will re-establish itself as a fast and cost-effective option for the movement of time-sensitive goods to and from continental Europe in the months ahead," Mr O'Reilly said.


He said the dislocation of a lot of volume to ports in Northern Ireland was “worrying”, he said, adding that in 1990, before the single European market was established, more than a third of roll-on-roll-off freight chose services to and from Northern Irish ports rather than use services in and out of Dublin.

“We won’t get a proper sense until later in the year as to how much of the 29 per cent decline we have seen in GB ro-ro trade is due to the new border regimes and whether this dislocation will be a permanent feature for the years ahead or not,” he said.

The pandemic continued to suppress passenger and tourism volumes, the company said.

Passenger numbers on ferries – including HGV drivers – declined by 63.2 per cent to 83,000 while tourist vehicles declined by 74.3 per cent to 17,000 in the quarter.

Dublin Port Company is undertaking three major infrastructural projects as part of its Project 2040 plan, which will double the existing port’s capacity to 77 million tonnes a year.

It has come out against the idea of relocating the port away from Dublin city centre – which advocates say would free up land for development – saying it would cost up to €8.3 billion to build a new port from scratch at a different location, and that such a venture was unlikely to get the green light from planning authorities “because of environmental impacts”.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times