Irish Ferries could axe some services from the Republic to France next year despite claims that Brexit will increase the need for them.
The shipping company, owned by Irish Continental Group (ICG), sails from Rosslare in Co Wexford to Cherbourg and Roscoff in France during the summer. On Tuesday it indicated that it would not do so in 2019.
"Irish Ferries wish to inform our customers that we're unlikely to operate a service between Rosslare and France in 2019," it said. "We continue to keep this situation under review. Our new WB Yeats ship will operate from Dublin to Cherbourg."
Rosslare-France does not feature on the company’s 2019 schedule, which does list the Cherbourg route, along with its UK services Dublin to Holyhead and Rosslare to Pembroke.
The group made no further comment. ICG, whose shares trade on the Irish Stock Exchange, made no formal statement to the market about route changes for 2019.
Sources suggested that demand for the Rosslare-France services was low, and that they had not been as profitable as the other routes.
Irish Ferries is understood to be keen to promote the WB Yeats, which was originally due to begin sailing last summer.
Truckers sharply criticised Irish Ferries for the likely cancellation of the Rosslare services just as the UK leaves the EU and hauliers could be seeking new routes to the continent. They warned that it would result in a “total nightmare” of increased traffic congestion in Dublin and delayed continental crossings.
About 80 per cent of Irish goods exported to continental Europe go via the Channel Tunnel between England and France. Exporters fear additional post-Brexit customs checks will create long delays at the land bridge.
Irish Road Haulage Association president Verona Murphy said the ICG move made "no commercial sense", and accused the company of abandoning hauliers who helped it survive the recession.
"It makes no sense that we get more commitment to the shortest sea crossing in times of Brexit pending from an outsider such as Stena Line than we do from our own Irish Ferries," she told The Irish Times.
"I'm very disappointed with the commitment from Irish Ferries. The hauliers of Ireland have kept Irish Ferries going in recessionary times when tourist traffic was limited. Here we are, and they decide to put an extra four hours onto our journey time."
Ms Murphy said the WB Yeats cruise ferry, which was originally scheduled to begin travelling between Dublin and France almost five months ago, but is expected to dock in the capital in the coming days, will only add to congestion in and around the capital.
"What pains me is that the new WB Yeats is expected to hold as many as 1,800 cars and they're now going to sail from Dublin on a route and into a port that is already congested and bring all that traffic onto the M50. "
“The WB Yeats will fit into Rosslare. There is no reason to abandon the service. It’s the shortest route, and from both our drivers’ perspective and our customers’ perspective it’s the preferred route.
“It’s a total nightmare, and it’s time the Government stepped in, stepped up, and started seeing things for what they are because this is absolutely ridiculous.
“The majority of trucks that want to do a continental sailing go from Rosslare to Cherbourg – it’s a shorter sailing. It’s a 17 hours crossing. It takes four hours longer to sail from Dublin to Cherbourg. Who wants to sit on a ferry for an extra four hours?
"It just doesn't make sense. Anything coming from the west or the southwest of the country has to go to Dublin now and end up in huge traffic jams on every approach road to the M50 as well as the M50 itself. Then Dublin Port is already congested.
“It’s going to take too much time. It’s going to cause too many delays. What you have here is a lack of commitment. It does not make commercial sense. I do not understand how Irish Ferries can get away with this.”