Too much land at Dublin Port allocated for Brexit aftermath, operator claims

‘We are running out of space and rail takes up an awful lot,’ says CEO Eamonn O’Reilly

The underutilisation of Dublin Port land given over to deal with Brexit has been a “success story”, given fears of chaos in its aftermath. Photograph:  Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

The underutilisation of Dublin Port land given over to deal with Brexit has been a “success story”, given fears of chaos in its aftermath. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

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The operators of the State’s busiest port said nearly 15 hectares of land being used by the State to cope with the aftermath of Brexit were now being used at “a fraction of what was anticipated”.

Dublin Port told the Department of Transport it was hard not to argue that too much land was now being allocated to State services for checking vehicles travelling from the UK.

Internal emails disclose port authorities’ view that it was “virtually impossible” to see how there was a need for so much space even if volumes of traffic between Ireland and Britain rose as expected.

They said the changes had put significant pressure on operations and especially rail services, which ended up being temporarily suspended last month.

A memo prepared by Dublin Port chief executive Eamonn O’Reilly for Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan’s advisers acknowledged the issue was “politically sensitive”.

However, he pointed to the extremely low amount of freight that arrives in Dublin Port by train: “The [rail] service carried 9,789 containers in 2020. For reference, Dublin Port’s total volume of unitised loads (trailers and containers) was 1.5 million in 2020,” he said, adding that “9,789 units is 0.7 per cent of all units. The other 99.3 per cent were moved by HGVs.”

Pinch points

The memo also said that “capacity pinch points” in Dublin Port were already beginning to bite.

He said they had recently told cruise ship operators they would have “very limited capacity” if and when the industry resumed operations into the city.

The memo said: “There are two shipping lines (one operating a freight ferry service to continental Europe and the other a container shipping line) seeking to commence services into Dublin Port which cannot currently be accommodated by any of the port’s terminal operators.”

Asked to comment on the records, the Department of Transport said that while rail freight has been low in comparison to other modes of transport, they were committed to reducing emissions by 51 per cent over the next decade.

Strategic review

They said a strategic review of the heavy rail network on the island of Ireland was under way and was expected to be completed by the end of summer 2022. A separate ports capacity study was also taking place.

Mr O’Reilly said the underutilisation of land given over to deal with Brexit had been a “success story”, given fears of chaos in its aftermath.

He said: “We are running out of space and rail takes up an awful lot of space. We are not against rail freight but the challenge we have is the land area we have.

“Dublin Port did not take a decision to stop rail freight. We were the ones to build a rail siding that facilitated that service.

“Everybody wants more and more within this footprint. We have been lucky this summer; the weather has been good, everything has been on time and the trains are working. But there are always risks and the priority has to be with working ships.

“We are operationally challenged all of the time.”

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