Dublin Port risks running out of key capacities within 15 years, Government told

Future of port stoking Coalition tension over Eamon Ryan’s push to use some port lands for housing and nature reserve

The Government has been told Dublin Port risks running out of capacity for key operations within 15 years, stirring Coalition tension over Eamon Ryan’s push to use some port lands for housing and a nature reserve.

The warning from maritime experts comes amid deepening anxiety about planning curbs on the expansion of Dublin Airport, meaning questions have now been raised over the future growth of the State’s main shipping and aviation hubs.

Green leader Mr Ryan, who is Minister for Transport, has heavily criticised Dublin Port’s 2040 master plan, saying expansion should be constrained in favour of housing and nature conservation in the port area.

But his stance has led to Coalition friction with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael after a report for the Irish Maritime Development Office – a State body for shipping and ports – warned of a serious capacity shortage if traffic through Dublin Port grows rapidly.


Such questions are sensitive because the long lead-in time required for maritime building works, and also because Dublin Port is already near capacity and sometimes operates at capacity.

With Taoiseach Leo Varadkar saying Dublin Airport’s passenger cap “doesn’t make sense” as planning limits are reached, the future of Dublin Port is shaping up as a serious point of contention in a review of port policy that began last month.

At issue primarily is anxiety about lift-on lift-off (LoLo) operations, where containers are loaded with cranes, but there are concerns too about roll-on roll-off (RoRo) capacity.

In a report for the maritime office, consultant engineers Arup said Irish ports “generally have sufficient capacity” to meet current and forecast demand until 2040.

“The only exception is the LoLo capacity in Dublin Port, which is estimated to run out of capacity around 2038 in the high-growth scenario,” Arup said.

Such findings are seen as a serious warning by Mr Ryan’s partners in the Government.

One senior Coalition figure said: “If a port runs out of capacity for moving goods it’s a major problem, particularly if you have a Minister who doesn’t want to deliver infrastructure.”

A second Coalition figure said: “Trade is very much the bedrock of the Irish economy, so naturally it makes sense to invest in port capacity.”

Dublin Port chief executive Barry O’Connell said the issues raised by Arup were “quite significant”, noting LoLo comprised 25 per cent of the port’s container traffic.

“The challenge from a State point of view would be building LoLo capacity somewhere else on the east coast and/or increasing utilisation of other ports that can accept significantly increased LoLo, such as Cork. There’s no other port on the east coast that can do this,” Mr O’Connell said.

Still, he noted research by Indecon consultants for Dublin Port which suggested LoLo capacity might not run out until 2042 in a high-growth scenario. However, that report forecast RoRo capacity reaching its limit around the same time.

“We’re currently running at an average of 91 per cent capacity at RoRo and LoLo. That’s an average number, which means there are times when we are at capacity, so we’re absolutely reliant then on our capital projects coming in on time.”

Asked whether he had any comment Mr Ryan’s stance given the Arup and Indecon findings, Mr O’Connell said: “We’re working through these positions with the Minister and the department.”

A spokeswoman for the Minister said he met the Dublin Port chief recently. “There was recognition that there needs to be development at Dublin Port but not excessive development – it needs to be sustainable,” she said.

“Critically it has to fit with the development of all our major ports. In addition, there is recognition of the impact of additional capacity on the M50 and the need to reinvigorate rail freight at Dublin Port.”

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times