Deal on access to Channel Tunnel welcomed


THE Irish Exporters' Association has welcomed Britain's decision to lift the threatened ban on passage of Irish goods using the Channel Tunnel, following successful negotiations between the two governments and British Rail.

The ban, which was to be implemented on "security grounds" from November 7th, would have jeopardised transport of almost £1 billion in Irish exports to the Continent.

Agreement on a security system to be set up here by the end of December and guaranteed by the Government was confirmed yesterday at an executive group meeting of the British Rail subsidiary, Rail Freight Distribution (RFD). RFD has been administering an ad hoc security "gate way" for European bound Irish rail freight goods, but this was due to close with implementation of the ban early next month.

The British Department of Transport also told The Irish Times yesterday it was "happy with the draft scheme".

"We're delighted that the sword of Damocles has been lifted," Mr Colum MacDonnell, Irish Exporters Association (IEA) chief executive, commented when he paid tribute to the intervention of the Minister of State for the Marine Mr Eamon Gilmore, and his officials. The deal was particularly significant, given the trend in Europe towards rail transport - a trend actively encouraged by the European Commission - Mr MacDonnell said. Any ban by Britain on access by Irish exporters would have been "in breach of the spirit of Europe sans frontieres," he added.

Security screening of unaccompanied Irish exports through the tunnel first became an issue two years ago, and the British Department of Transport warned the Government last July that a ban would be enforced on November 7th if no action was taken here.

The problem was compounded by the failure of the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications and the Department of Justice to take responsibility for the issue - a situation which the IEA criticised as "buck passing". Mr Gilmore became involved two weeks ago and agreement on an outline system was reached in the past week.

The IFA said it favoured a security system at point of departure. Details have still to be worked out, but the system will be similar to that used to certify air freight containers.