Brexit: Irish hauliers seek State help to bypass UK ‘land bridge’
Industry group says exporters ‘extremely vulnerable’ to dependence on route
Containers are loaded on to trucks at Dover port. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA
The Irish Road Haulage Association has urged the Government to help set up a fast, direct daily ferry service with continental Europe for lorries to avoid post-Brexit disruption on the UK transit route.
Eugene Drennan, the president of the industry group, has called for Government intervention to secure supply routes with continental Europe by establishing a fast, daily ferry service for lorries, preferably into the French port of Le Havre, supported initially with subsidies.
The association has requested financial support for hauliers using a direct ferry service to cover any higher costs from using the longer, more expensive route and to designate new, faster ferry services as public service obligation (PSO) routes for at least a year.
Mr Drennan said political and logistical challenges thrown up in recent weeks show Ireland’s “extreme vulnerability” to maintaining dependence on the so-called land bridge through the UK to gain access to EU markets.
Mr Drennan said Irish hauliers suffered serious delays from migrant and security checks at Dover port in the past week, resulting in drivers taking more than three hours to travel less than two kilometres and causing knock-on nine-hour delays due to driving limits.
“Any interference with the passage of Irish drivers through the UK land bridge, whether by political manoeuvrings or administrative zeal, will have cataclysmic impacts on Irish trade and our people,” he said. “The Government needs to recognise this now and plan accordingly.”
Some 150,000 Irish lorries use the land bridge every year. About 40 per cent of Irish exports and 13 per cent of imports, in value and volume terms, pass over the key transit route every year.
More than 80 per cent of one million “roll-on, roll-off” lorries using Irish ports every year go through UK ports, with the remainder going on direct routes to continental Europe.
The value of trade crossing the land bridge was €18 billion in exports and €3 billion in imports in 2016, according to a 2018 report on the route by the Irish Maritime Development Office.
Journey times on direct ferry services between Ireland and continental Europe can up to 40 hours, compared with less than 20 hours for lorries using the land bridge.
Mr Drennan said lorry drivers could be between six and 12 hours behind schedule by using direct ferry service to continental Europe instead of the land bridge.
He argued that a faster ferry service to Le Havre, together with a change in driver regulations permitting hauliers to count the time spent on direct ferries as rest time, would enable lorry drivers to make up the lost time on the direct routes instead of the land bridge.
He believes the Government needs to step in to regulate existing ferry timetables to run routes when required rather than on “competitor ferry company timings or UK port preferences rather than the market need”, which creates congestion and makes the land bridge less attractive.
“We have the shipping capability, but the ferries are all running at the one time. We easily have the boats to run a daily service six days a week,” he said.
“We have the boats there but we don’t have them there at the times to suit the industry in Ireland or the need to cut the time.”