Enda Kenny discussed post-Brexit sea route on January trip to Berlin
Former taoiseach extolled virtues of product delivery path to Germany that bypasses UK
A sea route to Germany via the Netherlands or Belgium could help circumnavigate customs issues following a hard Brexit if any issues were to emerge with the UK landbridge. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Former taoiseach Enda Kenny travelled to Berlin last month as part of an effort to convince German politicians of the merits of a post-Brexit sea route between Ireland and Germany.
Such a sea route could help circumnavigate emerging customs issues following a hard Brexit if any issues were to emerge with the UK landbridge, according to those involved in the discussions.
While the long distance and travel time would likely make such a route impractical for agricultural produce such as dairy, it could form a key part of accessing European and wider markets for pharmaceutical products.
While in Berlin, Mr Kenny met several members of the Bundestag economy and energy committee, including Joachim Pfeiffer, a close ally of Angela Merkel ally who acts as the economic and energy policy spokesman for her Christian Democratic Union party.
The meetings, which took place at the end of January, were arranged by the German-Irish chamber of industry and commerce. Mr Kenny is a member of the chamber’s Kuratorium, or board of trustees, a role for which he receives no payment.
The sea route would not directly link Ireland and Germany, but would likely see freight landed at Rotterdam in the Netherlands or Zeebrugge in Belgium, and from there travel on to Germany over land.
Ralf Lissek, who is the chief executive of the German-Irish chamber, said that a likely distribution point within Germany and on to wider markets would be the inland hub of Duisberg. Mr Lissek, who led the delegation which included Mr Kenny to Berlin, said the town is connected to China by 15 trains every week, opening up new potential markets for Irish-produced goods.
“You could see the whole export logistics from Ireland, you could see that with different glasses, and use Europe more to distribute to Asia or other places,” he said.
Mr Lissek said that there was a lack of understanding on the continent about the difficulties faced in getting Irish produced products into Europe if there are difficulties using the UK land bridge.
“As the German-Irish chamber, we are concerned about the landbridge for getting to continental Europe and back. It’s not something people in continental Europe are aware of,” he said.
“Ireland exports so much product, especially pharmaceutical product . . . nobody knows if this product can enter a third country and go back into the EU.”
He said that ferries can travel between Dublin and the main continental ports in between 44 and 48 hours, significantly slower than trucks can currently travel from Ireland to Europe using the landbridge, but added that there could be unknown customs and other procedural problems crossing the UK after Brexit. He said that the message to German politicians was that “it’s a special case and Ireland needs special support”.
Mr Lissek said that, in addition to issues around customs, export and freight traffic, the chamber delegation also briefed Bundestag members on Northern Irish issues and the importance of avoiding a hard border.
Efforts to contact Mr Kenny for comment were unsuccessful.