Hauliers fear full direct ferries to EU if Brexit checks block UK routes

Brittany Ferries says Government could prioritise transport of essential supplies

There may not be enough capacity on direct ferries to mainland Europe if the key "landbridge" route through Britain becomes congested after Brexit, the haulage industry has warned.

Irish Road Haulage Association president Eugene Drennan told the Oireachtas transport committee that hauliers carrying time-sensitive loads such as food were concerned that existing and new direct ferry services to mainland Europe may be full after Brexit on January 1st.

“There is a big fear amongst hauliers who are going with all sorts of fresh produce - meat, chicken, poultry - that they won’t get a booking,” he said,

The committee heard from the haulage industry and shipping companies Brittany Ferries and DFDS about concerns over traffic congestion at Dublin Port arising from new border control checks on goods moving to and from Britain after Brexit comes into effect.

Aidan Coffey, Irish route director of DFDS, said there had been a significant number of pre-bookings on its new direct route between Rosslare and Dunkirk starting on January 2nd.

“The capacity will be outstripped quite early,” he said.

Brittany Ferries chief executive Christophe Mathieu said that the ferry company would consider increasing its services from Cork and Rosslare to France and Spain after Brexit if there is greater demand from freight companies to avoid the British landbridge.

Mr Drennan said hauliers faced a “logistical nightmare” and could not compete if there was no “level playing field” for Irish hauliers operating from “an island off an island” into Europe.

His biggest concern about post-Brexit traffic was that there would be an “own goal” by State agencies by not applying minor and quick checks on goods traveling across EU-UK borders.

The staggering of ferry arrivals from Britain at Dublin Port was the other major requirement to create a smoother transition to the new post-Brexit customs arrangements, he said.

“If we are held up, it has catastrophic consequences down the line,” he said.

Mr Mathieu suggested that the Government consider working with ferry companies to give priority transport to medicines and other essential goods if there are Brexit delays next month.

Mitigate risks

“That would be one way to mitigate the risks of shortages in the first few weeks,” he said.

Mr Drennan said he expected “a lot of trouble” with congestion at the State’s busiest port during peak traffic hours. He criticised State agencies for not consulting with the haulage industry before coming up with the traffic management plan for the port to manage post-Brexit congestion.

Fine Gael TD Kieran O'Donnell, the committee's chairman, said that it was "extremely disappointing" and "hugely regrettable" that Irish Ferries and Stena Line had decided not to appear before the committee given that they are two principle ferry operators on the Irish Sea.

The committee heard criticism about a recent Irish Maritime Development Office report that said there was sufficient capacity on direct routes to mainland Europe.

“If we have the capacity, these people wouldn’t be coming to the table,” said Mr Drennan of DFDS, a new entrant in the Irish market.

Mr Coffey said the IMDO did not consult hauliers or other shipping firms beyond the four main operators and that the report “put us on the back foot” when persuading the directors of DFDS to start the route.

Sinn Féin TD Ruairí O Murchú said he was “not entirely sure” about the IMDO’s view that “the market would sort everything out” when it came to setting up sufficient shipping lines.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent