Hauliers warn driver shortages could disrupt supply of goods

State facing a ‘national crisis’ in supplies with shortage of 3,000 to 4,000 lorry drivers

Eugene Drennan, Irish Road Haulage Association president, at Government Buildings in January. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Eugene Drennan, Irish Road Haulage Association president, at Government Buildings in January. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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A shortage of lorry drivers presents a major risk to the supply of goods across the country and on international export routes, the Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA) has warned.

Eugene Drennan, the president of the association, said the Government needs to treat the shortage as “an imminent national emergency” or else face similar challenges to those experienced in the UK where an estimated shortage of 100,000 hauliers has disrupted supplies.

He estimated that there was a shortage of 3,000-4,000 heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers.

In Britain, post-Brexit red tape, the Covid-19 pandemic, tax changes and backlogs in driving tests have led to shortages of goods, from beer and milkshakes to building materials and furniture, forcing retailers to reduce the range of products on their shelves.

Mr Drennan said that the shortage of lorry drivers has already had a serious impact on the distribution of goods across Ireland and on international routes out of Ireland. He called on the Government to convene a Minister-led high-level group “to identify immediate steps that need to be taken to address the crisis and avert shortages emerging in key goods over the coming months”.

Hauliers were under considerable pressure to continue to serve customers as the economy reopens and there were not enough drivers to ensure that an increasing amount of goods were distributed nationally and abroad as they dealt with increased delays arising from Brexit, he said.

“This is a national crisis and the Government needs to urgently step up to the plate. The present acute shortage of HGV drivers is placing untold pressure on our members and their staff; this level of pressure is not sustainable,” he said.

“Unless we see some urgent action now, there is a real prospect that the supply chains which keep our daily lives functioning will start to be seriously disrupted.”

Among the measures the industry is seeking are a shorter application time for HGV driver permits, the introduction of a single entity responsible for processing permits and a temporary driver card that allows non-EU drivers to start work before getting their Irish licence.

The IRHA is also looking for flexibility on tachograph rules on driving time limits to take account of bad weather, urgency in harvesting requirements for perishable crops and other emergencies and delays.

The industry has struggled to cope with the retirement of older drivers and an absence of younger ones entering the profession for several years, while the pandemic and post-Brexit transport delays and red tape have exacerbated the problem.

Ray Cole, transport director with Virginia International Logistics, said that the Co Cavan-based company was short about 20 lorry drivers and has 10 trucks parked up as a result. He described driver shortages across the industry as “shocking bad” as many non-Irish drivers have found work in other parts of Europe since the summer.

“The problem is that a load of drivers went on holiday this year, taking two or three months off and when they were away they found they could get better money elsewhere,” he said.

“The big problem is that there are no young people getting into the game. We had a driver hand in his notice this morning. He could get £100 (€117) a week more with another company.

“There is a very small pot of Irish drivers because there is no one coming in.”