Irish Ferries decision to halt Rosslare service believed to be due to market

Desire to recoup investment of €147m in new cruise ferry dictating move to Dublin Port

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin: Wexford TD says Irish Ferries’ move may  do huge damage to the Irish economy. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin: Wexford TD says Irish Ferries’ move may do huge damage to the Irish economy. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Irish Ferries’ decision not to run ferry services to France from Rosslare next year is based simply on the judgment that a Dublin service will be more profitable, industry figures believe.

The company’s parent Irish Continental Group paid €147million for the WB Yeats, its new “cruise ferry” which can cater for 1,885 passengers and 1,200 vehicles, and which has just arrived in Ireland.

Maritime sources said the decision may have boiled down to a simple one: which port, Dublin or Rosslare, can deliver the most business – and so payback – for the new ship.

Irish Ferries will continue to serve Pembroke in south Wales from Rosslare while Stena will continue services on its Rosslare to Fishguard and Rosslare to Cherbourg, France, route.

In a statement on Monday, Irish Ferries informed potential passengers it was unlikely to operate a service between Rosslare and France in 2019. The company said it would continue to keep this situation under review.

The new WB Yeats ship will operate from Dublin to Cherbourg up to four times per week.

Business volume

In terms of business, there is hardly a comparison between Rosslare and Dublin in terms of volume. Rosslare Port handled 127,820 “roll-on, roll-off” (Ro-Ro) standard containers – that is shipping containers on the back of a lorry – in 2017.

The comparable figure for Dublin was 992,062, according to figures from the Irish Maritime Development Organisation. In Dublin Port, one million Ro-Ro freight units pass through in a single year. The millionth freight trailer in 2018 arrived on board Irish Ferries’ Ulysses when it docked at 6.30am on Thursday morning. This is the first time for Dublin Port to surpass one million Ro-Ro units in a year.

Dublin is also at the end point of the island’s inter-urban motorways and considerably more accessible to Northern Ireland than Rosslare.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross met Irish Continental Group chief executive Eamon Rothwell to express the Government’s concern about proposals to shut down the ferry company’s Rosslare-Cherbourg route, on Tuesday.

Efforts to contact Mr Rothwell directly were not successful but Mr Ross said the chief executive’s view was that Dublin port would mean more business for the company.

“It’s very bad for Rosslare, but I can’t interfere with a commercial decision.” Mr Ross said.

Dublin Port has seen volumes grow by 36 per cent in the six years to the end of 2017. It also invested more than €100 million in 2017 and will invest €1 billion over the next 10 years.

‘Disappointing’

However, Minister of State at the Department of Defence Wexford TD Paul Kehoe said that, as a user of the service, “all the customers I spoke to all prefer using Rosslare because of its accessibility”. It will be even more accessible when the motorway bypasses are finished, he added.

Irish Rail, which operates Rosslare Port, said the news was “disappointing”.

But it said the port had recently received the approval of the Irish Rail board for a strategic plan to grow the port’s business. This will include investment of up to €25 million in customer facilities and port infrastructure, port assets and new technology. The port is currently recruiting a sales and business development manager as part of the plan, and is engaging with a number of potential new shipping customers to supplement existing operators Stena Line, Irish Ferries and Neptune Lines.

Meanwhile in the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar urged Irish Ferries to retain their service to France from Rosslare.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin, himself a Wexford TD, said the move could do huge damage to the Irish economy. He said with Brexit in the offing and the danger of a no-deal outcome, Ireland needed to expand its direct links with the Continent and not reduce them.