Market, not State, best placed to solve Brexit issues, committee hears

Agency denies being ‘complacent’ in its preparations for forthcoming disruptions


The market is best placed to respond to the demands Brexit will make on Irish shipping links with Britain and continental Europe, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

The head of the Irish Maritime Development Office, Liam Lacey, rejected a suggestion by Brendan Howlin of the Labour Party that the state agency had been “complacent” in its preparations for the disruptions that Brexit will bring.

He said his office had been working “non-stop” on Brexit over recent years and he believed it had been good advice to let the market react to the changing situation.

He told the committee that State intervention had the potential to cause lasting damage to the sector and could have led to a “chaotic response”.

Responding to Ruairí O’Murchú of Sinn Féin, Mr Lacey said it was unhelpful in a functioning market to set out, a priori, that there should be state intervention.

“It is in the interest of shipping companies to service demand,” Mr Lacey said, when addressing the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs. The sector was capable of increasing capacity in response to perceived demand.

The huge reduction in passenger traffic on Irish ferries had freed up capacity for freight and this would provide some relief in the first quarter of next year when shipping may trying to deal with the initial effects of Brexit, Mr Lacey said.

He also said he did not believe the crucial Dover-Calais route would be allowed “fail”, as that would not be in the UK’s interest.

While every new system had “teething problems”, he believed the problems that might develop at Calais would be resolved. He had recently been assured on this point by the French ambassador to Ireland, he said.

The “big question” was the extent to which the land bridge to Europe through England would continue to function. The shipping industry believed the problems at Dover and Calais would be resolved.

He told Neale Richmond of Fine Gael that the transit times that the land bridge supplies cannot be replicated, so some exporters and importers will have to look at compromise, and changes to their supply chains.

The land bridge existed before the single market was created, and there are technologies available now that can help mitigate the difficulties created by the UK’s departure from the EU, he told Mr O’Murchú.

Mr Lacey told Seán Haughey of Fianna Fáil that the people who ran Dublin Port were very experienced and he believed they were best placed to deal with the traffic issues that might arise at or near the port.

Mr Howlin, standing in for committee chair Joe McHugh of Fine Gael, said it was self-evident to say it was in the UK’s interest not to let the Dover-Calais route fail,. However, he questioned what would happen if French fishermen disrupted the offloading of freight from the UK.

Mr Lacey said it was best left to the industry to respond to the problems of the market, and that there were a number of alternatives to roll-on, roll-off that could form part of importers and exports solutions.

There was evidence that there was stockpiling of supplies in anticipation of Brexit and this, combined with the seasonal dip in freight that occurred every January, would help ease pressures.

If difficulties did emerge, then there was an understanding in place that vital supplies, such as medicines, would be prioritised, he said.