Department only sought Dublin Port’s hard Brexit plan last month

State’s busiest port has been planning for border checks on UK imports since late 2017

Pleasure boats sit anchored in front of a ship docked at the Port of Dublin. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Pleasure boats sit anchored in front of a ship docked at the Port of Dublin. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

 

The Department of Transport only asked Dublin Port, the country’s largest and busiest sea port, for details of its contingency plans to deal with a hard Brexit just over a month ago.

Almost 90 per cent of all road freight traffic on the island of Ireland passes through the port, which will likely face the most delays should the UK crash out of the EU without a deal next March.

Correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act shows that a department official emailed Dublin Port Company management on November 15th – the day British prime minister Theresa May suffered a series of cabinet resignations over the proposed Brexit agreement – urgently seeking the port’s plans to deal with a potential disorderly Brexit.

“Given the importance of Dublin Port and its level of throughput, particularly to and from the UK, can you examine and revert urgently (by COB [close of business] on 23 November) with an outline of a contingency plan as to how Dublin port proposes to deal with issues that may arise in the event of a hard Brexit,” wrote department official Mary Lally.

In her email with the subject line “Brexit – Urgent,” Ms Lally, a principal officer with responsibility for ports, harbours and shipping, asked for details about the impact of a disorderly Brexit on “disruption of trade, delays, backlogs, traffic problems, inspection facilities required, etc”.

Dublin Port Company chief executive Eamonn O’Reilly forwarded the email to the department’s secretary general Graham Doyle saying: “I wonder could we have a chat about the email below.”

The State-owned port has been actively preparing for border controls for Brexit, including new customs booths and freight inspection points for British imports, since December 2017 in anticipation of the UK leaving both the EU single market and customs union.

In response to the Government’s contingency planning for a hard Brexit, the port is considering a number of possible sites to locate new border controls and inspections areas for State agencies.

Action plan

A 133-page contingency action plan published last week by the Government setting out preparations for a hard Brexit says it is looking at new offices for an additional 144 staff at the port, parking for 270 trucks and 33 inspection bays to cope with a disorderly Brexit.

The Government is in the process of buying land at both Dublin and Rosslare ports to deal with new border checks, animal inspections and increased lorry traffic should there be a hard Brexit.

Dublin Port Company’s preferred location for the new facilities is a 13-acre site at Tolka Quay overlooking Clontarf which is home to a warehouse managed by Revenue where seized cigarettes, tobacco and other contraband are stored and destroyed.

There are two other sites at the port that could be used on a temporary basis: a 14-acre site further east along Tolka Quay used for the transit storage of cargo and a large storage facility, the former Crosbie Warehouse on Tolka Quay Road, next to the ferry terminals.

On Monday, Minister for Business Heather Humphreys and Minister of State for Trade Pat Breen will launch a new customs training course to help businesses prepare for Brexit and to understand the relevant documentation and processes they would be required to operate.

Ms Humphreys urged companies to prepare by undertaking the free Customs Insight course from Enterprise Ireland at prepareforbrexit.ie. Some 12,000 Irish businesses export to the UK, while 60,000 import from the UK every year.

“Businesses must prepare themselves in the event of a hard Brexit as full customs procedures will come into place whereby the UK will be recognised as a ‘third country’,” she said.

Julie Sinnamon, chief executive of Enterprise Ireland, said that 62 per cent of client companies polled during their attendances at Enterprise Ireland’s “Brexit Advisory Clinics” during the year cited customs as having the biggest impact on their business.

The course was, she said, “another highly practical tool to help companies break down the complexities around customs issues and pinpoint the areas that require immediate prioritisation and action”.

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