Wednesday, 19 December 2018
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
On behalf of the Labour Party, I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his stewardship of the House during the year. I thank all of the staff of the Houses - the clerks, catering staff, ushers and everybody who makes our task doable. I also record the Labour Party's appreciation of the work of the media. In a world where the media are under stress in many places, the fair presentation of the workings of democracy is really important. I wish all of my colleagues in this and the other House a very happy Christmas.
There are 100 days until Brexit and the United Kingdom and the European Commission are stepping up preparations for a no-deal Brexit, but the Government does not appear to be as equally prepared. Irish ports handled 53.3 million tonnes of goods in 2017, of which 29%, or 15.5 million tonnes, were carried on roll-on, roll-off trucks and trailers. Only three ports in Ireland handle roll-on, roll-off ferries - Cork, Dublin and Rosslare Europort. Rosslare Europort handled just under 12% of all freight vehicles and trailers entering Ireland in that year. Additionally, it handled one third of all passenger cars entering and leaving Ireland last year. The national ports policy designates five ports of significance. Dublin, Cork and Shannon Foynes are tier 1 ports, while Waterford and Rosslare Europort are classified as tier 2. Shannon Foynes and Waterford ports deal in bulk goods, but higher value imports and exports tend to arrive in lorries, which is why roll-on and roll-off ferries are so important.
In the context of Brexit, the need for an upgrade of Rosslare Europort is even more obvious and urgent, a point I have been stressing for the past two years. The previous Government improved motorway access to the port, but we now need to invest an awful lot more. For more than two years, I have argued that we need to make Rosslare Europort a tier 1 port. There is a significant risk associated with putting all of our eggs in one basket, with Dublin Port catering for the vast bulk of trucks and lorries. A single incident in the Dublin Port tunnel could block Dublin Port and stop it from operating. Traffic congestion in Dublin and on the M50 is already problematic. A storm with adverse winds for an hour or two could close the port.
In today's globalised economy we rely on just-in-time imports for manufacturing and construction. Exports are vital to the survival of the economy. It is essential that we expand our port strategy in order that we will be ready to weather the storm that a potential no-deal Brexit could visit on us. There is every likelihood of delays and extra costs in using the British land bridge in any Brexit scenario but particularly in a no-deal scenario.
Irish Ferries has announced that it may not provide services to Rosslare in 2019 which, frankly, in the context of all I have said, is unbelievable. The Dublin-Cherbourg route adds four hours to the crossing time and, as we know, time is money for hauliers. Will the Government undertake to ensure Rosslare Europort is enhanced, not diminished, as a strategic asset in the context of Brexit? What, specifically, will it do to ensure ferry operators from the port of Rosslare are enhanced and not diminished in 2019?