Thursday, 18 February 2021
Covid-19 (Enterprise, Trade and Employment): Statements
It is critically important that we highlight the challenges being faced by many of our small and medium-sized businesses as a consequence of Brexit. We have a raft of companies which are directly affected by certificate of origin issues and are dependent on products and materials that are being trafficked through the UK. I have one case of a construction firm in Longford of which I have already apprised the Ministers of State, Deputies Troy and Byrne. If this issue is not addressed, it will affect building costs and potentially drive such costs up by double digits. We require intervention at Government level and at EU level on the issue of certificates of origin.
It is also an issue in the food sector. Panelto Foods, which has a major production facility in Longford, is directly affected and rates this highly in the risk analysis for the business at the moment. Ultimately, it will also affect living costs and food costs. A number of Departments and Revenue have put considerable time and effort into planning for life post Brexit but it is clear that the current customs arrangements are not working.
I have been contacted by Autosmart, a family business in Longford which recently celebrated 25 years in business. It supplies outlets nationwide and import significant stock from the UK. The company boss, Clive McCormack, contacted me on Tuesday and advised me that another of its 40 ft. containers has been held up at customs in Dublin. This is its second delivery to be held up in the past few weeks and the first load spent 48 hours on the docks in Dublin before being passed by customs. The container that arrived on Tuesday should have been offloaded in Longford yesterday and a fleet of trucks should then have ferried the stock around the country. It is struggling to fulfil orders through no fault of its own and this is an unnecessary impediment on an already challenged and stressed SME sector. On both occasions, the Autosmart container was randomly selected by customs for checking. We understand the process and accept it has to happen. There is no issue with that. The Longford business uses the long-established Lombard Shipping for its transport needs and, as the load was due to embark on Tuesday, the agents checked the website to clarify if the load was clear to go to Longford. The check by customs only takes a couple of minutes but these inordinate delays are costing Autosmart and many SMEs nationwide as much as two if not more days of valuable time. When we spoke to Lombards Shipping today, it still had no indication when that container will be cleared and the indications are it could be Saturday before it arrives in Longford. That is three full days after its initial due date. We simply cannot expect or assume that businesses will be able to continue operating under these circumstances and dealing with the uncertainty of not knowing whether a container will arrive today or in three days' time.
Many businesses have reached out to Revenue on the issue and I call on the Tánaiste to work steadfastly to resolve this issue. This is not the UK's fault or the fault of Brexit. The fault here lies squarely with enterprise, customs and Revenue. For the sake of these SMEs nationwide, this issue needs to be tackled immediately.