Tuesday, 29 January 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
45. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has discussed with his UK counterpart the issue of border checks on trucks originating here and arriving in the UK from Rosslare Europort but plan to travel onwards to another country within the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3777/19]
Has the Minister discussed with his UK counterpart the issue of border checks on trucks originating here and arriving in the UK from Rosslare Europort which plan to travel onwards to another country within the EU?
The Government’s preparedness and contingency planning for Brexit has from the start included issues relating to the continued effective use of the UK landbridge. This is a priority for the Government given its importance for Irish exporters and importers as a means of access to the rest of the Single Market, particularly with regard to agrifood products. This is an important issue with regard to protecting the competitiveness of our producers and ensuring continued unhampered access to the EU Single Market.
Retaining the effective use of the landbridge post Brexit has been discussed at both political and official level with the UK and the EU. As a result of these contacts, the importance of maintaining the landbridge has been recognised through the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland in the draft withdrawal agreement. This reaffirms the commitment of the UK to facilitate the efficient and timely transit through the UK of goods moving from Ireland to another EU member state or another country, or vice versa.
To this end, I welcome the EU's agreement that the UK may join the common transit convention upon its departure from the EU and that a number of the formal steps to allow this to happen have been completed. The UK’s accession to the common transit convention will play an important role in ensuring Ireland’s access to other EU member states via the UK landbridge. Work is also progressing with the European Commission and affected member states with regard to the Union's internal transit procedures and infrastructural solutions at EU ports to facilitate transit post Brexit.
As the Tánaiste knows, the UK landbridge is strategically important for Ireland's economy. Two thirds of our exports to the Continent, comprising 3 million tonnes or €100 billion worth of trade in 150,000 trucks per year, go over the landbridge. The UK exit from the EU will obviously complicate that. As the Tánaiste stated, the UK has signed up to the common transit convention but it is my understanding that agrifood products and live animal products are not covered under the latter. The Tánaiste might clarify whether that is the case. He might also clarify what will be the role of non-Irish citizens driving trucks. For example, if a Romanian or a Polish national is driving an Irish truck, will he or she still be covered under the common transit convention in order to access the UK landbridge? Will he also address the congestion that may be faced by trucks at Dover, as I understand this has still not been resolved? Will he confirm whether he has raised the ownership of Rosslare Europort with his counterpart in the UK?
There were several questions there. In simple terms, the common transit convention effectively means that if one seals a container in Dublin and it is going to France, Belgium or the Netherlands, it should be able to be transported across the British landbridge and back into the Single Market without being checked. While it may have to be scanned while passing through, the goods should not have to be checked. That is what we are trying to achieve in order that Irish trucks will not be treated as coming from a third country outside the EU and re-entering the Single Market. That is what should be facilitated. Of course, it is not as straightforward as that because if the connectivity between the south coast of England and the EU Single Market through France in particular, but also the Netherlands, is not as seamless as it is today, then Irish trucks will get stuck in that traffic and they will certainly not be facilitated to skip the queue easily. We have spoken to our French counterparts about trying to differentiate between goods that originate in the UK and those that originate in the Single Market in Ireland and then come back into the Single Market to ensure that Irish trucks, where possible, do not get stuck in the same parking and inspection systems as British trucks.
I asked four questions. The Tánaiste only touched on one of them. I will repeat the other three. Does the common transit convention apply to agrifood products, fish products and live animals? What is the position of non-Irish drivers driving trucks through the UK landbridge under the common travel convention? Rosslare Europort was established under the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbours Company by UK statutory instrument in 1898 and is effectively still controlled by the UK Government. Has the Tánaiste raised the ownership of that? I have asked this several times as a parliamentary question in written form.
Yes. Rosslare Europort is owned by the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbours Company, established in 1898 under a UK statutory instrument. Its future is effectively controlled by the UK Government, which could dissolve that company in the morning if it wanted to. It might like the idea of having a port still in the EU after Brexit. Has that been raised? I have asked this question numerous times in written form and it is probably an official from the Department who has been answering it. This is an important issue and I would like a reply in respect of it.
I will have to come back to the Deputy on the ownership issue because I do not have an answer to that.
If live animals move between these two islands today, 10% of them need to be checked because we manage animal disease on an all-island basis. Therefore, even moving within the Single Market as it is today, some checks are required, and that is unlikely to change in the future in terms of disease management. I would hope there will be veterinary agreements in place between the EU and the UK in the future which would keep those checks to a minimum. However, the container traffic travelling on the back of trucks should be able to be sealed and not have to be reopened and checked between Ireland, as part of the EU Single Market, when travelling across the UK as a landbridge and then back into the Single Market again.