Tuesday, 12 February 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
For more than three years now - since prior to the Brexit referendum - I have argued that this Government and that which preceded it needed to invest and to address the issues faced at Rosslare Europort, not least the problem that it is run by a rail company and is partly owned by the British. Every time I question the ownership of the port I am given the same line about the complicated legislative basis of the port and that the Minister's Department has received detailed advice from the Attorney General and that advice identified a number of legal issues which remain under consideration by the Department. Has there been any progress in addressing the ownership issue of Rosslare Europort?
I propose to take Questions Nos. 60 and 77 together.
Rosslare Europort is unique among the State-owned ports, as it is not a commercial company operating under the Harbours Acts but is instead operated on a commercial basis as a division of Iarnród Éireann. Technically, the port forms part of the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbours Company, which is a 19th century joint-venture company, consisting today of Iarnród Éireann on the Irish side and Stena Line on the Welsh side.
The status of the port, and whether its current status potentially inhibits its development, was considered in a strategic review commissioned by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and carried out by Indecon Economic Consultants. Its report concluded that the creation of an independent port authority would be extremely difficult, given the port's complex legal structure. Instead, it was recommended that the port remain in public ownership and that the possibilities for increased private sector involvement be investigated.
In order to assist Iarnród Éireann's overall consideration of how best to move forward, the company then engaged consultants to assess market interest. The assessment was largely positive in terms of the potential for increased private sector investment in the port. However, it did identify possible implementation issues due to the complicated legislative basis of the port.
Following that assessment, the Department sought and received detailed advice from the Office of the Attorney General on the matter. That advice identified a number of legal issues with any such proposal and those issues remain under consideration by the Department.
I am satisfied that Rosslare Europort, as a division of Iarnród Éireann, is effectively managing operations at the port and looking at the potential of the port to develop further and take advantage of any new opportunities. The port is targeting growth and new business opportunities and recently received the approval of the Iarnród Éireann board for a strategic plan to grow the port's business. This includes investment plans for up to €25 million in customer facilities and port infrastructure, port assets and new technology.
The port is engaging with several potential new shipping customers to supplement existing operators and offer greater choice to freight and passenger business. Iarnród Éireann and Rosslare Europort briefed my Department late last year on the company's plans for strategic development of the port over the coming years.
Brexit will have implications for several key ports and airports. Rosslare continues to work closely with my Department and a range of other relevant Departments and Government offices in preparing for the additional border controls that will arise from Brexit. In this context, my Department has met Rosslare Europort management on a number of occasions during the past year, most recently last month, about the infrastructural requirements of the port in connection with Brexit. My Department has also met ferry and shipping companies regarding their plans for dealing with the challenges of Brexit.
On 3 May last, the Minister told the House that the structure of the port’s ownership was somewhat unorthodox and would certainly need to come under more immediate scrutiny. That does not seem to have really happened, however. Several weeks ago, the Minister of State in the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, brought a delegation to Brussels to meet the European Commissioner for Transport to stress the need for investment in Rosslare. Will the Minister explain why the Department of Defence has become involved?
Why has it taken until now, on the eve of Brexit, for someone to wake up and state that something needs to be done about Rosslare, the closest port in the State to mainland Europe? I fail to understand why Rosslare was not developed into a strategic harbour a long time ago. Central Statistics Office, CSO, port traffic figures from 2016 show that Rosslare had arrival gross tonnage of 32,000 tonnes, Cork, 18,000, and Shannon, 10,000. Are Cork and Shannon getting more investment than Rosslare? In terms of footfall, Rosslare had 268,000 passengers in 2016 compared with Dublin, which had just under 500,000 passengers, yet it is left behind. Wexford is a deprived county and could be given a boost through investment in Rosslare Europort.
Rosslare Europort is a commercial operation and operated as a division of Iarnród Éireann. As such, any State investment would not be legal under EU regulations on state aid. However, Rosslare Europort is a division of Iarnród Éireann which is managing operations at the port and looking at its potential to develop it further. The 2017 Iarnród Éireann annual report showed operating revenue at the port of €10.6 million and subsidies to the port of approximately €2.5 million per annum. Iarnród Éireann recently completed a detailed report on the development potential of Rosslare. The port is targeting growth and new business opportunities. Recently, it received the approval of the Iarnród Éireann board for a strategic plan to grow the port’s business. This includes investment plans of up to €25 million in customs facilities and port infrastructure, port assets and new technology.
I know there is €25 million going into Rosslare. However, there are plans for the Government to invest €587 million in infrastructure for Dublin, Cork and Shannon ports. Compared with that, €25 million is a drop in the ocean. Dublin Port Company plans to invest €1 billion over the next ten years. In 2018 alone, €132 million was invested in Dublin Port. It does not appear that the Government regards developing Rosslare as a priority.
A control compound will be required at the port for Brexit purposes, which will probably come from the €25 million allocation. It will not be built, however, for three years, while Brexit is only months away. Why was this decision been delayed for so long? Is there any genuine appetite on the Government’s part to bring Rosslare up to a certain point? Irish Ferries wants to pull out of Rosslare and just use Dublin Port. This will add to traffic congestion around Dublin Port and the M50, which is turning into a parking lot.
It would be unlawful under EU regulations on state aid for the State to directly invest in Rosslare Port. Iarnród Éireann will put in €25 million and has developed investment plans for customs facilities and port infrastructure. That is a fair vote of confidence in the future of Rosslare. Up to €1.8 million will be invested from profits every year for the next five years on general renewals and maintenance. Up to €12.5 million will be invested in the extension on berths 3 and 4, from 190 m to 220 m, with a double-link span to cater for future longer ships and two-tier vessels. Up to €1.5 million will be invested in IT and creating a smart and automated port to include vehicle recognition systems, a trailer tracking system, compound management, check-in and check-out systems. The port is currently an entirely manual operation in need of IT modernisation. Up to €3.5 million will be invested in port configuration for future requirements. The latter is Iarnród Éireann stating that the port is worthy of investment. It is not running down the port but expanding it. If the necessity and demand is there, it will expand further.