Tuesday, 28 July 2020
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
I appreciate the Minister of State is new to the portfolio and I congratulate her and wish her every success in the future. I would like to draw her attention to the need for investment in Rosslare Europort, which is Ireland's most strategic port in relation to accessing the European mainland once the UK leaves the EU, and currently. The landbridge will become defunct for the hauliers and their drivers, who wish to comply with driving regulation times and serve their customers' best interests post Brexit. I have spent 30 years as a haulier, working in logistics, and it is a fact that if a daily direct ferry service to the EU is not established prior to Brexit, confidence will not be with the exporters or importers, markets will not be reached and jobs will be lost. Hauliers and logistics managers cannot assure customers they will be saved from the chaos of the landbridge and HGV drivers are already anticipating chaos and will not do the job post Brexit if it involves unnecessary time delays which will lead to extra time away from their families. This can be avoided with preparation.
Rosslare has potential like no other port in Ireland. It is the first accessible port on the east coast, making it more attractive to any UK provider post Brexit. We must prepare Rosslare and maximise its potential for the benefit of the country and take rightful advantage of the ill wind that Brexit is for Ireland.
Will the Minister of State confirm she will invest in Rosslare Europort and make the necessary request to the EU to safeguard the national interest post Brexit by applying to the EU for tier 1 status for the port and make Rosslare a free zone?
My other point on Rosslare is that Carbon Trust said in a recent study that Rosslare is the most suitable site for the required wind energy base to construct turbines for the offshore wind farms planned to service Ireland and UK markets. There is a significant amount of preparation required in the port to accommodate the base. That is costly but ultimately an investment and, as such, is beneficial and value for money for the Exchequer on a national project basis. Many boxes can be ticked with one lump sum. Not only does it develop the port for freight and passenger services for the future, but the real value is that Ireland's future energy and fuel source must be carbon free. The Minister of State, as a previous Chair of the climate action committee, will appreciate that. We need wind energy if we are to be carbon free and my research points towards hydrogen as the fossil fuel replacement. Rosslare has the space for a hydrogen plant for the future.
Rosslare is about investing in Ireland's future. The investment is about joining the dots on all levels and giving the taxpayer value for money. Can the Minister of State unlock the potential for Ireland and be the first one to commit to developing Rosslare for the good of the country and its future?
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Rosslare Europort continues to work closely with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and other Government Departments and offices in preparing for the border controls and other impacts that will arise from Brexit. The port's border inspection post, on a 16 acre site 1 km from the port, is ready for operation and additional staff have been deployed at Rosslare Europort since April 2020. Future Brexit configuration has been incorporated into the overall master plan for the port. Rosslare Europort is actively seeking opportunities arising from Brexit to expand shipping services to continental EU ports, and I am aware that the Deputy, together with other representatives from the Irish Road Haulage Association, as well as representatives from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and from Rosslare Europort, visited northern France in November 2019 to try to develop shipping links from Rosslare. I thank the Deputy for her work on developing such links. Since that time, Brittany Ferries has launched a new service to Roscoff and to Bilbao from Rosslare.
Rosslare is unique among the State's commercial ports as it operates outside of the Harbours Acts 1996 to 2009. The port forms part of the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbour Company which owes its origins to the Fishguard Bay Railway and Pier Act 1893. The constituent ports of the company are nowadays the operational and financial responsibility of larnród Éireann and Stena Line Ports Limited, respectively. On account of this historic arrangement, Rosslare Europort is operated as a division of larnród Éireann.
Rosslare is the fourth largest port in the State in terms of overall tonnage handled, and the State's second largest passenger port. The port generates revenue of more than €10 million per annum, with surpluses of approximately €2.5 million. Rosslare is targeting growth and new business opportunities and has received the approval of the larnród Éireann board for a strategic plan to grow the port's business. This includes plans for investment of about €30 million in customer facilities, port infrastructure, assets and new technology. Earlier this year, Brittany Ferries began operating between Rosslare and Roscoff and Bilbao.
Rosslare has a significant proportion of Irish roll-on roll-off traffic at approximately 16%. Due to this, in preparation for Brexit, Rosslare has now been designated as an approved EU border control post and the Office of Public Works, OPW, is working with the various State agencies to put in place the necessary port facilities and infrastructure.
On offshore wind, in recent weeks the Dutch logistics company, XELLZ, has selected the port of Rosslare as its offshore wind supply base and has acquired private land around the port. It is early days but the company aims to tap into upcoming Irish offshore wind opportunities.
Rosslare Europort is on the Trans-European Transport Network, TEN-T, comprehensive network but it does not meet the EU criteria for TEN-T core port status. However, Rosslare Europort continues to be eligible for EU co-funding under the Connecting Europe Facility. This co-funding is available to projects on both the comprehensive and the core parts of the TEN-T network, subject to such projects satisfying the eligibility criteria of a given call for proposals, and being selected in the evaluation process.
The programme for Government commits the Government to continue to work closely with Rosslare Europort to ensure it is ready for all Brexit scenarios. The Government has underlined the importance of the UK land bridge with the European Commission negotiating team and we will continue to engage with our partners in France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany to ensure the land bridge remains a viable and efficient route to market. This is important for Rosslare. The programme for Government incudes a commitment to ensuring that systems at Rosslare Europort are Brexit ready and adapted to take account of Covid-19 at the end of the transition period. We will ensure this is the case and that Rosslare Europort can continue to play its full role as a critical part of Ireland's economic and social infrastructure.
I thank the Minister of State for her reply. To be clear, there was a requirement for a daily service to mainland Europe pre-Brexit, not just after Brexit has happened, which will circumvent the land bridge and the need for many customs operations. Although those systems are in place and will be ready, the process has done nothing for investment in the port itself. The figure of €30 million the Minister of State mentioned relates to an investment by Iarnród Éireann in a reconfiguration of the port. It will involve an expenditure of approximately €1 million on a number plate recognition system for the port. That is the extent of the port's electronic upgrade.
In regard to TEN-T funding, as the Minister of State mentioned, tier 1 facilities can access a fund that is worth €400 billion. This is the fund Rosslare needs to access and it requires tier 1 status to do so. Although previous Ministers have said the tier designation is based on volumes, Shannon Foynes Port was made a tier 1 port even though it did not have the volumes at the time. The tier designation was applied for by the Government and the then Minister for Finance was from the county in which Shannon Foynes Port is located. From a national perspective, tier 1 status should be applied for in respect of Rosslare Europort. As things stand, the only funds it can access from the EU, based on its tier 2 status, is the fund of €30 million to which I referred. That funding has not been drawn by the port but represents a re-investment by Iarnród Éireann, which has taken more than €2.5 million out of the port for the past ten years without re-investment.
I ask the Minister of State to address the position in regard to a free zone. XELLS is not guaranteeing that Rosslare will be its chosen wind base. There is a very real possibility that the wind base will go to Belfast, which would be an absolute travesty for the country when we can prepare and make Rosslare a centre point not just for wind energy but for the future replacement of fossil fuel through hydro energy. I ask the Minister of State to give serious consideration to these matters.
In regard to the free zone, Rosslare Europort is seeking the creation of such a zone at the port to facilitate and encourage the development of businesses. The port has been engaging with Wexford County Council on this matter. Among the business opportunities the port wishes to pursue in the context of a free zone is the creation of a facility to service the growing offshore wind industry. Free zones are secured customs areas within the European Union where non-Union goods can be introduced free of import duties and charges and commercial policy measures. These goods may, following time in the free zone, be released to the domestic market subject to payment of import duties and other charges. Rosslare Europort envisages that companies which locate in the port's business park free zone would have the ability to operate and install offshore wind farms in a cost-effective and competitive manner.
My understanding is that the proposal for a free zone at Rosslare is at a very early concept stage and a full business proposal would need to be developed and examined by the Departments concerned, including the Department of Finance, the new Department with responsibility for enterprise and the new Department with responsibility for transport, and compliance with EU state aid rules would be required. In the meantime, Rosslare Europort is to undergo a major transformation as part of its master plan, which will see more than €30 million invested in customer facilities, port infrastructure, assets and new technology by the port over the course of the next five years. This will entail the modernisation and digitalisation of the port.
The Deputy referred to the TEN-T process. The European Commission has published a methodology for establishing the core and comprehensive layers of the TEN-T network. Rosslare Europort is on the TEN-T comprehensive network, as I have outlined, and it does not meet the threshold for TEN-T core port status. I have run out of time but I can discuss these issues further with the Deputy at a later date.