Wednesday, 24 March 2021
Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
45. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the level of financial support his Department will be providing to Rosslare Europort to initiate the various studies needed to support an application for Rosslare as a service port for the wind energy sector off the east coast of Ireland; when this financial support will be forthcoming; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15603/21]
I wish to ask the Minister about the level of financial support his Department will provide to Rosslare Europort to initiate the various studies needed to support an application for Rosslare to act as a service port for the wind energy sector off the east coast and when the support will be forthcoming.
The primary function of State ports is to facilitate maritime transport, which is the most important means of connecting Ireland to international markets, accounting for more than 90% of Ireland's international trade, in volume terms. At the same time, it is recognised that there is a pressing need for Ireland to have the port capacity in place to exploit the opportunities presented by offshore renewable energy, ORE, with the programme for Government targeting a capacity of 5 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030.
The Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, met with Iarnród Éireann on 1 December 2020 and it outlined the potential for Rosslare Port to service the emerging offshore wind sector in Ireland and the scale of the investment in infrastructure needed depending on a number of options. Rosslare 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 with all investments funded from port revenues. This is similar to other ports in Ireland which receive no Exchequer funding and must fund all their infrastructure developments through their own resources, borrowing or through EU grant funding. Some of these ports are also examining the business potential of ORE.
At my request, officials have commenced an assessment of options for the facilitation of ORE by the ports, including possible funding under the European recovery and resilience facility. However, it was decided this would not be one of the projects going forward to Europe as part of Ireland's national recovery and resilience plan due to prioritisation of other more mature projects that are in line with EU timelines to maximise Ireland's overall funding.
My Department is continuing to explore whether there is any other funding available to assist with the provision of ORE facilities at ports. In particular, officials are currently engaging with the European Commission seeking changes to the Connecting Europe Facility, CEF, criteria to allow EU funding of port infrastructure for ORE in the next funding stream for 2021-2023 and also in an effort to influence the next trans-European network for transport, TEN-T, regulation so that green infrastructure projects will be included.
With all due respect, it was the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who was on South East Radio on 28 January. He said he understood that there was a much needed, urgent investment required for Rosslare. He gave an assurance on the radio to Wexford people and to the country. Rosslare is of national importance. He said there would be significant investment in Rosslare Europort because it is strategically critical for the country and it would potentially be of benefit to the region to have the economic centre and activity. Given that assurance, I cannot understand why we have not seen the money if it is an urgent investment requirement and why we do not have confirmation of the investment. The port's traffic has increased by more than 500%. We know it is Ireland's most strategic piece of infrastructure and that the investment has to come. I ask for confirmation of when that will be.
I agree with what Deputy Murphy said about the importance of offshore renewable energy. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is present and I can attest to his passion and commitment to ensuring this is rolled out. Any funding provided to ports can only be a contribution towards the costs and would have to be in compliance with state aid rules. It is envisaged that this would require a competition and it would then be up to the ports to apply for any funding that might become available after preparation of a comprehensive business case. In this context, ports would have to engage directly with industry on specific requirements and investment costs. My Department is also meeting with other ports and administrations to establish best practice in this regard in Europe. We are looking at how other countries have done this. There is ongoing engagement between the Departments of Transport, the Environment, Climate and Communications and Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
In addition, there is direct engagement with the offshore renewable energy sector and other relevant stakeholders to explore the mechanisms of investment required for this infrastructure.
I thank the Minister of State. I appreciate the understanding she appears to have. The reality is that the Carbon Trust has said that Rosslare Europort is the preferred port for an offshore wind farm construction base. There is no competition. It is the most strategic port. With the knowledge and understanding that the Minister and Minister of State have, I am a little dismayed to think that the potential in Rosslare may be lost because this will ultimately go to the UK.
If we do not give the urgent attention and investment required to Rosslare, we will lose the potential of billions of euro being invested in the Irish economy because we failed to prepare the most strategic preferred port for the construction of a wind farm base. I cannot understand that we are discussing today the possibility that there might be a competition process. There is no competition. Rosslare is deemed to be the best port. I ask the Minister of State to confirm when the funding will be forthcoming.
I thank the Deputy. We have to identify funding streams, which is what the Department is actively doing. We are engaging with the European Commission to seek changes to the CEF criteria to allow EU funding of port infrastructure for offshore renewable energy in the next 2021-23 funding stream. We are also seeking to influence the next TEN-T regulations so that green infrastructure projects could be included in that. As a sea port on the comprehensive network, Rosslare is eligible to apply for European CEF funding for transport-related infrastructure. That work is ongoing in the Department to determine and identify funding streams.
On competition, all ports are competing with one another. We would encourage ports to work together. Some boards have different strengths and abilities. They could put together a business case. It would be a competition and state aid rules would apply around that, but there is a lot of engagement taking place within the Department and with the industry because it is critical that we get the information from industry in respect of its needs and what it requires in order to roll this out successfully for Ireland.