Tuesday, 30 April 2013
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am looking for an update from the Government on what plans it has to upgrade development at the ports at Rosslare Europort and Waterford. It is coincidental that today we heard a very positive announcement regarding the building of a state-of-the-art facility by Glanbia Ingredients Ireland Limited at Belview, which is around the Port of Waterford, that will create about 70 jobs directly and potentially up to 1,600 jobs in the region through increased dairy production. Obviously, that is great news.
One of the reasons I raised this matter is the need to look at the potential of the Port of Waterford and Rosslare Europort. I appreciate that there has been a review of ports across the State but there is a concern in Wexford and the south east that we need to move the management of Rosslare Europort away from CIE and towards a more independent port authority. That makes sense. There is also a sense that we need to look at how we can improve operations at the port. Rosslare Europort is the largest roll-on, roll-off port in this State and is hugely important to the south east. The Port of Waterford is equally important to the economy of Waterford and the south east and I would like to find out what the Government's plans are.
I know that proposals have been made to deepen one of the berths at Rosslare and potentially in Waterford Port, too. Is that being considered? Is it a possibility? Have feasibility studies been carried out?
Does the Minister of State accept that Rosslare Europort, a roll-on roll-off port, and the Port of Waterford, a load-on load-off port, are very important to the regional economy? They are strategic assets. If the south east is to capitalise on its potential and create the jobs it needs, we will have to get the best from the assets we have. There is no doubt that we need to put in place infrastructure across the region such as roads and wastewater treatment facilities. That is important, but it is equally important to look at existing assets in the region and these two ports are key examples. There is a sense in the region that we can get more from both. That will require investment, a strategic vision and policy changes and, in the case of Wexford and Rosslare, it will and should mean an independent port authority to manage the ports and be involved in putting in place a strategic plan for them. I will listen to the Minister of State's reply and thank him for coming into the Seanad.
There is smoke, but I do not know what colour it is.
I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister who published a new national ports policy in March. This new policy aims to harness the potential of every port in Ireland, including Rosslare Europort and the Port of Waterford Company.
Our ports are vital to our economic recovery and future economic prosperity. As an island nation, we depend on the quality and efficiency of our ports more than most of our trading partners. Recent analysis by the Competition Authority indicates that approximately 84%, by volume, and 62%, by value, of all goods moved into or out of the State come through our ports. Many of our major exporting sectors, for example, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and agri-foods, are heavily reliant on the commercial ports.
It was clear that the previous ports policy did not allow for the diversity within the sector. There are 19 ports that handle commercial traffic in any given year. There are, however, big differences between these ports and their roles and functions. The new national ports policy, therefore, categorises them as ports of national significance, tier 1; ports of national significance, tier 2, and ports of regional significance. National ports policy must focus on those ports which fulfil a national function. This realignment of national policy focus will, in part, be facilitated by a transfer of control of the ports of regional significance from central to local government. Legislation to provide for these transfers will be introduced by 2015.
Funding for port infrastructural development must be sourced by the ports. There is no Exchequer funding available. The Government is open to a variety of mechanisms for private sector investment in the port sector. Additional funding opportunities may also arise through the European Investment Bank or other State or European sources. Any such investment will only be made, however, on a commercial basis with a commercial return.
At European level, work is continuing on the new trans-European network transport regulation which will allow for some parts of the network to avail of EU funding through the Connecting Europe facility. Both the Port of Waterford Company and Rosslare Europort are designated as forming part of the "comprehensive" network and will, therefore, have the opportunity to apply for such funding, if required, in the future. National ports policy categorises Rosslare Europort and the Port of Waterford Company as ports of national significance, tier 2. These are ports that are responsible for at least 2.5% of overall tonnage through Irish ports, have the clear, demonstrable potential to handle higher volumes of unitised traffic, and have the existing transport links to serve a wider, national marketplace beyond their immediate region. Between them, these two ports handle approximately 8% of total tonnage handled in the State and enjoy good road and rail connectivity. Both offer services in the higher value unitised sectors, lift-on lift-off in Waterford and roll-on roll-off in Rosslare, that support competitive conditions within these sectors by providing an alternative to the two larger unitised ports of Dublin and Cork. It is, of course, the case that both Rosslare and Waterford Port face differing challenges.
Rosslare Europort is unique within the commercial port sector as it operates as a division of larnród Éireann rather than as a stand-alone commercial port company. This is due to its unusual legislative background and the port is technically part of the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbour Company. Several studies have highlighted the potentially inhibiting factor of the port's unusual legislative and operational status, when compared to the other State-owned ports, and recommended its integration within the State commercial port governance framework. In January this year Indecon economic consultants were commissioned to examine the port's current commercial and operational efficiency and consider whether the port was maximising its potential. It is expected that the report will be completed and presented to the Minister in the summer. Without wishing to prejudice its conclusions, the Minister is committed to acting to ensure the port's potential is achieved in line with its designation as a port of national significance, tier 2.
The Port of Waterford Company has, unfortunately, witnessed a significant fall-off in trade in the past decade. This is particularly severe in the case of its share of the lift-on lift-off market which fell from almost 20% in 2001 to 5% in 2012. In real terms, the drop in total tonnage handled in the Port of Waterford across all modes and by lo-lo is even starker, falling by 30% and 29%, respectively, between 2001 and 2011. These declines led to the company last year commissioning an external review of its business. That review contained a number of important recommendations designed to address and reverse the company's current situation. The board of directors has accepted these recommendations and is working towards their implementation, notwithstanding the challenges involved. The implementation of these recommendations is crucial to the future of the Port of Waterford. Like Rosslare, the port is significant in the context of a national ports policy and the Government is committed to ensuring it achieves its potential.
Rosslare Europort and Waterford Port will continue to play an important role in the economic development of the State. Obviously, they face challenges, but both have significant potential and the Government is committed to ensuring they enjoy a vibrant future.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. The figure he quoted for the fall in the Port of Waterford's share of the lift-on lift-off market from 20% in 2001 to 5% in 2012 is very stark. It is a remarkable drop. There have been independent and in-house reviews of the port which will make recommendations. There will be a need for the Government to support development at the ports at Waterford and Rosslare. Crucially, the Government has a leading role to play in examining the strategic land banks and sites around the ports such as the Belview site in Waterford. It has a responsibility to be part of the solution. We heard a good announcement today about Glanbia. That is part of it. There is the possibility, too, of the sugar beet industry being revived and the development of a bio-refinery plant. The Belview site would be a good location and offer new opportunities for the port because these are export-led industries. If we maximise the potential of the surrounding sites in and around the port, that will give it a lift and help to increase its share in the load-on load-off market. I reinforce that point. I understand there are limitations to what the Government can do directly with the port, but it has responsibility for the land banks and strategic sites around it.
The Senator is correct. There are difficult challenges facing both ports and one can see from the statistics and the drop in goods coming in and out of the port that it has problems, which is why it commissioned its own report. The Government has commissioned its report. The Senator is correct that today's news is very good for the south east and I am delighted with it. He is also correct in saying this affords an opportunity to the ports. While he has not yet received the report, the Minister is committed to these two ports. It is important that the port companies consider ways and means to look for business, particularly following the announcement of the new jobs. The current situation cannot continue.
People must be realistic. If one loses that type of business and if that is the type of tonnage operating in the port, it just cannot exist. It requires the company, Government, community and business support of the region. Today's announcement is great. With regard to funding, there is EU funding and I hope some of that can be drawn down.
Wearing my other hat, Rosslare and Waterford, but particularly Rosslare, are important to our tourism infrastructure. We need that port very badly. Tourism is also very important for that region. For that reason I hope that when this report is produced something can be done for these ports through everybody working together.