Wednesday, 3 June 2020
Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport
888. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has examined the impact of Covid-19 on Irish hauliers such as data on a decline in their activity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8627/20]
889. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the number of empty trailers that travelled on ferries to and from Ireland in February, March and April 2020; and the number of empty trailers that did so in the same time periods in 2018 and 2019. [8628/20]
890. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has considered simplifying the process through which hauliers can apply for a tax rebate on vehicles that are temporarily off the road due to Covid-19. [8629/20]
891. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has considered extending a temporary exemption from tolls to hauliers in view of Covid-19; and the estimated quarterly cost of introducing such a measure. [8630/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 888 to 891, inclusive, together.
Maintaining transport connectivity to support the movement of goods into and out of Ireland has remained a primary objective of Government throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Critical supply chains have continued to function well in recent months; however, the pandemic has negatively impacted freight activity levels across land, sea and air, with the road haulage sector, like many industries, having been affected as a consequence.
COVID-19 and the overall decline in economic activity have caused a shift to the usual patterns of imports and exports including those moved by sea. Reductions in overall freight activity are understandable given the temporary closure of a range of commercial activities both here in Ireland and abroad. Consequently, I understand that some hauliers operating internationally have in some instances found it increasingly difficult to ensure full loads for both inbound and outbound trips.
The CSO publishes details of roll-on/roll-off (RoRo) traffic handled by port each quarter including the number of freight vehicles, including details of the number of empty vehicles and trailers - the most recent details for RoRo traffic can be found at the following link: www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/er/spt/statisticsofporttrafficquarter32019/.
While the CSO figures for Quarter 1 and Quarter 2 of this year are not yet available, the Deputy will see from the CSO’s statistics for Quarter 3 of 2019 that over 36,000 vehicles or trailers on RoRo routes (Dublin, Rosslare and Cork) were empty. My Department, in conjunction with the Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO), continues to closely monitor maritime freight activity levels and overall supply chain issues continue to be monitored on a cross-departmental basis. The Government approved a temporary public service obligation arrangement with ferry companies to retain services on specific, strategically important routes during the COVID-19 outbreak. These arrangements safeguard maritime connectivity between Irish RORO ports and Great Britain/Europe during the crisis, which is crucial for Irish hauliers operating on international journeys.
An increase in ‘empty leg’ journeys during the COVID-19 pandemic is not specific to Irish hauliers, with incidents reported across Europe at this time. As sectors begin to re-open both here (with Phase One of the Recovery Roadmap already underway) and across Europe, I expect the demand for goods to begin to rebound also. Phase Two of Ireland’s Recovery Roadmap should see further commercial ventures returning to operation. As a consequence, business for haulage operators should begin to revert toward more traditional levels and encouragingly, freight activity is beginning to show some early indications of improvements.
In relation to the Deputy’s question to consider a refund of motor tax for vehicles temporarily off the road due to COVID-19, it should be noted that there is no provision in legislation for motor tax to be suspended or refunded in such circumstances. However, vehicles can be declared off the road if they are not going to be in use in a public place; the Non-Use of Motor Vehicles Act 2013 replaced the old system whereby a vehicle could be declared off the road retrospectively with a new system under which the vehicle must be declared off the road in advance. A declaration must be made in the last month of an existing motor tax disc or renewed in the last month of a previously made declaration of non-use. The declaration can be made for any number of calendar months between 3 and 12 months. If a vehicle is subsequently required to be put back on the road, the declaration can be invalidated at any time simply by taxing the vehicle. Where a declaration is not made in advance, arrears of motor tax must be paid in full and motor tax paid for a minimum of 3 months before a declaration of non-use can then be made in the final month of the tax disc. The provisions of the Act are not sector-specific and apply to all vehicle owners in the same manner.
Regarding exempting road hauliers from paying motorway tolls for the period of the COVID-19 crisis there have been very few examples where this has been implemented in Europe to date. The provision of toll exemptions is not widely employed due to the critical role that toll revenues play in funding the construction, operation and maintenance of the primary and secondary road network. Introducing a temporary toll-free period would in turn impact on Ireland’s ability to fund necessary work and activities across the national road network which is a critical asset for the entire transport sector, including the road haulage sector.
Finally, the Deputy may wish to note that Ireland introduced a number of COVID-19 specific measures to support the continued functioning of the road haulage sector, including:
- A temporary derogation from certain provisions of the EU drivers’ hours rules, put in place in mid-March, and which expired on 31 May 2020;
- An extension of expiry dates on driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) cards – Irish Driver CPC cards that expire during the COVID-19 outbreak will be valid up to 26 September 2020;
- A three-month extension for vehicles with a Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness (CVR) Test due on or after 28 March 2020;
- An extension of validity periods for drivers with driving licences due to expire between 1 March and 30 June 2020 inclusive, their date of expiry being extended by 4 months;
- Publishing an array of practical documents, including workplace guidance on how to manage business continuity; a communication regarding access to sanitary facilities and motorway services; a summary of motorway service area facilities; and guidelines for cleaning HGVs;
- An array of enterprise COVID-19 specific supportsthat many sectors, including the road haulage sector can also avail of including the Credit Guarantee Scheme; the COVID-19 Working Capital Scheme; Microfinance Ireland COVID-19 loan finance; Wage Subsidy Payments; and Pandemic Unemployment Payments.
892. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the steps he is taking regarding the hospitality sector here post the five phase Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business in order to assist business owners from all sectors of hospitality; his plans to broaden the work of the Tourism Recovery Taskforce; if a stakeholder map exists regarding the task force; if all sectors and or hospitality stakeholders will be consulted; if they can make submissions to the task force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8657/20]
In line with the sequence of actions detailed in ‘Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business’, the majority of tourism or tourism-related businesses are scheduled to reopen from Phase 4, which is also when travel beyond the home area (>20km) is due to be permitted. To assist tourism businesses meet social distancing and cleaning requirements in line with the national ‘Return to Work Safely’ protocol, Fáilte Ireland is currently preparing detailed guidelines for the sector, in consultation with the tourism industry and relevant authorities.
The Tourism Recovery Taskforce was established by Minister of State Brendan Griffin and I on 20 May 2020. The purpose of the Taskforce is to prepare a Tourism Recovery Plan which will include a set of recommendations on how best the Irish tourism sector can adapt and recover in the changed tourism environment as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. The plan will identify priority aims, key enablers and market opportunities for the sector for the period 2020-2023. The Taskforce may consult with stakeholders to inform its deliberations and will report back later this year.
It is envisaged that the Taskforce will establish working groups to carry out specific tasks and that it will undertake a widespread stakeholder consultation process whereby all sectors and interested parties will have an opportunity to provide constructive inputs and innovative ideas on how this vital sector to our economy can adapt and recover in a meaningful and sustainable way.