Is Rosslare Ready for Brexit?
Following his visit to Wexford to officially open the M11 Gorey to Enniscorthy bypass, pictures were circulated of a smiling Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meeting with representatives at Rosslare Europort.
Having shed his tie after a long day, there were smiles nonetheless as he was shown around the Port which he's publicly stated as being key to post-Brexit Ireland.
However, decades of neglect means getting things up to code is a mammoth task, particularly with a Brexit deadline of October looming large. With a €320million expansion plan being outlined for Dublin Port, critics have accused the government of merely paying lip-service to Rosslare and are not holding out too much hope that it will get the shot in the arm it needs.
General Manager at the port Glenn Carr, however, remains firm that Brexit should represent an opportunity for Rosslare.
'With Rosslare being officially designated as a border inspection post, what it does is it provides an alternative to Dublin Port,' he said.
'We're looking to finalise our masterplan here. We won't be spending the same kind of money that Dublin Port is spending obviously. I would argue that some of that money would be better used in Rosslare. I made the point to the Taoiseach that Rosslare should be like a release valve for Dublin Port. We need more freight traffic diverted here. It'd be nearly as quick to get down here from Dublin as you would be sitting in traffic on the M50.'
As both a Fine Gael general election candidate and President of the Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA) few are keeping a closer eye on Brexit developments than Verona Murphy. With the spectre of Brexit having the potential to unleash chaos for truck drivers crossing to continental Europe, she also believes that ploughing money into Dublin port at this time is ill-advised.
'There's still only one proper road to Dublin Port,' Ms Murphy said.
'Until they can alleviate traffic on the M50, Dublin Port should not be expanded. An outer ring road to service the port has now been shelved until 2030, but until that is in situ, there will continue to be major problems with traffic congestion around the port.'
When asked if she believes Rosslare Europort is in actual fact a viable alternative, Ms Murphy is firm.
'It's 100% viable,' she said. 'From a haulage point of view, time is everything in a truck. If you're sitting in traffic, you're burning fuel, your tachograph is still running, there are all these issues. Rosslare is ideally placed to take roll-on, roll-off cargo. Let Waterford take cargo. Dublin is over congested and it can't even support what it has now. Rosslare is strategically placed. It's not rocket science. 60% of our exports are food products and goods need to reach the continent as quickly and as fresh as possible. What you'd be looking to do is circumvent queues caused by Brexit and you can do Rosslare to Cherbourg in 17 hours, while from Dublin it would take 21 hours. It's a no-brainer.'
However, in terms of investment in the Port, Ms Murphy believes money needs to be spent in the right places. The Europort building, for example, is one that she believes is completely unfit for purpose.
'I've told them I don't think any money should be invested in that building,' she said. 'It needs to be knocked. It's taking up too much space and it needs to be completely revamped. There's a huge space there that could be developed commercially.'
This is not a view shared by local councillor Ger Carthy, however, who has been working closely with all parties on the port in recent years.
'I think the building itself is probably the least of our worries,' he said. 'There are a lot more important things to be done than level the building. To do that and put some similar kind of building in, you wouldn't have much change from €20 million.'
'I think that kind of money would be better spent on extending the pier and trying to attract further investment and growth in the port. It's about protecting what we have and then looking to grow and develop things further; to get the likes of Irish Ferries back in there and stimulate the local economy.'
From the General Manager's point of view, he says that discussions are ongoing behind the scenes to increase sailings and get other companies into the port.
'We need more routes and frequency going forward,' Mr Carr said. '
If a truck misses a boat in Dublin, they'll have to hang around for an hour at most to get another. In Rosslare, it could be six or seven hours. We need to be able to offer a contingency plan to hauliers and we are in discussions with shipping lines about offering more routes and frequency from Rosslare.'
One of the problems facing Rosslare is that it is not designated a tier one port, as Dublin is. Verona Murphy is hopeful that she may have a way around this in the interim.
'On October 4, I'm travelling to Le Havre to discuss the possibility of a new shipping line to Rosslare,' she said. 'Le Havre is a tier one port under Europe's TEN-T programme and if Rosslare could align itself with Le Havre, it would be another route to ensure that it's eligible for significant funding going forward.'
Mr Carr has also confirmed that negotiations are ongoing with a view to creating new shipping lines between Rosslare and ports in Spain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
In terms of being Brexit-ready, some question marks still hang in the air. The Office of Public Works (OPW) purchased the old Renault Compound in Rosslare, 1km from the port, for €1.6 million as a temporary location for customs and border checks.
The indication is that truck drivers travelling into Rosslare will be sent a message to their phone, informing them whether they are red or green. If they are green, they are free to travel on through the village. If red, they must stop for a customs check and those who neglect to do this risk prosecution and hefty penalties.
'We're very lucky in that we have the land to locate this temporary border inspection post,' Mr Carr said. 'It will meet fully the criteria for agri, food and livestock and, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, it allows for de-congestion at the berth, which is absolutely crucial.'
While contractors are currently working away on the site, it seems like it's a long way off completion. Cllr Carthy estimates that the port is probably 'somewhere between 30 and 35%' ready for Brexit.
'The problem with the €25million promised over four years from Iarnróid Eireann, under great pressure I might add, is that it's aspirational. They haven't borrowed that money yet and with the best will in the world, the construction of the permanent structures at Rosslare Port are a long way off.'
'Dublin is a tier one port and Rosslare is tier two. Wexford County Council is looking at avenues to make Rosslare tier one, but I don't know if Iarnróid Eireann are in the best position to make this happen.'
Iarnróid Eireann have identified four key areas which the €25 million investment will focus on - production of a future infrastructure master-plan, the digitisation of the port, an increase in operational efficiency and a focus on revenue growth.
With Boris Johnson's ascension across the Irish Sea, concerns over Brexit have risen to the fore once more and nobody really knows what way things will play out. However, the Port Manager at Rosslare believes that they will be ready for each eventuality.
'The site will be fully ready and operational 24/7,' he said.
'There will be facilities for 35 loading bays, livestock, cold storage and full facilities to ensure that all checks can be carried out adequately and meet with border inspection requirements.'
'We are working with all stakeholders and customers of the port and our focus is to ensure that the movement of freight and passengers through the port continues in the most efficient, safe and secure manner regardless of the outcome of Brexit.'