independent

Thursday 22 August 2019

'Rosslare Port should be sold'

RECOMMENDATION CONTAINED WITHIN STATE ASSETS AND LIABILITIES REPORT

CONOR CULLEN

ROSSLARE Europort should be sold by CIE, according to the report on State assets and liabilities published last week.

Despite being the most profitable arm of CIE, which has been recording huge losses in recent years, the report has still recommended that the key Co Wexford port be sold to a private interest to help reduce the State's massive debt.

Well-known UCD economist Colm McCarthy chaired the threeman Review Group on State Assets and Liabilities, whose report was published last week.

The report identified how the Exchequer could raise up to €5 billion. The Programme for Government commits the Cabinet to selling €2 billion worth of assets 'when markets conditions are right'.

Ports are among the key State assets that come under scrutiny in the report. The state-owned port companies are Drogheda, Dublin, Dundalk, Dun Laoghaire, Cork, Galway, New Ross, Rosslare, Shannon, Waterford and Wicklow, which between them account for almost all port activity in the state.

However, Rosslare is the exception among those, as it is owned by CIE while the other ten ports are owned by the Minister for Transport. Dublin is recognised as the biggest of the State's ports, while Cork, Shannon and Rosslare are described as 'sizeable' operations, while the others, including New Ross, are said to serve ' local or niche markets'.

The report cites the 'very difficult trading conditions in the last number of years, since the peak of 2007/2008' and the review group recommended that the stateowned ports, including Rosslare, should be restructured into several competing multi-port companies, built around Dublin, Cork and Shannon.

' The Competition Authority should be consulted concerning the amalgamation process. Dublin, Cork, Shannon and Rosslare are big enough to be disposed of separately but ideally, this should follow sector rationalisation,' said the report.

As Rosslare is owned by CIE it also came under scrutiny when that particular State-owned company was assessed by the review group.

Rosslare Europort is described as 'a significant Ro-Ro ferry facility in the south east of the country, providing sea links to the UK and Continental Europe' and it is also pointed out that is the most profitable part of Irish Rail's operations.

'The port is an important piece of national infrastructure in trade and tourism terms. It generated an operating profit of approximately €1.6 million in 2010,' the report states.

However, overall, the CIE Group made operating losses of €371million in 2009 and €391 million in 2008, before crediting the Public Service Obligation payments, which amounted to over €300 million in each of the past three years.

When you then also take into account the huge capital grants it receives each year from the State, the review group recommended that 'CIE's tours business, Rosslare port, Expressway and other bus businesses competing directly with private operators should be disposed of'.

The report puts no timeline on the sale of any assets, not does it estimate what any of them, including Rosslare Europort, may be worth.

' The present operators have ignored the port for some time and it is now extremely difficult to argue for its retention in State ownership as a golden opportunity has been lost to develop the county around the port,' said Mayor of Wexford Joe Ryan.

'However, I do not accept the conclusion of the McCarthy Report that the port should be a secondary port to either Cork or Dublin and I am disappointed that the report does not provide for the development of our ports and Co Wexford rather than the disposal of an asset,' he said.

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