Status of Rosslare must be clarified for Brexit
The status of Rosslare Europort needs to be assured when it comes to importing and exporting food and agri-products or it could lead to a crisis situation, post Brexit, according Verona Murphy, national president of the Irish Hauliers Association (IHA).
Ms Murphy, who is from Ramsgrange, raised the matter with the Taoiseach at the annual IHA conference in Dublin. In particular, she focused attention on the fact that food produce can only be imported and exported through the port if it's destined directly for another EU country.
According to Ms Murphy this will pose problems for Irish food exporters when Britain leaves the European Union in less than a year.
She spoke to this newspaper about the matter and highlighted the urgent need to prepare the port for Brexit.
'From our perspective, as hauliers, it's hugely important because if you take an agri or food product through a third country you will be subject to department inspections here,' she said.
According to Ms Murphy, at present there are few inspections held with regard to food and agri produce coming in from the UK, however, once Brexit comes into effect hauliers importing or exporting such goods to-and-from continental Europe will be subject to inspections as a result of travelling through the UK.
The matter is compounded by the fact that only Dublin Port has the necessary infrastructure in place to carry out such inspections and that's one of the issues the IHA is very concerned about.
'If something isn't done it will mean that hauliers bringing produce into the country will have to go the Dublin route for inspection and there will be number of knock-on effects because of that,' said Ms Murphy.
She said the capital's port is the only designated inspection area in Ireland for imported agri produce.
'It will have a huge impact for hauliers to have to travel through Dublin,' she said.
She said having to travel through Dublin rather than Rosslare could mean the difference of 'an hour at least' for a truck travelling across the UK in the direction of London or Birmingham and on to Dover.
'That hour could lead to the driver having to remain in the UK overnight, because they can only drive for nine hours per day, whereas going to-and-from Rosslare that wouldn't be the case and they would make it through to France,' she said.
'There is no getting away from it, Rosslare will be the most valuable route after Brexit to get to France, through the UK.'
Ms Murphy went on to say the crux of the matter is that as it stands, if the UK, post-Brexit, becomes a third country in Europe then food and agri-products being imported will have to go through Dublin for inspection.
'There is no adequate facility in Rosslare to carry out inspections and there should be,' she said.
'The frustrating thing about it is that it's something they can prepare for,' she added.
'There would need to be an adequate cold storage facility but that could be done in Rosslare or Wexford.'
The IHA plans to hold a Brexit Forum on the matter and Ms Murphy expressed concern that the Government 'doesn't fully understand' the value of the Rosslare route.
'People in the haulage business completely understand it,' she said.
The situation could also lead to devaluation of products: 'If you lose an hour because of the route and accordingly have to remain in the UK overnight then there could be devaluation of products because whereas before a company was getting their product delivered in the morning it might now be evening time and that could have a detrimental affect.'
She also estimated that the potential extra cost involved for Wexford and south east based haulage companies having to travel the Dublin route could be as much as €500.
'That's a lot of money if you have a lot of trucks travelling each day,' she said.
'Everything [in the sector] that can now easily go through Rosslare will not be able to, post-Brexit,' she added.
One ship that berthed in Rosslare on Thursday had 45 articulated lorries on board and 39 of those were pulling refrigerated containers.
'If you are pulling a fridge container you are carrying foodstuff,' said Ms Murphy.
'That means 39 of those 45 trucks would have to go the Dublin route and not be able to come through Rosslare.'
She agreed that the situation could have a detrimental affect on shipping too: 'If the number of trucks using the Rosslare route drastically reduces then shipping companies might have to look at that as well.'
Another issue that is likely to arise because of Brexit is around pallets. The pallets used in the UK are different to the ones that pass regulations for Europe. 'The UK pallets will not be passed post-Brexit because they are coated differently,' said Ms Murphy. 'Someone will have to bear the cost of that as well.'
She said haulage companies operate on low profit margins and while it's good to be in profit she said potential operating cost increases that could arise as a result of having to use the Dublin route could be more than some companies could cope with.
'You have to have options and competition and the situation with Rosslare is not something that needs to be considered; it's something that should just be done.'
Ms Murphy said hauliers are in the service industry and will continue to service their customers, however, she emphasised that something needs to be done to ensure Rosslare Europort remains an important route into and out of the country.
In its Project Ireland 2040 strategy the Government highlighted that continued investment in Irish ports and airports is crucial - especially in a post-Brexit environment.
The document also states there will be 'major development of Dublin, Cork, and Shannon-Foynes ports' but there is no specific mention of Rosslare.