Irish Ferries €147 million brand new ship, the WB Yeats, docked in Rosslare Harbour this morning on a ‘manoeuvring and training’ exercise, but in future she will be keeping a wide berth as she sails from Dublin to France with only a distant view of the Wexford countryside.
Irish Ferries are not speaking to the press today, but there has been plenty of references to Rosslare Europort and its uncertain future, but no assurances, from the Taoiseach, Minister Ross or the local deputies.
A commercial decision by a private company has a snowball’s chance in hell of being upturned, however, every avenue must be explored!
Chairman, Cllr Keith Doyle, has called a special meeting of Wexford County Council for Wednesday, January 2nd, where the only item on the agenda is the closure of the Irish Ferries service from Rosslare Europort to France.
Deputy Brendan Howlin raised the controversy over Irish Ferries decision to provide its services to France from Dublin, instead of from Rosslare Europort, during Leaders’ Questions in Dail Éireann today where An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, was on hand to reply.
Deputy Howlin said; “Irish Ferries has announced that it may not provide services to Rosslare in 2019 which, frankly, in the context of all I have said, is unbelievable. The Dublin-Cherbourg route adds four hours to the crossing time and, as we know, time is money for hauliers. Will the Government undertake to ensure Rosslare Europort is enhanced, not diminished, as a strategic asset in the context of Brexit? What, specifically, will it do to ensure ferry operators from the port of Rosslare are enhanced and not diminished in 2019?”
An Taoiseach said that there was Brexit contingency planning for both the central case scenario of a deal and the no-deal scenario requires upgrading works to be carried out at Dublin Airport, Dublin Port and Rosslare Europort in recognition of the fact that Rosslare Europort is a major national asset as a port that can be used as an alternative to Dublin Port and one through which there is a lot of trade between Ireland and the rest of the European Union and the United Kingdom.
“We will I hope in the next couple of days be able to disclose more information on our particular plans for Rosslare Europort and its surroundings in planning for both possible Brexit scenarios. The Deputy has acknowledged the major investment in road infrastructure which has been of benefit to the port,” said the Taoiseach.
An Taoiseach continued; “The N11 has been improved and the new Enniscorthy-New Ross bypass will be completed in 2019. The Oilgate to Rosslare Harbour project has not yet been done, but it is going to plan and the Government is continuing the work which the Deputy helped to initiate in improving road access to Rosslare and County Wexford more generally.
Irish Ferries’ decision to consider moving the WB Yeats to the Dublin-Cherbourg route, as opposed to the Rosslare-Cherbourg route, in 2019 is disappointing for the south east of the country. The Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, is in contact with Irish Ferries, as other Ministers will be. We are asking it to reconsider its decision to move the route because of Brexit, the negative impact on tourism in the south east and the Government’s decision to support and develop Rosslare Europort.
We acknowledge that it is a commercial decision and that Irish Ferries claims it can grow the numbers travelling between Ireland and France with this change. Decisions are driven by demand and the company argues that there is greater demand for a Dublin rather than a Rosslare route.
The ship, and its capacity, will still be operating between Ireland and continental Europe, albeit from Dublin instead of Wexford. The route from Rosslare has, to date, been seasonal, with three services a week and the majority of traffic being tourist cars, with some freight.
Speaking on the News at One (RTE Radio), Minister for Transport, Shane Ross, told Claire Byrne that he ‘regrets’ the decision by Irish Ferries, keep the situation under review and that a majority of its customers had “a clear preference for the more central location and easy access of Dublin.”
Minister Ross said he had spoken to Eamonn Rothwell, Chief Executive, Irish Ferries. “I told him that what we said was off the record and I’ll keep it off the record, but vaguely what I can say is that he said it was a completely commercial decision, and that it would increase the capacity between Dublin and Cherbourg, it would take an hour longer but it would actually increase the tourism and freight, and have the capability of doing more business.”
Although Minister Ross admitted “I think it is very bad for Rosslare,” he added; “I can’t interfere with a commercial decision that’s all.”
Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Paul Kehoe, was also on the RTE News at One radio show where he admitted that he “did not see this coming.”
As a member of the Government, he said he was very disappointed at the manner in which Irish Ferries had communicated this message. “It was very vague.”
“This came out of the blue. For anyone to say that the Government had any prior notice is farcical. They are a commercial company, they can do what they like.”
Speaking on RTE Radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, the Wexford-based President of the Irish Road Haulage Association, Verona Murphy, called on Minister Ross to intervene in the situation, which she stated “is hugely, hugely frustrating” for her members.
Waterford-based Sinn Féin Brexit spokesperson David Cullinane said that Irish Ferries’ decision is “a big blow” to the south-east.
EDITORIAL NOTE; Further statements are expected in the next few days as the implications of Brexit will see the enforcement of Border Control Posts and the possibility of an EU military presence sometime in the future at Rosslare Europort.