Thursday, 20 Jan 2022

Ireland makes Brexit gamble: Dublin weighs up 50/50 split between UK and EU

EU and Ireland ‘united’ Johnson's Conservatives says expert

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In November, Ireland opened a new goods terminal in Dunkirk as a gateway to Europe, to be served from its southern port of Rosslare – the main rival to Dublin. It comes as shipping executives noted the impact of Brexit on trade with Britain and consider pivoting to different methods of haulage.

The Irish Maritime Development Office published data which shows significant traffic diverted away from the traditional routes between Dublin and Britain to some of 32 new ferry services, including the Dunkirk port.

In a new report, they said: “It is clear that the new trading arrangements between Ireland and the UK have had a significant and negative effect upon ro-ro [roll-on roll-off lorry haulage] freight traffic between the two countries”.

Dublin Port’s trade is now split 50-50 between the UK and EU, whereas before Brexit, trade with British ports accounted for roughly two-thirds of volumes.

The IMDO also noted Irish importers and exporters now have access to 13 different direct EU ‘Ro-Ro’ services, where containers are sent on the back of lorries and roll on to and off ships, up from just six in 2019 before COVID-19.

The report suggests Ireland-EU traffic was 52 percent higher in the first nine months of 2021 than in the whole of 2019.

Eamonn O’Reilly, chief executive at the Dublin Port Company, told the Financial Times that while ‘Ro-Ro’ trade with the UK is declining, ‘Lo-Lo’ trade, where unaccompanied containers are lifted on to ships and then lifted off at their port of destination, is becoming more of a focus.

He said: “When you’re going longer distances to continental Europe, [Lo-Lo] is more viable because it’s cheaper.”

Mr O’Reilly also said that, because of the customs red tape introduced when Brexit put a customs border down the Irish Sea, trade is increasingly going to Britain via Northern Irish ports.

He noted the volume of ‘Ro-Ro’ cargoes in Dublin has fallen by a quarter in the first nine months of 2021.

Mr O’Reilly added: “I think it’s permanent . . . It’s turning back the clock.

“History suggests to me that [this trade] won’t come back.”

It comes as the value of trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland surged after Brexit, with cross-border business increasing in both directions.

Figures released in November by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in Dublin show that the value of imports from Northern Ireland surged by 60 percent in the first nine months of 2021 and are now valued at €2.8bn (£2.37bn).

Trade in the other direction has also increased, with a 48 percent rise in exports to Northern Ireland from the republic, bringing the total value of trade to €2.57bn for January to September 2021.

Lord Frost said at the time trade between the UK and Northern Ireland had been damaged by the Brexit protocol.

Cabinet Minister Michael Gove stressed he was “confident” the UK would not need to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, suspending the current deal.

He said at a press conference following a summit meeting of the British-Irish Council: “Everyone recognises that the application of the protocol at the moment is causing some disruption to trade and is causing inconvenience at the very least to citizens of Northern Ireland.

“I do believe that there is a constructive approach that’s being taken by the [European] Commission and Lord Frost has signalled that while, of course, it’s always possible that article 16 may require to be invoked, we’re confident that we’ll be able to make progress without it.”

According to RTÉ’s Tony Connelly, the Irish Government believes there is a 50:50 chance of the UK triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol.

But he believes the Irish Government do not think it will not be triggered before Christmas, quoting a senior Irish official who said: “It’s reasonably clear that London has decided it doesn’t want a big drama before the end of the year.”

One EU diplomat told the RTÉ journalist the UK may trigger Article 16 in order to shore up unionism ahead of next May’s Northern Ireland Assembly Election.

They told the website: “London has been taken aback by the DUP’s under-performance in going into the elections, and by the rise of Sinn Féin in the south.

“So those two things might lead to some form of arithmetic in London that they need to trigger regardless.”

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