Shipping forecast says Ireland coping well with choppy waters
Economists and politicians often point to metrics such as declining unemployment and higher rates of consumption as means to measure Ireland's economic activity. However, plenty of insight can also be gleaned from analysing the volume of goods being shipped in and out of the country.
In the first quarter of this year, there were 12.3m tonnes shipped through Irish ports. That represents a decline of 3.6pc on the final quarter of 2015, but figures released by Eurostat show that there was an annual growth of 3.6pc over the course of the year.
The data shows the amount of goods has been steadily rising over the past three years.
In 2014, there was 11.3 million tonnes passing through Irish harbours.
That figure rose to 12.3m in the first half of last year before reaching a high of 12.7m in the final quarter of 2015.
Ireland's growth rate far outstrips that of the rest of the EU. In Q1 of this year, there were 932m tonnes shipped, which represented an annual expansion of just 0.6pc over the course of the year.
Dublin is undoubtedly Ireland's busiest port, and ceo Eamonn O'Reilly said the port had enjoyed "an extraordinary" 2016.
"We are seeing a return to the norm as regards growth levels that we would have seen in the decades before 2007. We are on track to have growth of around 6.4pc for this year. And if you look on the figures going back until 2013, Dublin Port has seen growth that exceeds 20pc over the period," Mr O' Reilly said.
He added that while there was uncertainty surrounding the effects of Brexit, the company expects growth to remain robust next year.
"We have budgeted for growth of 5pc for next year, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see us exceed that target. That's because of what I have seen in the past and of the sentiment of our customers. We are seeing strong signs that people are continuing to invest in the shipping sector, and that gives me confidence that we can again exceed expectations
The country that sees the most port traffic is the Netherlands, with 147.4 million tonnes. The UK comes next at 116.5m, followed by Italy with 112.9m, Spain 110m and France with 74m.
In total, there were 932m tonnes moved through the EU in the first quarter of this year, a decline of 0.8pc compared to the final months of 2015.
However estimates for Q2 show that freight activity will be down by 0.9pc compared to the same period last year.
Inward movement of goods made up just above 59pc of the total volume of goods handled in the main EU ports in the first quarter of 2016.
All in all, the weight of goods handled in the main EU ports in both the first and second quarter of 2016 was still lower than the volumes handled before the start of the economic downturn in Europe in the fourth quarter of 2008.
So Ireland continues to outperform her European peers when it comes to shipping as well as more general economic performance.
While the Irish figures are impressive by European standards, vigilance will be required over the coming months as importers and exporters react to a number of unpredictable geopolitical factors beyond their control.
The turbulence ahead in 2017 will inevitably have some impact on the sector, but the hope is that the fundamentals will remain strong enough to withstand any unforeseen pressures.