Ireland's supermarket shelves could start to run bare within two days of a hard Brexit, the head of the Freight Transport Association of Ireland warned yesterday.
eneral manager Aidan Flynn appealed for haulage firms to take immediate steps to improve supply chains as the UK hurtles towards crashing out of the EU with no deal.
“Ireland’s retail shops have no space to stockpile anything,” he told the Irish Independent.
“They must be fed by distribution centres every day – and the UK is the major distribution hub for Ireland.
“Stores here have no space to stockpile anything, not even two days of products. They are seriously constrained.
“Everything will take days longer. And in the event of a no deal, there’s going to be absolute chaos for months.”
Mr Flynn said retailers currently order goods from UK warehouses and expect the products to arrive by Irish Sea ferry and truck within 24 hours. But a no-deal Brexit would make such speed legally and logistically impossible.
Mr Flynn said the era of seamless next-day imports under EU rules had allowed stores over the past decade to convert underused storage space to new retail facilities such as bakery counters.
A hard Brexit, he said, would raise the question of how Ireland could bake bread at all.
"We don't mill most of our flour in Ireland. It just shows how reliant we are on the UK for our food," he said. While the answer in part would be stockpiling, Mr Flynn said warehousing was scarce.
"Cold storage and chilled warehousing is in particularly short supply," he said. "There certainly isn't enough available to stockpile levels we would need to cope."
Rental costs for storage had climbed at least 15pc in the past year. "The price of existing warehouse space will rocket up and that ultimately will pass to the consumer.
"The industry now is reliant on too few distribution centres," he said, suggesting supermarket giants with huge hubs remain vulnerable to disjointed planning among their thousands of subcontractors.
Several supermarkets declined to comment. But German retailer Lidl told the Irish Independent it is holding regular Brexit workshops with suppliers, beefing up its local supply contracts to minimise dependence on UK producers and building a 54,000 sq m distribution centre in Newbridge, Co Kildare, due to open in November.
Lidl spokeswoman Claire Moran said Irish-made goods already represented more than half of Lidl's offering. "While some of our produce would currently come through the UK land bridge, we have put alternative logistical arrangements in place to maintain the supply of these goods. We therefore do not anticipate any shortages," she said.
Fourth-fifths of Ireland's truckers - around 150,000 drivers - use the UK as a "land bridge", cutting by half the time it takes by ferry.
Mr Flynn said Ireland needed to work with EU colleagues to forge new direct services linking Dublin, Cork and Rosslare with the French ports of Le Havre and Calais, Zeebrugge in Belgium and Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Journeys by ferry from Rotterdam or Zeebrugge would take 40 hours. "You cannot send a driver on a ferry of that duration," he said. "It's only an option for unaccompanied containers. You'd be lengthening the supply chain and challenging hauliers' jobs."
FTA Ireland estimates Brexit preparation has helped to drive up haulage firms' costs by 6.5pc in the past year.
"Time is money," Mr Flynn said. "The reality of Brexit, with all these new processes and requirements, is it is going to take massive time to get people up to speed and become efficient again."