Friday 24 November 2017

Ross finally meets his UK counterpart but he 'won't chase all EU ministers'

Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Tom Burke
Transport Minister Shane Ross. Photo: Tom Burke
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

Transport Minister Shane Ross has held talks with his UK counterpart - but only after he was called out for failing to meet any of his ministerial colleagues across the EU in the 10 months since the Brexit vote.

The minister met with both his outgoing UK counterpart Chris Grayling and his Swedish counterpart in recent weeks.

He said he found the meetings useful and productive - but he added: "I am not going to go chasing around all of the 27 member states meeting transport ministers.

"That would be, I think, not a good use of time. It was useful to meet Mr Grayling. It was useful to meet them all."

The Irish Independent reported last month that Mr Ross had not met with any of his British or EU counterparts since the Brexit vote last June.

Despite the implications of the UK's EU withdrawal for the transport and tourism industries in Ireland, the minister revealed in a response to a parliamentary question from Fianna Fáil's Robert Troy that only his civil servants had met with EU and British government representatives.

He had met with his Northern Ireland counterpart.

Yesterday, at the Oireachtas Transport Committee, Mr Ross told Mr Troy that he had since met Mr Grayling, the outgoing UK transport secretary, and his counterpart in Sweden.

But he agreed that up to responding to the parliamentary question, he hadn't met any of his EU counterparts.

"When I replied to the PQ, that was the case. Since then, I have met both those people. I thought about it. I thought maybe it wasn't a valid use of my time, but I thought it was useful for me to be able to do that and report back to you today on my discussions."

Brexit has significant implications for many sectors that fall under Mr Ross's brief, including the haulage and aviation industries. There are concerns about whether Britain will be able to retain access to the EU's Open Skies agreement. This has implications for carriers such as Ryanair.

Open Skies, which allows EU airlines to fly to and from any airport within the bloc, has been a key element in Ryanair's business model.

Mr Ross said this issue was the "most pressing and acute worry for Ireland".

"The imperative is that a new agreement is negotiated between the member states and the United Kingdom. If that was not to happen, it would be a very, very unacceptable situation," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Ross has criticised an Oireachtas Committee debating his proposed drink driving legislation for "being in no hurry" to introduce new laws. He will speak at the RSA Annual Road Safety conference today and is due to hit out at delays in changes that would see a mandatory three-month driving ban for motorists caught with a blood alcohol level of 51-80mg of alcohol per 100ml.

"This is essential legislation, designed to save lives. Consequently, I am at a loss to understand how the legislation has been delayed.

"The committee appears to be in no hurry. Hopefully, none of its members have been unduly influenced by the assertions it heard from the publicans' lobby, the Vintners' Federation of Ireland, a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, as the bill languishes in the committee for three months, lives are being lost on the road," Mr Ross will say.

Irish Independent

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