Warning hard Border could put hauliers out of business
The haulage industry has warned that with more than 80pc of Ireland's road freight to Europe going through the UK, a post-Brexit hard border could force operators out of business.
Around 2,000 hauliers in Ireland either export directly into the UK, or use the UK as a route to get to the Continent, the Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA) said.
Haulage industry fears have heightened amid strident rhetoric from the UK government and the apparent lack of any solutions to avoid a border emerging. They're concerned that trucks going from the Republic to the UK and onwards to mainland Europe could be faced with the prospect of four border stops, thereby delaying getting produce onto shelves, and threatening exports.
"If you were a haulier in Donegal, and we have many of them who take fish to mainland Europe, if there was a border, we would anticipate that there would be a minimum of a one-hour delay at each border," said Verona Murphy, IRHA president. "If you're coming from Donegal to the north of France, that's a four-hour delay.
"That'll have a knock-on effect on Ireland's exports in general and the exchequer."
Ms Murphy has been in the haulage business for around three decades. She has her own business - Drumur Transport in Wexford - with 10 drivers, and ships meat between Ireland and Italy for meat giant Kepak. She also works with other companies.
Many of her trucks, she said, carry a pre-packed product that needs to go straight to the supermarket shelf. "It's a time-sensitive, date-sensitive product," she said.
Travelling across the UK is currently faster than going direct to France on a 17-hour sailing. A truck can cross the UK and be in France within 12 hours.
For companies, time is of the essence. "Fish is carried on ice. It's carried as a fresh product, so there's no vacuum pack," said Ms Murphy. "You've got shellfish that are carried in tanks and water, pernickety stuff that needs to be monitored. They can't be carried on direct ferry.
"If anything was to go wrong, the [driver] can't access the container for the 17-hour crossing so he has to minimise the time he's away from the container. There's a huge quantity of that leaving Ireland. Probably about 100 loads a week from ports around Ireland."
Her trucks avoid the Swiss border en route to Italy, as she said delays there could run to four and a half hours. Revenue officials have sent staff to monitor the Swiss border in its attempts to look at post-Brexit border solutions.
The IRHA has recently submitted its pre-budget submission, warning that the costs associated with border checks will likely be absorbed by operators, but some will struggle and it could potentially force some to close. Ms Murphy estimates the industry supports 50,000 jobs in Ireland, directly and indirectly.
"Last week we had a member truck which cleared customs in Rosslare heading for Turkey. Certain paperwork had to be filled in by the authorities here. The driver got to Turkey and the paperwork was filled incorrectly. That meant that by the time a new set of papers were couriered out, five days had passed. That's a lot of money. That's the type of thing we anticipate when Brexit occurs. It's going to make transport very expensive."
The IRHA is calling for the Government to give the haulage sector a designated special status, to deal with Brexit issues and other economic challenges.