Finance minister Paschal Donohoe says supply chains are ‘under pressure' and asked people to be ‘mindful' of their purchases
A travel ban imposed by a number of countries on Britain has left about 200 Irish truckers stranded in the south-east of England as they try to make their way with freight from Ireland to the continent.
The president of the Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA), Eugene Drennan, has criticised the Government for what he said was a failure to act to safeguard Ireland’s freight connectivity with mainland Europe.
But Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has urged shoppers to be "confident" about Ireland's ability to maintain supply chains for food and other goods.
While freight traffic between Britain and Ireland – which mostly comes by sea – is still permitted under the 48-hour travel ban imposed by the Government here, snarl-ups at ports across the UK are causing havoc.
There is no indication that chaos at the UK's Channel Ports will lead to shortages of goods, according to Transport Minister Hildegarde Naughton.
Irish ports remain fully up to freight arriving from the UK if trucks crossing the Britain are able to reach ports on the Irish Sea, she said.
The minister said there is no evidence to link road and ferry haulage to the spread of Covid and said protocols for drivers already in place have been working.
While roads into some UK ports are seeing massive tailbacks and services between the south of England and France have been suspended the minister said it has not meant goods shortages here.
"There is no direct impact to supply chains at the moment," she said.
However, the minister said the disruption seen in the past 24 hours had been "unprecedented".
Irish officials are in talks with their opposite numbers in France and in the UK in relation to between 200 and 250 Irish drivers currently stranded abroad, she said.
Opening French ports including Calais to ships arriving from the UK is ultimatley a matter for the French, she said.
In the meantime she welcomed a decision by Stena Shipping line to bring forward to tomorrow the start of its additional freight sailings between Rosslare and Cherbourg, which had been due to start on January 4.
The move was evidence of the market responding to changing circumstances and providing solutions, she said.
Irish haulage companies and exporters need to deal directly with Stena and other shipping firms to set out what they need in order to maintain freight access to the Continent.
The fact the direct sailing to the Continent had already been in train was evidence that pre-Brexit planning is helping respond to disruptions caused by Covid, she said.
Mr Drennan, who also owns Spa Transport in Ennis, Co Clare, said the longer-term knock-on effect of problems in the UK caused now by Covid, and in the months to come by the end of the Brexit transition period, will be higher costs for goods being exported and imported.
“I am very concerned about the damage being done to Ireland,” said Mr Drennan. “If we cannot service our market and we cannot service the delivery of our goods from Ireland to the EU, this takes the competitive edge off Ireland. It takes the shine off and it has to be addressed.”
Mr Drennan said the Irish trucks trying to make their way to the continent via the UK are typically carrying a wide range of products, from fresh food and fish, to tech products.
After making their deliveries, they’ll collect loads. Mr Drennan warned that the “mayhem” in the UK means that online purchases being shipped from the continent to Ireland via trucks are likely to face delays and might not make it here in time for Christmas.
He said there has been an “unprecedented” surge in freight volumes in the past number of weeks.
As many as 2,000 trucks a day will use Irish ports this week, according to Mr Drennan.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe acknowledged that supply chains are "under pressure".
But asked how the kind of panic buying seen in March can be discouraged, he pointed out that supermarket shelves continued to be restocked when such incidents happened at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He called on people to be “mindful” of their purchases.
French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari has indicated today that EU-wide protocols would be adopted that will allow movement from the UK to resume.
Mr Donohoe said he understood the French government will be making a further announcement on the issue today.
He said supply chains into Ireland are being monitored "very actively" by the Government and they believe that plans in place are "robust" and will maintain the flow of food and goods to retailers.
Mr Donohoe said the situation will have to be monitored and acted upon everyday as: "We are in a situation where the supply chains are coming under pressure for many different reasons, including Covid."
But he said the Government is confident "good and strong plans are in place".
Referring to the potential for panic buying, Mr Donohoe said there was "understandable concern" in March among people that they would be able to get purchases for their families.
But he added: "What we actually saw across that period was that our retailers and those supplying into our retailers were able to ensure that our shops continued to be stocked and were able to meet reasonable demands upon them."
Mr Donohoe said: "We will do all we can as a Government to maintain the continued functioning of important supply chains into our country. There are things that are happening that could be beyond our control in terms of decisions that are made elsewhere.
"But we will continue to work with the transport sector and the retailers to protect the functioning of supply chains."
Mr Donohoe said: "I would ask those who are in our shops at the moment to be confident about our ability to continue to do that and to be mindful about purchases."
Speaking at a press conference at Technological University, Dublin Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said the situation shows the need for "Europe to act in unison".
He also welcomed an announcement by a ferry company of more direct sailings to the continent.
Despite trucks being caught up in tailbacks stretching kilometres in the UK, Dublin Port said their traffic is moving as normal.
A spokesman said there has been a heavy volume of freight moving through the facility, with freight yards at or near capacity.
“Traffic is flowing, and even over the past month or so there hadn’t been as many cars using the ferries, it’s mostly freight,” he said. “People are just not travelling, and a lot of those who are travelling are doing so for business rather than leisure.”
Ferries are continuing to operate as normal in and out of the port. Today, well over a dozen vessels were due to dock at the facility, mostly from the UK. There were also some freight ships due from the continent. There were more than a dozen departures from the port today.
A new roll-on, roll-off freight service between Rosslare and Dunkirk in France operated by DFDS is due to begin next month, while Stena has accelerated the introduction of a new freight vessel to provide additional sailings between the Wexford port and Cherbourg. It’s starting tomorrow rather than January 4.
While that will ease some of the pressure on trucks using the UK land-bridge, Mr Drennan said that another service from Ireland to a port in northern France is still needed to provide sufficient capacity.