Tuesday 23 July 2019

Council to abandon port to Waterford

Councillors assured that Waterford Port has the best interests of New Ross in mind

David Looby

Shipping to and from historic New Ross Port will soon be run by Belview Port in Waterford, in a controversial move planned by Wexford County Council.

Director of Services for Economic Development Tony Larkin made the announcement at the first meeting of the new Wexford County Council term on Friday.

In an update to councillors ahead of the imminent transfer of the port from the state to Wexford County Council, Mr Larkin said: 'We are taking over the operation of the port. We have been in due diligence for two years.'

Mr Larkin said he was informed last week that the takeover process has been completed, save for three ministers signing the document which will formally allow the transfer.

'The process of having the ministers sign it has now commenced. Immediately upon transfer all assets and staff will transfer to us and we will have responsibility as the port authority. We are not in the shipping business. We are in discussions with the Port of Waterford at Belview about them acting as our agents managing the shipping for a fee.'

Mr Larkin said the negotiations with Waterford Port have gone very well, adding that the agreement is that Wexford County Council will take responsibility for all the land assets. Fresh bye-laws being prepared by New Ross Harbourmaster Capt Phil Murphy and council officials will be introduced to facilitate the move.

He said a management entity agreement is being entered with the Port of Waterford to look after issues including security at sea.

Cllr Michael Whelan expressed reservations about control of the port going to Waterford. 'Are there not positives in this and room to develop the port? An obvious concern we had was that maybe shipping would go to Waterford.'

Chairman Cllr Michael Sheehan said the removal of the oil tanks is a key priority for the town. He asked about the commercial viability of the port, which was once the main importer of wine in Ireland and busier than Dublin port.

Mr Larkin said: 'We are looking, along with the Port of Waterford, for opportunities to make efficiencies where there is duplication at the minute. The detailed commercial management (of New Ross Port) would become the responsibility of the port of Waterford.'

He said the possibility of New Ross port's business growing in any significant way is limited, as the size of vessels that can use the port is restricted to 4,500 to 5,000 tonnes.

'All of the main customers expect an increase in business, but nothing dramatic. They had a few rocky years, with the oil going from the port and the recession and in recent years they have seen increases in business.'

Mr Larkin said the council has been very clear with Port of Waterford officials about the role it wants it to play.

'A business plan is being developed with the Port of Waterford,' he said, adding that he expects the transfer to take place in the autumn.

Cllr Ger Carthy said: 'I don't think we should go down the road of signing it over to one of our competitors. A 12 month contract yes. We are currently in the process of building greenways and we have a few key projects across the county. I think we need to go a bit further in terms of growing Rosslare Euoport, New Ross Port and Kilmore Quay.'

Mr Larkin said the takeover of the port will mean 'business as usual' for port customers.

'The people ringing now will be answered by the same people. Effectively, as far as being a shipping company, we are one small region in a wide world. The Port of Waterford is a major asset for us. The customers are (already) using it. If it's a big ship it goes to Waterford, a smaller ship goes to New Ross. They have the best interest of New Ross in mind. We have arrangements in place to ensure they have to go all the way to New Ross. There are other issues I can't go into now that need urgent addressing and we are not the people skilled to do that; we need to work with more experienced operators.'

He said New Ross Port has been making losses, but he believes it will more or less break even in time.

CEO Tom Enright said the government recommended that Rosslare Europort and other ports be recommended to be transferred to Wexford County Council. 'We do need to bring in an operator. It could affect business in New Ross. We need to have a seamless transition.'

One of the first jobs of work for Wexford County Council will be removing the oil tanks located behind the Dunbrody experience visitor centre on the quay. 'We will be moving to take these down and to tackle a number of other environmental issues as a priority. I expect we can remediate the tanks without council funds,' Mr Larkin said.

New Ross Standard