With the countdown to Brexit growing ever shorter, a delegation from Wexford travelled to meet with EU Transport and Agriculture Commissioners in Brussels last week to discuss the strategic importance of Rosslare Europort following Britain's withdrawal from the EU.
Minister Paul Kehoe was accompanied by general manager of Rosslare Europort Glen Carr, Wexford County Council chairman Keith Doyle, corporate communications manager at Irish Rail Barry Kenny, director of services at Wexford County Council Tony Larkin and commercial director of Perennial Freight Chris Smyth.
Having made the journey over to the European Parliament, the group met with EU Transport Commisioner Violeta Bulc and Agriculture Commisioner Phil Hogan to stress the pressing need for investment at Rosslare.
While for many commentators locally, with Brexit now on the doorstep, the scramble to address Rosslare has an element of closing the stable door once the horse has bolted, the delegation were determined to make some progress towards making Rosslare a Tier One Port.
The Commissioners were said to have been 'very receptive' to the arguments put forward by the delegation and indicated that Brexit represented a big opportunity for the development of facilities at Rosslare Europort. Commissioners Bulc and Hogan pointed out that there are multiple EU funds that could be targeted for support, in particular the Connecting Europe Facility, which has €65m available for projects across Europe.
They also stated that Rosslare was eligible for funding under the Motorways of the Seas scheme for new or updated maritime connections with non-Irish ports.
In relation to the UK Landbridge, the Commission has put forward a proposal to ensure basic connectivity for road freight transport until the end of 2019. This, they say, should ensure that Irish trucks can avail of the Landbridge until the end of the year, subject to UK agreement. 'This will provide more time for Irish companies to adjust to the impact of Brexit and plan for the future,' they said, aiming to take advantage of increasing demand in the long run.
While the tone of the meeting seemed to be overwhelmingly positive, the Commissioners stated that 'a trend to increase shipping routes between Ireland and continental Europe is already emerging'.
This statement comes despite the fact that Irish Ferries have cast some major uncertainty over whether they will continue to operate a service to France from the Europort going forward.
Following the meeting, Minister Kehoe said: 'I took this initiative to ensure that all Wexford and Rosslare Europort stakeholders are working together to be fully prepared for whatever Brexit scenario comes our way. In particular, we raised concerns about maintaining the UK Landbridge between Ireland and Europe post-Brexit, and the need for investment in Rosslare with a view to it becoming a Tier One port. I will continue to work closely with national and EU authorities, and my colleagues in government, to build on this very positive platform.'
County Council chairman Keith Doyle highlighted the importance of Rosslare Europort, both from an transport and economic point of view.
'A successful and vibrant Rosslare Europort will always be central to Wexford's economic prosperity,' he said. 'As Ireland's closest transport link to the UK and Europe, the importance of Rosslare Europort cannot be over-emphasised, not just in a Wexford context but in the context of the entire island of Ireland.'
'Brexit is a challenge for Rosslare but it also represents a big opportunity for the development of the port, with multiple EU funds that could be targeted for support,' he continued. 'I want to express my sincere thanks to Minister Kehoe who arranged this delegation and accompanied us here so we could present the case for Rosslare Europort directly to Commissioner Bulc and Commissioner Hogan.'