‘A hard border would make it cat­a­strophic for the work of foyle port’

Colm Kelpie speaks to the port’s chief ex­ec­u­tive Brian Mcgrath about how it’s pre­par­ing for Brexit

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - News -

Foyle Port is a clas­sic Brexit case study, says its chief ex­ec­u­tive, Brian Mcgrath. The port, lo­cated in the sub­urbs of Lon­don­derry, op­er­ates cross-border, with its ju­ris­dic­tion stretch­ing from the city’s Craigavon Bridge to Green­cas­tle in Done­gal and across Lough Foyle to Mag­illi­gan in north west Co Lon­don­derry.

Although the port oper­a­tion is in North­ern Ire­land, its pi­lot sta­tion is in Green­cas­tle and both the Ir­ish and UK gov­ern­ments recog­nise that Foyle Port is the com­pe­tent har­bour au­thor­ity for the area, Mr Mcgrath says.

The port, in ef­fect, doesn’t recog­nise the border, and nei­ther does the trade traf­fic that it at­tracts.

Al­most one-third of the port’s 90 di­rectly-em­ployed staff are from Done­gal.

Half of the freight ar­riv­ing by sea into Derry comes from the Euro­pean Union, with about 30% from the United King­dom and the re­main­der from the rest of the world.

Of that to­tal, about 40% is then re-ex­ported to the Repub­lic by road and at times may criss­cross the border, Mr Mcgrath says.

“It is so in­ter­twined. It’s like bring­ing some­thing into your front gar­den and then go­ing into you back gar­den which is in another coun­try,” he says.

“We’re bring­ing in­ter­na­tional trade into Derry, and 40% of it will find its way across the border into Done­gal and be­yond.

“If there was a hard border and a hard Brexit, it would be cat­a­strophic for the work that we do as it would ef­fec­tively make us the most iso­lated UK port.”

The port is a bulk cargo oper­a­tion deal­ing in com­modi­ties rather than roll-on/roll-off.

It deals in agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, in­clud­ing feed and fer­tiliser, and han­dles im­ports of oil and coal for the re­gion.

They’re worth about £1.5bn ev­ery year, Mr Mcgrath says, with about 40% of that go­ing straight back over the border.

“An­i­mal feeds are com­ing in here to be sent to mills in Lif­ford (Co Done­gal) that are be­ing pro­cessed, and then part of that prod­uct is go­ing to come back across the border,” Mr Mcgrath says.

“The oil and petrol that is be­ing de­liv­ered into the Done­gal re­gion is go­ing into cars that are scoot­ing about all over the place. It is very in­te­grated.

“We’re bring­ing in the com­modi­ties, biomass, an­i­mal feed, oil.

“All of that is play­ing into an agri­cul­tural re­gion. The con­tain­ers and the Roro (roll-on, roll-off ) ser­vices that are do­ing the trade be­tween east and west, we’re not do­ing that, we’re a bulk port deal­ing in those com­modi­ties.

“What we’re con­cerned about is that some of the po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tive is fo­cused on the east/west trans­ac­tion be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the rest of the UK.

“Some peo­ple would say that’s the pre­dom­i­nant trade and there­fore it doesn’t mat­ter about a hard Brexit.

“What we’re say­ing is we need to have an open border here be­cause the land trans­ac­tions north and south are vi­tal to us.”

Foyle Port re­gards it­self as the At­lantic gate­way for the north­west City re­gion, en­com­pass­ing Derry and Done­gal.

Ear­lier this year Derry City and Stra­bane Dis­trict Coun­cil, and Done­gal County Coun- cil, pub­lished a joint re­port ex­am­in­ing the im­pact of Brexit on the re­gion, high­light­ing its com­plex cross-border link­ages.

It es­ti­mated that 326,577 jour­neys are made per week across the three ma­jor border cross­ings in the area, as peo­ple move back and for­ward for work, busi­ness, study and play.

Lough Foyle it­self strad­dles the North­ern Ire­land and Repub­lic’s coast­lines, with the his­toric row over the lough’s own­er­ship reignited late last year when North­ern Ire­land Sec­re­tary James Bro­ken­shire re­asserted London’s claim over the en­tire lough.

In re­sponse, the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment is­sued a fresh dec­la­ra­tion say­ing it did not ac­cept the claim, although both gov­ern­ments stressed the is­sue was not part of the Brexit process.

The row is, for the most part, a dor­mant one, but it again il­lus­trates the re­la­tion­ship the re­gion has with the border.

Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar trav­elled to Derry last week to speak at the lo­cal Cham­ber of Com­merce din­ner, with which Foyle Port was in­volved.

The Ir­ish gov­ern­ment has stressed the im­por­tance of the UK, or at least North­ern Ire­land, re­main­ing in a cus­toms union with the EU.

“We’ve gone down to Dublin and met with var­i­ous min­is­ters, Si­mon Coveney was in­volved with that, and we’ve had very fruit­ful con­ver­sa­tions with [Min­is­ter] Joe Mchugh,” Mr Mcgrath says.

“The fact that we are keen to de­velop our foot­print in the Repub­lic side of our oper­a­tion is at­trac­tive to peo­ple, be­cause the port is suc­cess­ful and a re­gional player. We think we need to de­velop on both sides of the Foyle.”

The port said it has just had its best cor­po­rate per­for­mance yet, de­liv­er­ing a fifth con­sec­u­tive year of growth, and a 23% in­crease in turnover year-onyear to £8.6m.

Mr Mcgrath is pos­i­tive that a so­lu­tion can be found to the border is­sue, not­ing that no party wants to see a hard border re­turn. But he sees a po­ten­tial safety net for the har­bour in the sur­round­ing land base if a deal can’t be done.

“We have a lot of ac­cess to a sig­nif­i­cant acreage for de­vel­op­ment. So if it was the case that we needed to build bonded ware­houses, or stores or fa­cil­i­ties for border trans­ac­tional things, we have ab­so­lutely no con­straints in that re­gard,” he says.

“It’s not some­thing we want to do. It would be very sad if that was needed. But we do have the con­tin­gency to draw upon the re­sources to try and ac­com­mo­date that.”

We need go have an open border here be­cause land trans­ac­tions north and south are vi­tal to us

We’ve been to Dublin and met with var­i­ous min­is­ters ... we’ve had fruit­ful con­ver­sa­tions

The port is suc­cess­ful and a re­gional player ... we think we need to de­velop on both sides of the Foyle

Main and be­low: Foyle Port and (above) Foyle Port chief ex­ec­u­tive Brian Mcgrath

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