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Wex­ford County Coun­cil is to set up an all-party task­force com­mit­tee in re­sponse to an an­nounce­ment by Ir­ish Fer­ries that it is ‘un­likely’ to op­er­ate a ferry ser­vice be­tween Ross­lare Har­bour and France this sum­mer.

Coun­cil­lors de­cided on the ac­tion at an emer­gency meet­ing of Wex­ford County Coun­cil which was at­tended by port man­ager Glenn Carr who came in for crit­i­cism over Ir­ish Rail’s long­stand­ing ne­glect of Ross­lare Har­bour but was also asked by mem­bers how the lo­cal au­thor­ity could sup­port him in se­cur­ing new busi­ness and de­vel­op­ing the port.

Ac­cord­ing to coun­cil­lors, the an­nounce­ment by Ir­ish Fer­ries that it is pulling out of Ross­lare Har­bour af­ter 40 years, sent shock re­ver­ber­a­tions not just through­out the county but the south east re­gion which has ben­e­fited from the tourism spin-off.

Glenn Carr re­vealed that Ir­ish Rail was only in­formed of the de­ci­sion an hour be­fore the an­nounce­ment and said ‘the news has been very dis­ap­point­ing for us’.

He de­fended a de­ci­sion to bring the new Ir­ish Fer­ries WB Yeats ship to Ross­lare Har­bour on a trial, a day af­ter the an­nounce­ment, which many lo­cal peo­ple felt added in­sult to in­jury.

‘I thought it was im­por­tant that the ship be brought in, to show that Ross­lare Har­bour could han­dle the ves­sel and the tri­als were suc­cess­fully com­pleted. There is noth­ing in Ross­lare to re­strict the ves­sel. I thought it was im­por­tant that the ves­sel be brought in to al­lay any fears’, he said.

Mr. Carr who at­tended a Coun­cil meet­ing in Novem­ber to out­line Ir­ish Rail’s €15 mil­lion de­vel­op­ment plan for the port, also stressed that at no point, did Ir­ish Fer­ries raise an is­sue about port fees. He said the re­al­ity is that Ir­ish Fer­ries are go­ing to burn four hours of ex­tra fuel on the jour­ney from Dublin to France, com­pared to Ross­lare.

‘The ra­tio­nale given to us is that from a com­mer­cial point of view, it will be eas­ier to fill a huge ship like this from Dublin’, he said.

The port man­ager said that while the news is dis­ap­point­ing, it does not de­tract from Ir­ish Rail’s in­vest­ment plan and in re­la­tion to re­place­ment busi­ness -’we are ne­go­ti­at­ing with other ship­ping lines as we speak.’

He said he did not wish to say any more as it was com­mer­cially sen­si­tive but added that on Christ­mas Eve, he was con­tacted by a firm in London, en­quir­ing about the avail­abil­ity of slots in Ross­lare.

How­ever, he said Ir­ish Rail needed to en­sure that they are not ‘cannabil­is­ing the ex­ist­ing busi­ness that is there’.

‘We are work­ing with par­ties in the best in­ter­ests of the port to try and gen­er­ate ad­di­tional busi­ness with the UK, France and Spain but not in a way that di­lutes the ex­is­ing busi­ness there’.

Mr. Carr said he had in­formed Ir­ish Fer­ries and Stena Line which is con­tin­u­ing to op­er­ate a Ross­lare ser­vice to Cher­bourg, that he will be ac­tively pur­su­ing ad­di­tional busi­ness.

County Coun­cil chair­man Keith Doyle who called the spe­cial meet­ing, said that be­fore this hap­pened, Ross­lare Har­bour wasn’t get­ting the at­ten­tion it de­served. He was de­lighted with the turn-out at the meet­ing and ac­knowl­edged the at­ten­dance of Labour leader Bren­dan Howlin, seated in front of the pub­lic gallery.

In re­sponse to Cllr. Larry O’ Brien who won­dered where the other TD’s were, Cllr. Doyle said no in­vi­ta­tions were is­sued. ‘ I would be de­lighted to see them’, he said, adding to Deputy Howlin: ‘If only they had the in­ter­est to be here’.

Cllr. Lisa McDon­ald called on Ir­ish Fer­ries to clar­ify their plans in re­la­tion to Ross­lare Har­bour. ‘If they are not in­ter­ested, let’s deal with peo­ple who are in­ter­ested. The sell­ing point we have is that we of­fer the short­est route from Ire­land to main­land Europe.’

‘We have a lot go­ing for us but the prob­lem we have is that Iarn­ród Eireann are not a port au­thor­ity, they are a rail com­pany. There is some­thing amiss here, some­thing wrong, when you have Ir­ish Fer­ries giv­ing up as Brexit is com­ing in’.

‘What is wrong in Ross­lare Euro­port and how ex­actly can we fix it’, she asked, adding that

Ross­lare needs Tier 1 sta­tus as a port and needs to be made a bor­der cus­toms point, with Brexit just 12 weeks away.

‘All coun­cil­lors need to stand united on this. Ross­lare could be the com­mer­cial driver of the south east’, she said.

Cllr. Ger Carthy won­dered why Ir­ish Fer­ries had not been tied in to a con­tract as it is in Pem­broke and said he would have con­cerns that a port au­thor­ity in Dublin was able to se­cure the ser­vices of Ir­ish Fer­ries and a new ship and Ir­ish Rail knew noth­ing and said noth­ing.

He said a task­force was needed to ad­dress the is­sue, to talk to Ir­ish Fer­ries and to se­cure an­other com­pany to take up the route, oth­er­wise Ross­lare is fac­ing a sum­mer with 500 less cars com­ing in ev­ery sec­ond day.

He de­scribed as ‘a load of non­sense’, the claim by Ir­ish Fer­ries that cus­tomers in­di­cated a pref­er­ence to sail from Dublin.

Cllr. David Hynes said the an­nounce­ment showed ‘the com­plete dis­re­spect they have for Wex­ford’.

‘It doesn’t seem to be the case that the Gov­ern­ment is in­ter­ested in Ross­lare Har­bour. There was no men­tion of Ross­lare in the na­tional plan. We have two Gov­ern­ment min­is­ters and five TD’s and noth­ing seems to be hap­pen­ing. Ross­lare should be taken over as a stand-along port’, he said.

Glenn Carr replied that in or­der to qual­ify for Tier 1 sta­tus, a port must re­ceive 15% of the na­tional ton­nage as set out y the EU.

He wasn’t here to dwell on the past and the port own­er­ship is­sue had noth­ing to do with Ir­ish Fer­ries de­cid­ing to op­er­ate the ship from Dublin. ‘I’m not here to say that Ir­ish Rail will give up the port’, he said.

In re­la­tion to Ir­ish Fer­ries hav­ing a 30-year con­tract in Pem­broke, he said they are the dom­i­nant player there. ‘Are you say­ing we should of­fer an ex­clu­sive deal wo one ship­per’.

Cllr. Carthy replied: ‘They should have been con­tracted in the har­bour. They’re free to come and go and de­stroy the lo­cal econ­omy’.

‘Have you as an or­gan­i­sa­tion met with Ir­ish Fer­ries and said don’t leave the port’.

Mr. Carr said Ir­ish Rail met with Ir­ish Fer­ries eight weeks be­fore and at no stage dur­ing that meet­ing did Ir­ish Fer­ries in­di­cate that they were plan­ning to with­draw any ser­vice.

Af­ter Mr. Carr crit­i­cised coun­cil­lors for quot­ing in­cor­rect fig­ures in re­la­tion to planned Ir­ish Rail in­vest­ment in Ross­lare, Cllr. McDon­ald said Mr. Carr went on the ra­dio and out­lined dif­fer­ent fig­ures than those he pre­sented to the Coun­cil, so they should pub­lish a re­port and make it clear.

‘You took profits from the port dur­ing the re­ces­sion to sup­port the train and bus ser­vice. You now want us to for­get about the past. We need to strate­gi­cally de­velop the port and with your plan that is not go­ing to hap­pen’, she said.

Cllr. Michael Whe­lan said Ross­lare is one of very few places where you have a pas­sen­ger rail line go­ing into the port. Wex­ford County Coun­cil should fo­cus on what it can do to help Ross­lare Har­bour.

‘As a Coun­cil, we need to get in­volved and show the eco­nomics of this and how we can change it’.

Cllr. Martin Mur­phy asked how ad­vanced the ne­go­ti­a­tions are in re­la­tion to a ferry link with Spain and said this could be the way to go with over a mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in the south east cor­ner of Ire­land.

Cllr. Michael Shee­han said ‘all of us across the county were shocked to hear the news’.

‘When you gave that pre­sen­ta­tion to us, it was very up­beat, very pos­i­tive. We didn’t know this news was go­ing to come down the line. They knew it was com­ing but never said, that was very dis­gen­u­ous of them’.

‘I think what we should be do­ing is es­tab­lish­ing a cross-party task­force, to sit down and say this is what Ross­lare needs. We should be ask­ing the Di­rec­tor or the CE0 to come for­ward with plans, set­ting down what in­cen­tives we need from the gov­ern­ment, for the de­vel­op­ment of Ross­lare, rather than crit­i­cis­ing some­one who had no hand, act or part in the de­ci­sion. I for­mally pro­pose we do that and get work­ing on a plan for Ross­lare’.

Cllr. Fion­ntáin O’ Suil­leab­háin said he at­tended a meet­ing 20 years ago about the need for de­vel­op­ment in Ross­lare Har­bour. He wanted to know what the TD’s and the min­is­ters have been do­ing, what pres­sure they have ap­plied and what vi­sion they have out­lined.

Cllr. Ge­orge Lawlor told Glenn Carr that he re­sp­re­sented


Keith Doyle, chair­man, who called the spe­cial meet­ing. Cllr Ger Carthy: ‘com­plete dis­re­spect for Wex­ford’.

Cllr Larry O’Brien: ‘we will not change a com­mer­cial de­ci­sion’. Cllr Lisa McDon­ald: ‘we need to strate­gi­cally de­velop the port’.

Cllr Michael Shee­han: time to ‘get work­ing on a plan’. Cllr Tony Dempsey: if it was more prof­itable, they would stay’.

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