TASK­FORCE TO BAT­TLE FOR ROSS­LARE

AT A STORMY CRI­SIS MEET­ING, COUN­CIL­LORS WERE LOUD IN THEIR CON­DEM­NA­TION OF THE IR­ISH FER­RIES’ PRO­POSAL TO AXE THEIR ROSS­LARE-FRANCE SER­VICE. MARIA PEP­PER RE­PORTS

Wexford People - - FRONT PAGE -

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

I DON’T THINK WE WILL BE FOUND WANT­ING WHEN IT COMES TO FIND­ING BUSI­NESS FOR THE PORT. WE ARE TALK­ING TO A NUM­BER OF SHIP­PING LINES AT THE MO­MENT GLENN CARR, PORT MAN­AGER

an or­gan­i­sa­tion, that in the view of the cham­ber, had ne­glected Wex­ford and drained Ross­lare or re­sources and prof­its to pour it into ‘the black hole of Ir­ish Rail’.

‘It’s a strate­gic lo­ca­tion not just in County Wex­ford but on the is­land of Ire­land.’

Cllr.Lawlor said he sensed there was a de­sire not to up­set Stena and keep them happy but he be­lieved the fo­cus should be on Ross­lare and on get­ting ‘as much traf­fic on as many days as we can’ in the port.

Ask­ing about the Ir­ish Rail in­vest­ment, he asked if this was money the com­pany was hop­ing to get or was it money in the bank.

Cllr. Johnny Mythen said in­vest­ment is the key to growth but Ross­lare has been ne­glected over the past 15 years, an ap­proach he de­scribed as ‘dis­grace­ful’.

‘We have to have a busi­ness plan so that we know ex­actly where we are go­ing. 65,000 peo­ple are not go­ing to be com­ing through our port this year’.

Mr. Carr said: ‘we are ab­so­lutely out there try­ing to chase new ship­ping busi­ness’.

Cllr. Lawlor: If some­one asked to go on the same day as Stena, would you say that they can’t.’

Mr. Carr replied ‘No’ and said one of the key find­ings of a mar­ket sur­vey was a lack of fre­quency from Ross­lare for hauliers whereas Dublin has 11 sail­ings a day go­ing to the UK.

‘If I’m a truck driver and I miss a sail­ing in Ross­lare I have to wait around all day to get an­other sail­ing to the UK.’

Mr. Carr re­futed the sug­ges­tion that Ir­ish Rail was in­flu­enced by Stena. ‘I am not wed­ded to Stena, Ir­ish Fer­ries, Sea Truck or whatever’.

‘The sug­ges­tion that there is some sort of cosy re­la­tion­ship with Stena - I want to ab­so­lutely re­fute that. ‘We are in ne­go­ti­a­tions with three com­pa­nies in re­la­tion to ad­di­tional sail­ings.’

He said there is no Govern­ment fund­ing for in­vest­ment in the port and ‘all the fund­ing will have to be raised on a com­mer­cial ba­sis’.

He said Ross­lare has been nom­i­nated as a bor­der in­spec­tion post which is due to be de­signed and built on a four-acre site over the next few years by the OPW. ‘There is no port in Ire­land, the UK or Europe that has all its fa­cil­i­ties and is sit­ting there wait­ing for Brexit.’

Cllr. Tony Dempsey re­marked: ‘If any­one here thinks Ir­ish Fer­ries is go­ing to Dublin to lose money, they are in the wrong place. If it was more prof­itable to stay in Ross­lare, they wouldn’t be go­ing to Dublin’.

‘What we can do is ask the Min­is­ter to set up an au­ton­o­mous body to man­age Ross­lare. What we can do is fo­cus on the fa­cil­i­ties in Ross­lare that are within our con­trol such as ac­cess roads, to make it more at­trac­tive for in­ter­na­tional traders to trade in our port’.

Cllr. Paddy Ka­vanagh said they were told for years that Ross­lare wasn’t be­ing used as much as it should be­cause it didn’t have the in­fra­struc­ture. Now the in­fra­struc­ture is there with the im­mi­nent open­ing of two ma­jor by-pass roads. ‘I though once the by-passes were done, we would get more through­put in Ross­lare. That is why the an­nounce­ment was so shock­ing but I don’t think it’s as bleak as it’s made out to be. I think it was the ini­tial shock of the news’.

Cllr. Larry O’ Brien said there has been a vast im­prove­ment in Ross­lare since Glenn Carr took over, ‘at least you can get a cup of tea’.

Agree­ing about the need for in­creased fre­quency, he said two sail­ings leav­ing Wex­ford at the same time don’t work.

‘What we need here to­day is to sup­port Glenn Carr in his ef­forts. It’s a com­mer­cial de­ci­sion made by a com­pany. there’s noth­ing we can do about it. Let’s ask Glenn Carr what we can do to help him get more busi­ness in there. We are not go­ing to change a com­mer­cial de­ci­sion no mat­ter how much we talk here to­day.’

Cllr. Pip Breen said Dublin Port is at ca­pac­ity and the only vi­able al­ter­na­tive is Ross­lare. ‘We need the Min­is­ter for Trans­port to take note of what is hap­pen­ing in Ross­lare’.

Cllr. Wil­lie Ka­vanagh asked about Ross­lare’s abil­ity to ac­com­mo­date con­tainer traf­fic while Cllr. Mary Far­rell de­scribed it as a ‘very emoti­nal is­sue’.

Cllr. Far­rell asked Mr. Carr what can the Coun­cil do to help him, if there is no dock­ing is­sue, no rise in port fees and the Ross­lare route is shorter with good ac­cess roads.

‘What are the un­der­ly­ing is­sues. What can we do in your opin­ion’.

Cllr. tony Walsh said it was a ‘uni­fy­ing con­cern’ as ‘Wex­ford is un­think­able with­out Ross­lare Port’ and he en­cour­aged longterm think­ing.

Cllr. John Flem­ing asked if it was port charges or a short­age of foot­fall while Cllr. Bar­bara Ann Mur­phy asked the chair­man to ‘please do not ac­cept any pro­posal for a dep­u­ta­tion be­cause since I came back to the Coun­cil, we have not had a sin­gle dep­u­ta­tion ac­cepted by a min­is­ter. We are be­ing to­tally ig­nored’.

Glenn Carr said he was not afraid of crit­i­cism and he fully un­der­stood the tar­get wasn’t him but the com­pany he worked for. ‘I cer­tainly don’t take any of­fence. It’s very heart­en­ing to see the pas­sion and the com­mit­ment of ev­ery­one. I fully recog­nise the im­por­tance of the port to the re­gion.’

He said roads are crit­i­cally im­por­tant, and the newby-pass roads are very wel­come. One of the cus­tomers he is speak­ing to has been crit­i­cal of the con­ges­tion in Dublin Port.

He said Water­ford Port caters for con­tainer traf­fic and putting lift-off fa­cil­i­ties in Ross­lare would be ex­pen­sive.

He said there is a gap in the mar­ket for Spain as only 5% of ton­nage from the coun­try at the mo­ment is go­ing to Spain but he wasn’t sure it would work from a pas­sen­ger point of view as the jour­ney is 32 hours.

‘I have is­sued an in­vi­ta­tion for Brit­tany Fer­ries to come and talk to us’, he said.

‘We will do ev­ery­thing that gives us a com­mer­cial re­turn for the port. I don’t think we will be found want­ing when it comes to find­ing busi­ness for the port. We are talk­ing to a num­ber of ship­ping lines at the mo­ment’.

‘It hs been a shock but there is a dan­ger in talk­ing it down too much. There is a dan­ger of putting off po­ten­tial new cus­tomers. My am­bi­tion is to make Ross­lare easy to get into and easy to get out of ’.

‘I re­main op­ti­mistic in re­la­tion to the fu­ture of Ross­lare Har­bour and the role it can play in the re­gion’.

The chair­man con­cluded the meet­ing by ask­ing the Deputy Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Tony Larkin to come up with a for­mula for an all-party task­force which would speak with one voice. ‘This is an op­por­tu­nity to put Ross­lare at the heart of what should be a na­tional is­sue, for the ben­e­fit of the re­gion and the coun­try’, he said.

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

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’.

Cllr Larry O’Brien: ‘we will not change a com­mer­cial de­ci­sion’.

DUBLIN’S GAIN: As Wex­ford reels from news of the likely can­cel­la­tion of the 2019 ser­vice from Ross­lare Euro­port to France, the new Ir­ish Fer­ries ship W.B.Yeats ar­rives into Dublin Port. The com­pany will op­er­ate up to four sail­ings per week from Dublin to France, start­ing mid-March and run­ning into Septem­ber.

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