At the beginning of 2020, Rosslare had 6 sailings a week to and from continental Europe. By the end of April 2021, this number had increased to 34. This unprecedented increase in direct sailings was a direct consequence of and response to the form that Brexit had eventually taken after many years of heated wrangling between British and EU negotiators. And it served to recast Rosslare as central to Irish supply chains that were newly reliant on the sea.
The EU’s customs union and single market – completed in the 1980s – effectively removed barriers to trade across the bloc, and the so-called UK land-bridge became the fastest and most efficient way to move goods between Ireland and Europe. In 2018, some 150,000 lorries made this crossing, accounting for 4 percent of total Irish trade. The bulk of this freight traffic travelled via the ‘central corridor’, from Dublin to Holyhead, and then on to Dover.
Once ‘Brexit means Brexit’ came to mean the UK’s extraction from the single market and customs union, this in turn meant the re-introduction of checks on goods leaving the UK and entering the EU. New customs posts and inspection facilities had to be constructed at ports on both sides of the Irish Sea. The increased bureaucratic burden and accompanying delays at both ends of the land-bridge made it less appealing, and direct routes became a far more attractive option for importers, exporters and hauliers.
As the closest port to the continental European market, Rosslare stood to gain the most from the boom in demand for direct sailings to Spain, France and Belgium. While trade between Dublin and Holyhead slumped in the first quarter of 2021, Rosslare experienced a more than 400 percent increase in freight volume on routes direct to the EU, and a 62 percent increase in freight volumes overall. Everything from pharmaceuticals to agri-food products were re-directed away from the land-bridge and on to direct sailings.
We have updated our map to include even more direct maritime routes!
There are now almost forty weekly direct sailings between Ireland and France, keeping our EU Single Market connected by sea IE EU FR pic.twitter.com/Z5mfoOyFgZ— Irish Embassy Paris (@IrlEmbParis) February 11, 2021
While the land-bridge remains the shortest route between Ireland and Europe, and there is some expectation that hauliers may yet ‘fall-back’ on it to some extent, demand for direct-to-Europe sailings from Rosslare remains high.
In light of this, the Port Authority has adopted a €30 million masterplan, which aims to maximise available space, divert increasing freight traffic away from the centre of Rosslare Harbour while continuing to promote the village as a place to visit for tourists and holiday makers, and develop Rosslare as a centre for off-shore wind energy.
While it has represented an existential challenge for Welsh ports and created difficulties for Dublin Port – which have also been hit by a slump in passenger volumes because of the Covid-19 pandemic – Brexit has thus presented Rosslare with new and unanticipated opportunities for growth and development as a central hub of Ireland’s European trade, and of its relationship with Europe more widely.