Following last week’s Budget Eugene Drennan, President of the Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA) has written to An Taoiseach and the Minister for Transport, to point out the effect COVID-19 is having on the transport industry and Brexit preparation and how the Budget was an opportunity to help all concerned. Also the IRHA initiative to help with driver shortages needs a response.
I am writing to you as Head of the Government in the hope that the serious and urgent issues that are facing our sector as we approach a challenging Brexit can be addressed through a whole of Government approach.
At present our issues fall across at least four different Government Departments and five different Ministers with the result that we are falling between the gaps – an omission made glaringly evident by measures in Budget 2021 which have significantly increased our operating costs at a time of unprecedented crisis.
Although a specific Minister has been given responsibility for International and Road Transport & Logistics, and we wish Minister Naughton the very best, we have yet to see the benefit of that appointment through meaningful engagement with the Minister or action on the issues of concern. At this stage and given the imminence of Brexit, a whole of Government approach is urgently needed rather than silos within Departments.
Our members have been to fore in keeping Ireland moving through COVID-19. Whether distributing goods throughout Ireland or facilitating international mercantile trade with the UK and Continental Europe, licensed hauliers have worked tirelessly to ensure that homes, shops, business and hospitals are supplied with essential goods and services. This has been achieved through very difficult circumstances at hugely increased cost and personal risk. In his national address on 17 March 2020, your predecessor recognised the frontline service contribution of our members who have kept the supply chain moving as part of a great national effort. Given the cost of the Budget 2021 fuel increases, few will feel that recognition had any lasting meaning.
Brexit will be upon us in weeks and our sector will bear the immediate brunt of the controls, costs, and disruption this will involve. In the midst of the uncertainty created by Brexit and following the economic shocks that COVID-19 has inflicted on our members, there was absolute incredulity that Budget 2021 has hiked operating costs for licensed hauliers. The increase in carbon tax will cost our members an estimated €1.5m in the current year – a cost imposition that they cannot endure now or into the deeply uncertain future.
If your Government is to ensure that trade and freight continues to flow through current uncertain times, it is imperative that there are no additional cost impositions applied to licensed hauliers at this time. There needs to be a recognition in Government that Licensed hauliers are Essential Users of diesel fuel and as such do not have any substitutable fuel source to power their vehicles – there are no alternative fuel sources available to keep the national HGV fleet moving. Of course, new technology means that diesel can be used by HGV and achieve low emission levels. Consequently, there needs to be some mechanism to rebate the impact of the carbon tax increase to licensed hauliers, as is the case with equivalent measures in Belgium and France for instance.
This can best be achieved by rebating the carbon tax increase to licensed hauliers through a recalibrated Diesel Rebate Scheme – the mechanism exists to achieve this by urgent amendments being brought forward in the Finance Bill 2020.
The imposition of additional costs on our beleaguered sector in Budget 2021 highlights the urgent need for the Government to have effective engagement with our sector at this critical time. Addressing the fuel cost issue is of key importance, but it is also critical that the Government effectively engages with our members in the detailed preparation for Brexit and again this is something that I would encourage you, as Head of the Government, to lead. Engagement in recent weeks has been patchy and inadequate – which is deeply alarming given that Brexit is weeks away.
I appreciate the pressures on your time at present, but I would urge you to give this matter your attention. We would be happy to meet with you if further clarification is required but expect that the matters raised in this letter are self-explanatory.
I am copying the relevant ministers in the hope that some co-ordinated government response will be forthcoming.
Eugene Drennan, President, IRHA
CC: An Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment
Minister for Finance
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform
Minster for Climate Action, Communication, Networks and Transport
Minister for State for International and Road Transport and Logistics
Dear Minister Ryan,
Thank you for confirming that you will meet with the IRHA on Friday 13 November.
We understand the pressure on your diary, but are deeply concerned that the proposed meeting date is so far into November that it will not facilitate effective engagement on key issues of immediate importance – particularly as Brexit will be only weeks away at that stage.
If anything events over the last week have increased the urgency of securing a meeting with you given what we believe to be seriously misplaced policy positions on two key areas that directly impact on our sector in the context of the looming Brexit.
If these policy positions are maintained as we approach a Brexit which will be challenging for trade and international transport regardless of its final form, the Government risks fundamentally compromising our national strategic interests. This is evident in two key areas;
- Direct connectivity between Ireland and Europe- We note recent replies to PQs which you gave in the Dáil on the issue of direct ferry connectivity between Ireland and Continental Europe. These replies indicate that;
- Your Department believes there is sufficient capacity available on direct routes between Ireland and continental ports following the end of the Brexit transition period.
- Your Department is prepared to rely on the “resilience, adaptability and commitment” of the shipping companies to serve Irish consumer needs and the Irish market. The Department seems to believe that a market response to provide required capacity will emerge without the need for active State intervention.
The IRHA believes that this approach is fundamentally flawed and exposes the Irish State to an unreasonable risk of significant interruption in connectivity between Ireland and Continental Europe. It is undoubtedly the case that the UK landbridge will see significant delays and hold ups once the transition period is over. Nothing that we are seeing from the UK authorities can give any confidence that this will be otherwise. It is also the case that the ferry companies will operate to their own commercial requirements, rather than the broader strategic interests of the Irish State. They already operate their schedules to suit their commercial and competitive requirements, even though this adds to congestion and delay at Irish Ports – what evidence exists to suggest that they will change this approach? There are even some indications that the UK Government is buying up ferry capacity as a contingency arrangement – how does the Department address that risk?
The IRHA has practical and meaningful suggestions on addressing likely capacity and connectivity problems and as the sector which will be most directly and immediately impacted by Brexit we believe that there is merit in your hearing our views before Friday 13 November.
- The second issue concerns the increase in fuel costs for licensed hauliers following Budget 2021. I enclose a letter which I have sent to the Taoiseach on this issue calling for this increase to be rebated to hauliers given that our members are essential usersof diesel.
At present, and for the foreseeable future, licensed hauliers have no realistic alternative fuel source available to power their HGVs. The decarbonisation of road freight can be achieved in the short term by encouraging the use of HGVs which operate to exceptionally low emission levels (Euro V & Euro VI).
The suggestion in the Climate Action Advisory Council Annual Review (CAAC)2020 that hauliers should “receive a price signal” now about the need to adopt carbon neutral technologies in the medium to long term is little more than perverse and spiteful when they have no control over the transmission technologies that are available. Similarly the CAAC recommendation to remove the diesel rebate scheme with the resulting recognised increase in the cost of haulage services not only ignores the limited alternatives available, but demonstrates a complete lack of recognition of the dire and worsening economic conditions arising from COVID-19 and Brexit. The Diesel Rebate Scheme needs to be recalibrated to allow the Budget increases in fuel to be rebated now for essential users – this is not a discretionary spend on our members behalf, but a core element of their running costs.
The Government needs to work with our sector on viable, practical and realistic strategies to decarbonise road freight – engagement with a sector is a far better strategy than talking at them!
In light of the above I would urge you to bring forward the date for our meeting with you. The IRHA is a positive, constructive force for addressing our strategic needs on Brexit and Climate Action. Engaging with us in a timely manner will help the Government and your Department to achieve your goals.
Given the urgency of the matter we can of course demonstrate flexibility to meet with your diary schedule if any earlier meeting can be secured.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Eugene Drennan, President, IRHA
IRU Driver Shortage Survey 2020
The IRHA is urging all members to participate in the below survey, undertaken by the International Road Transport Union (IRU). The IRHA has been heavily involved with this project.
In 2019, IRU developed and deployed a driver shortage survey, documenting feedback from a diverse group of over 400 respondents – IRU members, drivers and companies – across Europe, the GCC and Asia, to identify the causes and determine the dimension of driver shortage.
Based on the survey results, IRU developed a series of short, medium and long-term actions aimed at addressing the global driver shortage through advocacy and communication efforts.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRHA launching the 2020 survey to gain an understanding of the impacts of this crisis on driver shortage, so that we can best shape our collective actions and political requests.
“Your involvement and input are crucial in obtaining reliable data for our industry. The survey will take less than 10 minutes,” concluded Eugene.