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Boss of ICG Says Ferries Subsidy ‘Wasting Taxpayers’ Money

1st July 2020
Last government committed at start of April to provide up to €15m of PSO subventions. ABOVE AFLOAT's photo of Eamonn Rothwell, chief executive of ICG, (parent company of Irish Ferries) on board the W.B. Yeats during the reception to officially introduce the newbuild cruiseferry in early 2019. Then the cruiseferry was operating the Dublin-Holyhead route over the winter months prior to making a debut on the Dublin-Cherbourg route for the summer (likewise of this season). Last government committed at start of April to provide up to €15m of PSO subventions. ABOVE AFLOAT's photo of Eamonn Rothwell, chief executive of ICG, (parent company of Irish Ferries) on board the W.B. Yeats during the reception to officially introduce the newbuild cruiseferry in early 2019. Then the cruiseferry was operating the Dublin-Holyhead route over the winter months prior to making a debut on the Dublin-Cherbourg route for the summer (likewise of this season). Photo: Jehan Ashmore

Chief executive of ferry operator Irish Continental Group (ICG) has warned that any move by the new Government to extend a subsidy scheme to keep certain sea routes going during the Covid-19 pandemic would be a “waste of taxpayers’ money” and further distort the market.

The last government committed at the start of April to provide up to €15 million of so-called public service order (PSO) subventions for three months on loss-making ferry routes between Dublin and Cherbourg, Rosslare to Fishguard and Pembroke in Wales, and Cherbourg in France and Bilbao in Spain.

It is understood that officials who report to Hildegarde Naughton, the new super junior minister for international transport, are actively considering an extension of the current PSO, which runs to this middle of this month.

“The department can confirm that a review of the Covid-19 PSO Support Scheme for Maritime Connectivity is under way at present. It would be inappropriate to pre-empt the outcome of that review,” said a spokeswoman for the Department of Transport, which is being subsumed into the new Department for Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport.

ICG, owner of Irish Ferries, was due, along with Swedish-owned Stena Line and France’s Brittany Ferries, to be the beneficiaries from the subsidy. However, ICG said last month that it had not participated in the initiative, saying the model was “liable to create distortions in the marketplace and could be open to legal challenge”.

Speaking to The Irish Times on Tuesday, ICG chief executive Eamonn Rothwell said that his company has written a number of times in recent months to Department of Transport officials campaigning against the PSO.

For further reading from the newspaper click here. 

Published in Ferry
Jehan Ashmore

About The Author

Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

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Ferry & Car Ferry News The ferry industry on the Irish Sea, is just like any other sector of the shipping industry, in that it is made up of a myriad of ship operators, owners, managers, charterers all contributing to providing a network of routes carried out by a variety of ships designed for different albeit similar purposes.

All this ferry activity involves conventional ferry tonnage, 'ro-pax', where the vessel's primary design is to carry more freight capacity rather than passengers. This is in some cases though, is in complete variance to the fast ferry craft where they carry many more passengers and charging a premium.

In reporting the ferry scene, we examine the constantly changing trends of this sector, as rival ferry operators are competing in an intensive environment, battling out for market share following the fallout of the economic crisis. All this has consequences some immediately felt, while at times, the effects can be drawn out over time, leading to the expense of others, through reduced competition or takeover or even face complete removal from the marketplace, as witnessed in recent years.

Arising from these challenging times, there are of course winners and losers, as exemplified in the trend to run high-speed ferry craft only during the peak-season summer months and on shorter distance routes. In addition, where fastcraft had once dominated the ferry scene, during the heady days from the mid-90's onwards, they have been replaced by recent newcomers in the form of the 'fast ferry' and with increased levels of luxury, yet seeming to form as a cost-effective alternative.

Irish Sea Ferry Routes

Irrespective of the type of vessel deployed on Irish Sea routes (between 2-9 hours), it is the ferry companies that keep the wheels of industry moving as freight vehicles literally (roll-on and roll-off) ships coupled with motoring tourists and the humble 'foot' passenger transported 363 days a year.

As such the exclusive freight-only operators provide important trading routes between Ireland and the UK, where the freight haulage customer is 'king' to generating year-round revenue to the ferry operator. However, custom built tonnage entering service in recent years has exceeded the level of capacity of the Irish Sea in certain quarters of the freight market.

A prime example of the necessity for trade in which we consumers often expect daily, though arguably question how it reached our shores, is the delivery of just in time perishable products to fill our supermarket shelves.

A visual manifestation of this is the arrival every morning and evening into our main ports, where a combination of ferries, ro-pax vessels and fast-craft all descend at the same time. In essence this a marine version to our road-based rush hour traffic going in and out along the commuter belts.

Across the Celtic Sea, the ferry scene coverage is also about those overnight direct ferry routes from Ireland connecting the north-western French ports in Brittany and Normandy.

Due to the seasonality of these routes to Europe, the ferry scene may be in the majority running between February to November, however by no means does this lessen operator competition.

Noting there have been plans over the years to run a direct Irish –Iberian ferry service, which would open up existing and develop new freight markets. Should a direct service open, it would bring new opportunities also for holidaymakers, where Spain is the most visited country in the EU visited by Irish holidaymakers ... heading for the sun!

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