Speech by Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport Leo Varadkar at the launch of the National Ports Policy

Check against delivery
 
 
I am delighted to launch today a new National Ports Policy which described the Government’s vision for our commercial ports sector.
 
Our ports are important to our economic recovery and our future economic prosperity. However, their contribution to our economy is frequently overlooked.
 
The Competition Authority recently estimated that approximately 84% by volume and 62% by value of all goods moved into or out of the State comes through our ports. We rely on our ports to provide us with imported oil and coal, vehicles and many consumer goods. 
 
Many of our major export sectors, for example pharmaceuticals, chemicals and agri-food, are heavily reliant on our commercial ports. Also, ports can be important for tourism both in terms of passenger ferries, car ferries and cruise ships.
 
As an island nation we depend on our ports to an even greater degree than many of our trading partners. Hence the need to get the policy right.
 
But ports are much more than trading gateways to the world. They often have deep-rooted links into their community, are steeped in history and are centres for leisure and amenity. They are also frequently located in or beside areas of great natural beauty and importance for wildlife.
 
There is also a great diversity among the 14 ports that handle commercial freight each year – in terms of the size and scale of their business, the sort of ships and goods handled and the type of financial and organisational resources available to ports and governance.
 
Policy to date has not recognised this diversity in the role and function of our ports.
 
I am determined that the importance of all our ports is recognised at the highest levels of Government policy, but am also aware that the current policy is no longer appropriate.
 
This new policy is different in a number of ways:
·         We will move from a ‘one size fits all’ policy to one that recognises that different ports have different roles to play, now and in the future
·         Instead of adopting a ‘laissez faire’ approach, the government will become a more active or activist shareholder
·         Future investment in deepwater capacity, when needed, will not occur until is has been subject of proven analysis led by the Department
·         Local authorities will be given a greater role as shareholders in smaller ports
·         Private investment in the ports will be encouraged
·         The commercial mandate of ports will remain.  They will be expected to turn a profit, pay a dividend and will not receive exchequer grants
 
Core Objective
The core objective of National Ports Policy is to facilitate a competitive and effective market for maritime transport services. In my view there are a number of different aspects to achieving this objective.
 
Firstly, we must be clear about which Ports are of National Significance. As detailed in the new Policy, the Government recognises Dublin Port Company, the Port of Cork Company and Shannon Foynes Port Company as our Ports of National Significance (Tier 1).
 
Additionally the Government also recognises the Port of Waterford Company and Rosslare Europort to be Ports of National Significance (Tier 2). National Ports Policy must be focussed on those ports which fulfil a national function.
 
Secondly, in relation to those ports which serve a regional or local function, we must provide an appropriate governance framework that allows for their continued future development in a manner that best suits their individual circumstances. It is also recognised that while none of these ports account for more than 8% of national trade, they can have national significance in a niche service or product area.
 
This new category of ports includes the five smaller State port companies in Drogheda, Dún Laoghaire, Galway, New Ross and Wicklow. These Ports of Regional Significance will be placed within a local authority led governance structure with local authorities taking shareholdings in the ports. This will require legislation, further consultation and time.
 
As regards Government’s role as shareholder, I am firmly of the view that Government must be a more active and demanding shareholder. By that I do not mean an ‘interfering’ shareholder, but a shareholder that clearly outlines its vision and demands of the sector as a whole, as well as its expectation for individual ports.  This will include a re-emphasis on the ports’ commercial remit with a requirement that to adhere to a dividend policy and invest and develop on a sound commercial basis. 
 
While no ports are earmarked for privatisation, private sector investment and involvement will be encouraged.
 
Finally, our ports enjoy a unique location and are frequently sited in - or beside - designated special protection areas for birds and habitats.  This has obvious consequences in terms of the complexities involved in ensuring the appropriate balance between economic development and environmental protection. These complexities can be best resolved through early and meaningful engagement between all stakeholders in understanding the differing roles and responsibilities in these important areas.
 
This new National Ports Policy seeks to address each of these aspects in turn and will provide the entire sector with an appropriate policy framework to allow all our ports to develop in a sustainable manner and ensure that the State is served by the type of port infrastructure and services it requires.
 
ENDS
 
Issued by:
Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport: 01 604 1087 / 01 604 1007