Brexit poses a number of challenges in the transportation sector affecting aviation, cross-border public transport and travel to and transit through the United Kingdom to the rest of the European Union. These issues also overlap to a significant level with matters pertaining to the CTA, Northern Ireland, trade and the future relationship of the UK with the EU.
This section is confined to the practical elements of transportation networks in the post-Brexit context, including:
– the operation of cross-border services;
– air routes and freight transportation; and
– infrastructural development.
The Transport Sector in Numbers
– 100,000 aircraft and 11 million passengers move between Ireland and the United Kingdom per annum.
– The London-Dublin air route is the busiest air route in Europe and the second-busiest in the world.
– The aviation sector is worth €4.1 billion to Irish GDP.
– The CSO states that 14,751 people cross the border for work or study.
– Seaborne freight accounts for 84% of Ireland’s trade in volume and 62% in value.
– Dublin Port handles 46% of all seaborne trade in volume. Approximately 60% of trade at Dublin Port involves the UK.
Travel to / from UK
– There were over 3.5 million trips from the UK to Ireland in 2015.
– In 2015, there were over 1.9 million trips from Ireland to the UK and 336,000 trips to Northern Ireland.
– Visitors to Ireland from the UK spent an average of €274, while visitors from Ireland to the UK spent an average of €490.
During the first phase of the All-Island Civic Dialogue, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport held a session on All-Island Transport and Logistics. This consisted of over 110 participants from North and South representing Freight, Maritime, Aviation and Public Transport sectors, as well as representatives from Business Associations, Local Authorities and Government Departments.
A number of challenges and opportunities were highlighted in the course of this dialogue. These included general issues such as currency exposure, access to labour and the impact on regional development. Challenges already identified include the rapid increase in used vehicle imports from Northern Ireland while in haulage services, some Eastern European drivers based in Northern Ireland have already relocated home.
There are possible opportunities in establishing direct routes with continental Europe, but significant investment may be required to adapt Irish ports. There is also an issue of pressure to complete current North-South and East-West projects as a result of Brexit.
At European level, a number of arrangements are in place to facilitate international public transport within the European Union. Bus services are governed by Regulation 1073/2009, which sets out the conditions for intra-EU cross-border bus services. For rail services, the principles governing the interoperability of rail networks are set out in Directive 2008/57/EC (as amended).Directive 2012/34/EU sets out the single European railway area.106 This is the basis in EU Law for operating cross-border transport networks and services.
Overall, the transport infrastructure may require considerable investment. This could include modifying Irish ports to deal with customs checks and greater volumes of travel to the post-Brexit EU, for example direct routes to France. At a European level, funding is concentrated on infrastructural development under the trans-European transport infrastructure policy (TEN-T), which focuses on nine core, competitive freight network corridors.107 Ireland is covered by the North Sea Mediterranean corridor.
Northern Ireland – Specific Concerns
Under present arrangements transport matters, other than navigation and civil aviation, are devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive. This means that services can be aligned for public transport between Ireland and Northern Ireland with the agreement of the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive.
The shape of border controls is a significant concern and may result in a severe impact on service times and reliability, as well as impacting those who rely on these transport services to commute and access other services. However, challenges particular to each sector will require individual solutions.
Common Travel Area
– A preferred solution is maintaining the Common Travel Area on the island of Ireland to the
closest possible extent and avoiding a situation where passport checks have to be completed along the border.
– While the ideal solution on the issue of border controls is the continuance of the Common Travel Area, in the event of a hard Brexit, a method of passport checks causing minimal disruption to cross-border rail services should be pursued.
– Agreements establishing the Enterprise rail service between Dublin and Belfast are expected to be unaffected, but this should be monitored closely.
– Any post-Brexit regulation should reflect, as close as possible, the provisions of Regulation 1073/2009. The Committee does not believe the Inter-Bus Agreement is a viable alternative, as it applies only to occasional passenger travel, rather than the regular bus services which constantly operate.
Other Public Transport Issues
– Legislation on both sides of the border will be required for cross-border taxi services.
– There is no expected impact on free travel either side of the border.
– Separate EU-UK and US-UK Open Skies Agreements will need to be agreed to replace the current EU-US Open Skies arrangements, to which the UK will no longer be a party.
– The Committee recommends that a new agreement is put in place before Spring 2018, so air routes for 2018 / 2019 are not adversely impacted.
– The reintroduction of duty free for passengers to the UK could be positive.
– There is a need for Ireland to deepen connectivity, in particular long-haul connectivity.
Ports and Freight
– Significant investment may be required to adapt Irish ports to cater for higher volumes of freight and increase capacity for direct links to continental Europe.
– Allowing private concessions to operate Ireland’s ports in order to obtain investment for further development without impacting on group debts of current operators should be explored.
– Adding projects that develop Irish ports to the trans-European transport policy (TEN-T) should be explored.
Bus services crossing the border are likely to face significant challenges as a result of the UK exit from the European Union. For example, the Bus Éireann service from Dublin/Monaghan to Letterkenny is required to cross the border twice, at the River Blackwater near Aughnacloy and again at Strabane / Lifford.
The imposition of a hard border may result in significant delays at either point if a hard border and passport controls are introduced. It is important that any post-Brexit regulation should reflect, as close as possible, the provisions of Regulation EC No 1073/2009, allowing for regular cross-border passenger services conducive to an all-island economy.
The Committee heard that the Interbus Agreement was a suitable alternative. However, as this applies to occasional travel, it may not be suitable for public transport routes that must cross Northern Ireland, such as the Dublin-Letterkenny route, nor would it be suitable for local services.
The Committee also heard that Irish Rail and Translink cooperate in running the Enterprise rail service between Dublin and Belfast. This service also stops at Drogheda, Dundalk, Newry and Portadown, with connecting services within both Ireland and Northern Ireland.111 It operates eight services in each direction per day and five services in each direction per day on Sundays. It is a partnership between Irish Rail and Translink and the Committee heard that it can continue to operate post-Brexit as the agreements establishing it are expected to be unaffected.
Notwithstanding this positive viewpoint, two issues were identified by the Committee which could impact on services, i.e. border controls and connecting services. While there is one land border between the EU and the UK, there are two rail borders, the Dublin Belfast line and the Eurostar through the Channel Tunnel. With respect to the Channel Tunnel, border controls are applied in advance of boarding.
This is due to the United Kingdom’s nonparticipation in the Schengen Area and likewise, the non-participation of Belgium and France in the Common Travel Area. Accordingly, the UK, France and Belgium agreed to a tripartite arrangement providing for border controls to take place before passengers boarded services between these countries.
The ideal solution on the issue of border controls is the continuance of the Common Travel Area, with no passport checks required for passengers. However, a procedure for performing customs checks at stations prior to boarding may have to be pursued, as is the case with the Eurostar service between London and continental Europe. In an Irish context, passengers on other transport services like air and sea which run directly from Ireland to continental Europe are already subject to border controls due to Irish non-participation in the Schengen Area.
During hearings, the Committee was told of the possible scenarios that may arise if a hard border is imposed. For example, border controls could take the form of leaving the train and going through a passport office at the frontier, as is the case between Bulgaria and Turkey. In another example, passport controls could be conducted when the train is moving, as is the case for the frontier between Finland and Russia. It seems the most viable option for train services is to complete passport checks while the train is moving or to impose border controls similar to airports at the relevant train stations prior to boarding. This would require significant expenditure to implement and significant dedication of resources to immigration and law enforcement functions.
An additional complication is the number of railway stations between Belfast and Dublin. There are 36 such stations and the Committee heard that there is a concern that customers on other services, such as the DART, will be able to access the Enterprise simply by getting off at the same platform it calls at.
Adapting rail services to prevent this may involve infrastructural changes making it more difficult for those using local services to disembark and board the Enterprise service at the platform. Of course, the maintenance of the Common Travel Area would alleviate this as a possible issue.
Taxi Services and Free Travel
Regulatory divergence between Ireland and Northern Ireland may impact the taxi service directly, leading to situations whereby a taxi driver licensed to operate in Ireland, may not be able to cross the border legally while operating a service. Following Brexit, it will be necessary for this issue to be resolved with primary legislation on both sides of the border, permitting taxi operators to take passengers from one side of the border to the other.115 It is suggested that this is prioritised once the terms of the final withdrawal agreement and the agreement establishing a new EU-UK relationship are known.
The Committee heard from the National Transport Authority that it does not believe the free travel scheme will be impacted by Brexit.
Ms Anne Graham, representing the National Transport Authority, described the all-island free travel scheme to the Committee:
“in April 2007 the all-Ireland free travel scheme for seniors resident in all parts of the island was introduced. The scheme enables seniors, 66 and over, resident in the republic to travel free of charge on all bus and rail services in Northern Ireland. Likewise, seniors, 65 and over, in the North can travel free of charge on bus, rail, air and ferry services participating in the free travel scheme in this State. The Northern Ireland authorities require that Department of Social Protection (DSP) customers wishing to avail of free travel in Northern Ireland should do so using a similar smartpass as used by their Northern counterparts.”
The Committee also heard that the arrangements are not expected to be impacted by Brexit. This is reassuring and the Committee noted the advice provided that those availing of free travel across the border should use a similar smart-pass to their Northern Irish counterparts.
The aviation sector is worth approximately €4 billion to the Irish economy.117 The Committee heard that aviation is likely to be considered similar to agriculture, pharmaceuticals and automobiles, which are considered sectors that could still function in the absence of a final agreement, but this is not the case as airlines operating between the EU/US and the UK cannot operate in the absence of a law or agreement.
Civil aviation poses one of the most significant challenges identified by the Committee, with a high level of concern regarding the need to replace the Open Skies Agreement between the EU and the United States.The Open Skies Agreement allows for airlines based in the European Union to operate transatlantic flights to the United States and vice versa. While it allows American airlines to operate intra-EU flights, it does not permit the same from EU airlines in the United States.
Similar, airline slots are allocated based on EU legislation.There is a concern that a delay in agreeing new EU-UK-US arrangements will significantly impact the allocation of new slots, particularly for 2018-2019 as the UK is due to leave the EU in March 2019, and this creates a high level of uncertainty. The Committee heard that following Brexit, a new Open Skies Agreement would have to be put in place between the USA and the UK, with a separate agreement between the UK and the EU. The Committee heard that the text used for the open skies arrangements operating in the American context was similar.
These replacement agreements will be necessary to ensure that civil aviation continues undisrupted at the moment of Brexit and under similar arrangements to the present agreement.The Committee heard that there may be some small positive developments following Brexit, for example the reintroduction of duty free for travellers between the UK and EU.
The need to continue to develop connectivity, especially long-haul connectivity was highlighted to the Committee, in particular the importance of completing projects such as the northern runway as soon as possible.
Ports and Freight
Navigation and merchant shipping remains a reserved competence of the UK Government, so cannot be determined in conjunction with Northern Ireland. As freight arrangements are related to trade,negotiations will be between the United Kingdom and the European Union, so there is little scope or a bilateral agreement between Dublin and Belfast. There are a number of possible solutions to the impacts on the UK land bridge for freight travelling to continental Europe, relating to both air and sea travel, particularly in the context of goods and services.
Proposals to address this are addressed in Chapter 2, but there are some issues that relate more specifically to transport and the practical and infrastructural issues pertaining to Ireland’s seaports, many of which account for roll-on, roll-off (RORO) services. The All-Island Civic Dialogue highlighted that a shift to load on, load off (LOLO) may result in a decreased demand for road haulage services,and there are possible opportunities in new direct shipping routes between Ireland and continental Europe, as well as direct air freight routes.
It is not clear if these are commercially viable and, in any event, while investment for increased traffic directly to continental Europe is needed, the use of the land-bridge is considered fundamental to Ireland’s trading model in goods. Solutions need to be found for continued passage through the UK of goods meant for the EU market. The Committee heard that maintaining seamless transport links to the UK, including the land-bridge, and a seamless
transition to new arrangements, including clarity on the future EU-UK relationship and avoiding a cliff-edge as a priority.
Following Brexit, additional infrastructure and capital expenditure will likely be required to adapt Irish ports to deal with customs checks and cater for larger volumes of freight, as well as accounting for changes in ferry patterns to allow for more frequent ferry travel to the continent. For example, Irish Rail highlighted to the Committee that it (Irish Rail) is the port authority for Rosslare Europort and suggested that investment vehicles could be put in place to allow for additional development that does not impact on the debt levels of Irish semi-state companies that own the ports.
Similarly, the inclusion of Irish ports in the trans-European transport policy (TEN-T) may allow for additional infrastructural funding for the necessary modifications to Irish ports.
This Article draws on Seanad Special Select Committee Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union Brexit: Implications and Potential Solutions June 2017. Irish public sector information is reproduced pursuant to PSI Licence; Conditions of Re-Use of Public Sector Information. The Legal Materials contain Irish Public Sector Information licensed under the Irish Licence which is at http://circulars.gov.ie/pdf/circular/per/2016/12.pdf.