Dublin (AFP)

Faced with the complications of Brexit, Ireland is determined to find ways to transport goods directly to continental Europe in order to avoid possible congestion at the borders with the United Kingdom.

Each year, 150,000 trucks use the "UK passage" to transport 3 million tonnes of freight between the Republic and the European Union.

Heavy goods vehicles usually take the ferry from Irish ports to UK soil, then roll to charter centers in South East England, before completing their journey to the mainland.

But with the exit from the single market on January 1 and despite the trade agreement concluded between London and Brussels, there is no guarantee that trade will keep the same fluidity at the borders.

"Declarations, regulatory checks ... will now have to be taken into account because the United Kingdom has left the EU", and "there will be delays", Tom Talbot, head of customs at the port of Dublin, warned on Monday .

Many Irish road hauliers are looking to take new routes to stay within the single market and customs union, the only way to escape disruption.

The port of Rosslare Europort, located in the south-east of the island and the second largest freight center in the country, already offers 28 journeys per week to or from Europe, compared to ten previously.

In December, the Swedish shipping company Stenaline put in place earlier than expected its plan to double its trips between this Irish port and Cherbourg in France, in particular due to the blockage of trucks due to restrictions linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. .

Last Saturday, the Danish maritime freight company DFDS opened a new service to the port of Dunkirk, which was full on its first day.

Cargo traffic "more than doubled" to mainland Europe for Saturday alone compared to the first week of 2020, according to Rosslare port manager Glenn Carr.

"The demand for these services has been extremely strong," he told AFP, adding that he is considering further accelerating the pace.

At the port of Dublin, the largest in Ireland, new destinations to mainland Europe were launched as soon as the 2016 Brexit vote was taken.

Ferries from the Luxembourg company CLdN provide connections to Zeebrugge in Belgium and Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

- Real test coming soon -

Irish authorities have more recently encouraged logistics companies to "prepare to switch to direct routes to the mainland" in the event of post-Brexit disruptions.

But bypassing the UK obviously takes longer.

From Rosslare to Dunkirk, it takes 24 hours at sea, while a trip from Dublin to Dunkirk via the UK theoretically only takes around 13 hours.

However, in practice, drivers are entitled to breaks, face the vagaries of traffic jams and spend more time boarding and exiting ferries that they take twice.

A direct trip to Europe "gives more confidence," slice Simon McKeever, director general of the association of Irish exporters.

For now, the first few days of the year have been calm at the port of Dublin, largely due to a slowdown in trade after the holiday season and due to restrictions linked to the pandemic.

The Irish Department for Transport adds that companies carried stocks in December for fear of post-Brexit congestion, which has not yet been the case.

Traffic is expected to return to normal and ramp up in the coming weeks, which will be the real test for the EU-UK border.

This is when any delays will emerge and Irish carriers wishing to travel to the continent may decide to do without the UK for good.

© 2021 AFP