Ireland could face shortages of fresh food and other goods in a matter of weeks if post-Brexit trade rules are not relaxed, road hauliers have warned.
Food consignments are getting blocked in UK warehouses or stopped at Irish ports due to extra Brexit checks, leaving drivers stranded and hauliers carrying the cost.
Fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and other perishable foods coming in to Ireland via the UK are most at risk, but even biscuits, curry sauce and canned goods are getting stopped, hauliers told the Irish Independent.
And because hauliers work on a round-trip basis, this could eventually slow down Irish dairy or pharma exports going to the EU.
“The fresh product that’s coming from the UK is going to run out. It’s not coming in. It’s coming in very, very slow and in very small quantities. It’s a shambles,” Limerick-based haulier Cunningham Transport told the Irish Independent this week.
“It’s crazy and it can’t go on,” said Darren Murphy of Monaghan-based BM Transport. “We’ve lost all efficiencies in our businesses. Trying to keep ahead of all this stuff is just a nightmare. It’s all cost, cost, cost.”
Independent TD Verona Murphy said one large supermarket had 33 loads of fresh produce sitting in Dublin Port on Thursday night that will end up being destroyed if they can’t clear customs in time.
“They don’t have three days’ shelf life to sit in a port,” she said.
“They will be either sent back to the UK or they will be just destroyed here, and the cost of that is in excess of a million euros,” said the TD, who is a former president of the Irish Road Haulage Association.
“That’s job losses immediately, and it’s certainly empty shelves in the supply chain.”
The Government has advised Irish hauliers to avoid the UK land bridge, where possible, and use direct ferry routes to and from France, but they are maxed out due to the extra demand.
“We still need more routes off the island,” said Simon McKeever of the Irish
Exporters’ Association. “I am in no doubt that it is long-term demand. Companies just want to completely avoid the land bridge where they can.”
The Revenue Commissioners say they are clearing over 70pc of goods at Dublin Port, but the remaining 30pc – mainly food – needs to be physically checked, which is causing massive delays.
And the port is operating at only a fraction of its normal capacity.
Exhausted and frustrated freight transporters say things will only get worse if more goods start to come in to Ireland from the UK.
One haulier said he had spoken to colleagues about possible industrial action if the situation doesn’t improve.
“Will we stop? Will we protest? Will we go out to Dáil Éireann? Will we block the port? This is the way fellas are thinking now. These are big guys that are on their knees.”
Hauliers say UK companies don’t know how to fill in the customs paperwork, a problem that’s compounded by a lack of customs agents in Dublin to process it. They are also struggling to get to grips with new IT systems.
It means that even goods with their paperwork in order are not getting through.
“Most of our loads are single commodities – the most simple sort of clearances you can do,” said Darren Murphy. “And we’re still only bringing in two trailers a day because they’re struggling to get the clearances.”
He said a load of biscuits that one of his drivers brought in to Dublin Port this week was held up for a full day, despite having the right documentation.
“They never examined the load. They never came back looking for any more details – nothing. But they held him for a full nine hours, at which stage his working day was basically up. So I lost a full day’s operations on a truck, for nothing.”
The Irish Freight Transport Association (IFTA) says that to keep goods flowing, no more than 6pc should be subject to documentary or physical checks.
The group wrote to the Taoiseach yesterday calling for a six-month stay on some of the declarations hauliers have to make to give them time to get used to the system.
The Taoiseach said the Government would do everything possible “to minimise the disruption” but that these were the “negative practicalities of Brexit” that come with a 10-fold increase in customs declarations.
Fianna Fáil MEP Barry Andrews has raised the issue with the European Commission but admitted he has “been given no hope whatsoever that any alterations will be made”.
The IFTA says problems will start to arise as supermarkets run down their pre-Christmas stockpiles.
Tesco has experienced some disruption to supplies to the island of Ireland, its chief executive said on Thursday. But SuperValu, Aldi and Lidl say they have enough stock and are not facing Brexit-related issues.
“If we start to see things absent on shelves, we may need to roll back things for a period.
“We may need to be pragmatic about this,” Mr McKeever said.
Source: Irish News