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UK Government to review ferry funding scheme following Holyhead complaints

The U.K. Government is to review its emergency funding scheme for ferry operators after complaints from a Plaid Cymru MP, local councillors and the Welsh Government according to the Daily Post. The port, which is the busiest in Wales and second busiest in Great Britain for Ro-Ro freight traffic, has two ferry services to Dublin. Like the Holyhead – Dublin services operated by Stena Line and Irish Ferries, P&O Ferries and Seatruck Ferries Liverpool – Dublin routes have also been left out of the scheme.

At present the UK Government’s £17m scheme only covers routes sailing to Northern Ireland from Great Britain. As similar Irish Government scheme covers mainly routes from Rosslare. Irish Ferries Dublin – Cherbourg service is the sole exception. Both government’s schemes are designed support ferry operators who provide critical routes for food, medicines and other essential supplies over a time limited period. This is two months in the case of the UK/NI scheme. A separate undisclosed amount has also been made available by the UK for 26 routes linking Great Britain with Europe, however, routes to Ireland are not included in this scheme either. The Northern Ireland executive is to cover 40% of the cost of the UK & Northern Ireland scheme.

KERRY seen on the occasion of her first arrival at the Spanish port of Bilbao. Brittany Ferries.
KERRY seen on the occasion of her first arrival at the Spanish port of Bilbao. This was also her first sailing from Rosslare. Brittany Ferries.

Important to NI

The Central Corridor routes from Dublin to Holyhead and Liverpool are important for traffic going to and from Northern Ireland. Some estimate that as much as a third of all Northern Ireland Ro-Ro freight may pass through Dublin. While Belfast leads Holyhead in terms of freight units handled due to its three Stena Line routes, Holyhead is by far the leader in terms of passenger vehicles carried. The lack of passenger traffic due to movement restrictions will in theory, therefore, impact Holyhead even more than Belfast.

Freight and passenger traffic down

According to their official Q1 2020 statistics, both cars and passengers passing through Dublin Port are down by around 18% versus the same period last year. With the full impact of COVID-19 restrictions not felt until towards the end of the quarter, this figure is likely much higher at present. Despite the initial boost to freight traffic as a result of stockpiling, the decline is already evident in the Q1 statistics with a drop of over 5%. Again, the current figure is likely to be much higher, especially given reductions in the number of crossings have taken place both sides of the Irish border.

Sunrise at Dublin Port. STENA ADVENTURER arrives at Dublin from Holyhead, 28 May 2019. Copyright © Robbie Cox.
Sunrise at Dublin Port. STENA ADVENTURER arrives at Dublin from Holyhead, 28 May 2019. Copyright © Robbie Cox.

Already Irish Ferries has decided not to operate its Dublin – Holyhead fast-craft DUBLIN SWIFT until further notice. Stena Line have also reduced sailings over some weekends, when freight volumes tend to be lower. The company are also reducing theoretical passenger capacity on their Holyhead service with the replacement of STENA ESTRID with STENA NORDICA so the former can undergo maintenance. At present no timeline appears to have been put on the UK scheme review process, which is being undertaken by Government ministers.

What routes Qualify for government funding?

The following routes from the Island of Ireland currently qualify for funding (at the time of writing);

RouteOperatorScheme
Belfast – Cairnryan Stena LineUK Government scheme
Belfast – HeyshamStena LineUK Government scheme
Belfast – Liverpool (Birkenhead)Stena LineUK Government scheme
Dublin – CherbourgIrish FerriesIrish Government scheme
Larne – CairnryanP&O FerriesUK Government scheme
Rosslare – BilbaoBrittany FerriesIrish Government scheme
Rosslare – CherbourgStena LineIrish Government scheme
Rosslare – FishguardStena LineIrish Government scheme
Rosslare – Pembroke DockIrish FerriesIrish Government scheme
Warrenpoint – HeyshamSeatruck FerriesUK Government scheme

Notably, all of the routes which qualify for Irish Government funding are single ship services which rely heavily on the seasonal passenger trade.  

Seatruck Ferries SEATRUCK POWER passes Crosby inbound to Liverpool towards the end of a rare Sunday daytime crossing from Dublin, 19 April 2020. © Ian Collard.
Seatruck Ferries SEATRUCK POWER passes Crosby inbound to Liverpool towards the end of a rare Sunday daytime crossing from Dublin, 19 April 2020. This followed disruption to P&O Ferries competing service as the result of a payment dispute. © Ian Collard.

What routes do not currently Qualify for funding?

The following routes do not currently qualify for funding from either government scheme;

RouteOperator
Dublin – HeyshamSeatruck Ferries
Dublin – HolyheadStena Line
Dublin – HolyheadIrish Ferries
Dublin – LiverpoolP&O Ferries
Dublin – LiverpoolSeatruck Ferries

Steven Tarbox

Steven is the editor of NIFerry.co.uk having established the site in 2014. He lives near Belfast.
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