DUBLIN, IRELAND - OCTOBER 23: A sign points to Dublin Port on October 23, 2013 in Dublin, Ireland. Dublin is the capital city of The Republic of Ireland situated in the province of Leinster at the mouth of the River Liffey. The greater Dublin area has a population of around 1.5 Million people. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
State-owned Dublin port said it will be ready for border checks on UK imports © Getty

Ireland plans to finish the building work this year for new customs booths and freight inspection points in Dublin as the country’s largest sea terminal prepares for the “inevitability” of border controls after Brexit. 

The state-owned port said it would be ready for border checks on UK imports and is assuming that London will leave both the EU customs union and the single market. The preparations are being finalised this year in case talks for a transition deal after Brexit fall through.

“We have taken what the UK government has said at face value — period. Any changes that happen that improve that are most welcome but we’re not depending on it happening,” said Eamonn O’Reilly, chief executive of Dublin Port Company.

“We’re not working on the basis of there being any magical political solution.” 

Mr O’Reilly said he had worked closely with Ireland’s customs service, the police, and the agriculture and health departments to assess the need for new physical checks at the port after Brexit.

Private ferry operators, hauliers and companies that make big shipments through the port have also taken part in the discussions on the checks. 

“All of the processes already exist today for this to happen,” Mr O’Reilly said. The screening of UK imports would mirror checks already made on imports from non-EU locations such as China. 

G2MKW1 Dublin Port showing European Endeavor with Dublin City in background
More than half of imports through Dublin port come from the UK ports of Holyhead, Liverpool and Heysham © Ros Drinkwater/Alamy

A planning application will be made in April to facilitate a huge increase in checks on the port’s import traffic, more than half of which comes from UK ports at Holyhead, Liverpool and Heysham. In addition to new customs posts, there will be inspection points for food shipments and for racehorses travelling to and from UK race meetings.

Although the proposal includes new overflow yards for queueing trucks, Mr O’Reilly said the system could be introduced without adding to traffic congestion in Dublin. “I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said, adding that most lorries would probably drive straight on to public roads from ships. 

“We know the layouts. We know the routes that the trailers will travel off the ships and where these control points will be. We know where the inspection areas will be. It’s all specified.”

Preparations for new customs checks come as the Irish government intensifies contingency planning throughout the Irish state for a “no deal” hard Brexit, including emergency laws to recast trade rules currently underpinned by EU law.

Dublin wants such laws ready for swift enactment if the talks fail, the aim being to minimise disruption with a so-called “managed disorderly” Brexit. 

London, Dublin and Brussels agreed in December to avoid controls on the land border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland in a deal that cleared the way for the second phase of Brexit talks. The push to “hardwire” such arrangements into the UK’s EU withdrawal agreement remains a potential flashpoint in the talks. 

But Mr O’Reilly said the December deal did not cover the sea border. “Regardless of what happens in respect of the ‘phase one’ agreement, there will be border controls in Dublin port. I have no doubt about that.”

The port has enough space in its 250-hectare complex to accommodate the new customs infrastructure, he added. The building cost has been estimated to be in the “single millions” of euro, a sum Mr O’Reilly said was immaterial compared with total capital expenditure this year of €132m. 

Between 400 and 500 trucks arrive daily in Dublin from the UK at the peak time, between 5am and 6am. According to Mr O’Reilly, between 40 and 50 trucks are likely to have some form of interaction with border officials. “But all will have been screened and some will be pulled for inspection on a planned basis, some might be pulled on an ad hoc basis,” he said. “We think that number will be very small.” 

Dublin port currently imports 1.3m containers or trailers per year, all but 200,000 of which originate within the EU and are therefore shipped into Ireland without customs checks.

“Once Brexit happens, 200,000 increases to 1m,” Mr O’Reilly said.

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