Transport | Ensuring the viability of the transport sector
To ask the Minister for Transport the extent to which steps are ongoing to ensure the viability of the transport sector, notwithstanding any challenges from whatever source; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
A number of significant steps taken in recent years and on-going within the Department of Transport, will help to ensure the overall viability of the transport sector, ensuring that connectivity within Ireland and internationally is safeguarded.
The Government recognises that aviation makes significant direct and indirect contributions in the regions, providing for high quality jobs within the aviation sector as well as through the various ancillary services that are provided to airports, the airlines, and in the local economy.
Early in the COVID-19 crisis, the Government put in place a broad range of unprecedented economy wide supports to help mitigate the effects of the crisis, which many companies in the aviation sector, have availed of.
The level of funding provided is a clear indication of the importance Government attaches to the financial viability of our regional airports. Exchequer funding provided to date has enabled the strong recovery of traffic through our regional airports last year, with airports forecasting an even stronger 2023 above 2019 passenger levels.
The Government is strongly committed to providing reliable and realistic sustainable mobility options, and public transport plays a key role in the delivery of this goal. Budget 2023 helps support this objective and is a further positive development for public transport passengers across the country.
My department has extended the 20% fare reduction on Public Service Obligation (PSO) services and the 50% reduction available for young adults on both PSO and commercial bus services until the end of this year. My department is also supporting new and enhanced bus and rail services throughout 2023. These are all part of a €563 million funding package to support PSO services and that package is hugely significant in the context of providing accessible and affordable transport options.
In line with National Development Plan (NDP) objectives and National Ports Policy, the State ports are continuing to progress projects under their masterplans to enhance Ireland’s capacity and connectivity and allow the ports to respond to market needs, handle increases in ship sizes and frequency and serve the import and export needs of the economy.
National Ports Policy provides the overarching policy framework for the governance and future development of Ireland’s state port network. However, the national and international environment for which the 2013 policy was developed has changed fundamentally. As Minister, I recognise that a new approach is needed to assist our ports with the environmental, technological, demographic, and geopolitical challenges of the next decade and beyond.
To address these new challenges a port capacity study is currently underway and is due for completion shortly. Upon its finalisation, a full review of National Ports Policy will commence later this year, which will look at the overall ports policy framework. The first stage in this review will be the drafting of an Issues Paper and it is anticipated that this will go to public consultation in the first half of 2023.
With regards to our shipping sector, the major change in trade flows since the end of the Brexit transition period has demonstrated the resilience and responsiveness of the Irish shipping industry. It adjusted swiftly and comprehensively to the changes in demand from business, and provided a range of additional services, frequency and capacity options to transport goods to continental markets. My department, in conjunction with the Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO) will continue to monitor available shipping capacity and work with the sector to ensure it can continue to adapt to the changing environmental, economic and geopolitical landscape. The department is also working with other departments and ports to ensure compliance with any EU trade sanctions that have been introduced as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In relation to the haulage sector, the Licensed Haulage Emergency Support Scheme provided over €15.5 million in direct financial aid to more than 3,000 licensed road haulage operators in 2022 to help to ease cost pressures arising from high fuel prices, associated with the conflict in Ukraine.
A new €18 million support scheme for licensed hauliers will operate this year. The full details of the scheme will be finalised and communicated directly to road haulage operators in Q1 of 2023.
These measures are in addition to the excise duty reductions on diesel and petrol which were extended in Budget 2023 to 28 February 2023, as well as the ongoing Diesel Rebate Scheme and the National Oil Reserves Agency (NORA) levy reduction.
Ireland’s Road Haulage Strategy 2022–2031 was published on 15 December 2022. The strategy focuses on generating efficiencies, improving standards, securing jobs and helping the road freight sector move to a low-carbon future. Its implementation will be monitored by a new stakeholder group, the Road Freight Forum.
A global and longstanding shortage of drivers continues to impact the road freight sector. The Logistics and Supply Chain Skills Group, established in 2019, oversees the implementation of actions to address the issue, including recruitment of drivers from abroad and the development of entry, educational and career pathways for new drivers.
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