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Port of the month: the Port of Dublin

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Port of Dublin

Port of Dublin

Friday, 30 May 2014 00:00 – This month, ESPO news is heading to Dublin. We believe Dublin Port deserves a place in our “Port of the Month” column. Moreover, Eamonn O’Reilly, CEO of the Dublin Port has been Vice Chairman of ESPO since 2012.

Could you give us a short overview of the Port of Dublin? What are its main characteristics?

The port of Dublin is a multi-modal port and is the largest port on the island of Ireland with an annual cargo throughput of 19 million tonnes. The biggest part of our business is unitised with 750, 000 Ro-Ro units per annum and 500, 000 TEU of Lo-Lo. Apart from unitised we also import 3.6 million tonnes of petroleum products, which is more than half of what the country consumes, and we handle 2.0 million tonnes of dry bulk commodities. On the passenger side, we handled 1.6, million passengers last year and had 100 cruise calls.

All these activities are squeezed into a land area of 260 hectares, sandwiched between Dublin City and Dublin Bay, while Dublin Bay itself contains many protected Natura 2000 sites. Furthermore, there are 1.8 million people living in the Greater Dublin Area from an island wide population of 6.4 million. So, Dublin is truly a port city with all the benefits and challenges that brings.

Ireland is an island. Self-evidently, this means that its ports have an important business case. What does this imply in terms of port activity?

The value of Ireland’s merchandise import and export trades is equivalent to 86% of GDP and international trade is a vital part of our economy. Dublin Port is, therefore, a critical piece of national infrastructure. We understand this fact very well, and so do our shipping line customers. However, beyond this, Dublin Port faces the same problems many other historic European ports face in getting general acceptance and support for what they do.

How to look at Dublin Port as a passenger port?

There is a short sea crossing of only 80km to Wales and the historic sea crossing to Holyhead still generates considerable passenger volumes. There is also a direct weekly passenger ferry connection with Cherbourg. The passenger business is, therefore, a major part of what we do. Moreover, the passenger ferries are multipurpose and carry Ro-Ro freight throughout the year.

There are only two airports in Ireland with larger passenger numbers than Dublin Port. Besides, we experience a growing and thriving cruise business. For example, last year, we welcomed 100 cruise ships with 150, 000 visitors to the city.

We understand that the Irish Competition Authority has been assessing the competition side of the port? What were its conclusions?

The Competition Authority has recognised the reality that a port such as Dublin has a very large share of the market due to its location. The main conclusion from this is that competition within the port is essential. This very much fits within the operating model we have followed for more than 20 years. Dublin Port Company employs only 136 staff and all cargo handling and terminal operations are performed by private sector companies. There are, for example, three competing container terminals, four competing ferry lines operating to Great Britain and huge intermodal competition in containers and trailers between Dublin and ports in the Netherlands and Belgium. This landlord model approach has worked very well in terms of driving operational efficiencies and achieving competitive costs.

The Port of Dublin has recently developed a Masterplan 2012-2040? What is the vision of the Port? How will it furtherport of dublin 3 develop?

Taking a long-term view of our business has been an essential part in beginning to rebuild the connections between the port, the city and many other stakeholders. It takes a long time to build port infrastructure and now that we are able to give an informed 30 year view to stakeholders, I believe that we will be better able to expand the port’s capacity.

We are currently going through the planning process with the Alexandra Basin Redevelopment Project as part of which we hope to rebuild 3km of quay walls and dredge the 10km channel into Dublin Port to a depth of 10 metres. It is probably the largest single project in the port in the past 200 years and I believe our Masterplan has been of enormous benefit in helping us to present our project holistically so that the many stakeholders with a love for Dublin City and for Dublin Bay can evaluate our requirements and proposals constructively.

You know that ESPO has been investing a lot of efforts over the last years in finding ways to optimise the integration of the ports into the city and local community? Is this also a challenge for Dublin? What are your remedies?

We came across the challenge of port / city integration very soon after we started into preparing our Masterplan. ESPO’s Code of Practice on Societal Integration and, particularly, Eric van Hooydonk’s writings and thoughts on the soft values of seaports were crucially important in giving us a vocabulary and a framework to address this issue. In practical terms we have prepared a Soft Values Strategic Framework and are working through a range of projects to help us gain acceptance and understanding.

In a few weeks’ time, the newly elected parliament will be operational. In a few months, a new Commission will be in place. Last week ESPO presented its memorandum for the European elections. What is the most important point for you in this text?

Given that we are an island, I think the most important message the memorandum is presenting is that ports are important. This seems self-evident to those of us in the industry. However, we have failed to maintain the necessary connection with our cities.

100 years ago, James Joyce wrote the following in one of his Dubliners short stories where two young kids are mitching from school:

We came then near the river. We spent a long time walking about the noisy streets flanked by high stone walls, watching the working of cranes and engines and often being shouted at for our immobility by the drivers of groaning carts. It was noon when we reached the quays and as all the labourers seemed to be eating their lunches, we bought two big currant buns and sat down to eat them on some metal piping beside the river. We pleased ourselves with the spectacle of Dublin’s commerce…

This was not an unusual sentiment in 1914. It would be today; and our challenge is to make the people of Dublin think of their port in similar terms in the 21st Century.

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