Good morning Ladies and Gentleman. It is a pleasure to be here to open today’s conference. I would like to extend my thanks to Dublin Port Company’s Chairperson, Lucy McCaffrey, for her kind invitation to make this opening address to the conference.
When I launched the company’s masterplan consultation document in April, I spoke of the importance of allowing all of the port’s stakeholders an opportunity to have a say in the future direction of the port’s development.
The company has organised a number of events, such as today’s conference. The input provided at these events will help ensure that the final masterplan takes full account of all views.
Dublin is historically a port city. It is important to appreciate that the port and the city have always had an interdependent relationship.
This relationship has on occasion been somewhat fraught. While the public is very positive towards shipping and international trade, the need to develop port infrastructure to support this is not readily understood.
Like all large scale transport infrastructure investment, port developments require at least a 20 to 30 year planning horizon. The operation and development of a large city port such as Dublin should be ruled by long term strategic vision and planning, by both the port authority and the city planners.
On this basis, I applaud the initiative that Dublin Port has taken in this master planning exercise. The process is in line with international best practice and with efforts at a national level to improve integrated transport planning for all modes of transport.
A masterplan is not intended to be restrictive. Rather it should provide a strategic direction for the port’s development over the coming decades. Ports operate in a dynamic commercial world and a masterplan should be flexible enough to allow the port to adapt to changing patterns of demand, and to competitive opportunities.
Planning future port capacity is one of the many issues being addressed as part of the Ports Policy Review currently underway in my Department. The consultation document published last year covered all facets of national ports policy and highlighted a number of important trends in the maritime transport sector.
Like many other sectors of the economy, the pace of change in maritime transport is accelerating fast. Ireland’s ports policy needs to keep up with these global developments.
Foremost among the trends impacting on the future development of ports is the advent of larger vessels requiring deeper access channels and berths. The evidence is that the global recession accelerated this trend, as shipping companies sought to cut costs by using larger ships.
While it is unlikely that the largest vessels will be serving Irish ports, the feeder vessels that serve the big European hubs are also getting bigger, often too big for any of the current ports on the East Coast of Ireland. This does not necessarily mean that there will no demand for smaller ports, but it does mean that the larger volumes will gravitate towards larger ships.
A big challenge for Irish ports is to develop their facilities so that the country can avail of the economies of scale offered by larger ships over the coming decades.
The port statistics for 2010 and to date in 2011 show evidence of the beginnings of the much heralded export led growth in the economy. It is vital that our ports continue to provide the best possible service to the economy at large, as it returns to growth.
In that regard, a key policy issue is the current structure and ownership of the ports. At present the State owns most of the port infrastructure in the country. What is not often appreciated is that most of the superstructure and services are provided by the private sector.
There are currently ten competing port companies of very varied size. These ports share a long and proud maritime history dating back many centuries.
However, the future structure of the sector requires an objective analysis at a strategic national level. The recently published report of the McCarthy Group highlighted the importance of structuring the sector in a way that maximises efficiency and leads to optimal investment decisions.
Any policy intervention at a national level to alter the status quo requires careful consideration. Important issues such as maintaining good competitive conditions and protecting the State’s wider socio-economic interests need to be examined.
A renewed ports policy will need to recognise that changes at a global level require action at a national level to ensure that Ireland is served by first class commercial seaports.
May I conclude by once again thanking our hosts, Dublin Port Company, for organising today’s conference. I encourage you all to avail of this opportunity to influence the future development of the port and the city.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your attention.