Freight volumes through Galloway’s main seaport are under close scrutiny following a huge expansion of sailings from Ireland to Europe.
Rosslare, south of Dublin, is billing itself as a better option than the “land bridge” crossing to Cairnryan.
Goods being shipped between the port and Belfast/Larne are now subject to customs checks following the UK’s exit from the EU.
Rosslare sees that as an opportunity and is targeting haulage firms using Cairnryan and Holyhead – including those in Northern Ireland.
Talking to the News this week, Rosslare Europort general manager Glen Carr confirmed the port was already reaping a Brexit dividend.
He said: “Eighteen months ago we had three direct sailings to mainland Europe a week. Now we have 14.
“DFDS began operating a new service to Dunkirk, six each way direct sailings weekly, on January 2.
“Then Stena saw where demand was going and quickly made the decision to double their Cherbourg service from three to six sailings a week.
“Monday’s DFDS sailing to Dunkirk was fully booked – which tells you the way things are going.”
Mr Carr declined to speculate on any potential impacts on the Cairnryan ferries.
But he said: “We were seeing trucks over the weekend we had never seen before.
“The registration numbers told us some were definitely from Northern Ireland.
“On Saturday alone, on one day, we had the equivalent of a full week’s business in 2020.
“We are planning for an increase in business of between 40 and 50 per cent in 2021.
“Some of that will undoubtedly come from Northern Ireland.”
He added: “We are actively promoting the benefits of Rosslare.
“We don’t believe the land bridge to Cairnryan or Holyhead is greatly quicker.
“Rosslare is Ireland’s closest port geographically to Europe.
“And there have been major road improvements both to Dublin and Cork.”
Crossing from Rosslare takes 18 hours to Cherbourg and 24 hours to Dunkirk.
“There are advantages here that the market is just starting to see,” he said.
“When drivers come on the ship they have accommodation where they can reclaim all their mandatory rest time.
“But most of all, frequency of sailings is the key.”
He added: “The Irish Government has seen the importance of a regional port like Rosslare.”
Dumfries and Galloway Council leader Elaine Murray did not regard the Rosslare crossing as a threat to Cairnryan at this time.
She said: “I am not aware of that being an issue of concern at the moment.
“We have put in a declaration of interest for Cairnryan to become a freeport.
“We are therefore hoping for an increase in business rather than a reduction.”
Dr Murray again highlighted the condition of the A75 and A77 as being a major issue for hauliers and ferry companies.
She said: “Our infrastructure is not capable of dealing with a large increase in traffic.
“Brexit is down to the UK government and maybe they should have a responsibility for improvements.”
The Stena Foreteller has joined the Stena Horizon on the Rosslare-Cherbourg freight-only route.
The move doubles freight capacity as well as frequency of sailings between Ireland and the continent.