Port Pro of the month

Port pro of the month: Eamonn O'Reilly (IE)

21 December 2017

In this Port pro of the month, we are interviewing Mr Eamonn O'Reilly, the Chairman of ESPO and Chief Executive of the Dublin Port Company (Ireland). We asked him about his views on the current state of play in his port, his vision for the future and his opinion on some challenges which ports are facing today.

You are not only leading Ireland’s premier port, you are also chairing ESPO at the moment. What does ESPO mean for you? What are ESPO’s priorities for 2018?

For me, ESPO has two key roles.

Firstly, ESPO is a knowledge sharing network where ports from across the EU can share experiences and learn from each other. The benefit from the collegial network that ESPO is, can best be seen in the now 20-year-old EcoPorts, a wonderful bottom-up initiative to raise environmental awareness among European ports and, by doing this, to improve environmental management in our industry.

Secondly, ESPO is the representative body with the institutions of the European Union contributing a valuable and representative port industry perspective to the development and implementation of European policies. Policy development without consultation does not work. In my experience with ESPO over the past seven years, I have been equally impressed by the quality of the analysis within ESPO and by the willingness of the Commission to debate this analysis. The result is a comprehensive legislative and policy framework which has given real meaning to the concept of a level playing pitch in our industry.

Looking ahead at 2018, I see two main priorities. 

Firstly, there is the challenge within the year to ensure that there is a sufficient budget for transport and ports in the Connecting Europe Facility for the period 2021 to 2028.  This is essential to ensure that the core network is completed by 2030.

Secondly, there is the overarching challenge of climate change. We need to make sure that ports and other players in the supply chain (notably shipping and road haulage) play their part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Freight and passenger traffic to and from the United Kingdom is an important business for the Port of Dublin. How could Brexit affect those traffics? In your opinion, what should definitely be taken into account by the negotiators to ensure that the impact of Brexit on the flow of goods and passengers is reduced to a minimum?

Since Ireland joined the EU in 1973 (along with Denmark and the UK), the proportion of our external trade with the UK has gradually reduced. Today, the UK accounts for 17.5% by value of our external trade in goods.

In volume terms, however, 60% of Dublin Port’s trade is with UK ports – 50% in Ro-Ro to Holyhead, Liverpool and Heysham and 10% in petroleum products from Milford Haven.

Post BREXIT, I expect to see a significant move of volume from UK services onto direct services to Continental Europe. We have already seen CLdN (Compagnie Luxembourg de Navigation) Cobelfret introduce its massive 8,000 lanemetres Celine on its Dublin / Zeebrugge / Rotterdam route. In 2018, Irish Ferries, will deploy its newly built ferry, W.B. Yeats, on its Dublin / Cherbourg route.

I would not try to advise those negotiating a new trade deal between the EU27 and the UK. Ideally, the UK would choose to remain in the Single European Market and the Customs Union. Anything less than this would be negative for everyone – the EU27, Ireland, Dublin Port and the UK itself. 

The Port of Dublin is a core port located on the North Sea Mediterranean Corridor of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T). In 2014, the Port of Dublin succeeded in obtaining funding from the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) for a project called “Dublin Port Alexandra Basin Redevelopment”. Can you briefly explain this project to us? Can you explain why a financing mechanism such as the Connecting Europe Facility is important for your port?

The ABR Project sees us redeveloping 3,000 metres or 42% of the port’s berths and deepening the 10 km channel into the port by 2.2 metres. This is the first of a small number of major development projects which will bring Dublin Port to its ultimate capacity by 2040.

Major port projects are very expensive. Dublin Port receives no public funding and must finance capital projects from its own resources. Big infrastructure needs long-term patient finance. The Connecting Europe Facility and the possibility of blending with other sources of finance provide essential access to capital for port projects. In our case in Dublin this includes a 20-year € 100m loan from the EIB.

EU port policy has advanced considerably in recent years and the availability of CEF and other sources of finance is key in turning TEN-T policy into reality.

In 2016, the Port of Dublin announced the decision to create an External Port Logistics Zone, which will be located land inward. Can you briefly tell us more about this project? Why has the port chosen to invest in this land inward location? 

Dublin Port is geographically constrained by Dublin City to the west and by Natura 2000 sites in Dublin Bay to the east. We are, therefore, challenged to maximise the use of the port’s existing land bank of 260 hectares with no possibility of increasing it. To do this, we have initiated a policy to remove port-related but non-core activities and relocate them to the 44 hectare Dublin Inland Port. 

We hope to free up about 25 hectares of land in Dublin Port by doing this. This will give around 7.5 million tonnes more throughput capacity.

The Dublin Port Masterplan 2012-2040 sets out a vision for the development for the next 30 years. This year, the port started a review of the Masterplan. What were the reasons for conducting the review?

For 31 years from 1979, Dublin Port sought permission to expand the area of the port into Dublin Bay by infilling 21 hectares. This came to a decisive end in 2010 when permission was refused. This was the essential motivation to prepare a fundamental Masterplan to set the long-term development course for the port.

This required us to take a view on future long-term growth and identify how this could be catered for. This analysis was underpinned by a Strategic Environmental Assessment.

The Dublin Port Masterplan 2012-2040, which emerged from this process identified how we could provide capacity for future growth. Critically, however, it also concluded that there is an identifiable limit to the size and future throughput capacity of Dublin Port. The Masterplan envisages Dublin Port’s volumes growing by an average annual rate of 3.3% to 2040 to reach a maximum volume of 77m tonnes per annum.

We commenced a review of the Masterplan during 2016 and will publish an updated Masterplan in the first quarter of 2018.

In 2015, the Port of Dublin won the ESPO Award on Societal Integration, through which ESPO encourages ports to integrate themselves more towards society. Investing in a good and sustainable port-city relationship is a key component of the Port of Dublin’s current Masterplan. Why is establishing a good relationship with the local community so important for the port? Which projects are being conducted to improve this relationship?

Most ports are still urban ports and they inevitably impact on local communities. If ports are careless, then this impact will be negative and ports will not be able to expand in the face of local opposition. However, there is no reason why the impact on local communities cannot be positive. This requires a high degree of emotional intelligence at the level of the port authority. We must be aware of the impact we have on neighbouring communities and take positive steps to ensure that there is a strong relationship between the port and the city.

In Dublin Port, we have commenced the construction of a Port Trail which starts in the city and will eventually lead through the working port to a new four kilometre pedestrian and cycle track along the northern perimeter of the port. In 2016, we developed the Diving Bell, an industrial heritage installation in the heart of the rapidly developing Dublin Docklands area. This is the start of our Port Trail. In 2017, we opened a new maritime garden around our head office and in 2018 we will begin work on the four kilometre green route.

Completing the Port Trail will take a decade and as we work step by step to make it a reality, we will continue a wide range of cultural and heritage initiatives in areas such as music, theatre and the visual arts.

What are the main focal points of your port’s environmental policy? Does your port take any measures to reduce its carbon footprint?

Our main focus currently is on the marine environment and, in particular, the impact of dredging and dumping at sea. During 2017, we deployed four sophisticated monitoring buoys in Dublin Bay and we are using these to gain a far deeper understanding of the dynamics of the marine environment we are working in. 

We are also entering a new five-year agreement with BirdWatch Ireland to continue the Dublin Bay Birds Project.

We have also installed a comprehensive network of air quality monitoring equipment to help us understand and respond to air quality issues relating to port activity.

In terms of carbon footprint, we are installing photovoltaics and battery storage in port buildings to reduce our dependence on electricity from the grid.

We measure and publish our energy consumption and carbon footprint data in our annual Sustainability Report. In the overall scale of the problem, ports tend to be small carbon emitters. Dublin Port, for example, is responsible for 38 minutes of Ireland’s annual carbon emissions. While we must and will reduce our emissions, we are particularly concerned to see national, EU and worldwide policy initiatives that will clean up electricity generation and provide low or zero-carbon fuels for the road haulage and shipping sectors.

During the last years, ESPO has been putting a lot of efforts in digitalising data on port performance within the PORTOPIA project (an FP7 project that aims to measure port performance). How is the Port of Dublin measuring its performance? 

Each port has particular challenges. In Dublin Port, our challenge is to maximise the capacity of the port without the possibility of expanding its footprint. We therefore focus on performance measures related to land use. For example, we currently have a throughput of 135,000 tonnes per hectare per annum on the 260 hectare port estate. The similar figures in Barcelona and Rotterdam are 44,000 and 59,000. If we are to reach our Masterplan targets, we will have to increase to 300,000 tonnes per hectare per annum.

Benchmarking against other comparable ports is very important and a digital platform that allows us to do this in areas such as environmental performance is a powerful tool. ESPO’s recent decision to implement a system to take forward the work of PORTOPIA will help ports such as Dublin to continue to benchmark themselves and improve performance.

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