Foynes receives priority status in new port strategy

Gerard Fitzgibbon

Reporter:

Gerard Fitzgibbon

Michael Collins, Shannon Foynes Port company chairman (left) with Minister Leo Varadkar and SFPC chief executive Pat Keating at the launch of the 'Vision 2041' document in Foynes in February. Picture: Sean Curtin
AMBITIOUS plans to turn the Shannon Estuary into a new hub for international shipping have received a boost after Foynes port received priority status in a new Government report.

AMBITIOUS plans to turn the Shannon Estuary into a new hub for international shipping have received a boost after Foynes port received priority status in a new Government report.

Shannon Foynes Port Company (SFPC) is one of only three that have been placed in the top tier of the National Port Policy, which was published this week by Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar.

The tier one classification, alongside Dublin and Cork, means that Foynes port, the commercial fulcrum of SFPC’s operations, will remain a key component in future infrastructure and economic policy. The decision follows the unveiling last month of SFPC’s ‘Vision 2041’ document, which outlines plans to turn the Shannon Estuary into the busiest shipping lane in Ireland over the next thirty years.

Limerick Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan said that SFPC’s listing at the top of the port policy highlights “the very special place that Shannon Foynes has in our national infrastructure”.

“It is the only port on the western seaboard that has been identified as a tier one port... and will form a critical part of our national infrastructure into the future.

“I believe that the designation can be used now by the port authority and the local authority to push for much needed investment in the area, to ensure that we can really see the benefit of having a port of national significance in county Limerick,” Mr O’Donovan added.

The three port companies that have received tier one classification in the new policy each handle a minimum of 15% of the country’s bulk shipping traffic. The report also grades the State’s 16 other ports into tier two and tier three classes, based on current and future shipping capacity.

Last month, Minister Varadkar visited Foynes to launch the 30 year masterplan for the port, which SFPC hope will become a major driver of economic growth in the Mid West, creating up to 2,000 direct and indirect new jobs and attracting €2 billion in investment.

The catalyst for the plan is the hope that Foynes, with its natural deep water harbour, will be best-placed of all Irish ports to benefit from a new era of ‘supertankers’, which are to be rolled out globally following the widening of the Panama canal. SFPC hope that between now and 2041, it will be able to double its current trade of ten million tonnes of cargo worth €6 billion.

The plan also identifies key medium and short term infrastructure projects that could lead to increased shipping levels in Foynes, such as the filling in of the east jetty, the re-opening of the Foynes-Limerick rail line, and an upgrade of the N69. Today, Foynes is the only commercial port in Ireland which is not serviced by a national primary road. Speaking at the launch of the plan last month Michael Collins, chairman of the SFPC, said that while “inward investment into the Shannon region has been neglected” over the last 40 years, the new strategy could “convert the opportunity and attract the scale of investment to the Shannon Estuary that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s”.

Editorial: page 16