Minister warns NI supply chain will be hit by P&O disruption at Larne Port
The temporary halting of P&O’s sailings at Larne Port will affect supplies coming into NI as other ferry operators are “pretty near full”, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has warned.
It will be another week before P&O ships can operate from the port, after the firm sacked 800 staff.
One retail industry representative said disruption was for now “manageable”.
Mr Poots, however, warned that goods normally coming into Northern Ireland “won’t be able to get in”.
“There are export materials that need to get out of Northern Ireland which won’t get out,” he told BBC’s The View programme.
“About 50% of our food is exported out of Great Britain, so that is a real problem for us.”
As P&O sailings are a key part of Northern Ireland’s retail logistics infrastructure, the matter needed to be resolved “very quickly”, said NIRC’s director Aodhán Connolly.
He said retailers had stock in large distribution centres which should last for about four or five days.
In the meantime, he said retailers were looking at alternative Irish Sea options such as using the ports of Belfast and Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland and Dublin in the Republic of Ireland.
With regard to the transport of goods to and from mainland Europe, Mr Connolly said retailers were also considering using the Eurotunnel or air freight.
“P&O sailings are a key part of our retail logistics infrastructure – them being out of action does put immediate pressure on supply chains,” Mr Connolly told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.
“While this is manageable at the moment, the longer the disruption continues, the more the likelihood is that we could see some issues, so this needs to be resolved very quickly,” he added.
On Thursday, private security officers were sent on to a ship docked at Larne Harbour in County Antrim, to remove staff.
Nearly a quarter of P&O Ferries’ UK staff were told via a video message on Thursday that it was their “final day of employment”.
Steve Hedley of the RMT union told Good Morning Ulster on Friday that P&O’s actions were “completely unacceptable”.
He said the union’s legal team were preparing a legal challenge and would be working with maritime unions across the world.
“We have no problem at all with people getting jobs, as long as they are on the same terms and conditions of people working here,” he said.
Mr Hedley said he was originally from Northern Ireland and that the ferries were “absolutely essential” to its economy and infrastructure.
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, William McCaughey, said the council would be seeking urgent discussions with P&O and that “council officers are on-hand to support affected staff”.