Brexit stockpiling buoyed Dublin Port in pandemic-hit year

Company reports reduction of just 3.4% in cargo volumes despite hit from Covid-19

Brexit stockpiling by companies before Christmas helped Dublin Port keep its cargo business just 3.4 per cent down on 2019 last year, despite significant drops in the middle part of the year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dublin Port Company reported trading figures for the fourth quarter of 2020 and for the year as a whole on Tuesday.

It reported full-year volumes of 36.9 million gross tonnes. Notwithstanding the decline, it was still the third-busiest year for cargo at Dublin Port with higher volumes recorded in only 2018 (38 million gross tonnes) and 2019 (38.1 million gross tonnes).

Imports for the year fell by 5 per cent to 21.7 million gross tonnes and exports declined by 0.9 per cent to 15.2 million gross tonnes.


The first quarter of 2020 was slow (down 4.9 per cent) by comparison to a strong first quarter in 2019, which had been driven by Brexit stockpiling in advance of the original Brexit date of March 31st, 2019.

The second quarter of 2020 was very difficult (down 17 per cent) due to the pandemic, with very large reductions in volumes in April (down 26.2 per cent) and May (down 20.5 per cent). However, volumes recovered in the third quarter with growth of 1.1 per cent.

The year ended with a very strong fourth quarter (up 7.6 per cent) driven by the second and final round of Brexit stockpiling. Volumes in December alone were ahead by 21.7 per cent.

A single cruise ship

Imports of new trade vehicles during the year declined substantially by 29.3 per cent to 53,000 units, while the reduction in vehicles on the road also drove bulk liquid imports of petroleum products down 17 per cent to 3.9 million tonnes.

Bulk solids, including agri-feed products, ore concentrates and cement products, finished the year up 7.6 per cent at 2 million tonnes.

In contrast to the cargo side of Dublin Port’s business, the pandemic drove passenger and tourism volumes down significantly. Passenger numbers on ferries (including hauliers) declined by 57.3 per cent to 833,000. Tourist vehicles declined by 61.6 per cent to 215,000.

On the cruise side, there was a single small cruise ship early in the year compared to 158 in 2019.

Dublin Port chief executive Eamonn O’Reilly said the group benefited from “extraordinary Brexit-driven growth” in December. “This is normally a quiet month, but December 2020 ended up being the fifth busiest month ever,” he said.

‘Financially strong’

“Against the background of so much Brexit stockpiling, both on the import side and on the export side, the slow start we are seeing in 2021 was inevitable.

“The gradual return to more normal volumes gives an opportunity for cargo owners to adapt to the re-introduction of non-tariff barriers to trade with Britain 28 years after the single market did away with them.

“Whereas the cargo side of the port’s business was resilient in a difficult year, the passenger side has been badly affected by the Covid-19 travel restrictions with a 60 per cent reduction in passenger numbers and tourist vehicles.

“However, with the roll out of vaccines, we are hoping to see this business returning to normal levels later in the year. On the cruise side, however, the outlook is altogether bleaker, and it is unlikely we will see any cruise ships during 2021.”

Mr O’Reilly said the port ended the year in a “financially strong position”. While there was some slowdown in its capital investment programme last year, it will be progressing with €400 million of capital works over the next five years with investment of €84 million in 2021.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter