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Stena Line’s newest addition to its fleet, the brand-new Stena Embla in Belfast.

Stena Line’s newest addition to its fleet, the brand-new Stena Embla in Belfast.

Stena Line’s newest addition to its fleet, the brand-new Stena Embla in Belfast.

Ireland's direct export access to the Continent via ferries to France risks being disrupted from tonight because the Government does not have Covid testing at ports up and running.

Hauliers say they can’t guarantee Irish exports will reach continental Europe from tomorrow because of new testing requirements in France.

Direct sailings to France have been a lifeline for hauliers looking to go around the chaos at UK port since Brexit.

However, from 11pm on Wednesday drivers transporting goods by ship from Ireland to France will have to provide a negative Covid test before travelling.

But Eugene Drennan, president of the Irish Road Haulage Association, says the government has so far failed to get Covid testing centres up and running at Irish ports.

He said “it's not clear” if hauliers travelling on this evening’s sailings will be allowed to enter French ports.

“What direction do you give people who are going to load meat tomorrow in a factory?” Mr Drennan said. “Have you to tell the fishermen, who are now at sea, don’t come in with your catch, the driver may not be able to get on the boat? It's outrageous that we're not ready.”

The Department of Transport said it was “working extensively to finalise the opening” of free antigen testing facilities near Dublin and Rosslare ports. Mr Drennan said he was told tests would only begin at 7am on Thursday.

Drivers can also use private testing facilities but the cost won’t be covered by the state, the Department said.

But hauliers say private testing centres and the government's own sites don’t have the capacity for heavy goods vehicles.

“At the weekend when all the ships are sailing the volumes will be too big,” Mr Drennan said.

“And if they think that somebody with a booked time can overtake all the vehicles that are in the queue to get the test,” he said, “there will be chaos.”

He said Brexit-related delays at Dublin Port are adding to the complications, with drivers coming from the UK having no guarantee on how long it will take to clear customs.

“Not alone have we got chaos and a slowness in our imports, and a lot of trouble with systems and other factors on the import side, we’re now going to affect our exports,” he said.

“No operator, because of the trouble at Dublin Port, can book a test tomorrow,” he said. “We cannot just arrive to suit the booking time of the antigen test.”

Mr Drennan said he raised these issues with the government back in December, when the French government first announced restrictions on drivers coming from the UK.

“This is yet another own-goal of slow responsiveness, not being ready, and just not fit for purpose,” Mr Drennan said.

The Department of Transport said it has had “very good and close engagement” with the French government throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

The French government announced on Sunday that hauliers travelling from Ireland must provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test before travelling.

That could include a lab-based PCR test taken in Ireland within 72 hours of travelling or a rapid antigen test.

The French government first announced travel restrictions on UK and EU travellers in December but hauliers were exempt. Last week the travel restrictions were extended to non-EU hauliers.

The latest measures cover EU hauliers from Covid hotspots, and kick in from 11pm Irish time on Wednesday.

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