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warning P&O Ferries suspension could lead to empty supermarket shelves and price rises, warn hauliers

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A protest took place at Larne Harbour yesterday afternoon over the dismissal of more than 800 P&O Ferries staff. Photo: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

A protest took place at Larne Harbour yesterday afternoon over the dismissal of more than 800 P&O Ferries staff. Photo: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

A protest took place at Larne Harbour yesterday afternoon over the dismissal of more than 800 P&O Ferries staff. Photo: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

Irish hauliers have warned that the continued suspension of P&O Ferries’s services could lead to empty supermarket shelves and food price increases in some major retail chains.

Transport boss Eugene Drennan said he is “very concerned” that the lack of ships going between the UK and Ireland could result in a shortage of some food products on shelves if the disruption continues for more than a week.

The P&O ships carry 15pc of UK freight and a third of all freight in and out of France.

The Liverpool-Dublin and Cairnryan-Larne routes are used to transport freight into Ireland from Britain.

Irish supermarkets rely on the Irish Sea route daily for the importation of a large volume of fresh and non-perishable goods.

It could mean a shortage of fresh food in British retail supermarkets like Tesco and M&S, with foods like salads and fruit from Spain as well as cheese, wine and croissants from France all affected.

Hauliers warned it could also lead to food price increases for hard-pressed consumers, already feeling the effects of inflation, as lorry drivers are forced to drive longer distances and spend more on fuel.

P&O Ferries triggered widespread anger by suddenly sacking 800 crew members over Zoom with immediate effect on Thursday – to replace them with cheaper, possibly overseas, labour. The ferry company said it had made the decision to immediately sack staff due to losses of €119m.

P&O said yesterday it would not be able to operate services “for the next few days” from Liverpool to Dublin, Dover to Calais, Hull to Rotterdam, and Cairnryan to Larne.

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, which represents major grocery retailers such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda, yesterday said the sector is able to weather a short-term disruption to the Larne to Cairnryan route but would be affected if the cancellation is prolonged.

Mr Drennan, president of the Irish Road Haulage Association, told the Irish Independent it would cause “a little bit of disruption currently. But if it goes on for more than a week, it will be very concerning”.

He added: “It’s the British stores here and the British food products arriving here that would mainly be affected.

“Ethically, there’s a concern of course, about the P&O Ferries staff – but we have to have a balance for us on this issue.

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“As well as disruption, I’d be concerned there could be a further increase in prices, as this will cut into the driver hours, let alone the distances that will have to be travelled by road.”

Mr Drennan said the Liverpool-Dublin route is a “big supply chain” for supermarkets. “And there’s a number of UK shops in Ireland, as well as Irish shops with UK products.

“Ireland needs every supply route, as we had some diversion of boats due to Brexit, and a reconfiguration of what comes to Ireland.

“We had good capacity. If it goes on for more than a week, yes, it will be very concerning.”

Aidan Flynn, chief executive of the Freight Transport Association of Ireland, said: “This is a crucial supply chain that links Ireland and Britain. It’s critically important.

“We don’t know if P&O Ferries will continue the services in the same manner as before, or if it will be a different approach.”

Mr Flynn said hauliers were now “looking for solidarity” from other ferry companies to “pick up the slack”.

The Department of Transport said it has “received confirmation from P&O that services on the Dublin-Liverpool route are continuing with additional services to resume on the route over the coming days”. However, there was no further detail given on what date services would resume.

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