Gateways - sea ports


An overview on the role the European Programmes and Gateways (EPG) Unit has in relation to Northern Ireland sea ports and policy development.

Northern Ireland's ports

As an island nation, and an open trading economy, Northern Ireland has always been dependent on the sea for trade and the sea ports as gateways to that trade.  

There are five commercial ports in Northern Ireland (Belfast, Larne, Londonderry, Warrenpoint and Coleraine).  With the exception of Larne (which is privately owned by P&O) they are all public trust ports.

Creation of public trust ports

Public trust ports are created by statute - dating back in some instances to the mid 19th century - with responsibility to provide, maintain and develop harbour facilities. They are required to make a commercially acceptable rate of return, with profits re-invested in the provision of harbour facilities.

The commercial ports play a crucial role in terms of the economy, handling the vast majority of external trade for Northern Ireland. They serve as vital gateways, not only for trade between Ireland and Britain, mainland Europe and elsewhere but for passenger and tourist traffic as well. The geographic spread of our main ports enhances their role of extending economic activity across Northern Ireland, acting as catalysts to improve our wider infrastructure and services.

Policy development

European Programmes and Gateways (EPG) Unit is responsible for supporting DfI in the discharge of statutory and other duties in respect of sea ports and harbours in Northern Ireland.

EPG contributes to the development of policy in the ports and harbours sector at national level and ensures that the regulatory framework in which the local commercial ports and harbours operate is kept under review.  

Responsibility for shipping services, navigation and marine safety matters remain reserved functions for the Department for Transport (London) and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Stewardship of trust ports

EPG also supports DfI in exercising a stewardship role over the trust ports to ensure that, in undertaking their fiduciary duties, they adhere to good practice and probity in accordance with statutory public accountability measures.  

The DfI Minister appoints members to the Boards of the three main Trust Ports of Belfast, Londonderry and Warrenpoint.  The Commissioners or Authority members are appointed following a public competition and serve for a defined period, normally up to four years.

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