The owner of Irish Ferries suffered a €79 million fall in revenues to €229 million in the year to November 21 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Car carryings were down by almost 67% year-on-year to 122,700, Irish Continental Group revealed in a trading update.

Its ferries division has faced “challenging trading conditions” in the Irish Ferries passenger business following the continuation of travel restrictions across the EU first introduced in mid-March due to Covid.

A 68% collapse in carryings had a “material impact” on passenger revenues, which were 71% lower in the year to October 31 compared to 2019.

The group said: “Retention of the Common Travel Area (CTA) between Britain and Ireland is of major benefit to the tourism and hospitality sectors in Ireland.

“The current Irish government position, of asking people from Britain who visit Ireland to restrict their movements for two weeks, is not consistent with that of the British government who do not require people travelling to Britain from Ireland to restrict their movements.

“In addition, there continues to be an anomaly whereby people from Britain visiting Ireland by travelling through Belfast and Larne are not asked to restrict their movements. We continue to press the Irish government on this issue.”

There remains uncertainty over the nature of the relationship between the UK and the EU after the Brexit transition period post-2020, the company added.

“The ferries division is highly dependent on trade flows between Ireland and the UK,” Irish Continental added. “Therefore any slowdown in either economy as a result of the exit of the UK from the EU will likely have an effect on Irish Ferries’ carryings.

“We continue to work with all relevant regulatory authorities to ensure that our systems are prepared for the end of the transition period.

“Our customers also need to be prepared for the administrative changes that will come about when trading with the UK from 1 January 2021, regardless of a deal between the EU and the UK. 
“With the severe decline of passenger business during the Covid-19 outbreak some ferry routes out of Ireland which are critically important in providing essential services became cash negative.

“Recognising the need to help certain routes remain open the Irish government adopted a Public Services Obligation (PSO) model covering the shortfall between variable revenue and certain variable costs.

“This was not an approach that we supported as we believe this model was liable to create distortions in the marketplace and could be open to legal challenge.

“For these reasons we decided not to participate in this PSO model, but we committed, without any specific government support, to continue operating our lossmaking routes which provide a vital lifeline service to our Island.

“The PSO scheme ceased on 12 July 2020.  We will closely monitor the government’s future response to assistance for shipping and aviation to promote against any potential funding mechanism that may lead to any market distortion.”

The group has made use of governments’ furlough schemes across Europe.

The company stressed that it remains in a strong financial position with cash and undrawn committed credit facilities of €232.4 million and net debt of €96.7 million.