The Government’s scrapping of a cap on lorry drivers from outside Europe allowed to work in Ireland will not fill a huge shortage as a “nightmare” looms for the haulage industry in the run-up to Christmas, hauliers have warned.

Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail Damien English said an overhaul of the employment permits system for workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will allow more haulage drivers into Ireland.

The haulage industry estimates a shortage of between 3,000-4,000 drivers.

More builders, hospitality managers, horticulture workers, dairy-farm assistants and meat processors are also to be allowed the work permits, under changes which will be announced today.

Mr English is abolishing a quota of 320 for employment permits granted to HGV drivers from outside the EEA.

But Pat O’Donovan, of Cork-based O’Donovan Transport, said the additional bureaucracy involved in bringing drivers to Ireland from outside the EEA was driving the shortage.

South Africa

He has two applications in to bring in drivers from South Africa and it will be “at least some time in December before that process will start” which was “totally ridiculous,” he added.

“The next nightmare we have is between now and Christmas when we won’t have enough drivers to service our customers . . . scrapping the quota won’t ease those problems in the meantime.”

Haulage firms have to advertise for a month in Ireland that they are looking for drivers before applying to bring in one from outside the EEA.

Then there is a process of visas, driving licence exchange and other paperwork to be completed.

Eugene Drennan, president of the Irish Road Haulage Association said regulations to get drivers into the country are “cumbersome” and it can cost up to €4,000 a driver.

Under the changes, which take effect immediately, most construction jobs will now also be eligible for the permits, as will dispensing opticians, while 350 additional permits are being granted for hospitality managers.

Social workers will be eligible for a critical skills employment permit.

Mr English said the changes would “address the more immediate skills and labour shortages across a number of key economic sectors”.