It's been a year when it was hard to avoid the 'B’ word. Even in the southeast of Ireland.

No, not that one. And no, not Boris: there were no sightings as far as we know of the blond bombshell enjoying a ham sandwich in Nowlan Park or jogging along the Waterford Greenway or partaking of a large bottle of "Clonmel Chardonnay" near the banks of the river Suir.

But Brexit.

As the year went on, and a hard Brexit seemed increasingly likely particularly during those frenetic autumn weeks as the House of Commons turned itself upside down and it looked like MPs couldn’t agree on the colours of the Union Flag let alone the future of the country, many eyes in this part of the world turned towards our points of entry, specifically our ports.

Rosslare Europort was in the news a few times over the course of the year, not always for great reasons, and as Brexit unfolds in the coming months it looks likely to be the focus of attention again.

Long familiar to holidaymakers as a hub from which to gain entry to the UK or the continent, and to visitors to Ireland as literally the first port of call, of course Rosslare has always been a key economic driver as an entry and exit point for freight of all kinds, from foods to medicines.

The question that arose was, would the UK’s position post-Brexit, and possibly outside of the highly-valued customs union, lead to problems with freight entering Ireland from that country?

According to management at Rosslare, the answer was - and is - "No".

A Brexit helpdesk set up at Rosslare Europort

A new border inspection post has been developed just outside the port and can be used for checks by customs, other Revenue officials, the Department of Agriculture, or the HSE, if necessary.

And as the rhetoric emerging from a landslide-emboldened Boris Johnson hardens once again, once more bringing the prospect of a crash-out into the collective eyeline, Rosslare insists that it will be ready.

Port manager Glenn Carr told RTÉ News in October that, deal or no-deal, the facility will be able to handle all eventualities. "We’ve been concentrating on the infrastructure and resources and ensuring we have the necessary process in place to facilitate trade in the event of a [no-deal] Brexit."

In fact, they believe that Brexit will bring opportunities to the region, if traffic from continental Europe decides to by-pass the UK and vice-versa.

In the long-term, there’s a master-plan for the coming years with €25 million in State funding promised to Rosslare Europort to reconfigure the main port area and increase storage and trade capacity. Along with ongoing improvements to the road network in the region, that should help promote it as a place to go.

Of course the perils of being an accessible entry point were highlighted in another way in late November when 16 migrants were found in a container on a Stena Line ferry heading from Cherbourg to Rosslare.

The ship docked at Rosslare and was met by gardaí and other emergency services

Thankfully, and particularly in light of the tragedy earlier in the year in Essex, all 16 were in good health when they were discovered. Most were adults and of Kurdish origin, and immediately claimed asylum although reports that many had departed from their Dublin reception centres, possibly with the aim of heading for the UK, caused further controversy.

Along the coast, eight migrants were found on a cargo ship which departed from Saint-Nazaire in France and landed at Port of Waterford in Belview

The Albanians, again in full health, were all arrested and after their status as migrants already registered on European databases was ascertained, deported under garda escort the following day.

Earlier in the year, Port of Waterford also entered the post-Brexit fray with the announcement of a new shipping route between Belview and Rotterdam.

This was trumpeted as another option for freight exporters to move goods directly between Ireland and the continent and is now a weekly service.

Operated by Dutch company BG Freight Line, in partnership with multi-national container shipping operator Maersk, the service was welcomed by business figures in the region and elsewhere and underlined Waterford’s importance as a container-based alternative to other ports.

Also on the transport front, the year saw openings, sod-turnings, and delays to major road projects.

Leo Varadkar opened the M11 extension in July

The M11 extension which bypasses Enniscorthy was officially opened during the summer by the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, while the long-awaited €230 million New Ross by-pass, which will finally take that peak-time traffic out of the town, was due to open during the year but has yet to be finalised.

The project includes what will be Ireland’s longest bridge, the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Bridge, which crosses the river Barrow south of New Ross and connects counties Wexford and Kilkenny, but some issues with that section of the by-pass caused the delays.

Hopes are high that this opening will happen early in 2020 further enhancing Wexford, Waterford and the wider southeast region to economic development. 

When commute times to the capital are getting longer and longer within Dublin itself and also for workers travelling from neighbouring counties, the powers-that-be would like eyes to turn towards the southeast and look on the cities and towns in this region as attractive places to earn a living, and the whole area as a great place to live.