Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 21 September 2016
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
Estimates for Public Services 2016: Vote 31 - Transport, Tourism and Sport
We are now in public session. Before we begin, I remind members, visitors and those in the Gallery to ensure their mobile phones are switched off - as distinct from being on silent or flight mode - for the duration of the meeting as they interfere with the broadcasting equipment. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I welcome the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, and his officials and thank them for attending. The briefing material has been circulated to members. I ask the Minister to start with programme B, the land transport item, and then follow with programmes A and C to E, inclusive. We will fix a time for each programme. I call on the Minister to make a brief opening statement on each item and will then allow members to contribute.
The roster we had in place, which worked well at the previous meeting, was Government, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, AAA-PBP, Social Democrats and back to the start again. That is if someone indicates. If someone does not indicate, we will skip on to the next person. I ask the Minister to begin.
I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to come in here today for the first dialogue of the session. I want to update the committee on my Department’s budgetary position in 2016 and to hear the committee's views ahead of budget 2017 on funding priorities for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. With an overall budget allocation of €1.74 billion this year and a multi-annual capital commitment of €10 billion over seven years as set out in capital plan, significant resources are being allocated to target investment in our transport network, to support the development of our tourism sector and to promote sport at all levels. When we last met in June, we had a very useful discussion on the 2016 budget. There have been quite a number of developments in the intervening period on which I will be happy to update the committee. In terms of expenditure across the Department, I am pleased to note that we are spending ahead of target. This is a direct result of excellent progress on major infrastructure investments such as Luas cross-city and good progress in addressing flood damage on our national and local roads. On flood repairs, I expect to be back here before the end of the year with a formal request to channel the additional €96 million for flood repairs to my Department’s Vote.
It is clear that across all five programmes there are various pressure points in terms of funding this year. It is a natural consequence as the economy emerges from the crisis that demands are growing for improvements to our existing transport system, particularly in terms of public transport provision, which is one sector that has suffered as a result of fiscal constraints. Our roads programme is still catching up with the care and maintenance requirements that have built up over recent years. I do not need to tell colleagues that the state of our roads is not what it should be, despite incremental increases in funding over recent years. The public private partnership, PPP, roads programme represents a significant proportion of our roads investment, and I am pleased at the progress being made there. The Department’s maritime programme is relatively modest, but the investment, especially in the Coast Guard and Commissioners of Irish Lights, are vital to the safety of our seas. The sports programme grew significantly this year given the additional resources required for the Olympic effort and also reflecting the significant enhancements under way at the national sports campus. Tourism has continued to deliver increased numbers and revenue this year, and the modest State investment in this vital sector represents an excellent return.
Looking ahead to the budget, we have submitted an initial bid to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and I am in discussions with my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, about this. Clearly, the overall financial pot or fiscal space available to Government is not adequate to satisfy all the competing demands of my Cabinet colleagues. However, I am confident that the priorities I have identified and will identify for investment in the transport, tourism and sport sectors are required and that the budget will deliver increased funding for those vital sectors. As we discuss each of the programmes individually, I will set out some of my priorities, many of which are well rehearsed and well known. Equally, I am very interested to hear the committee’s views on funding priorities for 2017 and beyond.
It is pretty timely that I am here today because yesterday morning I and the Department had our first meeting with the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, about this. It was one of a series of pre-budget meetings that we will be having in the next week or so. If there is to be a real dialogue, I am very happy to take anything productive from this meeting to the meetings in the weeks ahead and see if we can include them in the Estimates process.
I will address the particular speaking points I have for the land transport issue. As members know, land transport is by far the largest programme in the Department’s Vote. It represents 80% of the overall budget. A large proportion of this is capital investment. The main components of the programme are roads improvement and maintenance funding, with an overall budget of €720 million, the public transport investment programme at €347 million, and public service provision payments at €250 million. The programme also includes provision of €13 million towards the smarter travel carbon reduction programme and operating costs of the national vehicle driver licensing system at €15 million. As mentioned at the outset, spend is ahead of target on this programme, mainly owing to the final phases of construction of Luas cross-city, which is very capital intensive, and the activities being undertaken at local authority level to repair flood damage, for which we have secured an additional €96 million over and above the Department’s budget allocation.
As the economy recovers, the demand for and associated costs of increased service level and quality grows. Fiscal constraints over recent years have meant that the funding available for the land transport programme has fallen short of where it needs to be. Addressing the projected growth in transport demand needs careful planning, analysis and investment. While transport policy may be shifting towards dealing with growth rather than decline, the prudent fiscal regime in which we must operate dictates that funding for transport, like other capital hungry sectors, is likely to be more constrained than we would wish for some years to come. The existing capital plan provides for a substantial increase in land transport over the six years of the plan, increasing from €1 billion this year to almost €2 billion in 2021. This follows a significant period of underinvestment in our network during the financial crisis, which must be addressed. The additional funding provided for roads, rail infrastructure and public transport investment in the plan will enable us to reach steady State funding levels by 2020 to ensure the existing infrastructure and rolling stock remain safe and fit for purpose. Only at that point will we be in a position to begin delivering modest but important improvements to passenger transport users, the freight sector and private car users. Funds are being allocated in 2016 to facilitate the ongoing construction of the new Luas cross-city line. This major public transport project is being delivered within budget and is on schedule for completion in 2017, with passenger services scheduled to commence in the fourth quarter of 2017.
Given competing demands across the system and the continuing need for restraint, the challenge is to maintain existing levels of funding for key programmes and seek modest increases where they are justified and represent value for money. A key priority will be to ensure funding for public service obligations, including the rural transport programme, is at a level that the increased demand being placed on our public transport system can be met. This year’s budget provided for a 14% increase, or €28 million, to support increased public transport services. This increased funding has gone toward improving services and capacity to meet increasing demand as well as alleviating problems associated with congestion in our urban centres. We are all aware that some service improvements, such as a ten-minute DART service, have not commenced as planned. However, the additional money available to operators in 2016 has been a welcome boost and one which I hope to build upon for next year. I expect this funding will be fully spent by year end.
Following a decision of the previous Government, funding for the repair of regional and local roads has been allocated to local authorities in two tranches. The first tranche of €85 million was allocated in February to help local authorities start repairs as quickly as possible. The balance was held back and allocated in May to allow some time for the further investigation and evaluation of certain proposed works, for example on bridges. To date, €40 million has been drawn down in respect of repair works on regional and local roads already. Separately, €8 million has been allocated to Transport Infrastructure Ireland for repair works on national roads and a further €8 million has been allocated to Irish Rail for repairs to the rail network. The formal allocation of this funding to the Vote will be done by way of a Supplementary Estimate later in the year once Government is in a position to determine where savings elsewhere can be found to provide for this.
Land transport represents the largest portion of my Department’s budget. Since coming to this office, it is clear to me that despite the best efforts to find additional funding for our roads and public transport system, we are still operating well below international norms in terms of public investment in transport. The Government's summer economic statement makes it clear that capital investment in infrastructure is a key priority over the coming years. With a review scheduled next year on the capital plan, I am taking this opportunity to put down a clear marker that we require a step change in the level of investment in transport over the lifetime of this Government. A strong evidence base has been established to support this investment. It is also abundantly clear to anyone travelling the roads or rail network of the country and to anyone sitting in their cars on the M50 and other vital arteries into our urban centres that transport requires investment or it soon becomes a major impediment to economic recovery.
In that context, the key priorities for future funding for land transport are: bridging the steady-state shortfall on road and public transport, in other words, ensuring we maintain and protect the existing transport asset base and investments, particularly the road and rail networks; further improving public service obligation funding to keep pace with economic growth and enhance service provision in line with new capital investment; addressing bottlenecks and key congestion points in urban areas, particularly the greater Dublin area; and addressing the shortfall in capacity to meet emissions reduction targets by 2020 and beyond.
I will naturally be making a strong bid for additional funding in 2017, but this must be a long-term investment programme which will be sustained. While I expect some competition from other capital-intensive areas, including housing, education and others, addressing the priorities I have set out will be key to ensuring Ireland’s continued economic recovery.
I thank the Minister for coming before the committee. Is he satisfied that the amount allocated for the improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads in 2016 is adequate to ensure at least a steady state of repairs will be maintained on our regional and local road network? The output targets for 2016 are lower than in 2015. Why was this accepted, given the poor state of the regional and local road network? The poor state of roads in County Louth, in particular, local roads, is of great concern to citizens. The local council's policy seems to be that no repairs or maintenance will be carried out on small roads. As agreed in the programme for Government, will the Minister, please, confirm when he intends to open applications for the CIS and the LIS?
I have raised this issue before. I remind the Minister of the need for the Ardee bypass to be placed on a priority list of projects for 2016. The N2 is the main route from Dublin to Derry and Ardee is an extreme bottleneck for travellers. It is essential that it be bypassed, which would be of enormous benefit to businesses in Ardee and also to the residents.
Will the Minister to indicate what funds have been committed to joint projects with Northern Ireland. In the light of Brexit, what is the status of committed funds for these projects?
I ask the Minister to reconsider his decision to remove the derogation in respect of the 42-tonne weight limit for five-axle articulated vehicles. The removal of this derogation is placing Irish hauliers at a distinct disadvantage with their European counterparts.
I welcome the Minister. It is an appropriate time to have him before the committee to give an update on the budget for 2016. I thank him for seeking our opinion on our priorities for the budget for 2017.
In his opening statement the Minister spoke about incremental increases in the past couple of years in the maintenance requirements of regional roads. However, the breakdown of the figures does not back up what he said. There is a decrease in the Estimate in the allocation for national road improvements compared with the figure for 2015. There is great concern about the condition of roads, to which the Minister alluded. He spoke about being in a position in 2020 to meet a steady-state requirement. For every year he pushes out making this investment it will require greater investment in 2020. At a time when motor tax receipts are increasing, why is expenditure on roads decreasing? People believe they pay motor tax to have appropriate and safe roads on which to travel.
The subvention for public transport has decreased significantly in recent years. In private session, before the Minister came in, we discussed our work programme for the upcoming year. The priority is our vision for public transport and how the State should support it. The Minister has been quiet about his vision for public transport. He is the main stakeholder in Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, representatives of which are at the WRC this morning, and Iarnród Éireann. We have three State bodies that are all in a precarious financial position, possibly jeopardising their long-term viability, in two of which wage claims have been submitted. In one instance there is industrial action which is causing widespread disruption to workers, students and others who use Dublin Bus services. I would have expected the Minister to come here today, given his commitment in terms of how he will fund these bodies by way of subvention.
This is European Day without a Road Death, EDWARD. Is the Minister happy that the Road Safety Authority is adequately funded to carry out its necessary work? While it is not a funding issue, why do a number of key positions on the board of the authority remain to be filled? Surely such an important body needs positions on the board to be filled by persons with the relevant competencies. Why are we waiting for them to be filled?
That is why I thought we were going to go through the document subhead by subhead.
Let me start with subhead 3 - road improvements and maintenance. There has been no increase in the allocation for this year. The dire condition of roads throughout the State owing to the lack of funding in recent years is unbelievable. The longer they are left without maintenance works the more expensive it will become in the long run. While some local and regional roads might just need to be resurfaced, the longer we leave them without maintenance works the more expensive it will become. I know that the Minister pointed to budget constraints, but given the neglect during the years, I hope he will prioritise the provision of funding for the maintenance and upkeep of regional and local roads, especially as regional areas suffered the worst effects of the recession. Local authorities are literally doing patch-up work and will have to come back two months later to do it again. It would be good for the Minister to focus on the provision of proper funding for the maintenance of local roads.
With regard to road safety agencies, would there be merit in giving additional funding to the Road Safety Authority, RSA, in light of the increase in the number of road deaths? The traffic corps has experienced a massive reduction in staff, etc. I am aware that an increase in Garda numbers is planned for next year but given the increase in the number of road deaths, does the Minister believe it would be beneficial to increase funding for the RSA?
I asked about the sports capital programme and sports capital grants in a parliamentary question to the Minister.
That is fair enough.
Of the other two issues, the major one is Dublin Bus, particularly the ongoing dispute and the fact that strike action escalated due to the lack of negotiations. The Minister made a statement recently but he should do everything in his power to encourage all the stakeholders to get around the table. It is our public transport network.
Previous speakers raised the other issue to which I wanted to refer, namely, the matter of subvention, which has come to the fore since the Dublin bus strike action. People would argue that Dublin Bus is heavily subsidised. It is not when compared with other European countries. The service in Lyon in France receives 79% state funding, while the figure for Barcelona in Spain is 61%. Dublin receives the least amount at 27%. If we are to build, expand and deliver a first-class public transport network, that subvention needs to be increased across the board. The focus is on delivering first-class public transport. I include in that disability access on our public transport network, which I have raised previously with the Minister. That is a major bone of contention, not just for me but for every citizen across the State. People in urban and rural areas are affected in that local buses drive off and leave people at the side of the road. That is an issue which requires attention. All of that can come from increased subvention, which will allow us build, enhance and expand our public transport network. I hope the Minister has given a firm commitment to increase subvention.
Has the Minister brought his cheque book? I ask that because the feeling on the ground is that he will have to get off the fence, which he has been on for too long in recent weeks, and give the green light for real talks - not sham talks - with the Dublin Bus workers and their trade union representatives. For real talks to take place, the Minister will need to open the cheque book because the issue of pay justice is firmly on the agenda. In that context, I want to make some brief points on the issue of State subvention for public transport.
The Minister will be aware that in the context of Dublin Bus alone, the subvention has been slashed in recent years. The figure for 2008 was €86 million. The figure for 2015 was €58 million. That is an incredible reduction. I will pause because the Minister is having a word with his officials. I will await his full attention. In terms of what that has meant, it has resulted in high fares for the people of this city and throughout the country who use bus services, but also low pay for the workforce. Low pay is subsidising that company. These workers have not had a pay increase for eight years. They have gone eight years without a single pay increase, as the Minister is well aware.
Deputy Munster referred to the fact that there is a very low level of subvention from the State for public transport. Again, in the case of Dublin Bus it is 27%. A survey was carried out in nine cities in Europe, some of which have been mentioned - London, Barcelona and others - in 2009 and 2010. Dublin came bottom of the list. We did not win any Olympic gold, silver or bronze medals in that particular context. An important point is that those figures come from 2009, and the subvention has been cut further in the meantime. I suspect it is less than 27% now, and possibly as low as 20%. In order to bring Dublin up to the average, we would need a spend of €200 million. To bring the capital up to joint eighth position, level with the next city on ladder - London, which was second from bottom - we would need an investment of €90 million. We cannot talk here about marginal, incremental increases to the public service obligation and to the State subsidy for Dublin Bus and other public transport in this State. This issue needs to be addressed.
To return to my first point, the Minister needs to open his cheque book in regard to this issue and, if necessary, have a fight at Cabinet level with the Ministers for Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance, Deputies Paschal Donohoe and Michael Noonan, because the State and the Government will be forced to do this. Dublin Bus workers are determined. They have a high level of public support and it is time for the Minister to get off the fence. There is a need for real negotiations - not Mickey Mouse negotiations. That involves pay justice for the workers, and it will be necessary to open the cheque book and significantly increase the level of public subvention.
I will start by answering Deputy Fitzpatrick's questions. He asked me if I was satisfied with the amount of funding going to local and regional roads. I am not. It is inadequate. What we are getting for all roads, local or national, is inadequate. We need more, particularly in terms of the figure I quoted in my opening remarks. We will not get up to steady State levels until 2020. That is unsatisfactory. It is something which would be intolerable in normal circumstances but we are not in normal circumstances. It is something we are already striving to overcome. The bid we made in our negotiations with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, yesterday would reflect that dissatisfaction. I do not expect that particular gap to be closed overnight because I understand the stringency that exists in respect of the public the finances. To answer the Deputy's question, I am not happy.
On the regional and local roads budget, the 2015 regional and local capital Estimate of €250.4 million was supplemented by the Government stimulus package in July 2015. There has been a record of Supplementary Estimates on this, and on the flooding issue in particular, Supplementary Estimate money is coming for local and national roads - mostly for local roads - which will be reflected in the discussion when I come back looking for the ratification in respect of the approximately €96 million involved.
A question was asked about A Fresh Start and Northern Ireland. Neither of the two main projects - the A5 road and the Narrow Water bridge - is in any sense off the agenda. The Deputy must realise that very little finance is available for them on either side of the Border. That is the reality. There is no provision in my Department for the €25 million that has been allocated to one of the projects. They are on the North-South Ministerial Council's agenda. The council was due to meet in June, but that was postponed, so it will be on the agenda for the next meeting. Officials are holding regular meetings and examining ways to progress the projects. As the Deputy knows, both are jointly funded. Neither Government has yet made the financial commitment to them that is necessary, but we will push for it. I am due to meet my counterpart in Northern Ireland, Mr. Hazzard, on the fringes of the next North-South Ministerial Council meeting to address this particular problem. It will probably be on the main agenda as well because the fact that the issue has been ongoing for so long is not satisfactory.
Regarding axles and weights, I am responsible for the derogation not being given again. The reason was twofold, the first being infrastructure. I was advised, and accepted that advice, that we were suffering as a result of the continuous use of these particular vehicles over a long period. Second, I believe I am right in saying that it was in 2008 that the derogation was first given. It may have been 2007. That derogation was repeated every year since. The drivers and the industry had been told on every occasion that they should prepare for the day, which was only a year away, that this would no longer be the case. They have been given seven, eight or nine extensions of the derogation. It was time to call a stop to it, and that is why I did it.
I hope that I have addressed Deputy Troy's points about local roads. I agree that they are not adequately funded, but the reasons are self-explanatory. We hope that there will be an increase next year and that we will have a steady state situation in four years' time.
Regarding the subvention, it has improved and I hope that it will continue improving in the years to come. We certainly intend it to do so. This was not an easy decision. It was cut because of the overall problems in the public finances. That has had an adverse effect on the three companies that were mentioned. We intend to increase the subvention in the coming years. It increased by 18% overall this year and we have put in for substantial increases next year. There is no wish to cut it further. The reasons had to do with the macroeconomy.
I will address the issue of the RSA before that of the industrial action. If I may, I will take all of the industrial action questions together because they were fairly similar. I would have no problem with taking further questions on it.
I was asked whether the RSA was funded adequately. I am not aware of a particular demand from the RSA for the funds. I was asked why there were unfilled places on the RSA's board. I am considering the issue of departmental boards generally. Some are too big. Had I appointed the three members to the RSA - it is still under consideration - the RSA would have had a board of 12 members up to approximately two weeks ago, which is the same size as the boards of the Dublin Airport Authority, daa, and AIB. It seemed to be getting top heavy. I was going to examine whether it was necessary to have such a large board for what was a relatively small body. It is a body with an important role to play, but I am not sure that it needs such a large board. I am not sure that any of the boards in my Department need to be as big as they are.
The appointments system under the Public Appointments Service - forgive me, Chairman, but I must answer this question fully, because that is only fair to Deputy Troy - comes up with weird results. The guidelines for appointing boards were necessarily reformed in November 2014 to avoid charges of politicians appointing people who were too close to them. What happens now, as happened in the case of the RSA, is that boards are appointed after a process that I regard as inadequate. Going from memory, I believe that approximately 60 people applied for the RSA positions as advertised. The result of that application process was the Public Appointments Service, PAS, selecting 21 people to go to the Minister. Those 21 were selected in a short time and, as far as I know, without any interview being conducted. In such a situation, it is difficult for me to be expected to appoint three people out of the 21 names when I know little about them and they have not been interviewed or subjected to anything except a cross-checking of CVs. I am considering other ways of selecting board members that do not put a Minister in the position of being confronted with people about whom he or she knows nothing and who have come through a process that does not include interviews or anything except very superficial checks. This is the answer to the RSA question. I am considering the issue in a broad way. The RSA is one of those bodies that has not devised a solution. It would be easier were there a further process and it was down to a minimum of two or three people, but the way that it is structured now - I will finish on this, as I do not want to labour the point, but it is important because it applies to other bodies under my Department - sees a large number of names coming to a Minister to be appointed in the dark. I am considering how to structure the RSA's board. I am not adverse to letting it have a few more members if expertise is necessary, but the process is flawed.
I am sorry, but there was a 13% increase in the PSO this year, not an 18% one. I read that wrong.
Was it Deputy Barry or Deputy Munster next?
The Deputy referred to road improvements. There have been Supplementary Estimates for road improvements every year. The Deputy stated that they were not enough. It is regrettable, but there must be Supplementary Estimates, given that the state of our roads is deteriorating. Some €96 million will be allocated for flooding this year. Road improvement grants have been given.
I am not aware of any request for additional funding for the RSA. It is one of the few bodies which have not been looking for a large amount of money. In 2016 the authority's operating expenditure has been estimated at a figure of €71.5 million while planning for a figure of €73 million across the suite of public services it provides. It is looking for very small amounts. Except for one area, it does not get money from the State. It is self-financing in performing its various functions, including driver licensing. It looks after itself. It washes its face and I am not aware of any request it has made for money.
What was the Deputy's question on the number of road deaths?
There has been an increase in the number of road deaths this year. The Minister might remember it coming into the spotlight. According to the breakdown, there was an increase in capital funding for the MBRS. In the light of this, does the Minister see any merit in increasing funding for the RSA, given the increase in the number of deaths? We do not want to revert to the previous position. I do not know if the Minister has met the RSA.
I do not know what the RSA feels, but every weekend there are more road deaths, particularly of younger people. One would not like to go back to where we were. Is it the case that extra funding is merited? If not, what does the RSA need?
The MBRS is going to have to do a certain amount of more work this year because of the introduction of testing for drugs. That measure is to come through in the road traffic Bill that I am reintroducing in the Dáil next week. If it needs additional funding, we are talking about small amounts of money. The running costs of the bureau in 2016 will be €5 million. Certainly, we would look favourably on it because of the added burden on the bureau in the coming months once the legislation is passed. Was there a specific question on the number of road deaths?
I will deal with the bus strike issue.
On disability access, I am very aware that Deputy Munster is extremely persuasive and persistent on the issue. There are several ways to fund transport services. All new buses that we buy are wheelchair friendly. However, there are inadequacies in other areas, of which I am very well aware. We have had exchanges in the Dáil on this issue also. I am very sympathetic in that regard. I cannot say too much about the Estimates process, but I note that we have made a particularly strong bid to include a separate item in the Estimates on the accessibility of public transport. I should not have said so, but I have.
I thank Deputy Mick Barry for his contribution. We are in the middle of a very sensitive time. It is not just Dublin Bus that is involved in an industrial dispute. This morning representatives of Bus Éireann are at the Workplace Relations Commission and the indictions are that the dispute will be intractable and difficult to resolve for both sides, the Government and everybody else. I note that the Deputy says I should open the cheque book. I am not going to do so. It is something I have persistently said I will not do and I say it for several reasons. I say it as much to management as I do to the trade unions. Let us be clear that, whereas the emphasis has been on trade unions suggesting the State should open its cheque book, I do not want to see management of Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann or Iarnród Éireann coming to me or assuming for one moment that the cheque book is going to be opened. The Government's position has been clear that the issue must be settled between the two parties involved in every case. The Deputy talked about the subvention being slashed. He is absolutely right, but I regard it as a completely different issue. The subvention is to increase next year, I hope, as it has increased this year, but it will be used to improve services as much as possible. I am looking for a very healthy increase in the subvention, but to me that is a separate issue. However, I take the Deputy's point on Ireland being very low. He is right. It is very low in the subvention league table and we are looking to get it higher. However, it must be remembered that some of the capital funding also goes to these companies and that is not covered by the subvention.
I agree with the Deputy about the need to engage in real negotiations. I have appealed to both sides to get to the table and do not understand why they do not. I am not going to come and negotiate. I am not going to ride in on a white horse in shining armour with a cheque book and say I will solve the problem. That would be exactly the wrong thing to do. As everybody knows, this dispute will be resolved, but it is not going to be resolved if I participate in it in a way that will make things far worse.
Deputy Catherine Murphy, Senator John O'Mahony, Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe and Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh are next. We will try to finish by noon if we can and then move on to the four other items for the consideration of which we will have one hour. I ask members to keep their contributions brief and avoid going back over anything that has been covered.
The availability of funding, if one breaks it down between capital and current, is critical. Thankfully, the economy is in recovery. If it is going to grow, items such as congestion are significant and should be addressed to have a better recovery. Better use of transport is required. To what extent will there be capacity to push out the capital funding envelope? Transport and housing are two areas where a significant argument could be made for extra funding, particularly where congestion could be reduced. Portugal and Spain, for example, have broken some European rules at a time when the interest rate is at 0% for capital investment purposes and sanctions do not appear to have been applied. There is a significant argument to be made in the case of transport, particularly public transport, an area in which we will ultimately save money in the long term. I note that we have climate change obligations which will cost us in hard cash and which, in turn, will prevent us from being able to invest in the very things that would lead to a reduction in emissions.
On the public service levy, I note that there are only a number of ways by which we can cover the cost of public transport, which include the payment of a subvention and an increase in fares.
There have been very significant increases in fares to the point where it is a big outlay for people in respect of getting to work. The other issue is reducing or keeping wage rates low so subvention is important. The Minister says that substantial increases have been sought. What are those substantial increases? Is he optimistic about that? Where is it on his list of priorities?
The Minister says there are signs of improved financial performance in respect of the CIE group. However, that is only the case if one measures the position against that which obtained in 2012. In some of the documentation provided, he said that there are further medium and long-term challenges ahead. That was a heavily redacted element of the documents. I have never seen as much black ink put on a document. I am trying to figure out what is actually being said in the critical areas. What are the financial challenges. I think this committee needs to know what are the substantial challenges ahead. The Minister might elaborate on that.
I will not go back over the valid points raised in respect of roads. It will cost us way more to remediate the roads if the amount of funding provided continues to be inadequate. There is a point where it actually costs more not to invest. Has that point been made to the Department of Finance in strong terms, particularly as we are at that point in respect of a certain proportion of roads in some parts of the country?
I do not want to rehearse points that have already been made. The Minister mentioned various large projects such as Luas cross-city in Dublin, which is necessary. There are issues in other cities. I would be very conscious of Galway city, where there is gridlock. Companies are questioning whether to come to the city, which has done reasonably well in terms of jobs in recent years, because of gridlock and the lack of infrastructure on the outer urban bypass.
In respect of the policy of urban versus rural, I wish to refer to long-term planning. The issue of broadband is not covered by this committee but it is one that will be solved in the coming years. There is a need for infrastructure all over the country. Where did we get this concept of urban versus rural? We need a long-term plan regarding infrastructure in rural as well as urban areas. The major motorway in the west of Ireland in recent would have been the Dublin-Galway road. The Gort-Tuam road is up and running now but it needs to continue on to Sligo. We need to reach a situation where rural Ireland is not effectively closed down. Another issue concerns the regional airports. I know the benefit of Ireland West Airport Knock at local level. Rural Ireland is alive and well in some aspects but it is crying out for an expansion in infrastructure. If we solve every transport issue in Dublin, it will mean that Dublin will expand more and everyone will be living on the east coast. That is a situation which must not be allowed to develop.
I was interested in the Minister's comments about appointments to boards. He more or less stated that previous appointments were made because the Ministers knew too much about the people applying. The Minister seemed to suggest that he cannot appoint certain individuals because he does not know anything about them. There should be a happy medium. Every person has some political affiliation. That fact should not be allowed to affect an individual's chances because, otherwise, no appointments will be made. People who have been involved in politics in the past have lots of skills that should not be discounted. Obviously, it should be done in a structured and correct way.
I may not be here when the sports section is discussed. Will there be an announcement in the coming weeks about another sports capital programme?
I welcome the Minister. It is a case of new horses for new courses. I am concerned that the Minister is following the previous Government's outline regarding infrastructure development into the future. Regional roads have been mentioned. We all know there is a big problem. I must bring to the Minister's attention the fact that more and more people are travelling long distances from rural areas to work. This is why it is important that we provide more money for the upgrading and maintenance of these roads. In saying that, I compliment our local authorities on the work they carry out but they have limited resources. Perhaps the embargo on the employment of personnel could be reviewed in the case of some local authorities because it is no good having materials if we do not have manpower to do the work.
In respect of major infrastructure, much has been said about Dublin. The western corridor must be fast-tracked. It is fine saying that we have the Wild Atlantic Way when the weather is good and tourists visit but we must look after commerce and the economic growth of the western corridor. This concerns the N20 upgrade from Cork to Dublin, and even to Mayo and Donegal for that matter. We are not asking for a full roll-out of the motorway. I am sure it can built like Legoland, that is, some of the major town bypass sections can be constructed. Public private partnerships, PPPs, are in place. Major work was done on the development of that motorway in respect of coming to the stage of compulsory purchase orders, CPOs. Will all that be lost and will the Exchequer incur an additional cost when we get it up and running again? We speak as politicians. We said earlier that when we meet IBEC and the SMEs, we think they are talking about jobs. The first item on their agenda is the infrastructure relating to our rural towns and major cities outside Dublin. I include fast-tracking road access to the Jack Lynch Tunnel in this.
Much mention was made of the RSA. This is about going forward but, in its current format, is the RSA functioning properly and within its statutory remit? I am led to believe that sometimes a quorum on the board has not been achieved so how can the board perform properly if it is still operating under the terms of its establishment?
A previous speaker mentioned the local improvement schemes. We know they have not been scrapped as such but the Department more or less told local authorities that it was up to them to provide funding for local improvement schemes. This is not working because it is pitching one local authority member against another in determining how the funding is divided. The Department should create a separate funding mechanism for local improvement schemes because many of the roads in question have three or four people living on them who might not have clout in the electoral area but whose well-being we should look after. Could the Minister release the Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, report in respect of the tonne restriction on five-axle vehicles so that we might have a further review of this derogation?
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Iompóidh mé ar an mBéarla anois. Tá mé níos compordaí ag labhairt Gaeilge ach labhróidh mé Béarla.
I thank the Minister for attending the joint committee. I have a couple of big points as well as one or two smaller ones I would like to ask him about. The primary purpose of transport is to connect people and communities. By doing so, one empowers them to create business, work together and socialise. That is a key part of our primary purpose, but one must also look at urban versus rural areas, as some of our colleagues mentioned earlier. The challenges facing urban areas are not necessarily the same as those facing rural areas because people may not be as closely knit. Large industries and businesses want to locate in urban areas, not rural ones.
The Minister and ourselves have an obligation to have a balanced transport portfolio throughout Ireland. Will the Minister update us on his thoughts, or the Department's thoughts, concerning rail connectivity to Dublin Airport? Dublin is the only major capital city in Europe without direct rail access to its airport. There is not much point in having discussions and spending a lot of money on consultants to look at an extra runway or terminal unless we can get those people out of that terminal. Does the Minister have a view on the greater macroeconomic transport infrastructure in that regard?
My second point concerns rural Ireland and the comments by my colleague, Senator O'Mahony. We are national parliamentarians and are not meant to be local, but I will refer to Galway because it is really important. I ask the Minister and his departmental officials to examine the Galway bypass and work with Galway City Council and Galway County Council on this critical matter. It takes me longer to go from Spiddal to the far side of Galway at the racecourse than from there to Dublin, so it is a huge issue.
There was a delegation here yesterday from Connemara and Galway County Council concerning the N59 connectivity to Clifden. Earlier speakers referred to employment and unemployment. There has been over 23% unemployment in Connemara for the past six or seven years. God knows, many of them would love to keep their jobs at the salary level they had eight years ago if they could, but they have not. It is a major issue in rural Ireland, so the Minister's Department is key to that transport infrastructure.
In Causeway in Kerry there is a small company called Dairymaster. It is the third largest manufacturer of milking machines in the world. There is a company in Cavan called ATA, whose chief executive officer, CEO, is Mr. Peter Cosgrove. They are the largest manufacturer of tungsten carbide burs in the world. That is what we have in Ireland. Our assets are our people but they must have connectivity. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is critical to jobs, infrastructure and living in urban and rural Ireland.
In 2011, the Central Statistics Office, CSO, produced a national travel survey. The summary of its results stated that people spend roughly eight hours per week travelling to and from work. That is one full day per week spent commuting. They estimate that the figure has now risen to ten hours per week, with 75% of those journeys by car. One would need to analyse it to see why that is happening. My figures, which are subject to correction because I only went through them last night, show that 4% of people travel to and from work by bus. If that is a fact, we need to examine why that is the case. We should analyse it scientifically and come up with a result.
As regards the effectiveness of boards, I have had the privilege of serving on a number of State boards. There should be a review or audit mechanism every two or three years for State boards to see if they are still fit for purpose. That is not to impugn the individuals on State boards. Every individual on the State boards with which I have been involved was 110% committed. They are not doing it for the money but because of their passion for and commitment to our country of which we are all very proud.
Many people are reluctant to work on State boards because of the responsibility and accountability involved under the various Companies Acts, particularly the most recent one. There is also a perception that they could be tarnished if an issue arises concerning a State board, so that is a problem.
In correspondence with the committee's staff, the Department stated that it is in discussions with Transport Infrastructure Ireland about how best to express performance indicators for national roads. Would the departmental officials be willing to involve Oireachtas officials in discussions to the extent that the measures selected include ones that will assist us as parliamentarians in assessing performance?
My second question concerns some of the projects on the capital plan. The Ballvourney-Macroom N22 road has not been mentioned, but it is an especially important piece of infrastructure for the entire south west. I see no reason that road cannot go to tender in 2017 if the political will was there to prioritise it. Will that road be prioritised and, if so, will funding be sought to send it to tender in 2017?
The Minister indicated that, given the gravity of the issues, he would be prepared to come back and take a couple of brief questions on the points he made about the bus dispute. Are we going to take them now before the Minister comes back in or straight after he does?
I will deal first with Deputy Catherine Murphy's question about congestion. We are basically looking at the longer term. I cannot say specifically what we are looking for in the subvention. I will not do that, but we are certainly looking for substantial and meaningful increases in that. It would be wrong, and foolish as well, for me to give the Deputy a figure but we are looking for substantial increases in the 2017 Estimates for the subvention. The Deputy can take that as given. However, the focus of any subvention, as I already told Deputy Barry, will be on services. Let there be no ambiguity about that. The focus will be for improved services and it would be wrong to speculate any further than that.
Am I optimistic? Yes, I am optimistic about that. There is a realisation in Government that there is a real need for transport. Senator Ó Céidigh said how vital transport and road infrastructure is to the economy and for jobs. It is fortunate we have a Minister there who was in this particular post before, so he is aware of the needs as well as the importance of infrastructure. That the Government is looking at such a high proportion of public expenditure as against income is a reflection of that. It will be reflected in the coming years in a much larger proportion of spending coming to the transport portfolio.
As Deputy Murphy knows, there is a mid-term capital review next year. It will examine a large number of projects and prioritise them, including the ones for Galway which were mentioned. In answer to Deputy Murphy's question, therefore, it is a high priority for me. I accept her point about the limited sources of income for transport companies. We are talking about the public service obligation, PSO, fares.
I accept that and it has a very high priority for me.
Deputy Catherine Murphy also asked a question about climate change. The key priorities in my Department are to agree carbon reduction measures in transport and prepare the sector's contribution to the national mitigation plan for submission to the climate change advisory committee in the fourth quarter of 2016; to prepare, also in the fourth quarter, for public consultation a draft of a national climate change adaptation plan for the transport sector; to develop a national policy framework for an alternative transport fuels infrastructure for Ireland, including the preparation of a strategic environment assessment for public consultation and the transposition into Irish law by 18 November of the directive on the deployment of an alternative fuels infrastructure; to play a key role in the Government task force to agree additional measures to promote low-carbon emitting vehicles, for example, electric, hydrogen and gas-fuelled vehicles; and to represent the Department's position in national negotiations on climate change targets to 2030. As the committee probably knows, the Department has a newly formed climate change unit which is working with key partners, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. It is responsible for the development of a national policy on climate change mitigation and adaptation to ensure the transport sector can contribute to an effective transition to a low-carbon and resilient energy system by 2050.
On CIE's financial position, the CIE group recorded an improved financial position in 2015 when compared to the position in recent years and, in particular, the financial crisis in the group which occurred in 2012, to which Deputy Catherine Murphy referred. She also spoke about the challenges faced. There are really serious challenges ahead. My Department is working with CIE to devise a model that will allow the group to continue to meet its obligations and develop in a sustainable manner after 2016. This model requires careful consideration and work is being done on it in close consultation with State agencies, the National Transport Authority and NewERA, as well as the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It is a difficult financial period for all of the CIE companies, one which we monitor in the Department on a daily, if not an hourly, basis. The increasing passenger numbers are an encouraging sign of the potential, if we can move people out of their cars and into public transport.
I sympathise with but not from a personal point of view and I am impressed by the arguments made by Senator John O'Mahony about rural transport services. I have two colleagues in the group of which I am part who talk to me of little else. The rural transport programme probably is addressing that issue and we are certainly making great efforts to try to improve the position in the next few years. The Government is sympathetic. In the conversations I have had with him, the Minister is certainly sympathetic to the fact that there is a lack of infrastructure in rural Ireland generally. I do not think the problem is particular to Galway. However, it certainly is reflected in what we are doing and how we are trying to address it.
On board appointments, Senator John O'Mahony has said everyone has a political affiliation. I am not sure that is true, but I see the point he is making and think it has been well made. There is, of course, a problem. He says one sees people appointed who very obviously have political colours, which is obviously a big problem, or people whom one does not know at all apply and one also has a problem. That indicates that both processes are flawed. The first process which I think was abused by Ministers in the past left it open to them and they came under extreme pressure to appoint people from their own parties or with certain political loyalties. That problem was not totally remedied, but the position was improved on by the guidelines of November 2014. We now have a system about which I suspect people know very little. I knew little about it until I came into the Department and discovered that Ministers had vast choices of people whom they did not know, about whom they did not know anything and who had not been properly screened. That is the problem. They are coming through on the basis of their CVs and without an interview. In the case of the Irish Sports Council, for instance, with which the committee will probably be familiar - if I am wrong by a figure or two, please forgive me - I think there were more than 90 applicants for two places on the council. The number of names before the Minister was 33. How is a Minister supposed to decide who should be given the two places on the council? The people in question have qualifications which match, but they have not been interviewed or selected in a forensic way. That is my problem. The position is identical in the case of the RSA and in other areas of my Department also. I have in front of me 33 names to fill two places on the Irish Sports Council and I am sure they are all good people. I do not have a clue and have no idea who I should choose. I know one or two of the names. I must say one of them was a very strong supporter of mine in the Seanad elections. That is what happened and it makes it a very difficult choice for me. I am confronted with deciding if choosing that person would be a good or a bad course of action. Whatever I do will be be coloured by this. We have problems, but we now have new one which in some ways are larger.
Shall I leave the question on the sports capital programme until we come to deal with the sports area?
Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe referred to regional roads, a question I think I have answered. I agree with him that the infrastructure is inadequate and we are making big efforts to sort out the matter.
On the western corridor, what am I going to deliver? As I am sure the committee knows, the programme for Government includes a commitment to provide for independent costing and a review of a proposal to extend the western corridor by linking Athenry and Claremorris. Consideration is being given to this issue in the context of the rail review. I have something about the review which I should read to the committee. As the committee probably knows, a review has been carried out. It was commissioned by Iarnród Éireann and the National Transport Authority and arrived on my desk only a little while ago. I will give the committee a quick summary because it will give it a better insight into the matter.
It is important that I read this about the rail review. I want to speak about it because I think a lot of people do not know about it. It is a comprehensive document on the future of Irish Rail.
On 15 April, the Government considered the findings and conclusions of the strategic framework for land transport and agreed to my publishing the report. The framework, which was based on a wide-ranging policy analysis exercise, aims to establish key principles and priorities to guide transport investment over the coming decades. The steering group highlighted that rail is not financially sustainable and that value for money must be central to future rail policy. I am not necessarily endorsing this, I am just telling the committee what happened. One of the actions proposed is the development of a new rail policy to address the future role of rail transport in Ireland. This policy is to be developed following a wide-ranging public consultation which will address key questions, including how to focus rail investment on where rail has or will have its greatest strength, reflect any social and environmental considerations uniquely addressed by the rail network in addition to securing value for money and affordable scale of network, considering the economic and investment context.
There is an important paragraph in the document which states that the NTA and Iarnród Éireann undertook a review and evaluation of possible solutions to Iarnród Éireann's funding requirements. This review is referred to as the rail review and looked at existing usage, transport needs, competition from other modes, wider associated benefits and financial constraints. Analytical work involving reviewing the rail network in terms of the demand and the cost associated with each corridor savings from service-level reductions and costs of alternatives which would support the development of such a policy has been carried out. That is a very important review. I intend to release it in due course fairly soon. I have not even finished it myself because I have only just received it. I intend to publish it and let people read it shortly.
The Deputy also referred to local improvement and community schemes. They were victims of cutbacks at one stage and local authorities were left to do the work themselves. The programme for Government seeks the restoration of ring-fenced schemes of this sort. That is also a matter that was under discussion yesterday and will be part of our Estimates process.
I think Deputy O'Keeffe is referring to the Roughan & O'Donovan report, Weight limits for motor vehicles and trailers in Ireland: Impact and increase in vehicle weight on structures, commissioned by the NRA, which is now TII, in 2011.
I have been advised that the then president of the IRHA, Eoin Gavin, sent a four-page commentary on the report addressed to the then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in December 2011 stating that the document had been received by the IRHA the previous month. The Deputy might check that up.
I will check it for the Deputy. That is the advice I have just received. I will check it for the Deputy.
I agree with Senator Ó Céidigh that the airport connection is a big missing link. The new metro north is obviously the long-term solution for that. It is due to start in 2021 and not finish until 2026 or 2027, which is quite far out. It is in the long-term capital programme out to 2035. This will connect Dublin Airport and Swords to the city. The cost will be €2.4 billion, which is why it has been delayed. It is probably unrealistic to seek an immediate result. The Senator is right in saying that we have a real infrastructure there. I spent much of the past 24 hours examining the problems of capacity at Dublin Airport, which he mentioned, and that with huge numbers coming in, it might get clogged up. If it cannot accommodate the numbers we would like, tourism might be affected. It may become more urgent to have transport facilities into the city. There is not much point in passengers landing at the airport if they have difficulty getting out of it. There is a real consciousness in the Department - and I have it now - that if funds become available, that would be a top priority. The problem the Senator identified has been realised. The issue is that it costs €2.5 billion which we simply do not have it at the moment. If funds become available, however, it would probably move more quickly up the queue. In the meantime, arrangements are being made for a much more active bus service between the airport and the city. It is something of which we are conscious but we cannot promise to do it early unless the funds become available. If they do, it will be high up on the list.
I do not know where the Galway bypass stands in the queue. I ask Mr. Mullaney to help me.
I was suggesting that the Institute of Directors in Ireland and others should carry out a mid-term review of the effectiveness of boards. This is done quite extensively in private companies and has started in public private companies. I suggest that it be considered for State boards.
I completely agree. I was surprised that the RSA did not do self-evaluation. I asked the question and it does not. I have not asked that question of other boards, which I will do in future. I am not saying public companies are the be-all and end-all but most of them do some sort of self-evaluation. That also has its problems because they know each other too well, but they do it. I asked it to so a self-evaluation and it agreed to do so. I am not sure what form it will take. There is and always has been a lack of performance monitoring on boards, which is not adequate.
I take the Senator's point that some of them do it out of pure patriotism and for the good of the community. Some of them refuse to do it because they do not like being under the spotlight and do not like the kinds of controversies that emerge. I will not be invidious here. There are boards where people's attendance records are not adequate and that should be addressed. That is at its most basic because I do not know what goes on behind closed boards when they are meeting or what homework they do. There are boards where, very obviously, people are not attending properly and that should remedied by either replacing them or getting them to turn up. I think the suggestion is a good one.
The Chairman talked about the officials to meet. That should be fine.
There was a question on the Ballyvourney-Macroom road. Perhaps Mr. Mullaney could respond.
I echo the points on critical road infrastructure, including the M20 and the Cork north ring road.
My question concerns the bus strike. The Minister said he does not understand why the sham negotiations have stalled. Organising public transport is not a doddle, understanding why the negations have stalled is. These workers have had no pay increase for eight years. They are being asked to negotiate on the idea of an 8.25% increase over the next three years, plus productivity, when they have already given two major productivity concessions in the past eight years.
Does the Minister not accept that, in those circumstances, no trade union worth its salt could negotiate a deal like that and that it is not and will not be acceptable? With 13 days of strikes looming, those unions will come under increased pressure from their ranks to escalate if there are not real talks which go beyond an increase of 8.25% plus productivity. If the Minister accepts that, does he not accept that there will be a need for talks which go beyond that and attempt, in a genuine way, to address the issue of pay justice?
We have to be careful what questions we ask the Minister because when I asked a question about the Road Safety Authority I did not expect the Minister to talk for 15 minutes about his hobbyhorse of quangos and how people are appointed to State boards.
The Minister expressed a need for an increase in the State subvention to Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. He said he is making a play in the upcoming budget for a significant increase. He also said it would be foolish for him to tell us what the increase would be. It is foolish of the Minister and Department not to inform State bodies of what they can expect. They should be in receipt of multi-annual budgets so they can plan for the future, rather than on an ad hocbasis. The Minister has failed to acknowledge that despite the cut in subvention over the past number of years, we have seen an increase in revenue, profits and passenger numbers for Dublin Bus. Why did the NTA take €2 million from Dublin Bus profits and state it was too profitable while at the same time restricting how Dublin Bus can negotiate in terms of the level of funding it will have in the future?
The Minister is no longer a columnist with the Sunday Independent- he is the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and has responsibility for Dublin Bus. He can instruct it to go to the negotiation table again without setting any preconditions. We heard from that the unions that they are willing to return to the negotiation table. The Minister has a responsibility to the 400,000 people who rely on Dublin Bus on a daily basis, the bus drivers and the rest of those in Dublin city to whom the industrial dispute is causing significant disruption.
In June I asked the Minister about the need for the Ardee bypass to be placed on a priority list for 2017, and I ask for an update. As agreed in the programme for Government, can the Minister please confirm when he intends to open applications for the CIS and LIS schemes? It is okay to blame local authorities and everything else, but our roads are in a bad way. We need to get something done about local roads as a priority. As I said, it is part of the programme for Government.
The Minister told us that the public transport company challenges were something that exercised the attention of the Department on an hourly, never mind a daily, basis. He then told us that the management has a role to play in regard to the efficiency of the company. Can he outline to us where he thinks savings will be made in the context of those challenges in order to free up sufficient resources to meet the kind of demands that will be made in regard to the industrial relations issues that are currently in front of us?
I refer to the strategic framework investment plan, which the Minister mentioned in the context of rail. What settlement assumptions have been made for that? Are we talking about balancing regional development or assuming that the type of development will continue to be as it was in the past?
I wish to raise a couple of issues. I cannot paint more clearly than I have already done the need for increased funding for road maintenance for regional and local roads. The Minister does not need me to tell him about the condition of many regional and local roads throughout the State. It is high time that extra funding was provided so that communities across the State could benefit.
I refer to the Dublin Bus strike. I know the Minister knows all the ins and outs of it and that it has been eight years since Dublin Bus workers had a pay increase. He also knows that revenue, fares and passenger numbers have increased. The only people who have not benefited from the upturn are the workers. It is fair to say that the reason the strike action has escalated is because of the lack of negotiations. There is a certain responsibility on the Minister to instruct Dublin Bus management. It seems to be trying to play hardball, but it is responsible for the escalation of the strike action due to the fact that it is playing hardball and refusing to re-enter negotiations. For the sake of our public network, workers and their rights, and customers who use Dublin Bus day in and day out there is an onus on the Minister to put pressure on Dublin Bus management to sit down around the table with all of the stakeholders and come to some agreement.
It is very difficult for me to answer questions in the detail for which Deputies are asking without it being interpreted as an intervention in the current situation. As a Deputy said, I will not produce a cheque book. Both sides in the dispute have to believe that. It will not help the situation if people try to draw the Minister into a battle with which he will not engage.
For me to comment on some of the issues raised by the Deputies will, I know, be interpreted as being involved in one way or another. I will not say any more than I have already said in answer to questions about the dispute, except that I urge both parties to get together. They cannot expect me in a public or private forum to be some sort of sugar daddy who will rescue either of them from a difficult situation.
That is not my role. I am a shareholder. This dispute is between themselves. If I have to repeat that, I will do so. The State is not going to burden the taxpayer with an industrial dispute. I am sorry I have to say that again.
It has been well covered. We have 35 minutes to get through four programmes. I propose that the Minister pick the main points from A and C to E, inclusive, for five minutes each. Each member will have one minute to ask a question.
We have allowed two minutes for the Minister to respond to each member's questions and that is it. That is the only time we have. We must be strict about the one minute limit; otherwise we will not get to everyone.
I asked a simple question of the Minister but he gave a big, long lingo about the RSA and moving forward. I asked him if the board is performing properly at the moment in terms of its remit given that there is an insufficient number of members on the board. I have been led to believe that the board cannot reach a quorum at times, so how can it perform properly? It is fine to talk about moving forward but ---
Okay, I will deal with the aviation programme first. The aviation programme for this year has an allocation of €26 million. The key priority for investment in the programme over the short to medium term is to support the four regional airports, namely Donegal, Knock, Kerry and Waterford. The 2016 allocation to the regional airports programme represents an increase of 5%. As members will know, two weeks ago I announced grant allocations of €2.7 million under the airports programme for Donegal, Knock, Kerry and Waterford. The spend to date has been lower than profiled but the allocation will be fully spent by the end of the year, as has been the pattern to date in this programme.
There is a clear commitment in the programme for Government to provide additional support to the regional airports and I will be pursuing this with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
The sports programme is next. 2016 has been a good year for the funding of sport, with a 40% increase in the programme allocation. The current allocation for Sport Ireland for 2016 is €47 million, representing an increase of €3 million which was allocated to assist the national governing bodies of sport and our high performance athletes. Almost €25 million is being provided for the development of the national sports campus, including completion of phase one of the national indoor arena. Other major components of the programme are listed in the documents submitted to the committee. I do not propose to read through them, given the time constraints. My officials are confident that the sports programme will spend its full allocation this year.
Tourism is the next programme. Exchequer funding is critical to achieving the ambitions set out in the tourism policy document, People, Place and Policy - Growing Tourism to 2025. 2016 has already seen an additional investment of €2 million in key elements of Fáilte Ireland's and Tourism Ireland's programmes, alongside continued capital investment for next year and beyond. This additional funding is being used to enhance supports for the new experience brands of the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East and Dublin: A Breath of Fresh Air, to provide the funding needed for the Rugby World Cup 2023 bid and to increase overseas marketing activities in key destination markets. 2016 is the first year since 2008 in which funding for overseas tourism marketing activity increased. This has provided a welcome injection to our overseas marketing campaigns.
Looking forward to 2017, I am confident that the success of the tourism sector in delivering revenue growth and jobs when other sectors were faltering during the crisis will underpin its position as a vital sector in Ireland's continuing recovery. This means that further investment is required in our overseas marketing efforts which will restore Ireland's share of voice in our key overseas markets, particularly in the context of Brexit. This also means investing in our tourism product, particularly our festivals, events and business tourism. It also means continuing our efforts to build the capacity of tourism businesses. In addition, the programme for Government makes a number of specific commitments on tourism, seeking to set aside €100 million in additional capital funding for a variety of initiatives. I am very keen to ensure that we target this funding where it will deliver the best bang over the lifetime of the Government. Experience brands like the Wild Atlantic Way have been very successful. We need to build on these, get the message and product right and also ensure that we do not overcrowd the market.
I would like to mention the death of a member of the country's emergency services on Monday, 12 September. Caitríona Lucas, along with her husband Bernard, was a part of that extraordinary group of men and women who volunteer to dedicate their skills, time and passion so that others may be safe along Ireland's coastline. I would like to extend sincere condolences to the family and friends of Caitríona, a woman who made the ultimate sacrifice while in the service of others. As is standard procedure with any marine casualty, an investigation by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board is currently under way into the incident that resulted in Ms Lucas's death. A separate investigation is also being conducted internally by the Irish Coast Guard service. It is important that we let these investigations finish their work before coming to any conclusions on the cause of this tragic accident.
I was very privileged to attend the very sad funeral of Caitríona last week. It was an occasion of great sadness for the community, where thousands of people recognised the extraordinary work of the volunteers.
I thank the Minster and on behalf of the committee, I would also like to extend our condolences to the family and friends of Caitríona Lucas.
I stress again that we must adhere strictly to the one-minute limit for questions to the Minister. Otherwise we will not have enough time to get through everything.
I ask the Minister to confirm when he intends to invite applications for the next round of sports capital grants and to consider introducing a pre-validation process for such grant applications. I also ask the Minister to confirm when funding under the national cycle network funding call for 2014 to 2016 will be awarded or announced.
I wish to take this opportunity to highlight the exploits of my local soccer team, Dundalk FC, which has gained entry to the qualifying stages of the Europa League. Last week it became the first Irish team to win points in the league stages of the competition.
Dundalk FC is currently dealing with a number of issues with its home ground and it is likely that it will have to redevelop the existing ground or develop a new home on a greenfield site. I ask the Minister to give his support, in principle, to Dundalk FC's efforts in this regard. The team has three upcoming games in the Europa League and I invite the Minister to attend one of those games to see for himself the standard of football being played in Dundalk.
We have previously discussed the possibility of a cycling and walking greenway extending from Blackrock to Carlingford in County Louth. I urge the Minister to consider taking the next steps required to move this project forward. I invited the Minister to Dundalk in June and that offer still stands. We are all aware of the success of the greenways in the west of the country and I have no doubt that we can replicate that success in the east. The northern part of County Louth, which includes the Cooley Peninsula, is steeped in history as well as being an area of great natural beauty. It is one of the best hiking ---
Thank you Chairman. The €2.7 million that was recently allocated to the regional airports is very welcome. However, given that under EU state aid rules, grant aid can only be provided up to a maximum of 75%, is the Minister confident that the regional airports are in a position to generate the remaining 25% themselves in order to be able to draw down that funding? In his speech, the Minister alluded to the "possible" draw down. Will the regional airports have the capacity to draw down this much needed money? In the event that they do not have such capacity, what is the Department's alternative plan to support the regional airports? Allocating money to an airport which does not have the capacity to draw it down is about as useful as a tit on a bull, if the Minister does not mind me saying so. I look forward to his reply on that matter.
There is no mention in the section on the aviation programme of the Dublin Airport Authority's proposal for a second runway, which is critically important. The Minister alluded earlier to the capacity issues at Dublin Airport and I ask him to expand on that matter.
Is the sports capital programme going ahead? A simple "yes" or "no" will suffice. If it is going ahead, what is the relevant date? How are we getting on with our bid for the Rugby World Cup?
On the tourism programme, recently Tourism Ireland sought tenders for the marketing of the lakelands as a third brand. To my surprise, some of the counties with the greatest numbers of lakes were excluded from the tender documents. What are the qualifying criteria to be met by the counties which will be promoted under the three main marketing brands, namely, the lakelands strategy, Ireland's Ancient East and the Wild Atlantic Way? Without a comprehensive marketing plan in each of the respective areas, the tourism sector will be challenged.
Earlier this year it was stated sports capital grants would be annualised. Will they be released this year or not until next year? If no date has been set for their payment this year, will the money be carried forward to next year? Has the money detailed in the subheads been spent on capital projects, given that the sports grants have not yet been released?
I stated the non-statutory inquiry into the Olympic Council of Ireland would be toothless, primarily because it did not have the power to compel witnesses to attend. We have seen the dismissive, if not arrogant, approach taken to the Minister when he travelled to Rio de Janeiro. If this attitude is anything to go by, a non-statutory inquiry will not extract the answers and information we need. The Minister should have considered establishing a full statutory inquiry. If we do not get to the bottom of the matter in a non-statutory inquiry and do not put measures in place to ensure it will never happen again, will the Minister commit to considering the establishment of a statutory inquiry?
On tourism, we speak about the Wild Atlantic Way and Dublin city as being the most popular tourist sites. The midlands and areas along the east coast do not receive the same attention to detail in terms of promotion. Has the Minister met Tourism Ireland to discuss the possible consequences of a Brexit and how they might be pre-empted in promoting tourism on a cross-Border basis?
I assume the sports capital grants will be allocated. In this case, is the Minister examining using a different allocation method to fill the gaps that need to be filled rather than wait for applications to be submitted? In June last year approval was sought for the construction of a national indoor arena, but it has not been forthcoming. The IRFU will not proceed on a basis of uncertainty. We received a heavily redacted briefing document. I am surprised that the Department did this. It makes it very difficult to figure out the critical issues involved. Will the Minister outline them?
What is the Minister's attitude to the retention of the 9% VAT rate? In the event that it is increased, will the Minister seek the income generated by it to be made available to the Department to be invested in tourism-related initiatives? Fáilte Ireland is seeking a doubling of its allocation. Is it intended to put a salary cap in place? A new chief executive is to be recruited. I am trying to get an idea of how the money might be spent.
We must congratulate our Paralympians. Our athletes did not come back from the Olympic Games with extra medals, but using a weighted system does the Department believe their achievements across all events surpassed those in London in 2012 across, including cycling, track and field, swimming and diving? Have we upped our standards and the results achieved? Is there a timeframe for the proposal to establish a national sports policy? For how long will the consultation process continue? When does the Minister expect to see the end product?
With regard to the aviation sector, we do not seem to be making progress in the provision of flights from Boston to Cork.
The Minister mentioned regional airports, while earlier we spoke about infrastructure. Under the previous Government, I chaired an airport study group to consider what was needed. Ireland West Airport Knock caters for more passengers than all of the other regional airports combined. I welcome the recent allocation of funding. Does the Minister plan to visit Ireland West Airport Knock? If not, I extend an open invitation to see what is happening there. It is a crucial link in the promotion of tourism in the west.
I am open to correction, but I understand the Olympic Council of Ireland received funding of €1.2 million in the past two years. During the recent controversy I heard that the Olympic Council of Ireland had cash reserves of €2 million. Given all that has happened, will its funding be reviewed? Is it provided on an ongoing annual basis or in the approach to Olympic Games? Will it be reviewed in the light of the size of its cash reserves and other events that have taken place?
Our Olympic athletes inspire the country, as do our international sportspeople and intercounty players. We have one present who graced the fields for Mayo and helped Galway to win all-Ireland final championships. We are in a poor position and at a critical juncture. In 2012 Irish athletes won six medals at the London Olympics Games. They included one gold, one silver and four bronze medals and resulted in Ireland being ranked 41st in the world. In Rio de Janeiro Irish athletes won two silver medals. Fair play to the O'Donovan brothers and Annalise Murphy for winning them. Frankly, we are sliding very fast down the scale. Will the Minister consider putting together a special task force, as was done in the United Kingdom, to fund the development of our elite athletes in order that they will have some chance? I have mentored Olympic athletes and, God knows, to survive they went from foot to mouth. Athletes from Denmark which is the same size as Munster won 15 medals in Rio de Janeiro, but our athletes won only two. Athletes from New Zealand which has the same population as Ireland and a lower GNP won 19 metals in Rio de Janeiro.
For the sake of our nation, I ask the Minister to consider putting a special effort into developing our Olympic efforts.
To follow on from what my colleague, Deputy O'Keeffe, said, I congratulate the Paralympians who will arrive back in Dublin today on winning 11 medals. It is an unprecedented haul of medals and they have done fabulous work. We, as a coiste, should acknowledge their achievement.
I could spend all day discussing aviation but I will not do so. Drones are going to be very important but they provide great opportunities and huge risks. Yesterday, I met the Irish Aviation Authority to discuss drones but in a slightly different context. Can the Department tell me what strategy has it adopted for drones from a safety and business-opportunity perspective? We need joined-up thinking on aviation education but I shall leave my comments at that. I also strongly suggest retaining the 9% VAT rate for tourism.
I reiterate that the 9% VAT rate is important for balanced regional development. I wish to advise the Minister that he has exactly 13 minutes to respond to all the questions. Another meeting is scheduled to take place in this room at 1.30 p.m. I urge him to do his best in the time available.
I shall start with Deputy Fitzpatrick. Congratulations to Dundalk Football Club. What it has achieved is fantastic. The League of Ireland has not got the recognition it deserves and we are all very proud of the players. I did not ignore the Deputy's invitation. I am sorry that I did not go to Dundalk in the summer but I will do so.
Let me address the Brexit query and I will then deal with the sports capital issue. There has been no knee-jerk reaction to Brexit but if there has been one, then it has probably been wrong. I assure everyone that the Department and I are watching matters particularly closely in the context of tourism and the effects Brexit may have on it. Tourism Ireland is engaging with the tourism industry on the implications of Brexit on overseas tourism to Ireland. In July, a meeting was held with key industry representatives to assess the situation and a further meeting is due to take place in September. I do not know of any immediate or dramatic reduction in bookings from the UK but that is to be expected. I shall issue one warning. There was a huge fall in the value of sterling as a result of Brexit and that will have some effect on the tourism industry here. Currency rates are difficult to predict. Just because the rate has fallen does not mean that sterling will remain permanently in that situation. We are rather at the mercy of currencies. Let us remember that all of the other surrounding European countries are in the same position. Sterling has fallen in value against the euro so they are affected as well. They will suffer the same loss of British tourists. The people in Britain who want to go somewhere on holiday will experience difficulties in finding anywhere cheaper unless they travel outside the euro area. I do not feel as depressed about this matters as some others.
Let me discuss the sports capital grants so that I can answer the questions for everybody. Yesterday, I met the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. Talks have taken place with my Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan. He wrote to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on 13 September seeking approval, during the Estimates campaign, to implement a commitment to sports capital grants by way of an annual round of the sports capital programme, with allocations each year of €40 million beginning in 2017. As members will know, there is a commitment in the programme for Government to allocate sports capital grants on an annualised basis.
Obviously, all Departments are currently engaged with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in the context of finalising the budget. Once the Estimates process is completed, an announcement is expected in terms of a new round of the sports capital programme. With almost €100 million outstanding grants at the start of 2016, the focus this year has been on helping clubs with existing grants to draw down the outstanding ones. As of mid-September, over €17 million was paid out to clubs across the country. I am confident we will make a positive announcement on these grants when the process is complete. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked we had done to simplify the process. One of the big problems has always been the large number of invalid applications, which is intolerable. There is quite a lot of action going on to prevent that from happening in the future.
In terms of future rounds, the programme of work is at an advanced stage on the design of the next round in order to simplify the online application process in order to make it user friendly for applicants. Furthermore, the issue of the number of invalid applications was raised by a number of Deputies at the last select committee meeting on this topic. To address these concerns, the Department is finalising proposals to amend the application process in order to minimise the number of invalid applications. While some of the possible measures to achieve this objective may require further fine tuning and testing, the sports capital projects unit of my Department is committed to reducing the overall level of invalid applications. We have responded to the many concerns on this issue. We will respond in the weeks to come. Members will see a marked difference in respect of both applications and the difficulties people understandably encounter.
It is no surprise that Deputy Troy asked a question about the midlands. Fáilte Ireland has just launched a tender to examine the option in this regard. The objective is to complete a destination development and feasibility study to ascertain the potential for growth and the best mechanism to unlock those areas that lie between the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East. It expects to award the tender at the end of the month. In advance of the selection process, it is not possible to have a definitive timeline for completion but Fáilte Ireland is provisionally aiming for completion by the end of the year. For clarity, any new brand territory would have a shared boundary with both the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East. In this context, areas of those counties that border the Shannon waterway on both sides are captured by the proposed study that is currently out to tender. Indeed, depending on the recommendations arrived at, those businesses and communities along the Shannon may end up benefiting from the work of both brands. There is no county excluded and it would be wrong to suggest that was the case.
The Deputy has heard what I said. Let me move on to the next question.
The Deputy asked about the capacity issues of a second runway. The whole point of having a second runway is because the airport will need one to cope with an expected increase in the number of passengers over and above that which has already occurred. There is no doubt that a second runway is essential. In fact, as the Deputy probably knows, I took through Cabinet yesterday a review of capacity at the airports, particularly Dublin Airport, to look at the obvious pressures that will build in the years to come, even with a second runway. There are all sorts of options that must be considered. I brought the review forward from 2018 because of the critical situation at Dublin Airport at present, which is already affecting operations. We will look at everything, including the option of a third terminal and other matters, that will allow tourists to come here in numbers.
The Rugby World Cup has reached candidate stage and we submitted an application on 30 June. The candidates will be decided upon at the end of October and the final selection will be made in November 2017.
Then, the final selection will be made in November 2017. We have made and we are making a strong bid for it to come to Ireland. I hope we will all share the consequences and benefits if it does come. I believe we have a good chance. Only four nations are left in the bidding. Let us keep our fingers crossed.
The next question was from Deputy Imelda Munster.
I will try to get to that as well. A question was asked about the Olympic Council of Ireland inquiry. I do not think it is toothless and I will explain why. We took a long time to consider whether to make it statutory or non-statutory, and it could have been either. The reasons we went with the non-statutory option related to cost and time. These factors were obviously going to be important. We hope it is going to be cheaper and quicker as a result. We would have to have gone to the Dáil and we would not be starting until next week if we had gone the statutory route. On top of that - I suppose this was the absolute deciding point - the three main parties that we expect to give evidence to the inquiry, namely, the OCI, PRO10 Sports Management and the third company, have all volunteered to participate, give evidence and produce any papers we want. Therefore, we did not see any need at this stage for a statutory inquiry. However, the judge who is in charge has the option of coming back and indicating that he believes it should be statutory, if he is being frustrated in any way. We went that way because we do not know how far it will go and we do not know how big it is going to be. We have the co-operation of the main parties involved and the judge has the option to go statutory.
Deputy Murphy asked a question about the 9% VAT rate. I think it has been a great success. It has been a fantastic success and I think a change would be very unexpected. I cannot predict what is going to happen in the budget and I will not do so, but I would be a great supporter of what has happened in the past and the benefits which the provision has given, especially to smaller hospitality units. The benefits have been absolutely immeasurable.
I take the point that at this stage some bigger players may not need it any longer, in particular, the Dublin hotels. However, it is difficult to separate one from the other. What is really important is that the employment and benefits that have been given to the smaller hospitality areas should not be taken away.
I want to make one point on this question. The 9% rate also goes to fast food outlets, newspapers, hairdressers and cinemas. It is actually far wider than restaurants and hotels. I do not think that is entirely understood.
That is a good point, but it still does give employment and it is the overall employment benefits that we are thinking about. They are so important. Deputy O'Keeffe and Senator Ó Céidigh addressed the question of the results of the Olympics. We heard how there were only two silver medals, but there were some pretty good performances as well. Elsewhere, team Ireland had 14 top-ten finishes and 14 top-20 finishes. I cannot remember the statistics but many of the competitors produced the best performances of their lifetimes. I have no wish to denigrate their performances. I can see the points made by Senator Ó Céidigh but I do not want to denigrate their performances, because some of them did very well and just missed the medals.