Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 30 May 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
Rural Bus Services: Discussion
In the first session of today's meeting, we will consider proposals for late-night rural bus services. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, and his officials, Mr. Kevin Doyle, Ms Eilish O'Connor, Mr. Dermot Murphy, Ms Maev Nic Lochlainn, Ms Denise Keoghan and Mr. Declan Hayes.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. 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 invite the Minister, Deputy Ross, to make his opening statement.
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Shane Ross):I thank the committee for inviting me to speak to it today about the recently announced new evening and night-time rural transport services.
I will very briefly go into the background of the new services and begin by setting out how services in rural areas, funded by my Department under the rural transport programme, have developed and expanded.
The rural transport programme was launched in 2007, following an earlier pilot that ran from 2002 to 2006, specifically to address social exclusion in rural areas arising from unmet public transport needs. At that time, 35 community transport groups around the country were funded under the programme to deliver the services. While services are open to the general public, older people and people with disabilities have traditionally formed the core customer base of the programme.
In 2012 the National Transport Authority, NTA, was assigned responsibility for management of the rural transport programme as part of new arrangements for integrated local and rural transport approved by Government that year. A restructuring of the programme was announced in 2013. The aim of the restructuring, which followed a value-for-money and policy review of the programme, was to ensure a more efficient and effective delivery structure that maximises integration with other State-funded transport services and to make the programme a sustainable part of the public transport system. As part of the restructuring the rural transport programme, which now operates under the LocalLink brand, 17 LocalLink offices were established from the 35 rural transport groups previously delivering the services under the programme. The NTA contracts the services and the 17 LocalLink offices manage the services in their respective areas on behalf of the NTA. The NTA, with its national remit to secure the provision of public passenger transport services, is best placed to ensure that LocalLink services are developed and integrated with other public transport services.
Since the organisational restructuring was completed in 2015, the focus has turned to optimising the services provided within the available funding. In 2016 the Local Link offices began a review of services in conjunction with the NTA. The review is looking to ensure that services are meeting the needs of communities in rural areas and identifying gaps in the provision of services across the country. Arising out of the review and with an increase in my Department’s funding for Local Link services since 2016, 50 new services have been introduced to the network. These include regular five, six or seven day per week bus services as well as demand responsive services. Key features of these services include greater integration with existing public transport services and better linkage of services between and within towns and villages. The review also identified the need for community transport services targeting the needs of specific service users from a social inclusion perspective. Accordingly, the NTA has provided funding to Local Link offices in 2016 and 2017 for once-off community transport services across a number of categories, including age-related, youth, integration and culture and education.
I am aware of how important the Local Link services are to people living in rural areas. The difficulties in accessing social activities in rural areas in the evening and night-time, has been a particular concern for me and the Government. I therefore set about bringing together key stakeholders to explore the issues involved and to try to come up with practical proposals. I hosted meetings in September and November last year, attended by representatives from the Vintners Federation of Ireland, Insurance Ireland, the Irish Countywomen's Association, the Irish Farmers' Association, Irish Rural Link and the NTA, among others. Arising from that dialogue, I tasked the NTA with examining the potential to extend existing LocalLink services and proposals I received in this regard from Deputy Martin Heydon. The NTA sought the views of the 17 LocalLink offices in terms of the various ways that the rural transport programme is seeking to address unmet transport needs in rural areas during evening and night time hours. Proposals were also sought in terms of addressing these unmet transport needs going forward. The NTA on 27 February 2018, issued a funding call for applications from all 17 LocalLink offices to deliver a range of trial evening and night time services. The deadline for receipt of applications was Friday, 16 March 2018. The NTA received proposals for 50 such services from 12 of the Local Link offices by the deadline. No applications were received from the five Local Link offices for Galway, Sligo-Leitrim-Roscommon, Mayo, Clare or Limerick.
Having appraised the applications received, the NTA approved funding for all 50 new services on a six-month trial basis. The services comprise 20 extensions to existing regular public transport services and 30 demand responsive services across 19 counties. They will add 188 new trips per week to the network of rural transport services nationally, and will run on average from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. typically on Friday and Saturday evenings.
While a public procurement process must be undertaken for the 30 new demand responsive services, the NTA plans to have all 50 services operational by mid-July 2018 running until December 2018 on a trial basis. The total cost of funding these services for the six-month period in 2018 is €450,000. The NTA will monitor usage patterns and trends on the services over the trial period. The results of the trial will be assessed and the continuation of these services will be considered in the light of those results and the availability of funding in 2019. That figure of €450,000 may rise because there were five that did not apply but may have applied since. In that case it will rise proportionately.
I should add that the NTA has engaged with the five Local Link offices which did not submit applications for funding and has invited them to submit applications with a revised closing date of Friday, 1 June 2018 on the same terms and conditions as applied previously.
I acknowledge the help I received from Deputy Heydon and from the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, in getting this initiative off the ground. I also thank the NTA and the Local Link offices for their work in developing the new services. I am grateful for the general welcome for this scheme from large numbers of people, particularly in rural Ireland, as well as in these Houses. As members know, this is a pilot scheme and it should be given a chance. Of course, it is not a final scheme but is something on which we must build. We will have to make judgments on it at the end of the six-month period. At the moment, the general welcome it has received in rural Ireland is very gratifying. This is just the beginning of a recognition of and a solution to the problems experienced in rural society. We want to address those problems in a very serious way, not just now but also into the future.
I thank the Minister for his presentation. A lot has been done in recent years to improve rural transport. The development of Local Link, which grew from 35 different rural transport groups, has made a noticeable difference on the ground. While we could always do with more, that has made a significant difference. The important issue now is to market those routes to increase the numbers using them.
I was very disappointed to hear that no applications were received from the five Local Link offices for Galway, Sligo-Leitrim-Roscommon, Mayo, Clare and Limerick. I am sure there is a reason for that and was glad to hear that the Minister had invited them to submit applications, with a revised closing date of Friday, 1 June. Have any applications been received? I would be very concerned if applications had not been submitted from what are very rural areas. Have any applications been received so far? The deadline is only a few days away.
To date the NTA has received applications from two of the five Local Link offices to which Senator Feighan refers, namely, Limerick and Sligo-Leitrim-Roscommon. We are hoping that the other three will submit applications. The lack of applications is not really explicable. The offices were informed but perhaps are they are running a little behind. The NTA tells me that it is making every effort to accommodate those who have not yet submitted an application.
I thank the Minister. I am delighted to hear that there was some leeway and that those who had not applied were given a second chance to do so. I am delighted to hear that an application was submitted by the Local Link office in my area of Sligo-Leitrim-Roscommon and I hope the Minister will look favourably on it.
The NTA contacted them about two weeks ago and told them that they would consider applications submitted by 1 June. If the NTA does not receive applications from the remaining offices by this Friday, it should leave it open to them to make late applications. It would be absurd not to do so if they wanted to make an application. It would also be absurd if they did not want to make an application.
I do not know the answer to that because applications are made directly to the NTA. I do know that Local Link offices have been given every opportunity to apply. We do not want anyone to miss out on this opportunity.
The NTA is looking for feedback on this from those who do not apply. If offices do not apply, the NTA is going to ask why, in case there is some flaw in the application process or with what is being offered. I do not think there is any problem because it is almost unanimous at this stage.
I welcome the Minister and his officials here this morning. Any new service is to be welcomed and while I am not going to start off on a critical note, I do have a number of questions on this new service. What additional funding has the Department given to the NTA this year to roll out the pilot scheme? The Minister said that the pilot scheme will cost €450,000. My information is that this is to come from existing resources as opposed to new or additional resources. My colleagues asked why five Local Link offices did not apply. My understanding is that the timeframe was very tight in terms of when expressions of interest were originally sought. Organisations had less than two weeks to put together a comprehensive proposal on the routes they would be able to roll out. I ask the Minister to confirm that was the case, and if so, does he believe that a two-week timeframe was adequate? To be fair to these Local Link offices, they are trying to continue on with the work they are doing, providing services in their areas. I know that only one application was made in my constituency of Longford-Westmeath because of the tight timeframe. People were unable to do the necessary preparatory work that would be needed to put a business case forward on rolling out a greater number of services. In my constituency, which is very large, the only routes that have been identified are between Ballinalee, Granard and Longford two evenings per week, with the last bus departing at 11 p.m. I appreciate that the Minister is not from rural Ireland but-----
I accept that this is a pilot scheme and that there is a possibility that it will be rolled out further. A pilot, however, must be designed in such a way as to give a scheme the best chance to work. Many people in rural Ireland would only be contemplating going out at 10.30 p.m. They are working on their farms and have family commitments, as do people everywhere else. If one is in rural Ireland and one goes out to socialise before 10.30 p.m. there will not be too much going on, so cutting off the bus service at 11 p.m. may prevent the scheme from working as well as it possibly could.
The Minister has said that he will review the scheme within six months. What metrics will be used in that review to determine success or failure? We need to know now, not at the end of the six months, the key tests in terms of whether this is deemed to be a success or a failure.
The scheme is welcome on the routes that have been identified. The Minister said that he met the Vintners Federation of Ireland and the Irish Countrywomen's Association, which I welcome. He criticised others for proposing to meet the vintners on this issue but he met them. Did the Minister consider a community hackney service because these buses are not going to go down byroads or cater for the settlement patterns in rural Ireland? Many people in rural Ireland live next to secondary roads, byroads and boreens. How are they going to be able to access the buses? Perhaps rolling out a community employment scheme would work better.
What I had in mind was a scheme whereby if a local person was prepared to work on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, the person could retain social welfare benefits but at the same time would have the opportunity to earn or supplement the benefits money by providing a much-needed service in the locality. That would have had a greater impact in fighting isolation and ensuring that people would have access to a service on a weekend night regardless of how isolated or rural the location. This is something the Minister could consider now as part of the pilot scheme.
This was introduced as a result of the Minister's proposal for the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, which is still meandering its way through the Dáil. Is there any reason or rationale that this is coming so late to the debate? Since the Minister has been 18 months debating this issue, I would have thought this pilot scheme would have been front-loaded. Then, provided the debate has concluded within the coming days or weeks, we could have been running not a pilot scheme but an actual scheme that had been tried and tested. The pilot should be completed and the full scheme should be in place.
I thank Deputy Troy for the general welcome he has given and for some sensible and constructive questions.
Deputy Troy asked about the timing. The announcement was on 27 February. The applications had to come in by 16 March. We are talking about a period of two and a half weeks. Deputy Troy is right to suggest that it is a little tight. That is a fair point. The period has been extended until 1 June for anyone who did not apply. That is quite a considerable extension. We received 50 applications. There was no indication of dissatisfaction with them in respect of the timing. I am only speculating but I believe there may be one or two of those who were left out or who did not apply who may have found the timetable too tight. That is why we extended it. I believe we should continue to be flexible about it and that is why it is a pilot scheme for six months. The idea is that over the six-month period we will make changes or the National Transport Authority will make changes or suggest changes. There will probably be new routes or services that will be considered and the Local Link groups that made applications will probably be welcome to change their applications during that period as a result of the findings. If there are gaps, I imagine the NTA will be more than happy to fill them. This is not only a pilot. It will also teach serious lessons about where routes are right or wrong, where the demand is, where society is benefiting and where it is not.
The timetable is tight. We were keen to get it in for the summer season. There are procurement delays of several weeks for one or two of these routes. We want to do it as quickly as possible. It is an urgent problem. My guess is that if we had said the window was six months, then people would have asked why we could not do it in two or three weeks because the summer season needs the service. We will certainly consider further applications during this period and representations will be considered seriously. We want this to work.
I listened to what Deputy Troy had to say about people going out at 10.30 p.m. If that is true and there is a need for the service at 10.30 p.m., it may present some logistical difficulties. I have no operational role in this but I would urge the NTA to look at the possibility of people leaving after 10 p.m. If that is necessary, if it is the reality that people go out, if there is demand for the service and if it will help people and reduce loneliness, then we should consider it. We have to be reasonable about that and we should certainly consider it.
Deputy Troy asked about the metrics after six months. The NTA has said that it will look at this over six months. The authority has not spelt out what the metrics will be. This is not a commercial operation and it is not in place to make money. The main metric of this, as far as I am concerned, is to reduce the difficulties of society in rural Ireland in getting together and with connectivity with regard to the loneliness that many people experience. The idea is to improve the quality of people's lives. That is the metric I would urge those involved to use when they are judging whether it is working. Obviously, if it is not working in certain areas or if no one is using it, then it would be a consideration. The major consideration, however, should be the improvement to people's quality of life. That is the most important thing. Society should benefit and society must connect. That is the most important metric.
I gather the idea of a community hackney has been tried before and there was little take-up. I will come back to the Deputy on that point, but I think there was little take-up when this was tried before. From memory, I recall there were ten hackneys used nationwide. It was only a small number.
Many of the extensions will be demand-responsive units. This means they will go down lanes and various places that are not regular routes to collect people. I understand 30 of the 50 are demand-responsive and therefore they will be flexible.
The final question from Deputy Troy related to the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill. The Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill and this measure were not conditional on each other. They are completely separate. Rural isolation is one problem. Drink-driving is a completely different problem. If there is a connection, it is in the sense that people can go to the pub and come home having had two pints or more without fearing in any way that they will be stopped or breathalysed for committing an offence on the way home. If this improves the willingness in that regard, that is fine, but they are not in any way conditional upon each other one way or the other. The drink-driving Bill will go through the Dáil in the coming weeks and this will be initiated in the coming weeks, but regardless if one goes through and the other does not, this measure will go through anyway.
I welcome that but it was as a result of pressure for support of this Bill at the time. This was alluded to by the Minister and Deputy Heydon. The two are happening together. There was no talk of this measure before the Bill. That is a fact. We are codding ourselves if we are not being honest about that.
I am glad to hear the Minister say that the metrics will reflect a social service to improve the quality of people's lives. That is welcome. I will come back at a later stage and remind the Minister that he said as much. Many of the social services within Bus Éireann and the public service obligation routes have changed in recent times. Commercial realities applied in certain instances. I welcome the fact that this is not a commercial reality and not based on commercial realism but on providing a social service within our community. We should encourage people to use it in the coming six months to ensure there is a far greater roll-out of this scheme after the six-month period.
I, too, was glad to hear the Minister say that it was not a commercial product. I was glad to hear him speak of improving the quality of life and talking about connectivity between rural and urban areas.
I smiled when I heard that because that was the argument many of us made against the proposals to put some Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus routes out to tender. That is exactly what it is about. Perhaps the Minister will heed what he himself has said when it comes around to the next batch of routes he intends to outsource.
My questions are on the breakdown of the funding and how it is going to operate. I am also curious about how the pilot scheme will be monitored. I do not believe the Minister said anything specific about how it would be measured. Perhaps he could clarify that. I asked whether this would be a door-to-door service as opposed to a collection point-type service on main routes, and I was glad to hear that it is going to be a door-to-door service. If a person is living in a village, he or she can access the local community hall for social activities or the local pub, but the people who live up the lanes and the boreens are completely isolated. For this reason a door-to-door service would be good. I presume a phone line will be set up which those wishing to avail of the service can ring to schedule collection.
I could not believe it when I saw that the service would be operating until 11 p.m. at the latest. I do not frequent pubs, but closing time is midnight or 12.30.am, I believe.
It is 11.30 p.m. I believe pubs close a bit later in the summer. If the bus is beeping outside the pub at 11 p.m. and a person has just walked in, it is hardly worth his or her while. Will the Minister give consideration to that? People generally go out much later in the evening, particularly if they live in a rural area, so 11 p.m. does not really suit the purpose of the scheme.
The Deputy asked about funding. Deputy Troy asked the same question earlier and I did not answer him. The funding will come from the current resources of the NTA. There will not be an additional charge on the Exchequer for the current funding of the pilot scheme.
I do not blame Deputy Munster for asking operational questions. I would do the same if I was in opposition. I am not responsible for answering such questions. I know that the Deputy would like answers to her questions, but they should be addressed elsewhere. If she has any difficulty getting those answers, I presume I will be able to get them for her.
The NTA will measure this, and I have asked if it will carry out an interim report after three months. It has agreed to do so. I want to monitor the situation very closely and see how it is operating. I am not going to tell it exactly how to measure it because it has experts on routes and services who will do that work. This will alleviate rural isolation. That is the criteria. This is being done to ensure that people are happier, more comfortable and have better social lives in rural Ireland, and to recognise that the problem needs to be remedied. If we were spending millions on one route, the Deputy would be quite right to come to the committee and say that we are wasting money and that there has to be a balance. The thrust and motivation behind this is not commercial at all, however, but rather to make people happier, to ensure they have better social lives and to ensure they are better connected. I am not saying that it will be done at the drop of a hat, but ultimately we want to reduce rural isolation. That is the metric we should use. Where there are new routes which are doing that, we should continue them and extend them. Thirty of the new routes are going to be demand-responsive, meaning that the service will call to the doors of customers in certain circumstances to make sure that they can get out. That is a pretty demand-responsive action.
I take the point Deputy Munster made about closing times. I am not very good with pub opening hours. If pubs close at 11.30 p.m. and the last buses are before that time, people's ability to enjoy themselves as others can is probably reduced. I will ask the NTA to consider that when the pilot scheme concludes and consider whether there is a demand for the service to go on later. I believe that is reasonable. Deputy Troy mentioned that issue as well. If that is a difficulty, it can be examined.
The rural bus link is a positive idea. This is a pilot programme, and I am informed, to quote my sources, by Deputy Michael Collins that there are two links in the pilot programme in County Cork. If there were to be a comprehensive service for the county, the Deputy believes that 35 to 40 routes would be required, which is approximately 20 times what is available under the pilot scheme. Those 35 or 40 routes cannot be put on a pilot programme, but if it is successful, if indeed it does combat rural isolation and the service is rolled out to as many people as possible, there will be a big expansion of the programme.
The Minister mentioned that the cost of the pilot is €450,000. Five of the 17 areas have not made applications and are not part of the programme yet. If this is going to be an effective service for significant numbers of people in rural Ireland, a year after the pilot programme the price could spiral to €10 million, €15 million or perhaps more. The NTA has not received extra funding for the pilot programme. The Minister said that there was no additional charge to the Exchequer. It could not reasonably be expected to go beyond the pilot programme from within its own resources. Will the Minister indicate what his position will be in terms of extra funding for next year or the year after if the pilot programme is successful to roll out the programme to the maximum number of communities?
I believe there have been three applications from Cork rather than two, namely, Kinsale to Clonakilty, Banteer, and Rockchapel to Meelin. There are three. That might change the calculations mentioned by the Deputy but it does not change his point. I am not sure on what basis the Deputy is saying that 35 services rather than three would be required, because the local links were invited to make whatever applications they wanted to the scheme. There were no limits at all and we received only three applications from the local links in Cork. That does not mean there is not an appetite for more. There might well be, but they were invited to apply and there was no cap put on what they could ask for. Every single application throughout the nation was accepted. There were 50 applications and all 50 were accepted. We are fulfilling and satisfying the appetite for the service that we can find. We cannot expect the NTA to go to local link services and tell them that they need more. The current allocations represent what has been sought by the link services.
There may well be a demand for more and I accept that. If it works in some areas then other areas may see the opportunity and cash in on it. That is fair enough and actually a good thing. I am not disputing the €10 million to €15 million but it is speculative. If the NTA says extra funding is needed in future years because there is an appetite for more services, and that is justified, I will be happy to seek further resources for this scheme - if I think it is working.
There has been an increase in NTA funding in recent years and also an increase in Local Link services. Over the past three years, it has gone from €12.2 million in 2016 to €14.25 million in 2017 and €14.99 million - €15 million - in 2018. The trend is going up. If this scheme is working, I will be happy to seek fresh resources specifically for it.
Before I bring in the other members, I have a few questions. It is, as other speakers have said, a positive initiative. The Minister, Deputy Ross, in his statement said that one of the key features of these services is greater integration with existing public transport services and better linking of services between and within towns and villages. This does not go anywhere near breaking the back of the problem arising from the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act. The Minister has said this is a trial scheme. What parameters will be used to measure its success? Will it be that no more pubs have closed or that there are fewer reported cases of mental ill health in rural Ireland? I refer to how can success be measured.
The Minister also mentioned he met various interested groups from rural Ireland including the Vintners Federation of Ireland, the Irish Countrywomen's Association, ICA, and the Irish Farmers Association, IFA. They all suggested alternative solutions. The IFA proposed the provision of DIY alcohol test units - breathalysers. I asked the Minister about that in a parliamentary question and I thank him for his reply. He mentioned the issue of costs. However, if we take into account the number of rural facilities within the country and those that will be greatly affected by the impending legislation, this €500,000 could be used to give each of those publicans the breathalyser machinery. It is expensive. The Minister quoted a cost of €500 a unit in his answer to me. If the publicans had the machines, however, they could supply the refills. It is not for a legal determination, it is only for guidance. That initiative could let people know if they are drinking and driving within the current laws.
I am talking about people drinking a pint or half of a glass of wine. I will be blunt about the Minister's proposal - he is creating a binge drinking bus. That will be the effect. Once people know the bus exists, it will be like they are off to a stag party. The bus will bring them from A to B and back home again within a defined period. Myself and my colleagues who oppose this amendment were not talking about people going out for a session. We were talking about the social drinker, a person who calls to his or her neighbour on Christmas Day, who goes down to the local after a day in the field or working in the factory or stops in when passing by on the way home. We are talking about people having a courtesy drink or a glass of wine with their meal. I welcome the initiative but it is not hitting the nail on the head from our perspective. I reiterate my two questions. What are the measurement parameters for success and will the Minister consider funding the cost of breath test units for public houses and let them be responsible for them? They would not be legally-binding machines; it would just be for guidance. That can save lives as well.
I thank the Chair. I am not going to do that and I will tell Deputy O'Keeffe why. The problem of rural isolation is not exclusively about getting back and forward to pubs. Deputy O'Keeffe suggests that money - if I understand it correctly - would be better spent on giving publicans breathalyser test units so that they could breathalyse their customers. That fails to recognise that the problem of rural isolation is much wider. It misleading to suggest it is only about going to pubs. He knows rural Ireland better than I do but people get involved in all sorts of social activities in rural and urban Ireland that are not pub orientated.
Social life does revolve around the pub in part, but other people go to play bingo, to dances, to sports events and to charities and fundraisers. These buses will transfer them from one place to another while doing those things. It is insulting to suggest that rural life is exclusively centred on drinking. The pub is a centre of social activity, and it should be recognised as such, but people do many other things to get together which are not in any way related to alcohol. These buses will facilitate both of those types of people. We cannot spend all of this money exclusively on providing breathalysers for publicans. People who do not drink and engage in other activities should be facilitated as well.
On the question of metrics, the idea is to connect communities, get people together, let them have a social life and visit their friends. It is as simple as that. They cannot do that at the moment. The measurement - as I said to Deputy Troy and Deputy Munster - will be whether it brings people together, reduces rural isolation and improves the standard and quality of life of people in rural Ireland. That will include people going to pubs, sports events, bingo and those visiting friends. It is much wider that just drink.
There are two types of services. One is the day to day Local Links rural transport services. It is second to none in most cases. I have no qualm with those services. The daytime service in west Cork is well laid out, excellently managed and delivered to many people suffering from rural isolation. However, the proposed new service being piloted is doomed to failure before it starts. It is a city mindset not a rural mindset. The Minister said there are three areas in County Cork. I understood there were only two but I will not argue with him. He has the facts and figures in front of him and I do not.
However, €200,000 was announced initially. A transport service manager would have to be realistic. There would be no point looking for funding to cover the entirety of County Cork - the biggest county in Ireland. It could cost €400,000 to deliver that. There would be no point putting in €400,000 worth of required services when the operator is only going to get €200,000. That amount rose to €450,000 but that caught the managers off balance. They did not have many of the areas covered. It does not matter if it is €200,000 or €450,000 - we must realise Cork is a huge county.
I can only speak on behalf of County Cork. In fairness, the two or three services the Minister named should be welcomed. I am not going to discredit any new service going to a community, but I have to reflect the reality as it stands on the ground.
A connection from Kinsale through to Clonakilty, which I would expect would take in Timoleague, Ballinspittle, Kilbrittain and any areas like that, is welcome. I would be quite happy to welcome that. Connections to Banteer, Rockchapel and other places are welcome. However, what is going to happen to the people in Adrigole, Eyeries, Allihies, Castletownbere, Kilcrohane, Ahakista, Ballydehob, Schull, Goleen, Union Hall and Glandore? I could go on naming the areas in County Cork that are not going to get any services for about a week. Is the Minister saying that the people who suffer from rural isolation should stay at home? When one looks at expenditure in the Department, one sees that €1.3 million was spent on evaluation for a sustainable transport service to Eachléim. If the Minister is spending €1.3 million on something like that, why is he not spending a little bit more than €450,000 on County Cork? That amount will not facilitate the provision of a proper service.
Another problem arises in the context of the time limits of 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. The Minister says he sat down with the vintners and the IFA. I do not want to be insulting, but if he sat down with them, he must have had earmuffs on. Common sense would tell him that coming home at 11 p.m. is not suitable for any farmer. Farmers are just going out at that time. The IFA representatives definitely did not open their mouths to the Minister. I doubt they were given any chance to offer a viewpoint. The only reason the Minister is bringing the scheme forward and providing and the extra money is that we pushed for rural-proofing. Initially, he did not look into rural-proofing this Bill. However, we he was compelled to do so in the context of the programme for Government.
I do not think the Minister meets many farmers. He says he is from a rural place. Maybe there are farmers there; he should go out and talk to them. When they have milked their cows - some of them have 60, 70, or 150 animals - fed their calves and carried out their work around the farm, they are lucky to be home at 9.30 p.m. By the time they wash and get out, it is 10 p.m. When they travel to the local community, whether to visit the neighbour or go to the pub, they will be lucky to be there at 10.15 p.m. or 10.30 p.m. They will then have to be ready to go home at 10.55 p.m. It is not going to work. This reflects a city mindset. In the city, one goes out at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. People in the city wonder if we are crazy in rural Ireland. They say we do not go out until it is time to come home. However, those are the facts. The fact is that a farmer is in the same situation whether it is a Friday or a Saturday night. The same applies to fishermen. They work late. They work long hours because sometimes their season is short and they have to take advantage while they can. There are others who go to mass at 8 p.m. and go out for a nice sociable drink afterwards. That service is not going to meet their needs. Coming home at 11 p.m. is a joke.
This is designed to fail. That is the plan here. The Government intends to be able to revisit this service and claim that no one uses it, although no one will use it because it is no good for rural Ireland. However, the Minister should go ahead if he thinks this is going to work. I will be back to tell him again that he designed it to fail. If it was meant to work, I would welcome it. I want to see a service that lasts. The Minister is not inventing the wheel, he is reinventing it.
I remember being involved in a community council in Goleen with Ms Sue Hill, who the Minister may know. She was involved in the Mizen Tourism Co-operative Society. We came up with a rural bus scheme to work at nigh, and we were able to run it effectively. However, we were trying to run it on voluntary funds. The then Minister for Rural, Community and Gaeltacht Affairs introduced the "booze bus", which was unfortunately called the wrong thing. Again, it ran out of funds. The bottom line is, the service needs to be better supported. Forget about sixpence reviews, we can do the review here and now. If the Minister wants it to run properly, we will tell him how to run it.
I am worried that many transport service companies were put off applying for routes that would cover as many areas as possible when they saw the initial figure of €200,000. It rose to €450,000, by which time many had submitted their applications. Perhaps they applied again. I hope they did. To be honest, I find it difficult to believe that this will tackle rural isolation because people will find its operating times difficult. Moreover, I refer to the areas in County Cork that it covers. I estimate that 35 or 40 services would be needed to cover some of the areas I have mentioned. The Beara, Mizen Head and Sheep's Head peninsulas are huge and nobody has covered them. That is where rural isolation takes effect. One can look at the age profiles in the census. As one goes farther into the peninsulas, the age profile increases. That is rural isolation. Somebody did not do their homework when writing this one. They are not servicing the areas where real rural isolation is suffered. Some areas may be covered by taxi services. These areas in rural Ireland are not. I rest my case.
I thank Deputy Michael Collins for his contribution, which was interesting. He cannot expect me to agree with it. He says that this is doomed to failure. It seems to me that the wish is father to the thought. He does not seem to want to give it a chance, and that is not in the interests of the people he represents. This is not doomed to failure. This is directed towards a great success for rural Ireland. The Deputy says that a lot more could have been done for Cork. I wonder why Cork did not apply for more when we called for applications.
I told the Minister about the €200,000. The Minister has to be honest. If a provider is putting a service together and is told €200,000 is available nationally, will he look for €500,000? Why not? The Minister is not silly.
We have actually met the full demand that was made. We will not accept that it is doomed to failure. I also said quite plainly, before the Deputy spoke, that I am very happy to look for more resources if this scheme looks as if it is going to work or if it needs expansion. After the pilot scheme is over, I expect that the Deputy will join the link group in his area and that significant applications will be made. I look forward to the latter. That is the attitude I expect from him. We are trying to do things for his constituents. This will benefit his constituents. He says it is only in a small way but what is wrong with that if it is a start? Why does he not take this on board and see how it works? Yes, it is not enough. He wants a bit more or a lot more. However, the template may well work.
In six months, when the pilot is over, I expect the Deputy not to say that he was right and that it was doomed to failure. He has already given a hostage to fortune by saying it is doomed to failure. This means it will be difficult for him to back down. However, I expect him to say that it could be improved, that he would like the scheme to be expanded or that he would like more buses provided in different areas. He has already mentioned all of those areas - Allihies, Schull, etc. That is a perfectly legitimate argument to make, but I expect him to make it when this pilot scheme is over. I would welcome that.
The Deputy says that he pushed for rural-proofing and that is why this happened. I say to him that this happening has nothing whatsoever to do with him. I have to say that. I ask him not to claim credit for something for which he should not claim credit. This came from other sources, other places, where - patently and obviously - there was demand. The Deputy should not claim credit for a scheme which he then says is doomed to failure.
I have been working in the community for many years. I have also been in political life for many years, albeit for a shorter period. If this initiative works, I will praise the Minister here, just as I have praised how rural transport works. The Department is funding rural transport. If something works it works; if it needs tweaking it needs tweaking. Tweaking is needed now. Six months from now will not be the time to put this right. If the Department is going to look after the people of rural Ireland and wants to be seen to be doing so, it should realise that 11 p.m. is no time to be thinking that people should come home after being out, regardless of whether they are visiting friends or having a drink.
The Minister allocated €200,000 initially . We pushed him repeatedly for rural-proofing on the floor of the Dáil and the figure is now up to €450,000. We will push him further until we get the figure up to €1.3 million, which he is allocating for studies around the place. We are watching the Minister every step of the way.
The Minister is being dishonest. He is now trying to say the extra Rural Link runs have nothing to do with the road traffic legislation he is trying to push through the Dáil, which will isolate so many in rural areas. Both Minister and Deputy Heydon stood up in the Dáil and said the initiative was to counteract rural isolation. This was a reactionary attempt by them when we proved to them that they gave no recognition at all to rural-proofing in the Bill, which is going to isolate so many in rural areas.
I welcome any extra transport in rural areas but the Minister cannot have it both ways. He and Deputy Heydon said in the Dáil that the initiative was to help to offset the rural isolation they were causing. One of the routes in Kerry, from Castlegregory to Cloghane-----
It is not mine. I have to start again now. One of the services in Kerry that the Government made such a hullabaloo about was to take people from Castlegregory to Cloghane to a card game one Tuesday in the month for ten months. Clearly, this is not any part of the pilot scheme because the Minister is saying the pilot scheme is for six months. The initiative I am referring to is for ten months. It is something that Rural Link was doing in any event. I welcome it, however, and I welcome the fact that the people of Cloghane are being taken to Castlegregory.
While these routes are welcome, some of the people in the small villages are saying that if one takes people from a village to a town, one is hurting the village further. The Minister is kind of blaming the Rural Link services for not making more applications or more expansive applications. The Department said €200,000 would be available nationally. The Minister is all over the place now looking for this and that. When the service providers were asked about this, they knew the context and the areas in question. When the Minister gets a few more notes, I will talk again.
When the Department advertised or asked the local services to make submissions, the latter knew that, nationally, €200,000 was not enough. They also knew the extent of the problem. Consider the circumstances if one were to service areas such as the Black Valley, Lauragh, places off the Ring of Kerry, Sneem and the vast areas around it and Glencar. There is a mention of the latter. Regarding the servicing of Glencar, €200,000 would not service the area back to Caragh Lake and over to Glenbeigh and down into Cromane. A sum of €100,000 would not be enough for that area on its own. The service providers knew that. They have other things to be doing besides pandering and trying to make some kind of case to the Minister when they know they will not get the funds they require.
The Minister is saying that the Department will roll the scheme out further after six months. I put it to him that it will roll it in. Why is the Department not honouring the agreement on transport to the central schools? When the Government closed down schools in 1956, it gave a commitment that it would transport people's children into the central school in Kilgarvan regardless. It was to be free transport but that is not the case any more. The Department has put barriers in the way such that there must be ten children in order for a run to operate. The families in rural places cannot produce children like that. One must produce another child or another two more to ensure that the bus service remains in place. That is the honest truth. The Department cannot fund the transport services it is supposed to be providing. Therefore, it is hard for me to believe the Department is going to give endless money to help the people who will be isolated in rural areas. They will be isolated. They will be left at home.
The Minister alleged that my argument was to benefit my own pub. The fact is that people go from house to house. They have to travel three or four miles to a neighbour's house. The done thing was to give a fellow a drink. They cannot even have that now. That is the truth. They will be isolated in their homes. They will be like a rabbit inside a burrow afraid to come out because the fox would catch it. The same scenario will feature in rural Ireland. People will not be able to go out to have just the one drink. The Minister should forget it because his rural transport initiative does not go far enough. I welcome whatever is in place that the Minister might have had something to do with but I know he had nothing to do with the service from Castlegregory to Cloghane.
The trouble is that the Minister thinks he is from rural Ireland. My advice to him, bearing in mind that I will not take him around, is that he should get his Fine Gael colleagues to take him down to Kerry. He will not do it in a day; he might do it in three weeks or a month. He should take his summer holidays in Kerry in order to see what he is actually doing to the people there.
The Minister is now admitting that there is a problem. This follows our vast representations in the Dáil Chamber outlining to the Minister how it will adversely affect people. If the Minister thinks this will satisfy rural proofing, it will not.
When the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill is passed there will be no more mention about extra funding for rural transport to help people in their rural and isolated places down the narrow roads two, three and four miles into the lonely valleys. Massive sums would be involved to meet the requirements following the Minister's devastating Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017. The Minister does not have it, and if the Department had it, I do not believe it has the liking to give it to rural areas. It is more likely to be given to Dublin and to the bigger towns and cities, which is the aim of the Project Ireland 2040 plan. The Government is forgetting about rural Ireland. I am sad that this is happening day in and day out. I put it to the Taoiseach in the Dáil Chamber yesterday; he did not know what a demountable home is. I do not believe his Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government-----
As a member of this committee I believe I can be helpful. A great deal of good work has been done with the Local Link service. I have seen it first-hand. I might disagree with my colleagues on many issues but one issue that needs to be reviewed is the six p.m. to 11 p.m. service on Friday and Saturday nights. Many years ago I had a pub and there was one man who came in every night at 8 p.m. and he went home at 11 p.m. After some six months he returned to England because when he went home most of his neighbours were going out at 11.30 p.m. I do not believe the six p.m. to 11 p.m. service will work. I do not know how the Local Link administrators arrived at these times. Perhaps 8 p.m. until 1 a.m. might work, but flexibility is needed. On Friday or Saturday nights, people will not go home at 11 p.m. As a person who once owned a pub, I found it harder to get people out of the pub than to get them into it. I am not sure if the local buses are needed after 11 p.m. but this needs to be reviewed, if it is helpful. Otherwise there are many positives in the proposal and I thank the Minister for the positive work he has done.
I shall respond first Senator Feighan's comments. He has made a perfectly reasonable request. This is a pilot trial. I shall ask the National Transport Authority, NTA, to examine the times in response to what Senator Feighan and others have said today, which is fair. How the NTA responds is up to it but if extending the hours reduces rural isolation further then it should consider this seriously. That is a perfectly fair suggestion.
Deputy Healy-Rae's questioning of our motives is unreasonable. This measure is a genuine attempt to tackle the curse of rural isolation. It is probably not perfect - and this is why it is a pilot - but if it works we are very happy to build on it. I do not welcome some people saying it is doomed from the start. It will help in a small way to start, perhaps not be as much as the Deputy would like, but if it works in a small way there is no reason why it should not work in a bigger way.
I emphasise that rural isolation is a problem and the Deputy should take this seriously. It is a problem that is represented in this House by many Members, including Deputy Heydon, as mentioned by the Deputy. Drink-driving is a separate problem and we are not here to discuss that. This measure and the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017, to legislate on drink-driving, are not connected, although they work in parallel. The drink-driving Bill would be through the Dáil by now if it was not being delayed and filibustered by the Deputy and others. The Deputies have a right to do that but they should think about the consequences of what they have been doing and how serious it is for certain people and families. We should consider one problem at a time. Today we are discussing rural isolation. Shortly, we will be in the Dáil to speak on the Bill to legislate on drink-driving. I appeal to the Deputy to cease the kinds of antics he has carried on with regard to that Bill because that will have serious consequences for people.
The Deputy said that I should go to Kerry. I spent two days there not so long ago. I met many Deputies and I sent a message to Deputy Danny Healy-Rae. I asked him if he would join me at various venues in Kerry and I received no response whatsoever from him. I was, however, grateful to be taken around Kerry for the two days. The guy who took me around Kerry for the two days was Deputy Michael Healy-Rae. It was a useful experience. I learnt a great deal about what was happening on the ground in Deputy Danny Healy-Rae's county. I am grateful to his brother for taking the time and trouble to bring the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport around Kerry. I met with publicans and all sorts of groups, because he had me run off my feet meeting people. This trip informed me a great deal about what we are doing here today and we are acting accordingly.
I regret that the Deputy could not join me while I was there, although he was in Kerry at the time. It might have been of assistance if he had joined me; other Deputies did. It is all very well coming up here and making a lot of noise but when I was in Kerry, it would have been helpful to meet. I shall be in Kerry again soon and I invite the Deputy to join me and to show me what he is talking about in order that we can address these problems together.
If the Vice Chairman keeps interrupting me, I will never get out of it. I want to get out of this meeting too because I have other things to do. There are 25 missed calls on my phone. I just want to deal with this. Will the Minister-----
Clearly, the Minister does not know what is going on in Kerry or in any part of rural Ireland. The Minister paid €1,343,304 to a US company to provide transport solutions for I do not know where, but it was not for Kerry. He will also pay €450,000 for transport for the whole of the country.
Come on, Minister. He also gave out €544,000 in 2017 for incidental expenses.
Get out of it Minister. It is time for the Minister to pull out and get out, and the people when he goes before them will give him his answer and the Government that is supporting him if that is his carry-on.
I have been involved in rural transport since as far back as 1999. I thank two people in particular, Fr. Gerard O'Connor and Fr. Pat Condon in Waterford and Tipperary who led it nationally and came up to the transport forum. The rural transport system is doing well in the limited areas where it is provided. I must declare I am a board member of Ring a Link, which operates in Tipperary, Carlow and Kilkenny. The Minister mentioned that on 27 February 2018 the NTA issued a funding application to all 17 rural links to arrange a trial of evening and night services. The deadline for receipt of applications was 16 March. The NTA received applications for 50 services from 12 local link providers. The figures here are vital and Deputy Collins was trying to deal with it. I am on the board and we meet once a month. It is very onerous and it is a voluntary board. We have an excellent manager, staff, team, drivers and people sub-contracting. We are busy trying to keep afloat and trying to manage with the funding we have. The sum of €200,000 for the country would not do one county or half a county. That is the point. Why would they apply and waste their time? All of the application forms are huge. They have to be able to stand up and be accurate and viable. If there were €2 million the Minister would have received a flood of applications.
I graciously accept what the Minister said to Senator Feighan about looking at the 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. service because it is ridiculous. I know this from experience. Ring a Link offered set routes one Christmas. We are demand responsive and pick up at the door. It is an excellent service but the Christmas service did not work out and it needs to be very different. There is a pattern of people who want to socialise or visit people; it is not all about the pubs. The Minister said everything is not about the pubs, but during the talks for Government I attended a pub, out of hours mind you in the early morning and through the back door, for a meeting with the residents and business people of Stepaside. The Minister uses pubs when he wants to also, so he should not be bemoaning that fact. Publicans pay wages to their staff and they pay rates. They do a lot of work. This funding is paltry in the extreme. As I said, if the Ring a Link service got it we might try to put on three or four extra routes.
Many areas in the Minister's Department are running amok and Deputy Healy-Rae mentioned the €2 million that has gone to consultants and on incidental issues while the Minister is giving us a paltry €200,000. In the Dáil during the debate on the transport Bill, the Minister and Deputy Heydon welcomed a representation from Fine Gael. Somebody operating under the auspices of the Minister spent €2 million trying to link the public services card to driver licences. To his credit the Minister pulled it, but €2 million was wasted on a nonsense scheme. There are millions for everything not to mind Dublin where there are billions for everything the Minister is announcing. He talked about going to Kerry and he visited Tipperary and I thank him for that. I brought him around and, in fairness to him, he looked at a lot of things, but he needs to be brought out much more to understand what goes on in rural Ireland because he does not know.
How are the board, the NTA and TII treating rural transport link groups and other voluntary bodies? All of the stakeholders were brought to the meeting mentioned by the Minister, including the IFA. The usual suspects are brought in and half the time the decision has been taken before they come in and the Minister knows this. He knows what happened with the statutory instrument regarding the test for tractors. Again, to his credit, the Minister revoked it when he found out it was done without any consultation. The stakeholders come up here from their day's work. Most of them are volunteers and what are they coming up for? They are coming up for consultations that are finished before they get here. It is an insult. This has to change with regard to rural Ireland. I am a passionate supporter of rural Ireland. It is my duty as I represent rural Ireland.
The Minister mentioned rickshaws. He did not mention sulky racing, which is causing bedlam in my county and many other countries. I have a Private Members' Bill, which the Minister could have asked me about and examined to see whether he could bring in aspects of it if he is so interested in saving lives. There are ten year olds going around the main roads riding donkeys with no licences, no reflective jackets and no safety measures of any kind, but the Minister refuses to look at this. We also have animal cruelty. There were two horrible incidents in Tipperary where two horses were left for dead last week, one in Clonmel which thankfully recovered, and another incident last Friday morning. The Minister would not look at this but he presents us as rural representatives in favour of drink-driving, which is something we are totally not. The mental health issue in Tipperary is savage. It has never been more acute. We have a mental health services Bill, and what the Minister is doing by taking these measures is feeding into it.
The Minister has said we are delaying the Bill. We are delaying it but the Minister delayed it by recommitting it and now he will have to recommit the judicial appointments Bill also. He is a man who does not know what he is doing. He is not in control of what is happening. I have been here for ten years and I have never seen Bills recommitted but because the Minister has made, in the words of an Attorney General, such a dog's dinner of the Bill it has been recommitted. It is a pig's mess, a slop.
This year is no good to us. We are ready to take up money at Ring a Link with our manager, Jackie Meally, to try to offer some type of service to the people I represent in Ahenny, Faugheen, Kilcash, Ninemilehouse, Ballingarry, Killenaule, The Commons, Emly, and Cullen in south Tipperary. We also have Soloheadbeg and Hollyford, Newcastle, Burncourt, Skeheenarinky, Kilsheelan, Annacarty, Cappawhite, Drumbane, Holycross, Upperchurch, Newtown, Dolla and Templetuohy. We do not have services there either.
We have three or four five day a week services in fairness. We put on extra Christmas services some years ago when we got some extra money from the Department and it is all accounted for. One night we spent two hours at a board meeting trying to reconcile a €20 underpayment to Pobal for an audit and rightly so. That is the type of accountability we have for €20. The Minister can spend €1.3 million on a US company that knows nothing about Ireland; he can spend €500,000 on incidentals and he can spend €2 million on a hamfisted effort to try to force people to have their public services card linked to their driver licence. Then the Minister added in L-plate drivers, which will totally isolate young people. It will deny them work and educational opportunities. Anyone here in Dublin tonight will fall over taxis and buses. There is also the Luas and the DART. I do not begrudge the people here anything but we are entitled to some modicum of service. The €460,000 would not operate the logistics. We have a very sophisticated service in Carlow and Kilkenny, and I invite the Minister to Kilkenny to Ring a Link's headquarters for the three county project to see the booking service. It is capable of doing an awful lot more but we need funding. The €460,000 would not organise the logistics for the 50 schemes because they need manpower to be operated. It is very sophisticated. There are tracking devices with which one can find people standing on the road if it were operated properly. It is exceptional equipment, funded by the Department in the main but with a lot of hard work from voluntary boards. We must respect these voluntary boards, the volunteers, the paid staff and the bus contractors. This is like sticking a Band-Aid on a finger that has been cut off instead of going to have a serious operation in hospital.
With regard to the L-plates, the Minister will criminalise young people. They are applying for their tests but they have to wait-----
I am. This is applicable because they cannot get a driving test. They pay €600 for lessons but if they apply for a test in my county they must wait six months. If they fail it, and they might fail it not because of driving but because of a fault the tester sees in the car, which is debatable, how will they get to college? How will they get to-----
There are lots of colleges with courses at night time. A lot of colleges of further education have evening courses. I am making the point it is so discriminatory against rural dwellers. I will be going to a different building in this town to make sure it is stopped because it is discriminatory against people I represent and I will not stand for it.
The Minister can laugh if he likes and make little of it. Several buses pass the Minister's house and he can get a taxi in a minute. I tried to get a taxi last Sunday night at 12 midnight. The pub closing time was 11.30 p.m. The taxi driver brought me and a friend three miles. He left me there for two hours until he finished all the local runs. I had to go ten miles but in fairness, he brought me home at 2 a.m. That is the type of service we have. We do not have these services in rural Ireland. Taxis are touting for business in Dublin and are in each other's way. I brought the Minister down to Tipperary to examine other issues as well - for example, the issue of rail crossings. I raised the issue of seat belts on buses in the interest in child safety. It is all relevant but to provide €460,000 for a service like this is an insult. I am not saying it is doomed to fail; it is not. It will help a small area but the number of services are only the tip of the iceberg. I know what I am talking about; I have been a board member of Ring a Link for 20 years. I know the services we have and the money we get every year, which is roughly €1 million. We are providing day services.
We have the Marine Casualty Investigation Board. Mr. John O'Brien and Mr. John Esmonde lost their lives off Helvick Head but who is policing the waters, the pleasure craft and everything else? Their boat was turned upside down and they were killed. A proper investigation was not carried out by the Garda or by the Minister. There are no answers for the families of those two young men. There are many other areas of safety. Deputies Collins and Healy-Rae and others who are passionate about rural Ireland should not be attacked and it should not be said that we are filibustering for the sake of it. We are filibustering in regard to this legislation because it is bad. The legislation is wrong, it is discriminatory against rural dwellers and it will never be right because the Minister will not listen to anyone. The main reason for the delay is that it was recommitted. The Minister made a hames of it and a dogs dinner of the other one.
No, I do not because he leaves it after voting, does not listen and will not engage with us. I have engaged with the Minister over the years and I thank him for coming to Tipperary. I am not saying he should know everything about rural Ireland or that I should know everything about Dublin, because I do not. It is a broad brief. Money, however, is being wasted. The Minister railed against quangos but the quangos he has under his remit, including the RSA and others, are bloated. The Minister railed against them all his life but is now defending them. He is providing €1.5 million for consultants to examine the logistics for rural travel. This is a patent and disgraceful waste of money. This expenditure should be raised at the Committee of Public Accounts, and I might raise it with it. A further €500,000 is proposed for incidentals. Money is flush in this Department. I know the Minister does not have a driver and he is prudent in that regard, but what about the waste that is going on under his nose? It is scandalous.
The proposal of a paltry €460,000 would not manage the system, never mind run it.
We know he has and I accept his bona fides that he will try. I raise issues that €100,000 or €50,00 would fix but not a bob is available. The money is not there and he knows that as well as I do but one sees €460,000 against €2 million wasted on consultants and incidentals. The public are not fools. It is outrageous.
I will try to respond in as temperate a way as possible. What is important here is not what Deputy McGrath has been going on about because most of it has nothing to do with the subject of today's meeting. This is to do with Local Link and is nothing to do with the large number of subjects Deputy McGrath raised. To describe €450,000 as an insult is-----
It is not an insult. I have made it absolutely clear that this is a pilot scheme. There is money allocated for Local Link in Tipperary, which the Deputy should welcome. The Deputy should also welcome the fact that if that works, we have promised that we will look at expanding it. This is only a start. We are prepared to try this and the Deputy should be prepared to try this as well. I wish he would join with me in saying that we should give this the benefit of the doubt and that if it works, we will increase it if more resources are available. That is what rural isolation needs; it needs connectivity. Cities, towns and villages need connectivity. That is what this is an attempt to do. It may not be as fast as the Deputy would like and it may not be to his taste but that is what we are doing. It is not the tip of an iceberg; it is an honest attempt to address the problems which the Deputy undoubtedly finds in his area.
I do not want to address the committee on subjects like going to a pub early in the morning for a cup of coffee, as if there is some sort of secret about it. There is nothing wrong with that. The Deputy and I went to a pub at 11 o'clock in the morning. That is absolutely fine; there is nothing wrong with that and no big revelation in that.
I am puzzled sometimes when people claim to be the voice of rural Ireland, which Deputy McGrath does. The majority of the voices of rural Ireland I hear welcome this scheme. They are saying it is not enough and that they want more but they want to see if it works and that they want it to work. Sometimes I wonder if those who claim to be the voice of rural Ireland really have the support of all of rural Ireland.
In that context, I welcome the fact Newcastle in County Tipperary voted "Yes" in the referendum. Clonmel voted "Yes", Tipperary voted "Yes"-----
I apologise, Vice Chairman. I must return to one comment. I welcomed the money and I told the Minister my feet are worn from working on rural transport, something I am passionate about. I welcome any increase and I acknowledge it. I just said that €460,000 would not operate the logistics of the scheme never mind the scheme itself. That is all I said.