Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 17 November 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
National Development Plan 2021-2030: Discussion
No apologies have been received. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the revised National Development Plan, NDP. On behalf of the committee, I welcome the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and his officials to the meeting today. I thank the Minister for taking time out of his busy schedule. The NDP is very important to us all and, therefore, we welcome this engagement.
Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. If a statement is potentially inflammatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, the witness will be directed to discontinue his or her remarks. It is imperative that witnesses comply with any such direction. There are some limitations to parliamentary privilege for witnesses attending remotely from outside the Leinster House campus. They may not benefit from the same level of immunity to legal proceedings that a witness physically present does. Witnesses participating in this committee session from a jurisdiction outside the State are advised that they should also be mindful of domestic law and how it may apply to the evidence that they give. 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 House or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
For anyone watching this meeting, Oireachtas Members and witnesses now have the option of being physically present in the committee room or to join the meeting remotely via Microsoft Teams. I remind members of the constitutional requirement that they must be physically present within the confines of the Leinster House complex in order to participate in public meetings. Reluctantly, I will not permit members to participate where they are not adhering to this constitutional requirement. Therefore, any member who attempts to participate from outside the precincts will be asked to leave the meeting. In this regard, I would ask any member partaking via Microsoft Teams, prior to making his or her contribution to the meeting, to confirm that he or she is on the grounds of the Leinster House campus. If attending in the committee room, people are asked to exercise personal responsibility to protect themselves and others from the risk of contracting Covid-19. I strongly advise the practising of good hand hygiene and that people leave at least one vacant seat between them and others in attendance. People should also always maintain an appropriate level of social distancing during and after the meeting. Masks should be worn at all times during the meeting except when speaking.
I invite the Minister to make his opening statement.
I thank the committee for its invitation to attend the meeting to discuss the national development plan. I would like to start by reflecting on the strategic context of the NDP and how it supports broader Government ambition for our society, our climate and our economy. The national planning framework sets out an ambitious framework for our development as a country out to 2040. The recent Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 commits us, under law, to achieve a 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and move to net-zero emissions by 2050. That statutory commitment has recently been fleshed out with the publication of the new climate action plan. The NDP is now providing us with the funding to realise those ambitions. While €35 billion in capital expenditure funding is committed to transport over the next ten years, it does not set the strategic direction, as such.
So, what is that strategic direction? What does transport look like in ten years and how does this NDP set us on our way? First and foremost, how we travel needs to look very different to how we travel today. We need to reduce our reliance on fossil-fuelled private vehicles. That is tricky, because as we all know in Ireland, we have areas with very dispersed population settlements and very low population densities. Therefore, Government supports will need to take that into account and be tailored to the circumstances people find themselves in.
I am a firm believer in the potential of active travel as part of our response to the climate crisis we face. It is not that every journey can be replaced by travelling on foot or by bike; there are too many variables for that, including, where you live, where you are going, what you are doing etc. However, we can switch a lot more journeys, and that is why this NDP is committing unprecedented amounts of funding to local authorities across the country to deliver high-quality active travel infrastructure to enable more people make the switch to active travel. We are seeing delivery start to happen across the country and can expect to see it ramped up in the years ahead.
In the five cities, the BusConnects project will play a hugely important role in transforming both active travel options and bus services in each of the cities. The bus is at the heart of our public transport network and we need to invest billions of euro in its future. That is what this NDP will do. By 2030, I expect to see BusConnects substantially completed in each of the five cities. We are already seeing progress on the ground. BusConnects Dublin will have two of its new "spines" in service this year, the new BusConnects 90-minute fare will be launched at of the month, BusConnects Cork is currently out for consultation on its new network and BusConnects Galway had two of its core bus corridors out for non-statutory public consultation late last year.
However, we are not only focusing on improving bus services in the five cities; improved bus services have a massive role to play in rural Ireland also.
Recently I was delighted to launch a public consultation on Connecting Ireland, the National Transport Authority's rural mobility plan. In budget 2022 we secured funding to roll out the first phase of Connecting Ireland next year. In rural Ireland I recognise the vital connectivity the regional and local road network provides to cyclists, buses, commercial vehicles as well as private cars. The national development plan, NDP, will enable a spend of up to €5.35 billion on the protection and renewal of this network over the period to 2030 while another €677 million has been earmarked for targeted improvement schemes across the network.
We are committing €2.9 billion in funding to the protection and renewal of our national road network over the ten years of the NDP. We are also committing €5.1 billion to new national roads projects over the lifetime of the plan, which will enable improved connectivity across the country enhancing regional accessibility in line with the national strategic outcomes in the national planning framework and in line with the commitment in the programme for Government that a 2:1 ratio will be maintained between new public transport infrastructure and new road investment.
I also note our national, regional and local road networks support the safe use of the private car where sustainable transport modes cannot be used. This NDP will invest €1 billion in supporting the decarbonisation of private transport and particularly the transition to electric vehicles and electric vehicle infrastructure.
Turning to rail, as members will be aware, a strategic rail review has been commenced to examine how we can improve rail connectivity across the island of Ireland. This review will set out an investment framework for the coming decades and a public consultation period will launch very shortly on that. In the meantime we are investing substantially in our rail network as it is. In the coming weeks I will be seeking Government approval to allocate almost €100 million in additional funding to Iarnród Éireann to support line speed improvements on the Dublin-Cork line, as well as improvements planned for the Limerick Junction to Waterford line.
I will also be seeking Government approval very shortly for the first phases of the DART+ programme. These phases relate to the two biggest components of the overall programme, DART+ west and DART+ fleet. Once DART+ west receives its railway order from An Bord Pleanála I will seek Government approval again to permit contracts to be signed and construction to commence. At that point we will have much firmer ideas around the final design, as well as the cost and time implications of any changes made during the planning system. However, it is not only about DART+, we are seeing delivery on the ground now with the arrival next year of 41 additional carriages, the construction of a new national train control centre, phase one of the Cork commuter rail programme, the design and planning to upgrade Colbert, Ceannt and Plunkett stations and improved funding across the network generally.
On MetroLink, I expect to seek Government approval in the first quarter of next year while I am informed the planning documentation should be ready for submission to An Bord Pleanála by the second quarter. Similar to DART+ west, I will be seeking Government approval for the project to enter the planning system. Once it receives its railway order I will seek Government approval for the project to commence construction and that is when we will lock in the cost, delivery and benefit forecasts.
Outside of the NDP funding envelope, longer term transport planning is continuing for each of the five cities. Those metropolitan area transport strategies provide a long-term, evidence-informed, planning horizon for transport investment in the five cities. Importantly, these strategies then influence the land area plans for the cities in order that we get the right type and density of housing along with the right type of transport projects to support them. That is why the NTA is currently consulting on the next draft transport strategy for the greater Dublin area and next year will be consulting on the Limerick-Shannon strategy, the Waterford strategy and a revised Galway strategy. Those strategies will extend way beyond the timeframe for the NDP and will inform the development of future NDPs in the years to come.
I look forward to discussing all those issues with the committee.
I thank the Minister for his opening statement. I want to focus in the initial round of questions on the area of active travel and public transport, an area in which the Minister is keenly interested. As a starting point, I will deal with the unmet demand that exists. My sense is that people are ready to make the switch but the facilities are not yet in place. Regarding the scale of ambition on the move to active travel, I heard the Minister in the past 24 hours draw comparisons between here and Copenhagen and the moves that were made there some decades ago. Currently, 49% of journeys in Copenhagen are done by bicycle. The ambition in the greater Dublin area transport strategy, published less a week ago, is that 11.5% of journeys will be made by bicycle by 2042.
School bus transport it is oversubscribed every year. The scale of ambition from Bus Éireann is that we would have a 20% increase by 2030. If we met the existing demand, fewer than 1,000 additional children would travel by school bus transport a year. That is current policy. Another example is the safe routes to school programme, which the Opposition supports. However, it is greatly oversubscribed. It provided for 170 schools this year. Those projects will take a number of years to implement. However, 931 schools subscribed for the programme. That shows schools are crying out for the type of investment to support change that completely aligns with the ambition but the supports needed are not being provided. That is the essence of my question. There seems to be a contradiction with respect to the policy, the rhetoric, for want of a better term, between what has been put down in black and white on paper and the funding and operationalising of that. I raise that as a concern from my position in opposition of supporting the intent but I question the alignment of policy and the provision of funding to deliver on it, in other words, the scale of investment.
I wish to pick up with the Minister on the achievement of what is in the NDP. An amendment to our roads legislation appears to deal with delivering transport change in communities. That can be seen with BusConnects and the reallocation of road space. What is the thinking behind that amending legislation? Is it to deliver on BusConnects or cycling infrastructure? It appears to be a crude tool, which will be controversial. Is it sufficient or does the Minister consider any further measure is necessary to deliver on the policy objective in that respect? If time permits, I may come back in later.
I thank the Deputy for those questions. I would agree with him that our ambition on active travel should not be limited to what that modelling in the greater Dublin area transport strategy indicates may be delivered. That 11% figure is a projection based on a variety of different assumptions. The Deputy referred to the fact that I spoke about this yesterday. If we provide safe infrastructure, it might show those assumptions underestimate the public appetite for a healthier, quicker, cleaner, cheaper and better form of transport. That is based on having the experience of seeing that when we create safe spaces, be it when we have provided greenways or high quality active travel urban transport infrastructure, the numbers have jumped by more than 11%. If we can create such safer infrastructure, we will see a much higher modal share. There is a pent-up demand for that among the Irish public that will be released. Central to that , is creating safe routes to schools. That has a double benefit. It will help us address some of the morning peak traffic gridlock, of which 33% is accounted for by children being driven to school.
It will also make for safer infrastructure for a range of other uses throughout the day. To deliver that, political decision-making at local level will be required. The funding will be allocated centrally to help local authorities. The legislation will be shaped in whatever way we can to give support, but it comes down to local government making decisions. It is at local government level that the responsibility and best democratic decision-making lie.
On that point and the national development plan, the Government almost seems to be committing funding and setting out the framework and then leaving it to the survival of the fittest. I have heard the Minister say areas that buy into the new way of doing things will make greater progress and be more attractive. How is that achieved while delivering balanced regional development at the same time?
That is a fair question. This is also an issue in Dublin. In south-side Dublin, people will know a difficult decision was made about a project in Deansgrange that was substantially about creating a safe route to the many schools in the area. It ran into difficulty at the local council. It is a reality that if one council is not seeking to advance these kinds of projects, for whatever reason, the money will go elsewhere. I could give examples on the positive side. It has been interesting to look at what was initially a very difficult decision during the Covid period to install a coastal cycle route at Salthill, Galway. This will be of great benefit to commuters, schoolchildren and those who use it for leisure, including tourists. While it originally ran into difficulties, the council ultimately agreed, by an overwhelming majority, with perhaps one or two exceptions, to take what was a hard decision. To my mind, it was the right decision. We cannot force it. It must not be a matter of a central government fiat demanding that infrastructure be put in place. In truth, bearing in mind the detailed design and bringing the local business community on board, local councillors have a key role. There will be an increasing sense that if a council does not see this as the future, it cannot be forced. It will see money going to councils that do see it as the future. The ones getting projects through the planning process the quickest and that can deliver the greatest return for the budget should be rewarded for that. I have no qualms about giving responsibility to local councils and rewarding those that show they can deliver. Dún Laoghaire is a very good example. What has happened in Deansgrange has run against the grain of what it is done.
One of our senior policy people lives in the Dún Laoghaire area. I am constantly telling her that Dún Laoghaire is not an example of what is happening in the rest of the country. My concern is that those who are first up and best dressed will leave areas behind.
I have previously raised my concern about fares. We need to tackle the issue. Fares are an impediment. My colleague, Deputy Gould, made the point very well last week that a return trip on the train from Cork to Dublin costs in excess of €200 for a family. That is a huge impediment. I live in the commuter belt. In Gormanston and Laytown, we have the 90-minute ticket for the Dublin area but it costs in excess of €20 for a return ticket from areas five minutes farther out the road. While some people are driving to Balbriggan to get the train, more often than not they are staying in the car. Therefore, we need to investigate how fares serve as a barrier to access.
I appreciate the approach and opportunities in our major urban areas, but we need to see Connecting Ireland. From the Opposition benches, we are supporting it. I am encouraging my constituents to engage with it, but it should not be five years away. If it is not delivered sooner, people will lose heart and faith.
Before I address that, may I refer to the Committee Stage amendments we expect to make to the road traffic legislation currently before the Dáil. The legislation is designed to create the kind of flexible environment in which we can experiment and obtain good value for money in putting in new active-travel and BusConnects projects. The impetus for the amendments came from the judgment of Mr. Justice Meenan with regard to Strand Road, another controversial and in many ways divisive local project. Fearing that his judgment might lead to a chilling effect on development in the area of decarbonising and in promoting active travel, we identified the need to have greater clarity and certainty regarding how local authorities would apply these sorts of experimental traffic measures. In this regard, a weakness was identified in the existing legislation.
On fares, I agree that public transport must be affordable in addition to being reliable and frequent. That is why we have introduced a 50% reduction for those under 24. It will be introduced next year. It is the reason for the 90-minute fare structure, which allows for efficiencies such that passengers can jump from a DART or Luas to a bus without having to pay more than once. Regarding the budgetary decisions, towns such as Mallow, which are on the outer edge of a commuter belt, can and should be included. A colleague was on to me today asking about including Skerries in the 90-minute fare category. We will have to keep looking, reviewing and adapting.
The Connecting Ireland project is starting next year. We committed €5.7 million. It is not that it is going to wait until 2025; it is starting next year. We provided a huge increase in the public service obligation, PSO, support but it cannot carry everything. We cannot reduce fares wholesale everywhere. We will need additional PSO money. For example, with regard to Connecting Ireland the estimate is €55 million a year. That must come from somewhere. While I am keen to try to increase the PSO, we cannot just give up on fare income as one of the sources of income for public transport.
I have several points I wish to put to the Minister. Perhaps we can have an exchange on them. The first issue is that of the Limerick northern distributor road. Phase 1 of the project, from Coonagh across to Meelick, straddling the Clare–Limerick county boundary, is well under construction, but it is going to end at the middle of no place in Meelick. Phase 2 is currently a concept line on a map but does not look like it is moving anyplace fast. It is not in the national development plan. Is the Minister in favour of, or against, phase 2? How does he see it progressing from this point forward?
I listened to the advice of some of our road engineers who do not believe it is an appropriate project to advance. I agree because of what it would do. As I said at a previous meeting of this committee, a €200 million bill would be due to the operator of the tunnel under the River Shannon. Within the confines of its contract, it will be entitled to compensation if we provide an alternative bridge across the Shannon, which is what the proposed road would involve. Also, it would fundamentally undermine the sustainable development of Limerick. I recently saw an attractive full-page advertisement in one of the newspapers stating Limerick city is going green. It can, will and should, and it would benefit from this. To do so, it has to bring life back to the centre. Three percent of the population lives within the historic core. To bring life back, we must bear in mind the alternative. It is an either–or scenario.
Should we not develop Limerick along the four railway lines that go into and through the city and which are underutilised? The roundabout at the end of the first phase of the northern distributor road is not in the middle of nowhere; it is very close to the community in Moyross, which could be significantly improved, developed and strengthened through the introduction of a train station, as one of many new stations we are going to put into Limerick.
The key to the development of Limerick is a new metropolitan rail system for the city. I have been upfront and honest about that. It will involve the reopening of the Foynes line and the use of the Ballybrophy line and putting in new stations on that, the development of stations on the Limerick Junction line to the Culbreth station, including the development of the centre and Culbreth station. The Land Development Agency has a key role in developing Limerick in those areas by creating transport-oriented development, that is high-quality housing for people close to the centre and to public transport. Limerick has a choice: does it want to go down the route of the old, sprawled roads based model, or does it want to be a modern green European transport orientated development city? I think the latter is the way to go.
I raised this matter in the Dáil last night during oral parliamentary questions. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, indicated that the project would progress and that it would continue to move through phases. In his response, on the Dáil record, he said that Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, would advance this in the spring of 2022 vis-à-visanother phase of public consultation.
The National Transport Authority, I should have said. I believe he referred to TII as well.
If I can continue with my point, I am from Meelick, the community where this road will end. It will terminate in Knockalisheen, Meelick, the community I was born and bred in. Some people cannot wait for the road to be built. Some people have major reservations. That is pretty standard in whatever road project one can think of in this country. The one thing that is unfair is the procrastinated state of uncertainty that lies ahead for many people. The Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, said it can progress. The statutory bodies are progressing it. I want to know if it will progress. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan has said he has difficulties with it. Will he put a ministerial block on its progression? I get all the points he has made about light rail. I really love that. It is fantastic and I ask that he progresses with that. We all want to see it. If it is progressing through its statutory phases, albeit slowly and we all expect this to take a number of years, will the Minister put a block on those statutory phases, or will he allow them to progress?
I wish to make a clarification. It will not necessarily be light rail. It will be light rail in the sense that it will be electrified rail, like all new rail developments, but it will use the existing heavy rail lines. A real benefit Limerick has is that it has the infrastructure there already and building on top of that makes sense.
I do not know how informed the Minister, Deputy McGrath, is. He is, by all means, entitled to his views and we listen and work together very effectively. I do not expect to give that clarity. I do not see the northern distributor road being part of the advanced design planning that TII will do. It has to agree its own infrastructure plans.
By way of a clarification, the NTA was before us two weeks ago. That meeting was in relation to the Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area transport strategy, LSMATS, plan of which the first draft did not have rail. It will certainly have it now and is very much based on the existing rail network. Equally, the first plan had the northern distributor road as a public transport arm within the city. The NTA confirmed it will be in the second draft that is due to go to public consultation in January. It is not a TII project. It is an NTA project with the local authorities as the principal leaders, and it is the body that will build the road, when it is to be built. It will first go from Coonagh to Knockalisheen with Limerick City and County Council and, as members are aware, Clare County Council as the lead authorities.
I will give Deputy Cathal Crowe extra time. I just wanted to provide the context. The Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, informed Deputy Crowe during last night's debate, which I was watching, that the NTA has confirmed that the northern distributor road would be included in the second draft of the LSMATS due to go to public consultation in January.
It is important to have clarity and I expect we will. That relates to the fundamental question as to whether the NTA supports the proposal that we do compact, low carbon and transport-orientated development. In the end, the wisdom of that will be clear. It is important, in my mind, that we see real expansion, real investment and real increased population in Limerick. If we go by the old way, I do not think that will work. As part of this process, we will see real clarity at the end of it.
I love greenways. I love putting the bikes into the boot of the car, taking off on a Saturday and getting fresh air in my lungs with my wife and kids. I love that. I love travelling by train. Greenways are fine for weekends. They are recreational. They do not get someone to work, school or college. We need roads. We are still in the era where we depend on roads. We cannot have ideological blocks to roads. We also cannot have roads that are half built. This is not the world of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner where roads end in the middle of no place. That is what will happen with the Limerick northern distributor road. We either build roads in their entirety - we either commit to phase 1 and phase 2 fully - or we do not commit to the road at all. We cannot have a road dropping off in the middle of no place with a roundabout. It has been said it will connect to Moyross, and that is true, but let us consider where it comes off in Meelick, less than a mile from my home place. The road will come off at a minor tertiary road and that is where the rat run will be every morning. There is good and bad with every road project in the country. This is decisive for communities, there is no doubts about it, and people cannot be left in a state of limbo because an ideological view that this is not good for the city. I think it has to progress. I have some other points I wish to briefly put-----
That is an important and valid point. That first section, in the end, was agreed and developed, and it was for the local community. It was their clear sense that they had been excluded, isolated and not provided with connectivity, particularly in the community of Moyross. When we agreed that with Limerick City and County Council, a condition to proceeding was that we would also take down the walls that surround some of those communities that restrict their accessibility to other communities, and that we would also build some of the BusConnect projects in Limerick with urgency and speed, so that the Moyross community and others would connect up and the city would start to work with a really high-quality functioning public transport network. I look forward, when I go to Limerick to meet the community in Moyross and the city manager, to asking where the plans are to honour the commitment to take down those walls and increase accessibility and public transport services. I believe that is the key to the project's successful development and making sure it is not an isolated asset that leaves the communities without the public transport and accessibility services that they deserve.
I respect the point the Minister makes about taking down walls. There are also fences. There are fences fencing off the route corridor, a route corridor that looks even more uncertain today. It is great to take down walls because they are social and all kinds of barriers. However, there is a route corridor along which people are living and working, some of whom are farming. For better or for worse, they need to know where their future lies over the next five or six years. I say this with the greatest respect. I am not trying to undermine the Minister. We have different messaging coming from the NTA, the Department, the Minister and other ministerial colleagues. Local authorities believe it can progress. Clarity is essential in this.
Can I continue, Chairman, because I have a few other points? Can I wrap up briefly?
Chapter 11 of the national development plan refers to the need for a brand new aviation policy. The last national aviation policy we had dates from 2015. It still exists but it is pretty much defunct now as we come out of Covid. When will we have a new national aviation policy, one that recalibrates aviation in our country and gives back to the regions, including the likes of Shannon, Cork, Knock etc?
Tomorrow, we will have a meeting with the Coast Guard and I do not wish to comment on a particular matter in Clare at present. That is progressing quite well after the intervention of a mediator today. The Minister has ministerial authority, supreme authority, over the Coast Guard and there are a number of practices that need to be looked at and addressed quickly. Some of their rescuing operations along cliffs have been scaled back by the Department. The Coast Guard's ability to use a bolting system for climbing training has also been taken from it, as has climbing training within stations. Effectively, the service is being wound back and diluted. When the meat is really needed on the bone is at the time of rescue. My concern is that because we are slowly diluting what the Coast Guard does, in time it will not have the skill set we require its members to have in order to carry out rescues off-shore.
This is my final point. During the questions on promised legislation debate, I raised the idea of school buses with the Taoiseach and, indeed, the Minister, Deputy Foley. Let us think of any town or city in the country during the months of July or August. One can get from one side to another without any traffic congestion because schools are closed. The local school I taught in for 15 years would typically have 250 cars each morning coming up a narrow rural road dropping off kids.
The drop-off is slow. Imagine if we took them off the road. The Minister talks about a 2:1 ratio in terms of public transport. A very quick way we could do this is by investing significantly in school transportation, by ripping up the policies that existed heretofore and by getting rid of archaic rules about drains, roads and boundaries here and distances there. If we transform school transportation, we can make it possible for buses to start here, there and everywhere each morning, thereby taking kids to school and cars off the road..
Work on a national aviation policy will start but has been delayed by Covid. Coming back from Glasgow last week, all of the talk in aviation was about how it can play its part in decarbonisation. That will be a very interesting and useful part of these developments.
There will be Dáil statements on the R116 report so I might leave that if I can because it is more respectful to address it in the Chamber later this afternoon.
A comprehensive review of school buses is being carried out by the Department of Education, which is responsible for these services, and Bus Éireann. I agree with the Deputy. We must look for synergies where the same bus can be used for the school run in the morning and as a community bus service in the afternoon and where we look at real innovation in terms of how we get increased numbers. I go back to an earlier comment by Deputy O'Rourke. We should be looking for a far more ambitious increase in the number of schoolchildren who can take buses and much better simplification of qualifying rules and so on. At the moment, it is a very complicated scheme that is hard to administer so it needs to change.
It is my first time addressing the Minister at this committee so he is very welcome. I thank him for his opening statement. Deputy Crowe and, in particular, Deputy O'Rourke spoke about cycling. The Minister is not somebody who just talks the talk on it. He effectively cycles the cycle. He does it himself. I try to do it as much as I can. I cycled in today. I am lucky to live relatively close to here, which enables me to do it. I say that as somebody who did not cycle for a long time. I got back into it about ten years ago when I was on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and was chosen to be the cycling champion. It did not mean I was any good - I was just there to promote it. There are millions of people who have not cycled, do not cycle and do not even think about cycling. Many members of the committee would say that they would not cycle in Dublin because it is full of traffic and because of rush hour. I would probably say that I would be more wary on a rural road where I might come round a bend and find a car, milk truck or tanker flying past me.
Touching on the ambition referenced earlier, there is a significant amount of scope in terms of promoting cycling. Perhaps people could be offered a rent-free bicycle for six months to try it out, see how they get on and decide whether they will purchase a bicycle or get involved with cycling on a more permanent basis. Given that almost every bicycle on the road is taking a car off the road, it is important that we eliminate the barriers. The largest barrier to me cycling - not in here, obviously - is the fact that I do not know whether it will still be there when I come back out if I cycle into town or to the shops. I got my first puncture in five years last week and went to a bicycle shop to get it repaired. I was told that bicycle theft is rampant and is a big industry. Stolen bicycles are being shipped out of the country. Perhaps, as in the Netherlands, we need so many bicycles that people will not want to steal them anymore. The cycle to work scheme, which the Minister was involved with in a previous existence, is a very good scheme but it has probably incentivised people to buy more expensive bicycles rather than cheaper ones. These bicycles are, therefore, more valuable and more worth stealing. We need to promote cycling because it is the cheapest bang for your buck you can possibly deliver. The Minister and I know Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown very well. The coastal mobility route has been great. There are challenges with Deansgrange but, hopefully, they can be overcome. It is so important that the national development plan invests in decent cycle lanes. I am not convinced the concrete strips are a great idea. I have said this previously to the NTA. We need to invest enormously in cycling.
The Minister is very familiar with the Luas green line. He was probably at the opening of it in 2004, as I was. It is like a magnet in the sense that it sucks people in. They are willing to leave their cars and walk for ten, 12 or 15 minutes to get to the Luas station because they know it is there. They do not worry about timetables. They know it is reliable and frequent and the journey time is reliable. Yet in this development plan and in the Dublin strategy last week, we are more or less being told there is no upgrade other than what has been done so far to lengthen platforms and put on a few extra trains. There is enormous development taking place, including an enormous development plan for Cherrywood. There are plans around the Luas line in Carrickmines, coming back in towards the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum and at other sites in Kilmacud and Sandyford. I am very concerned about the Luas green line post pandemic. I know we have changed how we work but I am very concerned that there is very little action planned for decades other than what has already been done. I am just concerned that it does not have the capacity to handle the planned growth right along that line and through the Minister's constituency in places like Ranelagh and Milltown. Could the Minister address cycling and the Luas green line?
The Senator is right. We require a variety of initiatives to get cycling to come up to the numbers we want. We need safe places to park so that you do not get that gutting feeling when you come out and your bicycle is gone. Yesterday, CIÉ announced a new Heuston quarter. It is 10 ha, so it is not small. It includes Conyngham Road and the car park around Heuston Station. It will go to planning permission next year. There will be 1,000 homes within walking distance of the Luas stop but they are putting in a 5,000-place bicycle park. This scheme is using the example of the likes of Utrecht and other incredible places where you see thousands of bicycles beside a train station. Bicycles and trains are critical and work together. It is also about people living there. A bicycle gives someone 15-minute connectivity. Someone could get down to the Point theatre from there in 15 minutes or get to St. Stephen's Green or Castleknock. You have huge connectivity. It goes back to the 15-minute city and transport-orientated development. A lot of people would sign up for that. The advantage is that if we provide good-quality safe infrastructure along the Liffey, and we are starting that, we will be surprised how quickly people will take to it.
Greenways are not just for tourists. They are for local people. They are about creating a safe space where people feel comfortable. The coastal cycle route in Dún Laoghaire, which was mentioned earlier, is an example of this revolutionary change because it allows people to bring kids and older people out. There is a disability access scheme near the centre of the route. Older people, people with disabilities and younger families are starting to get used to cycling. Once you get used to it, you realise that it is a fantastic way of getting around our city. Dublin is much drier than Copenhagen or Amsterdam. Dublin is not as cold and dark as those cities. It is just as flat with a few exceptions. Mount Merrion might be a tough-----
It is not impossible for us to deliver these improvements. First and foremost, we must provide the infrastructure.
Regarding the Luas and the wider greater Dublin area transport strategy review, what we do regarding the metro on the south side has been one of the most contentious and complicated issues. The original plans to connect it to the green line near Beechwood Avenue became untenable because we had switched from what was going to be a driver system to a driverless, automated and segregated system. As Senator Horkan knows, the green line was not designed in that way, so it would have meant effectively closing it for two or three years to reconfigure it. That would not have been tenable. My view is that we could have extended the metro from south of Charlemont near Ranelagh in either direction - south west, or south east towards UCD and on to Sandyford from there. My personal view is that they have come up with a good engineering solution which, rather than continuing as an underground option, involves a light rail option to UCD and from there on to Sandyford, as well as a light rail option to the south west, as far as Terenure and Knocklyon.
What will happen with that is the increased amount we expect on the green line route will in part be catered for by the light rail line running to UCD. There is huge demand for that. It will reduce the increased demands we expect on the existing green line and make it work.
In the meantime it is not as if we are doing nothing. All 26 trams on the green line are now 55 m long and eight new trams have just been purchased. There is a significant increase in capacity on the green line and that, combined with the development of remote working, which will change some of the demand patterns, will leave a structured approach to the south side of the city with much more extensive use of light rail lines that really works. My only regret, and it is a deep regret, is that the original design for the green line was to have a cycleway either side of it. That was taken out at the very last minute because we felt we would be upgrading it to metro status and we did not want cyclists running beside metro trains. If there was any way of bringing that back, we should, as it would also cater for a large volume of demand. It will not be easy, given it was taken out originally in 2002.
The green line will work. The rail solutions formulated by the NTA for Dublin will work. I was not here for it but I believe there was a major hoo-ha about timelines and delivery. That will depend, to a certain extent, on how quickly and effectively the various agencies deliver projects. There should be real certainty now that the rail and transport-based solution is the way to go. That is whether we are talking about the south side or Navan. There is a variety of projects. To my mind, they should be progressed and let us get them done. How quickly they can be done depends on the planning system and how effectively the existing budget can be used. That is why we need efficient use of the budget.
We are the committee dealing with transport and communications and the Minister is also responsible for communications. There is much money from the national development plan going to National Broadband Ireland, NBI. We saw the report at the weekend that Eir is rolling out much of that infrastructure. Will the Minister touch on, either now or later, how much other commercial operators are getting involved? Are we duplicating work and State money in areas that will be commercially viable? If commercial operators get in before NBI, is there any point in NBI going to such places at all?
We referenced in our private session electric scooters. The committee received a letter about battery size arguing the current limit of 250 W is too low and not viable. There is an argument for a higher limit for the battery of 500 W or 600 W. One needs greater battery capacity using a scooter on a hill compared with flat ground. There is the possibility of using geofencing to slow them in different areas and control speed but there is a requirement for a higher-capacity battery. Will the Minister reflect on those points?
Far from being concerned about "overproviding", I am concerned about how fast we can provide the service. We have had real issues with Covid-19 and even some of the practical concerns around ducting, getting local authority permits and so on. Our job is to push the accelerator. There is no problem of overlap. There was a report in the Business Postbut my Department's assessment is the analysis was not correct about the overlap.
The Minister is very welcome to our meeting and I thank him for his engagement and for the ongoing shift in modal behaviour. Part of me is cynical, worried and concerned yet excited about the Cork metropolitan area transport strategy, CMATS. I might be like a broken record on this. People have seen all the glossy strategy documents and Facebook or social media posts on the different priority investments. They want visualisation and priority delivery. Part of me says we are never going to get this. I am hoping we will. I support the Minister on active travel, BusConnects and the light rail for Cork. There is also the area of decarbonisation that the Minister spoke about in today's meeting.
We are very fortunate in Cork with Iarnród Éireann. The Minister has made appointments on the strategic rail review and the delivery of CMATS. We are lucky that Mr. A.J. Cronin in the Cork Irish Rail office is very driven and I commend him and his staff. How can we fast-track the delivery of these projects, as that is what people really want?
There is huge potential in Cork for delivery from CMATS. First and foremost, it is happening with rail. This is next year's budget. Our use of our portion of the European recovery and resilience fund will allow us to invest in the first phase of the upgrade from Midleton to Kent Station and will allow for the run-through from Kent Station out towards Blarney and Mallow. That is not on the never-never but it is being budgeted for now, built and provided. The real question is where some of the new stations go and how we might get the station at Tivoli, for example, in a timely manner. There is the question of how to get some of the stations on the north side and where we might locate them to get this transport-oriented development concept working in Cork.
As the Senator has said, Irish Rail is very committed to this. I see it as a kind of top priority and it is why it got the funding and is happening ahead of some of the other projects. We need balanced regional development and for Cork to thrive. It is not competing with other cities and it must stand on its own two feet and be successful. The rail project is advancing and will not be stopped at this stage. It is real.
If the Senator wishes to continue on the rail area, I can come back to bus and cycling developments.
The Minister mentioned balanced regional development. There has been much commentary and many newspaper articles have been written about the M20 between Cork and Limerick. Taking Deputy Cathal Crowe's point, there is a real need for the project. There should be no ambiguity around the Cork to Limerick motorway. That corridor from Cork to Limerick is critical to the economic development of both Cork and Limerick and it is about balanced regional development. It is a pivotal project that must go ahead and supported by all of us in the Government. I accept the Minister's comments around different issues with transport and different ways of travelling - these modal shifts - but we are talking about enhanced regional accessibility and connectivity. In the context of the national development plan, Cork is the counterfoil to Dublin or Belfast so that road is pivotal.
We can look at the route from Rosslare to Waterford to Cork. The urban network of motorways is important and I really hope the Government understands that. It is important we stick with the messaging in a time of Covid-19 when it comes to economic development of regions outside Dublin. That road corridor is important.
I will get back to BusConnects and active travel in Cork but I will speak briefly to the Senator's point. We all recognise the current road is not safe or fit for purpose. It must be improved and the question is how. Connectivity between Cork and Limerick must be improved. Various options are being considered and I understand they include improved rail connectivity between Cork and Limerick.
I do not wish to cause a row at the meeting because the Minister knows I have great admiration and time for him and I support what he is trying to achieve. A rail corridor between Cork and Limerick is about as good as a sieve and a bucket. It needs to be a road. I travelled the Cork-Limerick road last week and it is absolutely unsafe. If we are talking about hauliers, goods or even just accessibility from Limerick to Cork it makes no sense to try to talk about changing anything else. I do not want to have a row because it is something I passionately believe in.
I do not either because I also passionately believe in road safety. We absolutely need to improve that. The question is how and what route. There are a variety of options there for both road and rail. Let us not prejudge it. I know that road intimately. I have been up and down it hundreds of times, so I am fully aware of that issue. I am aware also of the need to get traffic out of the centre of the towns of Buttevant, Charleville and Mallow and make them really vibrant places.
I believe it was Professor Edgar Morgenroth, who was involved in the drafting of the early stages of the NDP, who made the point that if we really want Cork and Limerick to thrive, we must invest in them. The infrastructure in the cities is going to be key to attracting investment and being able to bring housing back to the centre. Cork has a real problem in that it has sprawled. Everyone has gone to Ballincollig, Carrigaline, Mallow and every point on the compass beyond that. They are commuting from as far as Skibbereen and beyond into Cork. We must bring life back into the centre. To make that work we need good quality-----
It is starting. You cannot get more Cork than the South Mall and MacCurtain Street, both of which are starting to create a better public environment for active travel and also BusConnects. However, we need to do much more. I recognise this is difficult. I mentioned Deansgrange and Strand Road, where we had difficulties. The Wilton Road on Cork is another example of the precursor of the light rail route. I understand exactly why the residents there were concerned and why it could not be got through the council in the first place. We need to look at what has worked in Dublin with some of the public consultation on BusConnects. We willing to use concepts like bus gates, one-way systems and reducing and holding back traffic to provide the safe space for public transport. I see the first key BusConnects route in Cork as going from Mahon and the docklands, through the city centre and out the Western Road. Whether it goes via the Wilton Road or straight out to Ballincollig is the sort of detail that can be worked out, but the route needs to be built quickly. That may require us to say we are going to restrict traffic, but we are going to provide a world-class public transport system and a better cycling system. That is a decision for the city of Cork and for those transport offices like the NTA. The prize, if we can deliver it and we get the demand and the housing close to it, is that this sort of route can be upgraded to light rail. Meanwhile, the Senator will know the BusConnects project for Cork is out for consultation at the moment.
Some areas might think they have lost a service but I do not think they have. It provides much better connectivity from the north side to the south side of Cork. It provides end-to-end journey routes that make sense. Delivering that is now the key. That public consultation is under way. The quicker Cork can deliver on that, the more it will thrive. I do not see anything to stop us other than political will. I think the council will be up for it because what is the other option? It is just a car-based system that is a sprawl system. That is the key issue for Cork and I think Cork is ready to make that leap.
I completely concur, especially on public transport. If we take Ballincollig to Carrigaline via Mahon, the whole bus network and a 24-hour bus is important. I also believe the CMATS implementation office needs to be resourced and beefed up so it can drive and pull together the different strands. I am aware there is a commitment to delivering that office in Cork. The Minister referenced Wilton Road as an example. There was huge resistance from the residents despite the best will of many of the councillors. As the Minister said, I can understand the reluctance of the residents because they are on a busy road as it is. I hope he drives the CMATS implementation office in Cork as well.
My final point is there is huge progress and there are huge positives. The Minister has my full support on the whole issue we are trying to achieve. I am just concerned that we will say the Cork-Limerick road is not necessarily of importance. In his opening remarks, the Minister spoke about where we will be with transport in ten years' time. There needs to be a strategic direction. It is tricky, as he said. We are a dispersed population. As my father keeps telling me, what is the option for the person living in Kilmichael, who is a good bit from Dunmanway and a good bit from Macroom, to get onto the main road between Cork and Macroom? These are the people we must try to win over as well. It is okay for us urbanites or townies who are close to major access points for transport. What of the person who is living in rural Ireland, such as out in Kilmichael, who is off the beaten track in terms of connectivity to the population centre or to the main artery? We need to support them. I thank the Minister for his engagement.
There are two points for the Minister. First, I would always listen to Senator Buttimer's father. He is a very wise man and a good counsel. Secondly, will the Minister give clarity on the funding of a CMATS office in Cork?
Yes. I have met the NTA and the local authorities on several occasions. We have provided ongoing support and additional staff positions. What I am saying very specifically to the NTA is that the skills it has built up in Dublin, especially on the BusConnects design system, need to be transferred now or it needs to ensure those skills can help us in Cork and elsewhere.
On metropolitan rail, I think Irish Rail has it in hand. It will manage that. I do not see resources being a restriction at all. We have NTA officials based in Cork.
I thank the Minister. I want to pick up on a couple of themes, the first of which is broadband. I want to ask the Minister about two things. We have had NBI before us quite a number of times. Recently, we visited their headquarters as a committee. Two matters came up, the first of which was the delay in the process of getting the section 254 licence for the poles and the road opening licence. NBI said to us that section 254 submissions and road opening licence approvals are considered to be among the most significant risks to the project. I know there have been interdepartmental groups headed up by the Department. What is it doing to speed up that process and to interact with the local authorities?
The second point that we, as a committee, have put forward to NBI is that we need to see immediate movement on the gap intervention areas, namely, the areas alongside existing blue areas where commercial operators have rolled out fibre broadband in rural areas. Under the original plan, many of those areas may not, because of the roll-out, have got broadband for three or four years. NBI has come back to us. It has gone out to tender. It now has five private service providers that will look to provide fibre broadband in those gap intervention areas. We cannot have a situation where somebody in a rural area is looking out their back window at their next-door neighbour who has fibre while he or she does not. I have it in Murroe, County Limerick and could name many other locations. Our understanding is that under the contract NBI will be entitled to do this.
I will summarise my two questions. First, what is the Minister doing to expedite the licences being issued by the local authorities for poles being erected and road opening licences? Second, if NBI comes to the Department with a proposal to involve other commercial operators with their fibre broadband to expedite the roll-out of broadband to these gap intervention areas, will it support that proposal?
On the national broadband plan, it is critical that everywhere in the country is able to access high-speed broadband. It has been subject to a number of delays for two to three reasons and we must overcome each of them. The first of these was Covid. We all know about the difficulties with getting contractors in and getting work done but that should no longer stop us.
Staff staying away from the office should not affect the NBP, so that is manageable.
The second reason was, as the Chairman said, the section 254 licensing. It was a particular problem through the spring and the summer and was subject to real difficulty in getting poles through in time. Recognising it as a problem, both the NBI team and the team in our Department worked with local authorities and overcame a lot of those difficulties. I happened to be talking to the officials this morning, and my sense is that a lot of those difficulties have been overcome. There are still some difficulties, with one or two councils concerned about issues with putting a duct in the ground on the verge of private road or private space-----
Is the Department considering that this should be done almost in real time? NBI is coming back to the Department with statistics on each local authority and on how quickly it is getting the likes of applications for the erection of poles and the opening of roads-----
To finish the point, we still have significant difficulties with a lot of ducting, which is not as accessible as had originally been projected. The extent of that problem is greater than had originally been expected. That has caused a real difficulty, which still has not been overcome and needs to be. We have all seen and will see further that the number of surveys that have been done is really high. They have taken off. Actual build-outs are being held up because of the three problems to which I referred, particularly the last one. We will overcome that problem working with Eir and NBI.
The one good piece of news is that all the national broadband connection points are pretty much done now. We will see a rapid expansion covering pretty much all primary schools next year in order that every primary school in the country will be properly connected. Where we have been able to issue contracts and have the service ready to go, I understand that the take-up has been very high, so the concept is working. There is always in these large projects - I remember I happened to be talking to an engineer involved in one of the other-----
I know all that. I have very specific questions. In the original plan for the roll-out of the NBP, no priority was given to the gap intervention areas. It is the biggest issue on the ground for us. People look out from their back gardens and out their front doors and see their neighbours with fibre broadband and they do not have it because the commercial operator did not roll it out. NBI has gone out and got five preferred service providers. It will now look to have a project in place by quarter 1 of next year. If NBI comes to the Department with that proposal, will the Department support it in expediting the roll-out of fibre broadband to these gap intervention areas?
We had representatives of TII in before us to respond to the review of the NDP. They said there were two categories: less than €1 billion and between €1 billion and €3 billion. I am asking how much the project will cost. The Minister has put it out there on numerous occasions that it would cost €3 billion. Is that the case?
I have made the same inquiries and I am told the cost could go up to maybe €15 million per kilometre, which is about €1.3 billion or €1.4 billion in total, nowhere near the Minister's figure of €3 billion.
All I can give the Chairman is the assessment I am getting from my officials, who are very experienced in this area and who see these bids come in all the time, usually over the cost of what TII might have originally projected. We have recently seen a number of instances in which, at the last minute-----
I contend that this is incorrect. I believe that the motorway could cost, at the outside, €10 million per kilometre, which would come in at €900 million in total. If the cost per kilometre went up to even €15 million, the total cost would be in the order of €1.3 billion or €1.4 billion. We might engage with the Department on the figures because we can differ on views but, for me, this is about the hard facts of the cost.
As for the rail network, we had Jim Meade, the head of Irish Rail, in before the committee and he stated that to do a second rail line between Limerick Junction and Limerick city stations would cost between €60 million to €80 million. Would the Minister support that?
Yes. I think the first priority would be to back up the Colbert station development and potential new stations, such as in Ballysimon, a perfect area for a new station since it is close to the city centre. A twin-track rail line there would improve train speeds for all users and offer that capability to develop the commuter network. It would improve the line up to Ballybrophy as well as-----
Even with inflation, it might cost €15 million per kilometre, which would be €1.3 billion or €1.4 billion in total. That is way short of the Minister's figure of €3 billion.
Finally, he spoke about not prejudicing the outcomes of projects. TII is doing the M20 and the NTA is doing the Limerick metropolitan area transport strategy, LMATS. He mentioned the northern distributor road. Will TII and the NTA be allowed to continue with the process they have under way for the projects? Will the Department allow them to do their work?
Yes, of course, but there is a strategic direction set out in the NDP. It is significant and requires a switch towards compact, low-carbon and balanced regional development. That is why Limerick rail, Cork rail and BusConnects in all these cities are important.
Going back to low-carbon development, there is a legislative force now in that the climate Act requires us to halve emissions in the next decade. I have always said - and I think it is true - that people always put attention on agriculture as being the most difficult sector. I do not think it is; transport is the most difficult by a country mile. There is a requirement under the climate Act, backed up by European law as well now, that we halve our emissions in the next decade. That is beyond compare-----
I accept all that, but motorways are required. We must be serious about balanced regional development. Some 42%, or 38 km, of the existing M20 has no hard shoulder. I have driven that route countless times and, I am sorry but it is a dangerous route. There are a significant number of fatalities on the route. There are other issues. I ask that TII and the NTA be allowed to continue with the process that is under way on both the M20 and the LMATS.
No one is stopping that and no one is disagreeing that road safety has to come first. We want Cork and Limerick cities to thrive and to grow. Looking at what is happening in other cities across Europe and indeed the world, where is the investment and where is the quality of life really increasing? That will happen in those cities that invest in the public realm, public transport and the active travel systems within those cities.
We need connectivity, but the priority should be improving accessible public transport in the centre of our cities. When I say centres, I am including the entire Cork area.
The difference is that I do not believe motorways, rail and roads are mutually exclusive. The Minister spoke about roads. Roads are about public transport as well. For whatever reason, the Minister's view appears to be a binary one.
No, it is not. The reality is we have to look at the development plan as a 20-year project through to 2040. There will be significant further budget availability. The basic maths are that we have €35 billion allocated for this decade. Roughly €13 billion of that will be used to maintain the existing road and rail network. Most of the money will be spent on roads. We have to do that for the purpose of road safety.
I will finish the point because it is central to everything. Of the €22 billion remaining, we have committed €4 billion to active travel, which is correct and no one disagrees with that. Of the remainder, there will be €12 billion for public transport and €6 billion for roads. That €6 billion also has to provide for an endless number of bypasses and other road projects we want to carry out for road safety and other reasons. There is a budget constraint as part of this, and we have to recognise that is real. We can manage it and complete all of the public transport projects, including roads.
There are moments in time where, when we do not grab an issue, such as the M20, the moment passes by and regions are left at a major loss relative to Dublin and the eastern region. We are entitled to our fair share.
I welcome the Minister. I will continue with some of the questions and back and forth the Chair and Minister were engaged in.
On section 254 guidelines, it would be fair to say that National Broadband Ireland, NBI, said the streamlining has improved things. I ask the Minister to correct me if I make a mistake, but NBI said what it really wanted in a perfect world was a different planning permission system similar to what operates in the North. In the North, poles or whatever are okayed, and if slight changes are required, people do not have to reapply. The project is signed off at the end while making sure that due diligence is carried out.
I am aware of the Attorney General's review. Maybe if I have time later on, I will have some specific questions on that. The NBI referred to the Covid catch-up, which may involve a timeline for March and, in particular, acceleration. Everyone has used the term from seven years to five years. It outlines what the NBI would require and it referred to certain local authorities being better than others. It said what it really required was a resource at local authority level, which would not involve a broadband person who then contacts a road engineer or planner. Rather, it could be a single person who would be au fait with the situation and have some level of authority regarding planning and road engineering. I will not mention the council, but it said in one particular council this has already happened. If that is the case, it is something we should look at expediting. It said it will become critical at the point in time when the acceleration plan is put in place. If the Minister could comment on that, I would appreciate it.
I would welcome further streamlining. As the Deputy said, this is complicated because the Attorney General is carrying out a wider view of our planning system. Making legislative amendments in advance or outside of that requires us to be careful because we do not want to add to what is a spaghetti of amendments to the original 2001 Act. It would be better to do that in tandem with the review.
The Covid catch-up may take longer. The key issue will not necessarily be section 254. Rather, it will be the issue I mentioned around ducting and access to ducting. A large amount of survey work has been done. It is at the design-to-build phase that people find a duct is not accessible or is being fully used. That will be the most complex issue.
I accept that. It is only when people see a hole in the ground that they realise the reality and size of what they are dealing with. I accept the Minister's comments on wider planning changes, and we will leave that to one side. As regards the request for a specific resource, I ask that there be some element of engagement on that because it looks like-----
I appreciate that. I will draw the attention of the Minister to what he has mentioned as regards the intervention area and Eir. In straightforward terms, I assume the Minister has done a wee bit of due diligence on this. Regarding the intervention area, does he have any idea how many premises have been passed by Eir and how many currently have access to Eir and NBI networks? Does the Minister know whether any other operators such as SIRO will also do pieces of work on the intervention area? I accept there is nothing stopping anybody from doing this.
I do not have the details with me, but I will provide them to the Deputy separately, along with the Department's analysis. There is another positive and progressive development which will allow, in a limited number of circumstances, for other operators such as Eir to be able to deliver for NBI within the intervention area where it is much more economic and efficient for that to happen. That might help houses on an isolated margin on the edge of a twilight zone between two areas. That is one good news development I heard about this morning. I will come back to the Deputy on the other comments. The summary of the assessment I got from the Department's morning was that the overlap with the Eir is not-----
Regarding the contract, was this foreseen? Some of my questions can only be addressed when we get answers on the numbers. Was it foreseen that there would be an overlap in some of these areas? I accept that at times NBI will build to get to the next area. Some places, if we are talking about a seven-year project, will become more viable for SIRO or Eir to build into, in particular in a first area. The major play that was made in the paper was that taxpayers could pay for NBI to build and duplicate or for NBI not to build at all and be paid. What allowances and leeway are there with the contract?
There is leeway in terms of getting other operators to provide some of that in cases where they can do so in an economic and efficient manner. The benefit for the country will be when we roll this out, combined with the recent increased investment by Virgin Media and SIRO, as well as Eir, the NBI and other operators. We are within grasp of the prize of having what will probably be the most comprehensive high-quality fibre connectivity across the country. The economic benefits of that are immense in terms of how we deliver public services and support balanced regional and economic development. This is a project that delivers real value for money.
On the contractual issues around places that are between two areas, the Department has to make sure there is proper management of the contract so that there is not undue spending. The public wants acceleration and the network to be built faster.
In fairness, I think that is what most of us want. Questions are in the public domain and we want answers. I accept it is not the responsibility of the Minister whether all of the necessary due diligence regarding the procurement process was done in terms of putting a contract in place. He said there is a sufficient amount of leeway, and in situations where NBI will not build but somebody else will, NBI will not be paid a huge contingency payment.
The bigger question relates to whether it can do so and what the rules are. If we could get that information, it would assist. We might have to do our own work on this. In fairness to the Minister, the matter takes in the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, and relates to the provision of the other pieces of information.
NBI has been open. In our interaction with it, we probably need a bit more information, including on its website. We need information not only on how many properties are available for preorder but also on how many have been passed. In fairness, the only genuine issue for NBI will be if it does not make the 60,000. We all accept the Covid difficulties and all the rest of it but the shooting match for it in the next while is reaching the January target of 60,000.
I believe they have been overcome. While we need to accelerate to overcome these difficulties, I am genuinely reassured by the fact that the model works. Once contracts are made, they are being used. It is working. It is always the case with big projects such as this, particularly in technology and telecommunications, that there are issues to overcome. Once we overcome them, we will accelerate. It will not happen by March but it will start to accelerate.
There Minister does not have the number passed to hand. A significant number are probably in build at present and, therefore, we hope the target of 60,000, or greater, will not be a problem. We have been promised that by NBI. It is fair to state these figures should be included on the website. We should look for a quarterly report. I would imagine that the Minister would be supportive enough of that. I accept that the likes of Eir and others are not quite in the field as regards doing their job as resellers. The smaller entities are probably doing that.
In the newspapers, there have been statements on financing and the considerations as regards the company that owns NBI. Again, I want to make sure there has been due diligence and that there will be no significant impact on the ability of NBI to do the business required.
I am referring to where the Minister might be getting an update on the contract.
The mobile phone and broadband task force sits somewhere between his Department and the Department of Rural and Community Development. It should probably sit within the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. It is necessary to get it in place. We are still talking about a best-case scenario of five years before some people will have broadband rolled out. We need to have some due diligence in respect of offering people the alternatives that exist and engage with the other stakeholders. I am referring to our having a notion of the entire roadmap for mobile connectivity right through to fibre.
It probably should sit within the Department responsible for communications. I get why has been under the Department of Rural and Community Development. Using the language in the sorts of answers we receive, it is now being reconstituted.
The key strategic decision-making is within the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. It has worked. It is almost ten years since the first broadband task force was established. The strange mix of collaboration and competition has delivered. The most attractive part of Virgin Media's latest announcement on rolling out connectivity of 11 GB is that it is now opening its network as a wholesale-access network. That is what it has worked. Competition is what has worked. It helps that we have SIRO, Eir, Virgin Media and others-----
The Minister is welcome to the committee. I want to start with the Luas green line, with which I am very familiar. Between 7 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. at Glencairn, which is a short distance from Bride's Glen, the Luas trams are already packed. As the Minister knows, there is massive development right beside the British ambassador's residence, and there is about to be additional development at the edge of Leopardstown Heights. Added to this is all the development that has taken place over in Aiken village. How does the Minister envisage the green line will continue to meet demand in the area?
Will I ask all my questions or deal with one at a time?
The capacity has been increased by 30% recently. It was proposed to extend all 26 trams to 55 m, and an additional eight new trams are being purchased. The key point is increasing the frequency, including through work at the St. Stephen's Green junction. There is scope to increase capacity. The Senator is correct. I use the Luas regularly during the morning peak hours. Numbers are starting to come back. It can be tackled by addressing the capacity issues. In the longer term, as I said in reply to Senator Horkan, the Luas line from UCD to Sandyford will take some of the passengers. The BusConnects proposals will also have an impact. It is an integrated approach, involving an increase in public transport capacity overall. The line will not be upgraded to metro status in the long run, so that will not be the solution. I do not believe it should be and believe it would have been a bad engineering solution. The Senator is correct that there is significant development in places such as Cherrywood, Glencairn and various other points along the line, but a combination of capacity increases on the existing line, the addition of a new line, particularly from UCD to Sandyford, and the other public transport projects will be the way to manage the long-term development.
I agree with the Minister. If we could have a cycleway along the line, perhaps all the way to Ranelagh, it would be fantastic because it would serve many secondary schools on the way and get kids off the road.
I know the Minister is favourably disposed at least to exploring the idea of very light rail for Galway. Galway city is frequently at a standstill from Oranmore almost to Barna at peak hours. The very light rail project that I discussed recently with some of the planning people has considerable merit. The Minister mentioned a feasibility study. Are we talking about a full feasibility study for that or is it just a desk exercise?
It will not be a feasibility study. I am not sure if the Senator was listening earlier when I was discussing the development in Cork with Senator Buttimer. We will look to build a high-capacity BusConnects corridor through the city, and then when the demand is shown to rise, we would upgrade it to light rail. I think the second is a real possibility in Galway. I know the group in Galway rightly proposed two light rail lines. The first one, as I see it, is from Barna, by Taylor's Hill Road, down to the hospital, by the university, over the Salmon Weir Bridge, through the centre and out towards Parkmore and all the industrial estates. That route, which would cope with the real problem in Galway of everyone living on one side of the city and working on the other side, is the most urgent project.
My understanding is that the route is reasonably well advanced. I believe the proposals for that Salmon Weir Bridge solution are already in the planning system. That is progressing. Let us build that at full speed. In that context, a review next year will look at how that might be upgraded to light rail. That is the way to do it. We should build the BusConnects first and get the alignment which makes it much easier. Establishing the alignment, the demand and the route along with getting the planning to back it up is the way to make it happen.
A footbridge is being built, not at the Salmon Weir but where the old Clifden line used to be. If we are building a footbridge across there to the university, it strikes me that there is an opportunity to invest there now and provide an additional bridge specifically for public transport coming from Woodquay right across the Corrib on the old Clifden line into Newcastle, feeding the hospital and all that area. How would the Minister feel about that?
That could be one of the options. Alternatively, the bridge to be used for the BusConnects could be converted to light rail. That will take time and it requires the BusConnects to go in first, which will not be easy. There will be difficult decisions. Galway traffic is probably the most congested and the poorest planned. It will not be easy to make the decision to give priority to the bus corridor, but if we can do that, it opens the prospect of it being converted to light rail.
That is good. I appreciate the Minister's commitment to it.
I spoke to some people last week on the Galway proposals for Connecting Ireland. I am concerned that some of the planning has taken place at desk level and that people on the ground are not aware. For example, I made the point last week that the Annaghdown commuter stop is 10.4 km from Annaghdown and the Corrandulla one is 1.5 km from Corrandulla village. I flag that to the Minister because we need people to get on the ground and be sure of what they are talking about before they put plans in place with respect to the future commuter links coming into Galway city. It is all a question of getting as much traffic off the road as we possibly can in Galway.
The great advantage of it being a public consultation is that they can get that feedback and get the right route alignment. We were recently talking to people in Ballinasloe about whether new Local Link services being put in were connected to the hospital. It is important to understand the actual need at a local level. In some of the examples developed recently, the use of Local Link services was very interesting. In Leitrim they were incorporated in the first roll-out. We envisage almost a doubling or quadrupling of Local Link services because they have great local knowledge, providing the flexibility to get people to the right place and getting the stops in the right place.
I know some of my colleagues mentioned e-scooters already. I am seeing an increasing number of parents with very young children on e-scooters as pillion passengers. From what I can see, no helmets are being used. I believe it is only a matter of time before we will, unfortunately, have a fatality. How soon will we have regulation in that area?
Given that the Bill is in the Dáil at the moment and needs to be passed by the Dáil and go to the Seanad, I imagine this will clear the Seanad early in the new year. As the Senator knows, it takes time to put regulations in place, particularly when significant safety issues are involved, as we have with e-scooters. There is a delicate balance. I look forward to debating the matter with the Senator in the Seanad. There are enormous benefits from the use of e-scooters and a range of other mobility options, but there are safety issues. It is not without risks and downsides. The legislation is being framed based on the learning from other countries. We are very aware of what other cities and countries have done. Most of them are ahead of us in introducing regulations on speed, helmets and where the e-scooters can and cannot go.
If I were to summarise it, it is more akin to cycling, and as we build new cycling infrastructure, that is the right place to put e-scooters - not on the pavement but on the cycle lane. Like cycling, I believe it will not have mandatory helmets. We will need to have speed restrictions because that is the biggest risk factor. This is not without its own complications and safety issues, including the one the Senator mentioned. My recollection of the regulations is that I think we are precluding people from being carried; I will need to go back and check it. That is something that would raise concerns. We will look at the details of the legislation when it comes to the Seanad.
Regarding the Coast Guard, the Comptroller and Auditor General has highlighted several issues with respect to procurement. Has the Minister initiated an investigation in his Department to get to the bottom of procurement practices?
I believe this committee has a meeting tomorrow with representatives of the Coast Guard. I was briefed to answer questions today on the national development plan. I will be speaking in the Dáil this evening when we are taking statements on the R116-----
As the Minister knows, the Air Navigation and Transport Bill is going through the Seanad at the moment. I am at a loss to understand what the logjam is with respect to considering the amendments prepared by the Irish Air Line Pilots Association which I along with others have sponsored in the Seanad. It seems that when a decision is made on a Bill, it is written in stone and nobody is prepared to listen to any other views, even those of the experts. These are the people who fly the aeroplanes and I believe they are the people we should be listening to. Is there something ideological that prevents a Minister changing the published legislation when good arguments are made?
No, not at all. I look forward to listening to the arguments. I believe the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, introduced that Bill on Second Stage. Subject to advice from the Department, I am always open to amendments. I would not rule anything out in that regard. I do not promise anything as I do not know the details of the amendments.
I look forward to progressing it through. At the end of the day, the amendments are about safety in the air, proposed by the people who are the practitioners on the ground. I implore and beg the Minister to go back and talk to his departmental officials and ask them to do some listening on this one. Let us not waste time and delay the legislation going through the House.
I confirm I am in my office in LH2000 in the precincts of Leinster House.
I thank the Minister for his continued engagement with the committee. I will raise a number of issues and projects with him in the context of the national development plan. If he does not have the information to hand, perhaps he will organise a written response to be issued to me via his office.
I will return to the issue of rail, specifically the line between Ennis and Limerick. I have raised the issue of flooding at Ballycar with the Minister previously. He will recall an in-depth report was commissioned by Iarnród Éireann and compiled by RPS consultants on foot of work done by the Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development during the period of the previous Dáil. A recommended option has been put forward, which has a costing of €16.5 million. I have raised this issue with the Minister during committee meetings and I have submitted parliamentary questions about it. I do not like the responses I got, especially the replies I received to parliamentary questions. The Department of Transport is basically washing its hands of providing a solution to the issues that still remain in Ballycar. Flooding there is a constant battle. Ballycar is on the western rail corridor and is an important link between Ennis and Limerick. The solution that has been identified needs to be put in place. The key thing is to provide the funding to do it.
I am asking for collaboration between the Department of Transport and the Office of Public Works, OPW. If we do not have collaboration between two State entities to fund this project, I do not think we are doing anything. We have very ambitious plans for rail, but if we cannot sort out a bread and butter issue, which involves flooding of that line for possibly up to 22 weeks at a time, I do not think we can do anything. I would like to get a commitment from the Minister today that he will personally get involved in finding a resolution to this and that the Department of Transport, as a key stakeholder, will sit down with the OPW and come up with a solution to fund option 2 from the report, which is costed at €16.5 million. Perhaps he will make some comments on this issue.
I will happily make sure the Department engages with the OPW and Clare County Council, but I know their advice will be that this is not a railway issue. It is a flooding issue and numerous landowners are involved. While the Department of the Transport could pretend it has full control or the yea or nay on it, it is, in truth, the local authority and the OPW that are responsible for making decisions about and addressing flooding. We will row in, work with the OPW and make sure to help in whatever way we can, but my understanding is the OPW and the local authority are where the key decisions have to be made when it comes to best options. We will support them, including financial support if necessary, but it is not for the railway company to address the flooding issue because it involves so many other landowners in the area. The Deputy will know we have to be careful in how we treat and respect landowners who are equally affected by this.
Absolutely. I thank the Minister for his commitment in that regard but some Department needs to take the lead. Given his interest in rail and the western rail corridor, and this is a particular area of it where there is a problem, I ask that he keeps me fully briefed on progress between his Department and the OPW to bring about a solution to this issue.
The rail spur to Shannon Airport identified in the national development plan is very welcome. I believe it is an idea that was first floated in 1999 by the late Councillor Sean Hillery. I would like to see a roadmap developed and produced in respect of that spur because it is of major importance. It will ensure our mid-west region is attractive to inward investment and will provide much-needed connectivity to the main rail network in our country. We need to kick on with this, develop those plans, get them in place and provide that connectivity. We could achieve that if we put together a proper roadmap for this project. Is the Minister interested in doing that? What are his views on that?
We might call it a rail map rather than a roadmap but, yes, absolutely. We need to do a whole variety of things in Limerick to use and add to the existing rail infrastructure. The first is the Colbert Station development and the likes of a new station at Moyross, which has real potential as it is within walking distance of Thomond Park and Limerick Institute of Technology, LIT, and it is on an existing line where services are already running. We also need to look at the reopening of new stations. We mentioned earlier the twin-tracking from Limerick Junction to Colbert Station, which would also give potential new stations. The reopening of the Foynes line for freight and commuter services and the electrification of the whole network are other projects. From my perspective, one of the advantages coming from the new battery-electric trains is that they can cover the sort of distances needed for a Limerick regional metropolitan rail that might run from Nenagh as far as Foynes, which it could in the long run although it will take time, or even in the direction of Shannon. That is the potential. In the long run, it gives us a very efficient, low-carbon commuter and inter-urban rail system. It will take time.
The Shannon line is the more difficult because it will be a new rail line, if we run it all the way to Shannon. Perhaps it could start initially with a connecting bus service from Cratloe or Sixmilebridge, which would be the obvious options. When this was looked at originally in 1999, my understanding is there would be capacity issues on the Ennis line if it ran two ways. If I correctly recall, consideration was even given to a circular route, which would come back into the city on a new line. Once we start building new lines, it is very expensive. That is why the first priority is to develop existing lines and stations.
I keep coming back to the fact that Limerick has a decision to make. Do its residents want to go for the sustainable option, using existing rail infrastructure and developing around that, or do they want to go into County Clare, in effect, and become a Clare and Limerick city? I think it should be the former. That is where real potential investment and very good quality development lies because the lines are there and are underutilised.
The Minister has committed to producing a rail map as opposed to a roadmap for that project, which I welcome. He might correspond with me on that.
Since I am talking about Shannon, there is a need for a new national aviation policy. Reference is made in the national development plan to it. Work on it has been delayed because of the Covid pandemic. Will the Minister please outline what the thinking is in the Department at present in respect of getting work under way on that policy? Will there be an opportunity for stakeholders to engage in that process? I would like to see a lot more balanced regional development and more activity through Shannon Airport and the west, which will be a way to balance regional development. We need to link national aviation policy with the national development plan. It is great to see aviation policy mentioned in it. We need to get work under way. The Minister needs to engage with and listen to stakeholders in that regard. He needs to look at the benefits of spreading out aviation traffic in a fairer way throughout the island.
It is interesting on aviation. I look forward to meeting again the new chair of Shannon Airport, former Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh. My sense is he will be looking at this area and may have a particular emphasis on how Shannon presents itself as a centre for sustainable aviation. It has the advantage of a very long runway which can take heavier payloads than other airports and, being further west, it is a lower carbon solution when crossing the Atlantic.
I met the UK transport minister recently. They are developing a strategy where they look to use 10% biofuels or synthetics fuels in aviation as a way of decarbonising. In my visit to Glasgow last week, I happened the chief executive of United Airlines, who said the same thing, that they want to be the best in developing sustainable aviation solutions. I said something to him which is broad and long term but real. It is that we will develop the Shannon estuary as a centre for low-carbon technologies. We will have offshore wind, convert to hydrogen and look for industries that want to use that low-carbon energy source. The power-to-fuel concept or the idea of synthetic fuels is at an early stage. No one has scaled up an operating model but the UK Government says it wants to do so. I said to him that if he wanted a partner to centre and test some of these sustainable development solutions, Shannon might be as good a location as any. It was at the forefront of the development of transatlantic travel with the flying boats coming in. The airport is located right beside where we bring the power ashore. My strategic thinking is that must give us potential opportunities to connect the two and give the airport a significant long-term future. If we crack that, Shannon will boom.
I am working with an individual in the mid-west who is developing a smart green aviation ecosystem for Ireland which will be based in Shannon, hopefully. She has done a lot of work in this regard. I have engaged with the Tánaiste and his office on this and would like if the Minister would meet with this individual and further explore the issues he has spoken about and the opportunities that exist in Shannon to develop that type of low-carbon economy around aviation. There is great opportunity there. Will the Minister give a commitment to engage on this with me?
There is a development in its early stages whereby the New Zealand and Scotland governments are looking at the provision of 25-passenger seat electric aircraft. They are looking at running services by 2025. They are working with a Swedish aircraft manufacturer. There are developments. It is probably the hardest nut to crack in terms of sustainable mobility but we should be at the front end of that.
On another note, when the BusConnects comes into Limerick, which I think is starting next year, part of that could be a BusConnects service from somewhere like Cratloe running regularly to Shannon Airport. It might be a productive interim measure.
Yes. It is similar to what we said about Galway and Cork. You build a bus connection first to prove the demand and then you can upgrade it. My recollection of the road from Cratloe to Shannon Airport is there is a reservation almost all the way. It would be relatively easy to put in and if-----
It is something we can agree on. We could keep the link up. It is about connectivity, whether it is rail, road, bus or whatever. It could be moved on pretty quickly. Jim Meade and Irish Rail are keen to get going on the commuter rail link in Limerick. It looks to me it could be up and running in two years. I know the Minister is supportive of that. It is on the existing rail network so will not require any investment.
It is to upgrade the existing rail line. It could be of the order of €200 million. The point I am making is that I agree with public transport but I do not believe these modes are mutually exclusive. The Minister spoke about the northern distributor road. He can ask anyone in Limerick or, when he comes to Limerick, go out to Coonagh and look at the road under construction and the benefits. It will have a bus corridor on it. That is why people are so interested. It is not just about public transport for the northern distributor road. It is a ring road around the city and will bring many benefits. It can be for public transport and there can be a rail system in the city. The commuter line can be upgraded between Limerick Junction and Limerick city. That will cut 20 minutes off a journey time from Cork to Limerick, ten minutes travel time and people will not have to get out of the train. It is similar with the M20. I do not believe any of them is mutually exclusive. They all bring about that balanced regional development.
Concerning the northern distributor road, we have the fundamental problem that there is a €200,000 million bill to pay an existing contractor before we start anything. That stops it dead in its tracks.
That will eventually come into State ownership. It is about a window in time. This will come back for public consultation in January. They will do their work and their will be further discussion at that time.
I thank the Minister for being here to discuss the national development plan, which is an extremely important document covering over €165 billion of Government capital expenditure in the coming years. I have more national-focused questions. Is the Minister confident he can get through the Department's workload in terms of capital projects, planned expenditure and the capital envelope before him under the current Government? I seek as brief an answer as possible.
In terms of the building of new capital infrastructure projects in Ireland, it seems we have a significant historical problem around getting such projects from concept to being under way and operational on time and within budget. Does the Minister have concerns around this area? Do we need fundamental reforms of how we go about building new public transport?
I slightly disagree on delivery. Our agents, particularly TII, have become very good at delivering road projects. They are much more expensive than they used to be but that is because construction costs have skyrocketed. Do they deliver on time and in budget? They pretty much do.
I want to be very specific because we have limited time. I ask for the Chair's protection here. It is important to give full context because my time is limited and precious. Concerning things like the metro line in Dublin or Luas lines planned for Cork, I said to the Secretary General of the Minister's Department in the Committee of Public Accounts last week that there is extreme frustration among public representatives and the public about how quickly we can develop the public transport we desperately need. Do we need to reform that process? It is not about identifying fault, but about seeing where there is room for improvement. The Minister has a €165 billion plan and I want to know how he intends to spend it.
There is always room for improvement but we delivered the cross-city Luas on time and within budget.
I believe it is possible for us to deliver. We are always looking for ways of improving but the advantage we have at present, in my experience, is that the National Transport Authority, NTA, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and Irish Rail are the three big public transport delivery agencies. They work in co-operation and are very professional. I do not see that as the core of our problem. The biggest problems we have had have been political and around planning. We all know the planning system here is subject to incredibly complex legal delays. If reform is needed, it is in that planning system and that is what the Government is doing through the Attorney General's office.
I have a request for the Minister in that area because I believe it is quite an interesting issue. The work the Attorney General is doing is obviously a very important part of Government business at the moment. It is critically important that all relevant civil servants in the Minister's Department, including the Minister, would feed into that process. It is crucial that all feedback is given, including the local authorities, which are often able to get away with being responsible for many of the delays with regard to public transport projects. An issue that has arisen from conversations I have had with key State agencies is around improving the planning process. We have such an opportunity as a Government to grab the bull by the horns in terms of trying to solve that. We need to get everybody in at the right time, however, and that should be done over the course of the next 12 months. It is very important.
I wish to raise another issue with the Minister in the limited amount of time I have. When is the allocation for national roads funding going to be released by the Department?
On the first point, I am in direct contact with the Attorney General. That work will have to be concluded within the year and the Deputy is absolutely right; other stakeholders need to be involved in it. My understanding is that the board of TII is meeting next week. I presume that after that meeting, it will outline what the broad allocations are and the approach it is taking within the existing national development plan, NDP.
I want to outline one fundamental concern to the Minister, which I have mentioned previously at the committee in his absence. While he is here with me, however, it is important to say that there are flaws with the system for the national allocations that go to national roads and national secondary roads through TII's funding budgets.
One very clear example of that, with which I know the Minister is very familiar at this stage, is the N73 road in north Cork. We have a situation where TII was releasing detailed plans in terms of its annual expenditure but was not honouring some of the items that were covered within that documentation. I have a very serious concern as a rural Deputy and a Fianna Fáil Deputy that those budgets are not being honoured. What I suspect we are seeing, about which I need to get clarification, is around its annual budgets. It appears that money is being spent on other projects, therefore, smaller projects, which are also important to many communities, are not getting the funding that had been budgeted for them at the start of the year. The N73 was a very important example of that whereby €1.5 million had been allocated in January but when it came to the time for that budget to be actually spent, the money was unavailable. That is completely unacceptable.
I raised this issue with the Minister already, particularly during our meeting with the Taoiseach. It is important when those annual allocations are made that sufficient budgets are given and money is ring-fenced in order that those works can progress. They are fundamentally extraordinarily important in terms of road safety and the N73. It is an extremely dangerous road and it needs increased funding. Cork County Council has taken all the steps it has been asked to take by TII in order to prepare that road to go the construction phase so it can do the upgrade and safety works that are badly needed in the north Cork area. I ask the Minister to look individually at that particular issue because it is an anomaly that I do not understand. I do not really understand how State agencies can get away with doing these types of things. It is just not good practice from an accounting point of view to make budgets and then not honour them within a financial year, and that is precisely what happened in this case. Is that something the Minister can commit to looking into for me?
I will look into it. I will make a broader point. I went into the mathematics earlier of how we have €35 billion and how we will spend it. There is roughly €6 billion for new roads investment in this decade. In that figure, and I believe the Chairman and other members may have been aware of this, the first half of the decade will be a much smaller allocation than the second half of the decade. That is due to the timeline of a variety of different projects such as the major public transportation projects in Cork, Limerick and Dublin requiring significant upfront investment and expenditure as the start. What we expect in this first five years is, therefore, only a small fraction of the overall roads budget compared to the second, which is approximately four point something billion in the first half and one point something billion in the first half. There will, therefore, be a very scarce allocation resource within the first five years. There will, though, be the potential for us to identify which are the projects that will be ready to hit the road - excuse the pun - as soon as that budget window increases. My direction on that, which is contained in the NDP, is that the priority should be on compact development. We, therefore, support bypasses, relief roads and Town Centre First projects as a priority, as per the national planning framework.
We also critically mentioned here several times that road safety is what they have to do. I am sorry; the first priority is maintaining the existing network because that is the first road safety measure we have to enhance. It also saves money in the long run because if we let a road go, it costs much more money to bring it back to proper standards. Within the allocations, therefore, there will be a significant amount of work that is ongoing, such as the Macroom bypass, the Westport to Castelbar road, the Dunkettle roundabout and so on. I could go on. There will be new projects that are very close to decision gate, such as the M28 or others like the Adare bypass. Then, a large number of other projects will be advanced in the planning, design and development stages with the instruction to TII to optimise for bypasses. For example, therefore, on the N26 Cahir to Limerick Junction, let us do Tipperary town first. That has been widely discussed among Deputies in the Dáil. Also, we must do all that work so that we are ready to go when the budget starts to become available for the bypasses and relief roads that I believe should be at the centre of our roads policy for the next five, ten and 20 years.
I will make a concluding remark, Chairman, if I may have a just a little bit of leniency. I have one other issue. The two to one strategy on public investment in public transport versus that of roads is something about which I have many concerns as a rural Deputy. The obvious reality is that the lion's share of that public transport investment will be going into Dublin, particularly the metro project. It is a mammoth project in terms of the capital resources that will be allocated into that area. I ask, therefore, that that ratio would get further analysis to make sure there is balanced development on behalf of every Member of the Oireachtas in this House who is not from Dublin. That is incredibly important to all of us to ensure that all of our regions are being helped. As the Minister well knows, even in my area, and dare I mention Castlemartyr and Killeagh, which I must because that is a prime example, our public transport services in that region, including those heading off towards the west Waterford direction and towards Waterford city, are entirely dependent on the quality of the national roads that the bus services service as well. That point must be made, therefore, because many parts of Ireland do not have access to a rail network. That is just one key example. That is my one word of caution, if I may say so.
I agree. That is why it is vital that we get the money for Connecting Ireland, the new rural bus systems we are going to put in place. It is also vital we put the first-up money from the European Regional Development Fund into Cork rail. We also need to get Dublin working, however. It is not Dublin versus Cork, Dublin versus Limerick or Cork versus Limerick. I am going on memory now; I cannot remember the exact source but I remember a call that was posited once that 70% of the tax revenue of the State is raised within 30 km of the General Post Office, GPO, and that money pays for everything else. It is not, therefore, one city versus the other or rural versus urban. That money will help us provide for the rural public transport services we need.
I will pull the Minister up on that one because at the end of the day, if we consider the person out there who is earning €1 million and paying a huge amount of tax versus the person who is earning €40,000 and paying tax, the person paying the €40,000 is making just as big of a contribution, in some cases bigger, to the public purse in terms of spending.
The way one does that is very simple - through balanced regional development. If we do not want Dublin to be a gridlock, we must be able to be competitive. That is why the Atlantic corridor is so important. That is why national aviation policy must have as one of its terms of reference how we address the growth in travel exponentially through Dublin Airport versus Cork and Shannon airports. It is very simple. We are a small island with a heavy concentration of development in Dublin.
Moreover, this concentration of development in Dublin appears to be getting bigger. We talk about it and yet we have such enormous capacity for development in the likes of Shannon Airport, Limerick city, Cork city and Galway. That requires money from the public purse.
I agree with the Chairman fully and investing in Limerick, Cork, Galway and Waterford would be my first priority. The key question is what will see Galway, Cork, Waterford or Limerick thrive. My position is that it will be if they position themselves as green cities of the future with compact low-carbon development and high-quality public transport.
I am not disagreeing but many industries are located in Cork, Limerick and Galway and are telling me they want to be able to commute from one to the other. We must have connectivity. Is the €360 million, which is very good in terms of active travel, included in the 2:1 ratio for roads to public transport?
So by definition, the 2:1 ratio is actually much higher than 2:1 because the €360 million for active travel is really about public transport, which is very positive. We obviously want to push in that direction. The Minister is right. Up to 2025, there is not a huge amount of headroom based on the current spending proposals but many projects will get going from 2025. I want to deal in hard facts. I think the ratio is much higher than 2:1 because of things like active travel and other measures. It is about facts.
That was set out in the programme for Government. There is a broader strategic point about where we are going. What do we make and sell? We make and sell very high-quality medical devices, biopharma, IT and financial services. That is what we make and sell. This is not necessarily shipped on heavy haulage. Most of the haulage we do is in importing goods. If we look at Limerick as a manufacturing and industry centre, it is not big bulk. It is high-value and high-quality. That is what we are brilliant at. It is centred around the skills of our people. In terms of developing cities and how we move people around, if we continue on a roads and private car-based system, it will not work. Forget about the climate side of it for a second. Let us look at the geometry of it. We can see it in Galway more than anywhere else. Everyone is trying to drive in and out of Parkmore, Ballybrit and other industrial estates. At a certain point, that reaches its limit of capacity. It is less so in Limerick because its traffic problem is not quite as bad as other cities but if everyone keeps driving to work and back, it will not work. Investors and business people want to see countries and cities with really good-quality public transport, particularly in respect of Limerick, Cork, Galway and Waterford.
But they must be connected by motorway. They are not mutually exclusive arguments. I agree with the Minister about rail, public transport and active travel. I have been at this a long time and I passionately believe that if we are to take that pressure off Dublin and compete with it on an international scale, we need to be equally served. I want to be certain that someone can get from Cork to Galway in under two hours and that someone can get from Cork to Limerick in under an hour. At the moment, if I come out my front door in Limerick, I can go to Galway in under an hour. I can go to the Red Cow roundabout in under two hours while it can take me two and a half hours to get to Cork, which is half the distance.
The problem I have with that is that if we rely on that strategy in terms of where we prioritise investment, you will hit Blackpool in north Cork. While we could then build a northern distributor route in Cork so it gets around to Dunkettle, you basically would hit what we have already hit in Dublin. You hit an M50 syndrome, where the roads are at maximum capacity and you cannot get any more traffic on them. That is where we are in Dublin. In Dublin, we will face a really difficult retrofitting out of that problem because it physically cannot work. As you cannot add another strand of spaghetti to the Red Cow roundabout or another extra lane on the M50, we must reverse engines out from the place we entered. We do not need to do that in Limerick and Cork. At this stage, we could really say that we should put the money into the rail network, into the bus system and into high-quality housing close to the centre.
We will not get the synergies. We will differ on that point. We will not get the synergies to make us competitive on a national and international level with the Atlantic corridor unless we get that fast connection between the cities; both rail and road. Whether we like it or not, nearly 80% of the road between Cork and Limerick has no hard shoulder. It is lethal and it does not work. TII is doing its work and we will let it do it.
While I agree with the Chairman about the requirement for road safety, if we look at a lot of motorways we have built, we have built for inter-urban journeys. We have built capacity for about 80,000 vehicles per day and even as we speak, on the inter-points from Waterford to Dublin, there are probably only about 5,000 to 10,000 journeys per day so we have actually provided eight or ten times the capacity. At a time when resources are constrained and when there is going to be real pressure for us to build out these railway stations in Limerick, as once we start and put it into Moyross, they will want it in Ballysimon and Dooradoyle-----
It is not. We heard from Senator Craughwell. When there will be other areas where the public transport capacity is bursting at the seams, which will happen because people flock to it as soon as we build it, that will become a question of whether we provide something that is ten times the demand or meet it where we already know the demand is at full capacity.
We are lucky in Limerick in that we have an existing rail network, which will cost a lot of taxpayers' money but will not be prohibitive. We have a rail network going by Shannon Airport so we can do the spur. We can upgrade the rail line between Limerick Junction and Limerick city, which will take 20 minutes off a train journey from Cork to Limerick with a direct service. The last missing piece of the jigsaw is that if we have a motorway from Limerick to Galway and up along, have nothing connecting our two main cities and business people are tearing their hair over getting from Limerick to Cork, then we have a problem. The Minister and I beg to differ. TII will do its work and obviously it is a debate. The Minister and I believe passionately in our views and they are both well held. Hopefully, my view will be the dominant one.
I would feel wrong to let the Minister go out of here without a helpful suggestion, rather than grilling him. I have a lot of questions and there will be many more in the future but I believe passionately that every single village and urban settlement in rural Ireland should have a public transport hub.
A car park with a bus stop is all that is needed so that people living in rural townlands surrounding those villages have the option of driving to the area where they can access to rapid public transport services that will bring them to their hubs of education, employment and any access to services they desperately need as well. East Cork, which I represent, would be such an excellent model for the Minister to consider regarding implementing such a system. If the Minister is serious about getting cars off the road but bringing people from rural Ireland with him on that journey, that is one of the only ways I can see it happening. He could do it through a pilot project through the NTA like the Safe Schools programme or through the local authorities. Every local authority in the country would appreciate that as well because many village settlements and small towns in Ireland are crying out for additional car parking space to encourage commerce in those centres but from a public transport point of view, this is definitely something we could do to help tackle climate change and help just transition in the area of transport. There is a lot of bad press when it comes to rural Ireland and car usage but, unfortunately, there is no alternative. Let us create that alternative. I ask the Minister to consider that point.
I agree. That would fit in very well with the Connecting Ireland public consultation at the moment about how we create those hubs and connections. That is what it is all about. It is about improving connectivity relating to public transport in rural Ireland.
I must leave by 4.30 p.m.
I am looking for an update on a couple of road projects in my constituency and how they will progress. The first is the Slane bypass. TII appeared before us a couple of weeks ago. I noted that the Slane bypass was referenced as being in line with NSO 1., compact growth. I would also argue that it is in line with NSO 2., enhanced regional accessibility and the road to Derry as well. Given what the Minister said about roads funding, and we know the figures in the both halves of the decade, how might we expect the Slane bypass to progress in the time ahead?
The second road, which is at a different stage of development, is the route from Kilmoon Cross to the Rath roundabout. I have raised this project previously with the Minister. Again, it was noted as being worse than usual on the AA Roadwatch this morning, if that is what it is still called. It is at a very early stage of planning. How will it be progressed? What might someone sitting in that traffic this morning expect to see change in the next five years? To what degree will alternative sustainable transport models and configurations be assessed and, more important, delivered during that time?
We are going to continue to invest in roads and there is a significant budget in repair and maintenance of existing roads and new roads. Without prejudging what TII's perspective on it is, the likes of the Slane bypass, which does meet that NSO objective of supporting compact development and dealing with traffic in the centre of a very historic village, fits in with what the NDP is saying, which is that we prioritise bypasses. There is an issue with cost. There is a significant new bridge across the Boyne. The project is probably in the region of €100 million plus or minus. One would look at other measures that would allow one to restrict traffic. This relatively short corridor includes the N1, N2 and N3, all of which are within 30 to 50 km of each other. It seems to me that the likes of the Slane bypass does meet the strategic objective of compact growth so I look forward to what TII says in that regard. It has been a long time in planning.
Regarding the route from Kilmoon Cross to the Rath roundabout, I appeared before this committee in the previous Dáil in the early stages of it. One of the questions I asked was why we were widening all the approach roads to Dublin where we know it is coming to a congestion problem. What we will have to do in Dublin in terms of BusConnects poses questions for the traffic on the M50, which is already at full capacity. Where will this traffic go? I understand people stuck in traffic in the morning on approach roads to the M50 but at a certain point, we must ask why we are widening all the approach roads to Dublin. Where will the traffic go?
The Minister is now the Minister. I framed the question in a very particular way. I did not ask when the road will be delivered. I asked what those people could expect in the next five years in terms of progress, including the possibility of sustainable transport models. I have raised this issue previously. I am not hearing from the Minister that we have an answer to the question he raised with the previous Minister.
What I will be saying to TII is that on those approach roads where there are projects and where we can prioritise bus services within the existing road configuration, that would be a way of answering this problem. It would serve our constituents whether that is on the N11 or other roads. There are certain roads where that is very difficult while there are others where it is much more achievable. That is what I think the solution will be. It will be to provide that public transport solution on the existing network rather than expanding roads to just steer more traffic to what is an inevitable problem at the M50.
Does the Minister believe the tools are in place and the agencies are working hand in hand to deliver those solutions because I have no sense of it? I have a sense that this will sit in planning for a number of years and I do not see those alternative solutions being progressed. It is a significant concern. I do not think it aligns well with the Minister's stated intention. It is a real concern for people who, ultimately, want either not to be in that traffic or to be in more free-flowing traffic. They are not engineers. They are not going to provide the solution. That is for the responsible authorities but I do not see those proposals being forthcoming.
I think they are. I believe TII is very well apprised of this and sees the need for that kind of strategic shift towards promoting public transport, including on the main national arteries into Dublin.
I will be going up to the Chamber in a minute so I want to squeeze in one final point. I thank the Minister for his engagement this afternoon. Like many others here, I came into Dáil Éireann to fight for my county, which is a rural one. Indeed I care passionately about the western corridor referred to by the Chairman. I believe if our island was not rooted on deep bedrock, it would be tilting over because of how Dublin has been over-developed over the years. The population, investment and everything else have gone there. I have come up here for a few years and hope I will be here for a few terms but I am certainly here for one term to fight for Clare and the west of Ireland.
Some of the dialogue we have had over and back here concerns me. I do not think there can be any ideological block to projects that need to happen. A road is basic infrastructure that people in the west of Ireland need. If we look at the Cork to Limerick motorway, which is intrinsically important to us in Clare because it provides that continuous link, I am sure many members have passed through the village of Banogue. Twice a day, the main road linking Ireland's second and third cities must be closed off by a family waving red flags so that its herd of dairy cows can cross from one side of the farm to the other. This is a road linking Ireland's second and third cities. A dairy herd must cross that main road every day. It is insane. If we look beyond Banogue and at the two or three miles coming into it and the two or three miles as you exit it, there are little crosses along the road for people who have lost their lives. It is insane that there is no motorway linking the two cities. It needs to happen.
People have been talking about a motorway up that side of the country. They have been talking about Limerick northern distributor roads, the western rail corridor and so many projects long before this Dáil term began and this Government was formed 16 months ago or thereabouts. I really want these projects to be progressed during the Minister's term of office. Some of them will still be delayed for a few more years because the statutory phases of consultation, design and procurement are long and arduous but we all need to know that there will be life left in these projects and that ideological blocks will not put in the way because that is a concern of mine. We have heard from the Taoiseach and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform that projects will move along through statutory phases. Not everything will be built next year or the year after but, equally, not every village can be served by rail. I buy into rail. I came up on the train yesterday and will go home on it tomorrow. I love rail. I would love to have rail in every village but it is not feasible. We need to build roads. It is what we put on them that will make them sustainable or not. I need to hear from the Minister that there is life left in these projects.
There is no ideological block. Everything must be based on good engineering, science and public policy. We work collectively in government to deliver that and we can. One thing we can agree on is the over-development of Dublin. The vast majority of air travel goes in and out of Dublin Airport. The vast majority of roll-on, roll-off trucks go in and out of Dublin Port. All of them then drive down the country with goods and drive back empty.
All of the places in between suffer from all of that through traffic, including Dublin. So the current imbalanced form of national development has to change and that is why the national planning framework is our guide.
So why has the Minister put obstacle after obstacle on projects? He has been very direct doing so and that is his prerogative but why? We are being honest here and the Minister needs to be honest with us.
I would love to hear that there is turbo roll-out of electric charging points for electric cars. Like everyone else, I am considering whether to change my car. I want my next car to be an electric car but I want to be certain that I can get the distance on the car.
I agree. The last practicality is that if we all go to electric cars, we will still come back to the fundamental problem that we are all stuck in traffic all of the time, and we have got to avoid that.
I wish to conclude my remarks. The greenway is for the weekend and getting out on bikes with one's children and family. There is no greenway that can take me or anyone around me to work on a Monday morning. We can talk about it but we need baseline infrastructure such as roads. We do need them.
We will support each one of them. They are great but baseline roads infrastructure is still needed to get to work and school. I am someone who uses the bike and the train. I have bought into the Minister's way of thinking and it is a good way of thinking. We are all green and the whole country is becoming green but some baseline infrastructure is still required in Ireland. The Limerick to Cork motorway is one. Another project is a half completed road in County Clare. These projects need to happen and progress. We need to know that within this term of governance and the term that follows because politics will move on and the Minister may or may not be in his post the following term or in a different Department. We do not know what lies ahead but we need to know that during the tenure of the Minister, as the shepherd of the Department who leads transport, that there will not be any block put on any road.
There is no block on anything. A future Government can change our decisions so there is never any block on anything. There is a budget constraint and it is very real in the next four years, particularly when it comes to road development. We have to be upfront and honest in that. The reason that there is a constraint is because for too long we forgot about public transport, we did not give it priority and we did not build rail in Limerick, we had it sit in front of us as an under-used network and we were shutting services down. I do believe that it is time to really push that. It is not blocking anything else but it is opening up.
Let us deliver it. The biggest difficulty that we have is how to deliver the BusConnects network in the next three to four years, and how we deliver some of the active travel for use every day of the week, not just weekends.
I wish to ask a question because it is important to leave the committee room with some certainty. Our colleague, Deputy James O'Connor, made Custer's last stand a few weeks ago and went away with certain reassurances. There are other members here today who also need reassurance. What the Minister said a moment ago is welcome. I need to know about the phases ahead and I am not talking about construction. Will the next phase of the Limerick northern distributor road that is due to take place in February 2022 and the next phase progress?
That is not in the national development plan. In my mind that sends two signals as to where Limerick wants to go. Does Limerick want to go into County Clare or develop its public transport infrastructure?
I want to refer to the people of Limerick. The LSMATS plan came out and front and centre one of the aspects was the northern distributor road. Deputy Crowe and I are in adjoining constituencies so we know the people of Limerick. Ultimately, LSMATS will come back with an upgrade that will include the use of the rail network, which is very welcome.
The Minister has told me that LSMATS is a priority for him. If it is a priority for him, and ultimately with rail and once again it is over a period, then we very much welcome that. Equally, on the northern distributor road, the LSMATS is coming back with it being included in the revised draft. We just want the project to go out to public consultation and continue to go through the process.
I, too, have heard this idea of a €200 million penalty fee to buy out the clause of the Limerick Tunnel Toll Plaza. I have heard that idea for many years. Recently, it was clarified for me that the penalty clause truly and accurately is the percentage estimate of what traffic would shift from the tunnel across to the new road if it was built. The amount has been calculated at around 7% of a shift across. That means the penalty fee then becomes in the region of €14 million versus €200 million.
I do not hang the whole thing on that. On this project, I believe that it is critical we give a signal to the people of Limerick, the developers in Limerick and to the city council in Limerick as to what way Limerick wants to develop. Does it want to sprawl into County Clare or does it want to develop a core and compact development?
The northern distributor road will be a huge artery in terms of the provision of public transport in Limerick. All we ask is as follows. The National Transport Authority will come back to us. Once again, going back to the point made by Deputy Crowe, it is about hard facts. There are an awful lot of loose figures but we want to know the hard facts. What will the project cost? There is a process under way and I assume that the Minister would welcome the process to continue. We will have public consultation on that.
The bottom line is that if one lives in Corbally one cannot get out of there. This discussion is going around in circles. LSMATS is coming back with its plan. LSMATS has told us publicly that the northern distributor road would be included. We await the public consultation in January. The process will continue, which we welcome.
For the benefit of the Chair, the working population of Sandyford pre-pandemic was about 35,000 a day going in and out of it, and we were told that Limerick was 25,000 a day. An enormous number of people rely on the Luas line, which we talked about earlier.
In terms of the eastern bypass that has been removed from the draft strategy, the Minister and I know the area very well. While I never asked for the eastern bypass to be built I wanted to make sure that the reservation that is there is not immediately removed and promptly built on because that is a corridor that could be used for projects. One could use it for the UCD to Sandyford DART line up through that reservation. These are virgin fields and the project would not involve the relocation of a lot of services. It would also be far easier to build on it than in other places.
In the mid-2000s, there was a proposal to create a blue line in the form of a bus rapid transit corridor.
That proposal would have linked the Sandyford Luas and business district through the eastern bypass reservation via University College Dublin, UCD, to RTÉ and St. Vincent's Hospital and connecting to the DART. There is an enormous number of trip generators along that route and I would ask the Minister, who is familiar with that area, to look at that proposal again and see if something could be done on that corridor, even if it was a cycleway initially. Some of it is private ownership as the Minister knows and some of it is in local authority ownership but that could be used.
On BusConnects, I am hopeful that it will do what it is supposed to do. The Stillorgan quiet bus corridor is more than 20 years old. It is brilliant and it does a good job at a fraction of the cost of the Luas but the Luas is a magnet, as we said, and the more lines we have the better. We need to incentivise people into cycling more and let them learn that it is a brilliant way of getting around. On roads, page 64 of the NDP lists 31 projects that were in a previous NDP subject to further approvals. How many of those may ever be built? Depending on how much time he has I ask the Minister to deal with the eastern bypass first.
I always asked what exact need the eastern bypass was serving. The port tunnel had provided the exit point for freight traffic out of the port and I did not see the strategic benefit of the eastern bypass so I am glad it has been removed from the greater Dublin area transport strategy. I know the route the Senator is talking about well and it does seem that there are options, either for BusConnects, the blue route bus connection or else for light rail down the line. There are two options, one running along the N11, which has the advantage of connecting to Stillorgan and Sandyford Business Park. The other option would be to use those 17 acres of UCD that have been frozen for a potential motorway. From talking to the president of UCD I gather that UCD is aware of the need to maintain some of that area, either as a greenbelt on the campus or else as a transport route. The Senator will know well where the route goes from there. You can go through Knockrabo and private land and then once you are on to the Drummartin Link Road there is the reservation on the side of the road. It is feasible and achievable to develop that, either as a bus corridor in the short term or as a light rail corridor in the long term. That is open to consultation. The greater Dublin area transport strategy is a consultative space, just like the Limerick one. If the Senator wants to make the case as someone who knows the area he would be well listened to. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of those two route options. There is a bit of a hill but other than that it has everything going for it.
I have cycled the hill and Mount Anville Road and it is a tricky enough road to cycle, particularly with trucks on it. There is huge scope there for bus connection. As we know, UCD is an enormous trip generator with 17,000 or 18,000 students and 5,000 or 6,000 staff. RTÉ is another big trip generator, as is St. Vincent’s Hospital. There is also the question of connecting the DART to the Luas and not half enough of that is available. There would be huge benefits to that so I urge the Minister to make sure the corridor is protected because once it is built on it can never be gotten back, as the Minister knows. It happened in Dundrum where apartment blocks were built. Things cannot be built there because once they are built they are built and once the line is gone it is gone. I ask the Minister to answer the points on the road projects on page 64 of the NDP.
I will go back to what I was saying earlier on. The budget availability will be constrained for the next few years so a smaller number of projects will be advanced and this is what the debate and discussion on the NDP focused on. Rather than saying certain projects would be scrapped and certain other projects would be going ahead it was decided that it would be far better to say we would advance projects, subject to budget capabilities and the national planning framework prioritisation. It is not to say that if a project does not get that further advancement or development it is gone forever and a day. A lot of work has been done on various projects and that work will still be there and could still be availed of. In the immediate future we will have to concentrate on a smaller number of projects because of budget limitations and because we have a huge amount of work we need to do on the public transport side.
I thank the Minister for all the work he is doing across the country. I wish him well with it. I ask the Minister to remember the safe routes to schools programme. The more people we can get cycling at primary and secondary school level and the more people who are getting comfortable with cycling and using that new infrastructure that is being introduced, the better. If they start cycling and continue cycling they are much more likely to keep it up into adult life. If they are getting lifts to school the whole time they are much less likely to cycle at a later stage.
In the context of aviation, I ask that given that we are an island nation for which aviation is significant in terms of our tourism, economy and connectivity, we would update our national aviation plan. The Minister might not be able to give me the complete answer today given that time is short but we need a specific meeting with the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, on aviation for travel and Government policy on that.
I do not mean to strike a discordant note but I am concerned about the number of appointments emanating through the Department arising from the Public Appointments Service, PAS, in the context of the Port of Cork. For the first time ever as far as I can tell, we had a non-Cork person appointed to the board and as chair of the board in Dr. Michael Walsh. Let me add that Dr. Walsh was before the Committee on Transport and Communications with us last week, he is a fine person and he is eminently qualified and suitable. Neither do we have a Cork person on the board of the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA. I make those comments without promoting any candidate or to seek a clientelist approach. Given the region that Cork is, no Cork person came through the PAS. That is wrong,it sends the wrong message and I am curious as to the Minister’s view on that in the context of the DAA and the last two appointments to the board of the Port of Cork.
I thank the Minister for his engagement today. It was robust at times but it was enlightening and I appreciate the Minister giving his time and effort. I will work with him to advance the proposals he wants but we will also have that critical engagement.
While the Minister is dealing with aviation, I wish to raise a point that we did not discuss. Professor Mary Horgan’s report has come out and it stated that the Department made no request for antigen tests to be considered for aviation travel. The Minister might give his up-to-date views on that. We will certainly have a session with the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, on aviation. What is the Minister’s view on antigen testing for air travel?
I have read the report and it specifically says that no request was made. The Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, told us that Professor Mary Horgan’s group was set up for individual Departments to go directly to it, not through him. Has the Department of Transport made a direct approach to Professor Mary Horgan? If not then the Department needs to make such an approach if it is supportive of antigen testing. Is this something the Minister would do on the basis that he is telling us he is supportive of antigen testing? It appears to be somewhere up in the sky sailing around with nothing happening.
To make it happen we had to get the agreement of the health authorities and that is why the letter was written. I am going from memory on this. The Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, is the one responsible, with my support and encouragement.
I have asked the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, that specific question. He said it is up to individual Departments and Ministers to go directly to Professor Mary Horgan’s expert group on rapid testing and to ask it to come up with a blueprint for a particular roll-out of antigen testing in that Department. If it has not been done to date then it needs to be done. Maybe the Department of Transport would seek clarification from the Minister for Health.
We will look at every avenue. I will go back to Senator Buttimer’s questions. I would agree with him and I have said to the PAS that I would like a representative from Cork on the board of the DAA; that is important.
Not to be critical of the PAS, which does a very good job, but there was a certain frustration that this had not been possible in the previous appointment. I am hopeful and confident we will see someone from Cork on the board of the DAA.
Another question that arises with regard to the Port of Cork also relates to the PAS. I believe Dr. Walsh has world-class credentials to do a good job there, especially where I see the future of the port going. He has good Cork connections, but he is not a 100% blue-blood Cork person. I thought I could overcome that for the moment. I think he will be a brilliant chair. I have absolute confidence in him. I was willing to overcome his county jersey and appoint him because I think he will be a very good chair for the Port of Cork.
Some of the stuff on school transport has been said and answered. I get that it falls within the Department. Even when we have moved from 50% to 100% capacity and buses have been taken off, we have received calls from people who thought they would get concessionary travel and but are not getting it, or half of them are getting it. It is just a continuation of the general disaster. The Taoiseach said earlier that climate change needs to be taken into account. It is not beyond the Government to find a solution to school transport. I will not give the list of infrastructure projects in order that I can press release for it.
With regard to the planning issue, when representatives of Transport Infrastructure Ireland and others were before the committee, they pointed out issues that relate to major infrastructure projects and the difficulties they encounter. I accept that the Attorney General review is ongoing and that the legislation will not fall in the Minister's Department. What is the interaction between the Department and that review process? I will throw into the mix what the Minister said when he spoke about the national development plan. I was wondering whether it was almost a magic algorithm. It was almost a question of survival of the fittest from a planning point of view. To take a tiny piece of it, the Minister spoke earlier about the ten-year project for roads. We have €1 billion for the first five years and then the second tranche is €5.1 billion. The business end is at tail end of the decade, but the problem is that is also the business end from the point of view of carbon budgets, etc. There are inbuilt difficulties. I ask the Minister to talk about the interaction between his Department, the Attorney General review process and the legislation that will eventually come through the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
In many instances, it is probably a very direct connection. We are being updated on a regular basis by the Attorney General on what he is doing. His timeline is incredibly tight. He is hoping to do it within the next year and it is a major overhaul of our whole planning system. It is coming from the environmental planning lawyers and others. In the current system, the 2001 Act has been added to in so many instances that it is often hard to understand the legislation, let alone know how to apply it.
Okay. We did huge work on antigen testing. I ask the Minister to follow up and get clarity on a body of work being done on antigen testing for air travel. Our understanding is that the Department has to go directly to Professor Horgan's group, which was set up to allow Departments to go directly to it to set up projects. Will the Minister follow up on that? There may be a degree of misunderstanding about something that could be hugely beneficial.