Thursday, 3 February 2005
Cecilia Keaveney (Donegal North East, Fianna Fail)
Bord Gáis's catchphrase is "Don't You Deserve the Best". People in the north west deserve the best but the Minister for Transport has not sanctioned the building of a proper rail infrastructure in this region. I am disappointed he is not present for this debate because I have raised the issue of a direct train service between Dublin and Derry at many other fora and I have been forced to raise it on the Adjournment. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, will ensure a copy of the transcript of the debate will be conveyed to the Minister for Transport and that he will seek a meeting with him on my behalf. I raised this issue previously with the Minister of State's aunt, Senator O'Rourke, when she was Minister for Public Enterprise and I thought I received a good hearing.
This time last year there was a scare that the train service between Ballymena and Derry would be suspended. I was involved in whipping up support for retention of the service. While it has been retained, I do not know whether it will continue in the long term. Rail lines were dismantled everywhere in the 1960s whereas nowadays large amounts are being spent on new carriages and upgrading the network. It will be a scandal if a service is not provided between Dublin and Derry, even if part of the line is in another jurisdiction.
I can board a train in Derry, disembark in Belfast and board the Enterprise service to Dublin. There is no reason for the lack of a service between Dublin and Derry. Investment in Northern carriages and the upgrading of parts of the track are all that is needed to allow trains to travel quickly. It is possible to provide a direct service but there is no will to progress this issue.
I was jealous of the announcements of the carriages but I am not being greedy. I have corresponded with the Minister for Transport, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State and Jonathan Spellar, Minister for Social Development, through the British-Ireland Interparliamentary Body, and they have indicated that I am being greedy. According to them, I should be happy with the bus service between Derry and Donegal. Derry is the fourth largest city on the island. Every other city is served by buses, trains and planes and, under the national development plan, they will be served by motorways. However, a motorway is not being provided for buses in the north west so we should, at the very least, be at the top of the queue for an alternative.
I am accused of being greedy because I seek road, rail and air access but I am only seeking what every other region has had for years. I am worried about the lack of a North-South Ministerial Council and an executive to progress the matter and I am worried about the Secretary of State's response to my question at the sitting on the BIIPB on 19 October 2004. He stated:
My colleague, John Spellar, is studying the railway situation. The problem with all railways is that not enough people use them. It is a chicken and egg situation. Everybody wants to use the railways but not enough people wish to make them a viable proposition. The Belfast to Derry line goes through some of the most naturally beautiful scenic areas in Ireland and it is something we are examining until, I hope, eventually the Executive, will decide one way or the other.
If I wait for the executive to make a decision, I will be an old woman, given the current rate of progress. This is a cry of desperation on my behalf.
This is one of the most beautiful routes. I chair the tourism committee and those who take the train on that line will discover one of the most beautiful locations on the island. However, I agree it is a chicken and egg situation. I and many others would avail of a direct train service. Roads have been upgraded and improved but a train service is not available. We spent money on getting the Dublin to Belfast line done. There is no reason then, if we go for European funding, that we cannot have a Dublin to Donegal service. It is not all right to say there are alternatives. All we want is equality. It is not an unfair request.