Thursday, 15 February 2007
National Development Plan: Statements.
Dan Boyle (Cork South Central, Green Party)
This debate is inadequate, consisting merely of statements and no motions. Given the scale of the plan and the proposed expenditure, a two-day session should have been allocated, including a vote on a motion. This would impart a sense of ownership that what is before us has been scrutinised to some extent.
What the Government has presented as a national development plan falls far short of such. This is a nakedly political document, the longest election manifesto in the history of Irish politics. For this reason, it must be treated cynically. There has been no meaningful engagement with social and political actors. This is the plan of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government; it is hardly a plan of the Irish people for the Irish people. That would become more clear if we were to have an effective debate.
What was presented by the Minister in his speech as a fully costed document is nothing of the sort. A recent question I put to him on the lack of a strategic environmental assessment of the plan, something that is a feature of the national plans of other EU countries, met with the response that such was not required because the costings were purely indicative. The Minister cannot have it both ways. It is either a fully costed document or it is purely indicative. This is the flaw at the heart of the plan. The assessments that underline it in terms of future inflation trends mean that the total figure of €184 billion will likely be exceeded.
The main problem with the Government's proposals is that the balance which the last national development plan failed to put in place is also missing in this plan. The underspend on regional development in the last plan was disgraceful. The imbalance in terms of transport infrastructure is a price we continue to pay. The Minister may point to the figures for the roads and public transport elements of the plan. An examination of the proposals for public transport, however, show they are not being brought forward as a mechanism for improving regional development. There is little in the national plan that allows public transport infrastructure to be developed in Galway, Limerick and Cork. The summary document of the national development plan contains the legend, in the second sentence about public transport, that the money will be spent especially in the greater Dublin area. How can a Government present a national development plan that contains such clauses? The Government either believes public transport is something the entire country needs or it will continue to make the mistakes it has made in the last ten years.
I repeat calls made by other speakers in this debate that this can only be seen as a working document. If and when a new Government is established, once the people have been consulted, there are many elements of this plan that must be modified or deleted. The essential factor is that this development plan represents business as usual. Despite the Minister's boast, there is no give on environmental sustainability. It is merely ráiméis and public relations talk. That the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government repeats this ráiméis shows that the Government's interest in the environment and sustainability is merely a cynical exercise in reheating press releases about actions it has not taken and continues not to take.
Although the proposals to finance infrastructure spending in Northern Ireland are welcome, why are all those infrastructure links based on roads? Why does the national development plan not seek to enhance public transport links between the two parts of this island? The Government still does not understand what sustainability is all about and how it can be achieved. This, above all else, is the reason that the people will make the decision to elect a new Government. This is a flawed document that fails to meet the needs of the State in the coming decade.