Dáil debates

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

National Development Plan: Motion [Private Members]


8:55 pm

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats) | Oireachtas source

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:notes that:
— Project Ireland 2040 combines the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the ten year National Development Plan (NDP) 2018-2027;

— Project Ireland 2040 was published in February 2018;

— the NDP sets out the investment priorities that will underpin the successful implementation of Ireland’s infrastructural commitments in the NPF;

— the NDP commits to €116 billion capital spending in the period from 2018 to 2027, with Exchequer funding allocated for public capital investment over the period amounting to €91 billion;

— a fundamental purpose of the NDP is ensuring that public capital investment is clearly aligned to the delivery of the objectives and priorities detailed in the NPF;

— since the publication of Project Ireland 2040, there have been significant cost overruns on two key projects listed in the NDP – the National Broadband Plan and the

National Children’s Hospital;

— these cost overruns have a significant knock-on impact on the funding available to other planned-for projects listed in the plan;

— the ten year NDP is fundamentally undermined by the significant cost overruns of these two major construction projects;

— many of the projects listed in the plan will not have the required funding available to them for completion as a result of significant cost overruns on other projects; and

— since the publication of Project Ireland 2040, a climate emergency has been declared by this House and, as a result, significant revisions of the plan are required in order to deliver on this declaration; and
calls on the Government to:
— immediately identify which planned-for projects in the NDP will be delayed or cancelled as a result of lack of funding;

— recognise that the declaration of a climate emergency by the House requires significant revision of the NPF and NDP in order to deliver meaningful action on

climate change; and

— urgently revise the NDP and NPF to properly reflect the current spending on listed projects and the impact on the €116 billion overall budget and its allocation across


We all recall the fanfare and staging that accompanied the launching of Project Ireland 2040. There was quite a bit of commentary about the costs involved with the advertising campaign, including cinema advertisements and controversial regional newspaper pieces that were made to look like editorial copy. That coincided with the establishment of the spin unit which was subsequently dismantled. However, behind the spin, the actual reality, where there are a lot of ballpark figures, made very clear that many projects in the plan were aspirational at best and had no real chance of being delivered in a timely way. One cannot pin down absolutely the cost of everything but there are an awful lot of ballpark figures and guesstimates. Having the national planning framework and national development plan in tandem is absolutely the right approach and I have been critical of that not happening in the past. We are seeing very substantial plans for increases in population on the east coast. I can see it in my own area, as well as in Fingal and other areas. It cannot happen without balancing those communities with the infrastructure they require. That is critically important if we are going to build sustainable communities. If we are to get to a regional balance, we cannot count populations twice and three times. We will only grow our population by a certain amount. If we are to do that and get balanced regional development, there has to be a way of doing it without compromising communities, or having plenty of housing - I hope there will be plenty of housing - but very little of the other infrastructure that is required.

Notwithstanding the original plan and its possible unviability, the overruns, particularly with the national children's hospital and the national broadband plan, have come into stark focus.While no figure was put on the national broadband plan, there was no expectation that it would be many times the amount that had been talked about. The cost of the national children's hospital project had been estimated at €790 million. We then discovered that that was not a nailed down figure and know from the tendering process that the final cost will now be somewhere around €1.7 billion, when the technology that has to accompany the building has been factored in. That is not an absolute final figure and we were told at the Committee of Public Accounts that containing the cost to that amount will be a challenge. In the national development plan a total of €11 billion was set aside for the entire portfolio of health projects. However, here we are just one year into the lifetime of the plan and we have already committed almost €2 billion of that to just one project. It was originally supposed to be about getting the very best outcome for newborn babies and was to be developed side-by-side with a maternity hospital. Making that happen on or near that site is going to be enormously challenging. It does not even have the provision to land a helicopter, for example, which could be a means of transport. It is surely self-evident that other things provided for within the €11 billion health budget will now suffer as a result and things like acute services, emergency department upgrades, or primary care units, for example, may well be compromised as a consequence. We need to hear from the Government about how that is going to be handled.

Similarly, a huge plank of Government fanfare surrounding the national broadband plan was about appealing to rural Ireland. It is not so rural and I must say that within my own constituency there are locations where the broadband quality is less than it is required to be. There was no expectation that it would run to a subsidy of up to about €3 billion. However, due to the chaos and mishandling of this Government's approach to both the tendering process and the deal itself, we have seen the cost of delivering the national broadband plan escalate. When it was first announced by the then Minister, Pat Rabbitte, it was somewhere in the region of €350 million. That was way off the mark, but €3 billion is not something any of us expected. There have been many ballpark figures and guesstimates. If we are going to have strategic planning, it has to be based in some semblance of reality. The whole idea of the national development plan was to give comfort and assurance that a long-term strategic vision could be delivered on. For example, there are a number of fairly significant things on the horizon on the income side of things. One of those is Brexit and the other is the corporate tax area, which the G20 is discussing. We were told by the Taoiseach not that long ago that if there was a hard Brexit, there would probably be no money for a national broadband plan. However, the preferred bidder has been announced and the timeframe for signing a contract is during the ploughing championships. Does the Minister have any idea of the optics that is putting out? We are locked into a contract that the Taoiseach himself has said that, in the context of a hard Brexit, we possibly would not have the money to deliver on. The reality is that what it says on paper regarding the long-term outcomes planned for is belied by short-term decisions and actions which are systematically exposing the budgetary flaws at the heart of the national development plan. The Government would like us to believe that it is no big deal and that future budgeting arrangements can accommodate the changes, but when I have money in my hand, I can spend it once. I cannot spend it twice or three times on different things. The national finances are the same and the Minister will probably argue that choices have to be made. It is a big deal that these overruns are there and it is taking us for fools to say it is not going to impact on other things and other very important projects.

Since the publication of the national development plan, this House has also declared a climate emergency. We had an all-party committee that did very good work and the House debated it and declared a climate emergency. That cannot be a tokenistic declaration. We have to adjust our behaviour as a consequence of making that declaration. There has to be meaningful action and it is not just about how we spend money but about when we spend it. I can give an example. The electrification of the train line in my constituency up to Celbridge and Maynooth is going to be a really important project. The line is electrified as far as Celbridge, and the train comes into town and terminates at Heuston. What happens then? There is a capacity issue with the Luas, because the critically important DART underground, or interconnector, for example, has not been factored in. That seems to be off sometime into the future. Transport is one of the three key elements regarding climate change and one must factor in the big ticket items that are going to make that difference. They are going to be in cities. That is one of the issues and it is self-evident that that needs to be done. It was self-evident decades ago and other Governments in the past can equally be criticised for not spending money when it was available to undertake that kind of a project. We have long since advocated the spend and save approach.

We fundamentally believe spending strategically on the right things at the right time does not mean continuing to waste money on trying to backfill problems when they emerge. It is positive that a large amount of new rolling stock has been purchased. I had been seeking same, but there must be an integrated network to make it viable. I would have expected that to be the approach taken to this issue.

Due to successive Governments consistently failing to address climate and environmental issues adequately and to spend accordingly, we are facing into hefty fines for missing our 2020 targets. Missing them will make it even more difficult to meet the 2030 targets, as we will already be on a slippery slope. I introduced legislation on energy security and climate change in 2012 that was debated a year or so later. It would have set targets and indicated how to meet them. The then Minister, Commissioner Phil Hogan, introduced legislation a week or two later without targets. He is now critical of us for being laggards even though he had the opportunity to introduce legislation with targets and did not do so. This requires difficult choices. It is a question of timetabling and deciding where to make a difference.

The Government's amendment to the motion talks of transitioning to renewable energy as being a key priority. It also refers to the impending publication of an all-of-government action plan that will use funding available under the NDP to help achieve targets. From the amendment in the names of Deputies Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin of the Green Party, however, we can see that we would still have a shortfall in emissions reductions by 2030 of approximately 70% even if every initiative in the NDP was implemented. This shows that there is even an issue with our ambitions.

Put simply, the NDP is not fit for purpose where strategic actions to address meaningfully the climate and environmental emergency are concerned. In terms of the reality of delivering on projects listed in the NDP, the Government believes it is feasible to brush off the impact of cost overruns on two major projects in the face of the level of spending that is required to address the climate emergency adequately is just more smoke and mirrors. The Government has a laissez-faireapproach and is relying on future budgetary adjustments as a fallback when there are overruns.

In its report today, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council identified some of the risks, including our over-reliance on corporate taxes. This takes us back to the early 2000s, when concerns were constantly raised about the reliance on a transient tax. I do not entirely agree with the council on what should be done, as we believe the State should spend to save. DART underground is such an example.

The G20 countries are seeking to make significant amendments to corporate taxation. If there was a significant shortfall like the last one in future budgets, not only would it influence what we could spend under the NDP, but it would also radically change our debt-to-GDP ratio. In turn, that would impact on our annual budget and ability to fund services, as we would have to service that debt. That point cannot be ignored in how we deal with the NDP.

I knocked on quite a number of doors in many places during the recent local elections and there were serious concerns raised about the cost overruns and the Government's ability to get a grip on the delivery of capital projects in a way that was cost effective and prudent. The Minister must have heard the same thing, as people were not just deciding to say this to Opposition canvassers who arrived at the door.

Long-term strategic planning is welcome and the NDP and national planning framework constitute the right approach, but they have been undermined by a number of events already and will be further undermined by others, not least the question of how Brexit will play out. The long-term plan must be deliverable and prioritise sustainability in all its forms, both economic and environmental. We are paying a price for the glaring mistakes of the early 2000s when, for example, the opportunity to build sizable numbers of local authority houses was not taken. Would we have the same housing crisis now had it been taken? We could have delivered a decent public transport system, meaning that we would not now be playing catch-up. We could have retrofitted the built environment, or at least commenced it. That all of these tasks needed to be done was evident. Imagine the very different society that we would be living in now had all of that happened and had we prioritised spending. While I realise that was prior to the Minister's involvement in government, we would not now be living through the housing emergency in its current manifestation.

This is being described as one of the slowest moving cities in Europe. In the early 1990s when the Luas received European funding, the argument made at the time was that the public transport system needed to be funded because Dublin had become uncompetitive owing to traffic chaos. Now, Dublin is at least as bad as it was then, if not worse. I include in that the city's fringes and counties like mine. We have prioritised the car over investment in public transport. Some of that predates the Minister's time in office, but if we do not make choices now, people in ten years' time will be asking who was in office and why they did not decide to take the approach that was necessary to address what was evident at the time, namely, that a flawed budget was underpinning the NDP and we were not paying anything like the attention to issues such as climate change that we needed to.

The three main areas are housing, transport and agriculture. We can do something in respect of each and must be ambitious in that regard. Unless we tackle them, the problem will grow larger for us from 2020 onwards. If we do not meet our 2020 targets, it will become much more difficult to meet our 2030 targets. This Government will be viewed as not having dealt with the decision on the requisite major investments and the strategy for same as it should have. I urge the House to revisit the NDP for those purposes.


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