Tuesday, 11 June 2019
National Development Plan: Motion [Private Members]
I welcome the opportunity to speak to this Private Members' motion and confirm my support for it. There is no doubt that the launch of this plan was a mix of ballyhoo, spin and marketing, as was referred to by other Members. The whole situation was bizarre. We have been talking about balanced regional development for decades, but this plan has nothing to do with it. If anything, it has to do with unbalanced regional development. Rural Ireland is the poor relation in the plan and is, therefore, at a serious disadvantage in terms of the projects and process it contains.
I support the motion and the amendment tabled to it by the Green Party. It is clear that no climate impact assessment of the national development plan was carried out before its launch. A climate emergency was recently declared by the Dáíl. It is obvious that the plan requires significant revision if we are to meet that declaration, which should be a foregone conclusion.
The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, placed emphasis on the progress made in this plan and referred to several projects. Of course, none of those projects is in County Tipperary. The housing situation in the county is diabolical. Approximately a dozen local authority houses have been built there in the past five years and none will be built there this year. There are approximately 4,000 families on the local authority housing waiting list. Homeless clinics are held on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings in the county council offices in Clonmel. One of the clinics on a recent Friday morning was attended by 49 families. There is a significant number of homeless families and individuals in bed and breakfast and hotel accommodation across the county. Indeed, the situation is such that a local Catholic priest recently found it necessary to address the subject at Sunday mass. That is an indication of how difficult is the housing situation and the plight of homeless families, particularly those who have young children.
The Minister referred to transport, which is a key element of any development plan or set of climate action measures. Public transport provision in County Tipperary has been reduced since the plan was announced. In a county such as Tipperary, transport is hugely important for the normal day-to-day economic operation of the economy, enabling people to go to work, school or elsewhere. Far from increasing public transport provision, the public bus service in Tipperary has been reduced. There is no longer a public bus service from Clonmel to Dublin. Attempts to close the Limerick to Waterford railway line are ongoing. The line from Waterford to Rosslare has already been closed. One would have thought that the upgrading of that line would be important from a climate impact point of view, as well as economically. We need the line and the carriages that run on it to be upgraded because it is not possible to run a reasonable rail service with very old carriages and a line that has a maximum speed of approximately 40 miles per hour.
Neither the Minister nor the Government was keen to improve the standard of transport in County Tipperary. Of course, the situation is very similar throughout the rest of rural Ireland.
County Tipperary was also excluded from the regional jobs plans, which are effectively part of this programme. Ten towns across the country were earmarked for development and the provision of advance factories and office facilities by IDA Ireland. Not one of these ten towns is located in County Tipperary. That is what these jobs plans mean for County Tipperary. Towns in the county are at a huge disadvantage when compared with the other ten towns that have been earmarked and with all the cities.
There is no doubt that the huge cost overruns relating to the national children's hospital and the national broadband plan will impact on various projects across the country, including those in County Tipperary. I refer, for example, to the reopening of inpatient psychiatric beds in Tipperary that were closed by the previous Government. This is now in the balance because of these overruns. There is the phase 2 development of South Tipperary General Hospital and the construction of a 50-bed ward. There is Our Lady's hospital in Cashel, which has had €14 million spent on it and is vacant and unopened. That project has also been put on the back-burner. We are not at all sure of the position regarding the development of the 100-bed unit at St. Patrick's Hospital for the elderly in Cashel and there is no news at all of the development of the Dean Maxwell home in Roscrea. Many of these projects will be affected by the lack of funding because of the overruns relating to the national children's hospital and the national broadband plan.
Bizarrely, the plan refers to promoting and improving town centres but the Government recently allowed An Post to move its post office from the square in Thurles. The local authority is going to spend something of the order of €8 million or €9 million on improving that square. The Government is allowing An Post to pull the carpet from under that development and is continuing a situation whereby there are significant retail closures and vacancies on the high streets in towns, not just in County Tipperary but across the country.