Thursday, 21 May 2020
Covid-19 (Taoiseach): Statements
I am hoping to frame my contribution mainly around questions and give time properly for their consideration in three areas - transport, employment and education - taking each in turn and being very practical in terms of what is coming next in our management of this crisis. We hope the numbers will continue to improve. It is a shocking loss again for all those families who lost people yesterday. They are first and foremost in our minds, and steady and slow is the right way to try to minimise further loss.
However, we will look in the coming weeks and months for a large number of people to come back to work. Not all of them, and some may find new ways of working from home, but we are looking at a lot of people returning to workplaces in the summer. It will be difficult to do social distancing on the likes of public transport. In my constituency, it is very hard to see how we can manage social distancing on the Luas and, similarly, on the buses. Certainly, our bus network capacity will be significantly restricted if we are still applying the social distancing measures. This gives us an opportunity or necessity in providing other safe modes for people to get into work and the obvious way for a lot of people is to walk or cycle.
Cycling, in particular, has the capacity to allow people to cover distances and is also safe regarding social distancing. We should be looking to do what I believe Transport for London, TfL, is doing, which is a ten-fold increase in the numbers of people cycling. I refer to making it safe and attractive and making that increase happen.
I understand Dublin City Council is due to publish plans. It has done good work in the last month to create safe space on our streets and to use this opportunity, when we do not have large volumes of traffic, to reconfigure some streets. The council is also seeking in the coming days to bring out a significant plan for how we might make it safe, in a temporary but significant mechanism, for this new transport system to apply this summer as people return to work. I do not think we are getting a similar speed, but I believe in a similar system in Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick. There are plans in Cork and Galway for bus and cycle routes and we should be putting those in place in the next few weeks, even temporary structures, to create these circumstances.
I am keen to get the Taoiseach's sense on this and if he thinks that is a message we need to send to local authorities. I also refer to getting the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to row in in support to get the scale of flexibility and speed required in creating a safe cycling network, in particular, in our cities and towns so people can get back to work in that way, at scale, in huge numbers to help the recovery we need in our economy. Does the Taoiseach think that is a message? I would be interested to hear his perspective from within Government as to whether there are plans for measures on that sort of scale of ambition.