Dáil debates

Tuesday, 2 November 2004

3:00 pm

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Question 113: To ask the Minister for Transport the position regarding the construction of the Dublin Port tunnel, particularly regarding the height of the tunnel, delays in construction, the concerns of local residents and public safety issues. [27226/04]

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I announced on 21 October 2004 that the operational height of the Dublin Port tunnel would not be changed. My decision was based primarily on safety grounds, but cost and time delays to the opening of the project were also factors.

The options for increasing the height of the tunnel were considered by the National Roads Authority, independent consultants, Atkins, and Dublin City Council. In addition, the contractor, the NMI consortium, priced the work that would be involved in increasing the height of the tunnel. It was clear from that work that raising the height of the tunnel would not be justified having regard to safety considerations and additional cost and delay factors.

The safety issues concerned reducing lane widths, which would, in the context of a tunnel carrying a very high percentage of heavy goods vehicles, including fuel tankers and other hazardous cargoes, constitute a reduction in overall tunnel safety. It is intuitively apparent that wider traffic lanes offer greater vehicle separation than narrower lanes. As for increasing the kerb height, it is apparent, on both an engineering and intuitive basis, that a 150 mm kerb must represent a safer provision than one of 200 mm. It is the NRA's position that the lower kerb height is preferable from a safety perspective. Also considered were overheight heavy goods vehicles, HGVs, on the existing national road network and the implications of facilitating higher vehicles through the tunnel than the national motorway and road network can safely accommodate. Bridges and other structures on motorways and national roads are not designed to cater for vehicles higher than the current tunnel height, and safety concerns would arise over the discharge of such vehicles from a revised tunnel onto the national road network. Increasing the height of the tunnel would mean substantial potential additional costs of at least €33 million to €65 million, and at least a seven month delay to the completion of the tunnel.

I understand from the NRA that the construction of the tunnel is expected to be complete in December 2005. Extensive arrangements are in place to meet the concerns of local residents about the impact of the project. These were of particular value during the tunnelling, which is now complete. These arrangements included pre and post construction property surveys, the use of vibration monitors to monitor vibration from the works, and settlement surveys. Any damage attributable to tunnelling works is covered by the property protection guarantee issued by Dublin City Council. I am informed that over 176 claims have been received, of which 155 are subject to ongoing negotiation, claiming in most cases minor damage to properties. An independent loss adjuster has assessed or is in the process of assessing these damage reports and I am advised that any verified damage connected with the tunnelling will be made good by Dublin City Council.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Is the Minister genuinely aware of the concerns of local residents about the Dublin Port tunnel project and does he understand them? Is he aware of the recent relevant statistics? He mentioned 176 cases of property damage reported by residents. This damage is not minor. There are 117 cracks in houses, 35 hairline cracks, 12 jammed doors and windows, three damaged roofs, four major plumbing problems, four glazing problems and 11 other problems. That is a total of 176 homes damaged, while there are hundreds of other complaints about noise, vibration and disruption.

Will the Minister comment on the recent consultants' report which stated the tunnel's entrance and exits are unstable, that water has been seen leaking into the massive tunnel through openings and that experts say the tunnel has design deficiencies? These are major health and safety issues which need to be addressed.

The Minister said he had to take health and safety issues into consideration with regard to the large trucks not using the port tunnel. These massive trucks will be driving through residential areas. Will the Minister explain how this will impact positively on the safety of local residents?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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The trucks the Deputy refers to make up somewhere between 0.6% and 1.7% of the total traffic going to Dublin Port, a very small percentage. Dublin City Council is also putting in place a very specific traffic management plan for HGVs, while the Minister of State, Deputy Callely, will soon launch an important consultation report on the height of vehicles in the country.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Another report. The Minister's predecessor launched such a report two years ago.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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This is not the same one. This is the one which will lead to a decision being made on the issue. The decision on the tunnel has already been taken.

Regarding Deputy McGrath's contribution, I do not dispute that there have been difficulties for residents in the area. That is normal when huge projects are involved. There is naturally going to be some disruption and one can only ask for the forbearance of those directly affected when such projects are being put in place. Everything possible is being done to mitigate interruptions to the quality of life of people who might be directly affected. That is the stated position regarding the cases whose numbers the Deputy has confirmed. These are minor issues with regard to the houses. There is a proper process in place with Dublin City Council to deal with these problems and the council should be left to go through that process with the residents.

The allegation that cracks and water are appearing in the tunnel are quite unfounded.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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They were noted in an independent consultants' report. The Minister is rubbishing genuine concerns.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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If the Deputy intends to heighten concerns, to scare-monger in his constituency——

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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It is the residents who are objecting.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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If the Deputy wants to bring forward the benefit of the facts, and to lessen people's concerns and reassure them that all of the systems are in place to deal with their concerns, he should listen to what I am saying.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I object strongly to the way in which the question is being answered. Many residents have major, genuine concerns. They have tried to be very pro-active and work with Dublin City Council and local councillors but every time they raise the issues, they are not treated with respect. For example, when they telephone the advice helpline, there is no-one there to answer it. The Minister should not say that the people of Marino and Fairview are getting a fair crack of the whip. They are not.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I do not accept that.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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The Minister does not know the reality.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy appears to know more than any other Deputy in the House. We all share the same concern for the people we represent. Nobody has a monopoly on concern regarding any particular matter. The Deputy should not present matters in that way.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I have the right to represent my constituents.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I, the Government and other Deputies share the concerns equally. We want these projects dealt with quickly and in the fairest way possible for the residents.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Question 114: To ask the Minister for Transport if he will bring forward legislation before the end of 2004 as promised to allow for the break-up of CIE into three separate companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27078/04}]

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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The Government is committed to reform of public transport. A considerable amount of work on the detailed technical aspects of the restructuring of CIE has taken place in my Department and this work is ongoing. I am reviewing this work as well as consulting with stakeholders. When I have completed the review and my consultations with key stakeholders I will consider how to proceed generally and with regard to legislation.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I have a sense of déjÀ vu because I recall asking the same question of the Minister before the previous one. With the metro project gone down the tubes, if the pun can be excused, the future of buses has taken on a new urgency. I know the Minister has not said the metro project is definitely gone, but it has certainly been set back by ten years. Even if a decision was made in the morning, we would not have a metro or even a new Luas line within ten years. Buses therefore take on a special importance in the future.

Previous Ministers have said that we cannot have competition without breaking up CIE. Is that still the case or was it merely a distraction in order to postpone a decision? Can we have competition and still leave the Transport Act in place? It seems this is always the excuse for nothing being done. Dublin Bus is currently screaming for buses. It built a garage for buses it never acquired. It was promised 150 buses under the national development plan but they never arrived. Dublin Bus now has so much garage space that it is closing garages, though the promise under the national development plan was that the company would be fully resourced. Either Dublin Bus provides the buses, or competition must be allowed. There is currently a great need for extra buses, not merely for new routes but for existing routes.

Is the legislation responsible for the hold up or is there a lack of will to engage with CIE? What is the Minister's thinking in this area? Do we need to break up CIE in order to provide competition and put a few extra buses on the roads in Dublin? That is the only way in which a complete clogging up of the city can be prevented.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy raised many issues beyond the scope of the question. I have had very good discussions with the various trade unions and the management involved in the various aspects of transport in Dublin. All accept the terms of opening up the market in the future. There is only one matter on the agenda. What decisions can we make in this House which will improve the delivery of public transport to the customer in Dublin? It is that simple. I have no ideology in this area and am not interested in it. I am interested only in trying to reach a decision in conjunction with the different components involved in the public transport sector.

Many people have said to me recently that the improvement in Dublin Bus services in the past few years in terms of quality and increased service has been remarkable.

I want to be in a position to make decisions. I do not intend to involve any more consultants and I am engaged in direct discussions with the people involved in the delivery of the system.

The Deputy is correct that the 1932 Act is out of date and needs to be overhauled. The relevant legislation is being prepared. Not to proceed with reforming the legislation would be a serious mistake and we should proceed to do so.

I want to reach conclusions relatively quickly in respect of the market and Dublin Bus. I also want to see where investment can be made in the market. I am aware that Dublin Bus is seeking investment for itself and we want to see the best possible transport service put in place for the citizens of Dublin and for those from the rest of the country who visit the city on a regular basis.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Is the Minister stating that he is committed to competition but not necessarily to the legislation, the lack of which we have always been informed provides the barrier to competition? The legislation has been in preparation for at least five years and we were informed that there could not be competition until it was introduced. Is that the barrier?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Is the Deputy asking if the legislation is the barrier?

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Yes.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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The legislation is necessary and I am not stating that we do not need it. However, I do not want to present the matter in a way that would make it appear that it is merely about an ideological point of view. This matter involves the Dublin bus market and the delivery of services therein.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I understand that but we were previously informed that there cannot be competition until the legislation is passed. Is the Minister now saying something different?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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No, I am not saying that. I said that there would be competition and that there will be an open market in Dublin.