Dáil debates

Wednesday, 1 February 2006

Priority Questions.

Public Transport.

1:00 pm

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Question 107: To ask the Minister for Transport the position regarding bus transport policy; when same will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3567/06]

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Question 108: To ask the Minister for Transport if he will fulfil his commitment under the National Development Plan to provide Dublin Bus with an additional 180 buses before the end of 2006. [3476/06]

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 107 and 108 together.

I am committed to the further expansion of bus services both in Dublin and nationally. In this context, Transport 21 provides for significant Exchequer investment in expanding bus services in the greater Dublin area and in other urban and rural areas outside Dublin. As regards the bus market in Dublin, as I have indicated to this House previously, I requested Dublin Bus to carry out a network review to examine the impact of recent investment in rail infrastructure and demographic changes and if the existing bus fleet was being utilised to maximum effect. The review is also a necessary first step in the new investment programme set out in Transport 21. I understand the company is currently finalising the reviewand I expect to receive the completed report shortly.

In the meantime, Dublin Bus has recently submitted an application for funding to me for additional fleet requirements, which has due regard to the emerging findings of the network review. I will make a decision on the number of buses to be provided in 2006 when my Department's assessment of the application has been completed. I understand Bus Éireann is also finalising proposals for the expansion of its fleet and an application will be submitted to the Department shortly.

I appointed Professor Margaret O'Mahony of Trinity College Dublin, as chairperson of the Dublin Transport Authority establishment team, which will make recommendations to me regarding the structure, remit and responsibilities for the new authority. I will make my decision on the future regulation of the bus market throughout the country after Professor O'Mahony's team has reported on the structure, remit and responsibilities of the Dublin Transport Authority and the Government has made its decisions in this regard.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I take it the Minister does not have a bus policy and is just thinking about one. I know Dublin Bus is carrying out a review. A review was undertaken in 2000, the Scott Wilson report, which recommended that by 2006, this year, Dublin Bus would need around 1,500 buses. Of course that was a gross under-estimation of requirements, but nevertheless it has nothing like that, with just over 1,000 buses today. That report was ignored. Even the 180 buses promised under the national development plan was ignored. Prior to that the Government had announced policy based on the Bacon report on the liberalisation of the bus market in Dublin. That was accepted as Government policy. Another report was commissioned at great expense to show how it might be done. That was accepted by Government and subsequently ignored. In view of the latest report from the Competition Authority recommending the liberalisation of the bus market in order to get rid of the inefficiencies that are endemic in the current system, which is not serving the public well, does the Minister intend to ignore this report as well or will he liberalise the bus market as announced several times as Government policy?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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The supplementary question asked by the Deputy is very different from that submitted, but I am happy to deal with it.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Has the Minister a policy?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Of course I have and she well knows the policy. It is set out for her benefit quite clearly in Transport 21.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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There is not a mention of a bus in Transport 21.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Between the two of ye, every time ye get up and ask a question, ye want to keep going. Does the Deputy want me to answer the question?

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Never mind referring to us as "ye". There is nothing about buses in Transport 21.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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The Minister is in possession and should be allowed to answer.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Does the Deputy want me to answer the question?

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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There is nothing in Transport 21. The Minister should stick to the truth.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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If the Deputy wants me to answer, I have no problem, but she might allow me the same respect I have given her in putting the question.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I can try to ignore that.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I am not prepared to give to any agency under my aegis resources belonging to taxpayers without a basis and proper business plan for doing so. That is a reasonable position. Dublin Bus was made aware of this, as was Bus Éireann. They accepted the challenge. They accept that they have a responsibility to make a business case to me based on the network review they are carrying out. They say this is almost finished and expect to submit it to me shortly. On 20 January, some days ago, my Department received an application from Dublin Bus for a substantial enhancement of its fleet in Dublin. It is based on projections in advance of its completion of the network review. We are looking at that application in anticipation of the network review.

The second point of the Deputy's question is about my view, which I have stated to Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, unions and management. I want market opening in Dublin and around the country. I have no doubt about that. That is what I want to achieve. It is for the benefit of the customer and the commuter and we can have greatly enhanced capacity in terms of the delivery of the bus model as a transport mechanism both for Dublin and around the country. That must be part of the future.

3:00 pm

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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It is interesting the Minister says, as regards buses, that he wants market opening. The public wants buses and it does not care who owns or operates them. If the Minister goes to Westmoreland Street this evening between 5 o'clock and 7 o'clock he will see hundreds of people being turned away from buses because they are full. That is happening on a daily basis. It is being repeated in the morning all over the city of Dublin.

The Minister is changing the goalposts. He promised under the national development plan to provide a certain number of buses to Dublin Bus. He still owes them 180 buses before the end of this year, as the figures show. He has welched on that undertaking. The Government was supposed to provide funding for those extra buses and has failed to do that. The Minister has 11 months left to honour that commitment, if he intends to do so. Is the Minister aware that three new quality bus corridors have been created by Dublin Bus in the last year on which there are no buses? The road space has been provided, the white lines have been painted and the signs are up but there are no buses because the Minister continues to stall on this issue. He has failed to provide the additional buses that were promised.

It is time to end the excuses. People are sick and tired of the fact that they cannot travel to work or move around the city because there are not enough buses to do so. When will the Minister deal with the immediate situation? It is all very well to have grand plans for the next 15 years but we need solutions now to Dublin's traffic gridlock. In the short term and for the foreseeable future, that solution must be bus-based. When will the Minister provide the buses?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I only received the application some days ago, on 20 January. Time is needed to process the application.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Do not get into this.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy asked me when more buses will be put into the market.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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That is nonsense. The application was made last summer.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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The Minister is in possession.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Is the Minister living in a different world from the rest of us?

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The application was made to the Minister last summer. He had promised the buses anyway.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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The difference between Deputy Shortall and Deputy Olivia Mitchell is that Deputy Shortall does not want the market opened while Deputy Mitchell does.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Stop changing the subject. What people want is buses.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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So it is our fault now.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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There are fundamentally different and opposite views on that side of the House.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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The Minister and the Government promised this in 1998.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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When will the Minister buy the buses?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Mitchell is seeking an opening of the market——

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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When will it happen? When will there be buses on the streets?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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——while Deputy Shortall does not want the market opened.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Answer the question.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Shortall does not want it; Deputy Mitchell does.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Answer the question.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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The Fine Gael position is that it wants liberalisation but the Labour Party——

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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What does this have to do with the Minister's job?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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It has everything to do with what the Deputy is saying in the House this afternoon.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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In other words, the Minister is going to——

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Shortall and the Labour Party want no opening of the market.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Where are the buses?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I agree with Deputy Shortall on one point. She is correct that the customers want buses. They do not mind who delivers the buses——

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Yes, the Minister promised them.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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——so long as they are available. I have urged both Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann to send me the plans so I can release the buses. It would be irresponsible of me, or any Minister, simply to waste taxpayers' money on no basis. The cost of the application that has arrived from Dublin Bus is €120 million. The Labour Party Members speak every day about value for money in expenditure on health and education. Is it the Labour Party position on transport that there should be no value for money, that the buses should simply be provided and that we should have no business plans, no demonstrable use for the buses, no way of showing how they will be paid for and no way of considering what the subvention is for the buses?

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Is the Minister saying there is no demand for the buses?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy should be consistent.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Is the Minister saying there is no demand?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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There is.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Well, where are they?

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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The Minister had nine years to put the plans in place.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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If Fine Gael and the Labour Party want value for money in every aspect of what the Government does, I agree with them. Do not, therefore, suggest in the House that I, as Minister for Transport, with no basis of a network review and without a business case should willy-nilly spend €120 million of taxpayers' money immediately. The Members are contradicting themselves and it is time it stopped. They have been getting away with it——

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Not one extra bus has been provided in five years.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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——but they will not get away with it as far as I am concerned. They cannot have it both ways on value for money.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Not one extra bus has been provided and that is the reality.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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The Minister knows as well as I do that this is nonsense; it is a time-wasting exercise. He has been in Government for nine years and there has been plenty of time to prepare any plans or value for money assessment that is required. Since 1998 it has been Government policy to liberalise the bus market——

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy's party was in power within the nine years and did nothing about it.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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No, we were not.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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It was.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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The Minister cannot count either. In 1998, the Government decided to liberalise the bus market. It is now 2006 and the Government has been in power consistently over that period. When will the bus market be liberalised? There are thousands of new communities consisting of newly married couples and new house owners. These communities have no buses; they are utterly bereft of any form of public transport. The first thing the people must do is buy a car and then the Minister wonders why there is congestion and why an outer ring road must be built. The reason is that these communities are bereft of services. The Minister has already spent €117 million building bus lanes. Another €40 million is to be spent this year but there are no buses, and no prospect of buses, to travel on them. When will the Minister liberalise the market?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I am not sure in what part of the country the Fine Gael Party or the Labour Party live but since 1998 the liberalisation in the bus market in this country has been phenomenal. The number of private operators operating in the bus market has gone through the roof in that short period. Ask the customers. Private operators are running services from practically every part of Ireland today and from places where there was no service. They have brought tremendous competition to the market, lowered prices on the routes and forced the State bus companies to change their ways.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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They are frustrated at every turn by the Department and Dublin Bus.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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They have expanded dramatically. The number of services available has had a huge impact in liberalising the market. An issue remains and that is the on-street delivery of bus services in Dublin, on which both Fine Gael and the Labour Party have diametrically opposed views. One party wants the market liberalised to allow private operators onto the bus market in Dublin——

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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What does the Minister want? What is he going to do?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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——while the Labour Party does not want that to happen.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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What will the Minister do?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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They do not have a united front on this. They are split on the issue.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Does Fianna Fáil have a united front with the Progressive Democrats? Do Progressive Democrats Members agree with the Minister? Do they even know his position?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputies are obfuscating by coming after me and the Government but they are wrong.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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It is extraordinary to hear the Minister talking about problems in the Opposition and whether they agree with each other. It has nothing to do with us.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputies are trying to pretend to the people that they have a cohesive alternative when they do not.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The Minister is the person who has the power to deliver and the funding to solve this problem, if he has the political will to do it.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I agree.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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He should stop trying to distract attention from his failure——

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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So there should be no basis for spending. That is the Labour Party view.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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Deputy Shortall, without interruption.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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——to deliver on what he promised to do. All this ideological debate is just a cover——

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I am not having an ideological debate.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The Minister is using it as a cover to distract attention from the fact that he has not delivered the 180 buses which were promised to Dublin Bus under the national development plan. They are supposed to be in place at the end of this year. Furthermore, despite the huge demand for bus services throughout this city, the Minister has failed to provide a single extra bus for the Dublin Bus fleet since 2001.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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That is not true. We have provided hundreds of buses.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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No, they were replacement buses. The Minister has not provided an extra bus——

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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So they are different. Are we classifying new buses as different now?

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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They are different.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Hundreds of new buses have been provided in Dublin.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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When a new bus is provided, an old bus is removed. There is no expansion in capacity.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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That is an operational matter for Dublin Bus.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The Minister should not be disingenuous. There is a difference between a new bus and a replacement bus. There has been no net increase in capacity or in the number of buses in Dublin Bus since 2001. That is entirely down to the Minister. The reason people are squashed on buses or not allowed onto them and have no option but to take their car into the city centre is that the Minister has failed to provide the adequate number of buses that were promised. He has reneged on that promise.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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A final reply from the Minister.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased we have had this discussion.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The public is not pleased.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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We now have more clarity about policy. For the first time it is clear how shallow and hollow are the calls of the Labour Party for value for money.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The Minister should talk about his own performance.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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What is his policy?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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They ring utterly and abysmally untrue.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The Minister's performance is abysmal.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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The position of the Labour Party is clear. There should be no business planning, no network review, no proposals to a Minister——

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Stop changing the subject. What is the Minister doing?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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A Minister should be a rubber stamp——

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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He is doing nothing.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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——to waste taxpayers' money.

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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On a point of order, Question Time is for questions to the Minister, not questions to the Opposition.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I am telling both Deputies that I will not do it. I will not waste money——

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The Minister is not doing anything. That is the problem.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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——unlike what Deputy Shortall and Deputy Mitchell have said. I will not do business that way.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The Minister talks about plans for the future but there are none for now.