Dáil debates

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Priority Questions

National Development Plan.

1:00 pm

Marian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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Question 31: To ask the Minister for Transport the steps he will take to address the transport infrastructure deficit in the Border, midlands and western region in view of the transport underspend in the national development plan in the BMW region. [41616/06]

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Very considerable road investment is being made under the provisions of Transport 21 in the Border, midlands and western region, far surpassing previous levels of investment in national roads in the area. Spending in the region for the years 2000 to 2005 amounted to €1.581 billion. The most recent forecast for the final outturn figure for national roads investment in the region for the period from 2000 to 2006 is €2012.531 million, which is €534.96 million less than the amount originally envisaged.

At the start of the ESIOP, a relatively small number of major road projects in the BMW region had progressed through the planning, design and public procurement processes. The NRA provided grant assistance towards accelerating that work. As a result, there was an intensification of planning and design activity on major roads projects, resulting in a sharp upturn in the number of projects arriving at the construction stage, and a corresponding increase in the level of spending on national roads in the region since the beginning of 2004.

Construction work on several projects will continue after 2006. There is no question of an underspend or a loss of funding in respect of national roads in the BMW region. The position is that, at an early point after 2006, the total level of investment originally envisaged for the seven-year period from the start of 2000 to the end of 2006 will not only be reached but surpassed.

Of particular note in the BMW region is the development of the complete N6 route between Athlone and Galway to high-quality dual carriageway standard — effectively motorway standard, which I will designate it as in time. The 56 km Ballinasloe to Galway section, which will start construction next year, will be one of the largest schemes ever undertaken in Ireland. In addition, the Athlone to Ballinasloe scheme will commence construction the following year, 2008. When completed in 2010, the two schemes will effectively provide a motorway-quality east-west route linking Galway to Athlone and onwards to Dublin.

In tandem with the work on the N6 route, work is also ongoing to provide modern north-south linkages along the western seaboard. In particular, the key linkage between Limerick and Galway is well advanced. I look forward to opening the N18 section of the Ennis bypass this month, several months ahead of schedule. North of the Ennis bypass, the statutory documentation — compulsory purchase order and environmental impact statement — for the next two schemes, Gort to Crusheen and Oranmore to Gort, was published in 2006 and currently await approval from An Bord Pleanála.

Those two schemes will provide a total of approximately 50 km of high-quality dual carriageway. They will connect directly with the N6 Galway to Ballinasloe project, which is starting construction next year. In addition, to the south of Ennis, the Limerick tunnel scheme, connecting the N18 to the southern ring road around Limerick, is now under construction and will be completed in 2010. Those schemes, when completed, will provide, in conjunction with the Ennis bypass and the other completed schemes on the route, a high-quality and high-capacity dual carriageway connecting Limerick with Galway.

Investment in the above schemes represents close to €2 billion. In addition, many other schemes are being advanced throughout the region including the N55 Cavan bypass, the N15 from Ballyshannon to Bundoran, the N4 Edgeworthstown bypass, the N52 Mullingar bypass, and the N2 Monaghan bypass, which opened in 2006.

Other BMW schemes currently under construction include the N6 Kinnegad to Kilbeggan and Kilbeggan to Athlone schemes, with an estimated combined cost of over €500 million. Further schemes under construction in the BMW region include the N4 from Dromod to Rooskey; the N2 Castleblayney bypass; the N5 Charlestown bypass; the N52 from Mullingar to Belvedere; and the N56 from Mountaintop to Illistrim. Numerous other schemes are at varying stages of the planning process, including projects on the N5, N14, N15 and N26 routes.

I would also like to mention the western rail corridor.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The exact road type to be constructed along any route is a function of predicted traffic levels. The NRA has yet to make a final determination of the road types to develop along various routes. However, it is already clear that significant sections of the Atlantic corridor will be developed to dual carriageway standard.

In addition to those road investments, I announced in September last the phased reopening of the western rail corridor from Ennis to Claremorris and the upgrade, for commuter services, of the Athenry to Galway line. Completion of the project will provide a rail link between the cities of Limerick and Galway, with an onward connection to Claremorris on the Dublin-Westport line. That new line will also facilitate the provision of inter-regional services in the BMW region.

Marian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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I thank the Minister for his answer. He listed several projects, but the issue I wish to highlight is the underspend on national roads under the NDP. Figures from his Department to June 2006 indicate that spending is €700 million behind in the BMW region. His most recent figure was approximately €600 million. At that point, the south and east of the State had an overspend of €1.1 billion. That follows an underspend in the last NDP, which covered the period up to 2000. Some 7% or 9% of funding had been supposed to go to Clare, Connacht and Donegal, and the Western Development Commission confirmed that it had fallen to 4%.

We have therefore seen an underspend up to 2000 and a continuation of that trend up to 2006. I understand the money will be ring-fenced and spent. Of course it will be spent, but we will be playing catch-up while the south and east power ahead. They are already well ahead and we will be playing catch-up in 2007 and 2008, when those moneys should already have been spent. Despite the list of projects that the Minister had, which I accept are in place, we are still far behind, and the infrastructural gap will not be closed.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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The Deputy should put a question. This is Question Time.

Marian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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The Minister spoke of the western rail corridor. How can he justify half-finishing it to Claremorris by 2014, which is only one year behind completion of the metro? I accept that the latter is needed, and I am delighted to see it coming on stream, but it has not even been costed. The Minister costed the western rail corridor and will half-finish it to Claremorris by 2014. How can he justify that situation?

When I tabled my question to the Minister, half of it was rejected. A note came back stating that the Minister has no official responsibility to the Dáil regarding dual carriageways north of a line from Dublin to Galway, or completion dates for the Atlantic road corridor. I was astounded when I read it. Has the Minister abdicated his responsibility to the NRA? Who is the person responsible? If I want an answer, I need to know where the buck stops and whom I can ask if, according to the Ceann Comhairle, the Minister is not responsible. If the Minister does not accept responsibility for building roads, why is he there when they are opened?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Why is it that every other colleague in the Dáil, from whatever party, seems to wish to join me in the photographs? It is hard to say that I do not accept responsibility. I seem to have been given it for almost every problem in the country, so we can knock that rumour on the head. I do not want to go through what may be an embarrassment for the Deputy, having read out an extraordinary long list of developments.

Marian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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The Minister should be embarrassed at the underspend.

Séamus Pattison (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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Please allow the Minister to speak without interruption.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Frankly, it would take more than what the Deputy has said to embarrass me.

Marian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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Perhaps because the Minister does not care.

Photo of Donie CassidyDonie Cassidy (Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Deputy back.

Marian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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I thank Deputy Cassidy.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased and thankful that people in the west have acknowledged that since I entered office as a Minister who understood the needs of the regions, I have substantially rebalanced investment in the roads programme.

Photo of Donie CassidyDonie Cassidy (Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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It is evident from what I have said in the House today that in the past two years, investment in the BMW region has been extraordinarily substantial. The Deputy is right that it is somewhat behind. My job is not only to ensure that it is achieved. I would have thought she would have been pleased that I told her I intend to surpass what it was originally planned to spend in the western region.

Marian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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We are playing catch-up.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I am not sure how many Ministers of Transport have stood in the House to answer questions on the western rail corridor. However, I secured Government approval to reinstate it, and the money to do so.

Photo of Donie CassidyDonie Cassidy (Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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That is widely acknowledged in the west. The Deputy belatedly acknowledged this point. It is very important that those in the west and everywhere else understand that the investment we make in our capital city benefits everyone in the country, not only those who live in Dublin or on its periphery. There is business interaction with Dublin and the ability to transfer goods and services around the country and build up tourism in the west and east, and throughout the country. We all have a vested interest in our capital city being one of the most thriving and respected economically dynamic capitals in Europe today.