Dáil debates

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

4:00 am

Photo of Joe CareyJoe Carey (Clare, Fine Gael)
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Question 60: To ask the Minister for Transport the road maintenance budget for 2011; his plans to ensure that the damage done to the national and non national road network following the recent bad weather will be rectified; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2294/11]

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Question 76: To ask the Minister for Transport if he will assist local authorities in repairing roads damaged by the recent cold spell; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2280/11]

Photo of Arthur MorganArthur Morgan (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Question 89: To ask the Minister for Transport the way the recent weather conditions and the costs of having to deal with it have affected the funding for road improvements; if the cost of treating roads during the recent severe weather conditions will affect the budget for road projects and upgrades; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2197/11]

Photo of Jim O'KeeffeJim O'Keeffe (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Question 91: To ask the Minister for Transport if additional funding will be made available to the local authorities to assist in repairing the damage caused to regional and local roads as a consequence of the severe weather conditions in December 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2278/11]

Photo of Noel DempseyNoel Dempsey (Minister, Department of Transport; Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 60, 76, 89 and 91 together.

As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in relation to the national roads programme element of Transport 21. The construction, improvement and maintenance of individual national roads, including the cost of winter maintenance, are a matter for the National Roads Authority under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2007 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. The amount of money provided in the 2011 Estimates for funding national roads is €852.6 million.

The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of each local authority, in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from local authorities own resources and are supplemented by State road grants, which are inclusive of a weather risk factor. The initial selection and prioritisation of projects to be funded is also a matter for the local authority.

My role in addressing damage caused to the road network is in disbursing the amount of money provided in the 2011 Estimates for funding regional and local roads, that is, €374.576 million, in the most equitable and targeted manner possible.

I will announce the 2011 regional and local road grant allocations shortly.

Photo of Joe CareyJoe Carey (Clare, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for his reply. As he can appreciate, roads throughout the country have been left in a sorry state given the harsh winter we have experienced. I submitted this question in an effort to establish what the Minister intends to do, given the unprecedented damage that has been done to our roads. I travelled throughout County Clare over the weekend and there are potholes everywhere. The road from Ennis to Milltown Malbay is decimated. I want to know if the Minister intends to provide exceptional funding this year, in line with what he did last year, to allow county councils throughout the country fix the roads.

Photo of Noel DempseyNoel Dempsey (Minister, Department of Transport; Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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What I did last year was give the local authorities their allocations and more discretion in the way they would spend that funding. I asked them to focus on repair of roads badly damaged during the winter. When I have a finalised report from the local authorities on the recent spell of very bad weather it is my intention to do the same this year to allow maximum discretion in that regard.

I mentioned earlier and also in my answer that the primary responsibility for providing the funding for county and regional roads rests with the local authorities. They should try to ensure in their own budgets that they highlight the importance of local, regional and county roads by allocating extra funding to deal with the difficulties they say they face. Some county councils - not the Deputy's - provide as little as 5% of the cost of the roads and that does not display a huge commitment to the local and regional roads in some counties.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Was all of the funding last year to which the Minister referred used or was any of it given back to his Department? What was the Minister's reaction to the Road Safety Authority's statement that road conditions were contributory factors in quite a number of deaths on Irish roads between 2008 and 2009? What does the Minister have to say to motorists whose cars are being badly damaged, and in many cases accidents occurring, because of the very bad conditions of the secondary roads and by-roads, which are literally falling apart? Some of them have been described as war zones. Has he given any thought to issuing guidelines to the local authorities to get their act together and get those potholes fixed quickly to ensure the roads are safe for people to travel on? Motorists are paying a lot of money through motor tax and other taxes to travel on these roads.

Photo of Noel DempseyNoel Dempsey (Minister, Department of Transport; Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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If the Minister for Transport or any other Minister has to tell a local authority that it must keep its roads from being potholed it does not say much for the members of the local authorities concerned. In fairness, most of the local authorities take their responsibilities seriously in this particular area. There is always a dilemma at this time of the year regarding roads that are damaged, and particularly potholed. There is always a problem after a severe spell of frost. It does not even have to be as bad as the 27 days we experienced recently. I recognise that the Deputy referred to potholing but this is not a suitable time for full scale repairs. If local authorities throw some tar and chippings into the potholes, which wear away in a few days, they are accused of wasting money. A balance must be kept. I am not being facetious when I say that it is inevitable that not every road will be of a high standard, particularly at this time of year. From a road safety and a car maintenance point of view, motorists need to drive at a speed appropriate to the road conditions.

With regard to the other points the Deputy raised, to my knowledge and recollection all the money allocated to local authorities for road repairs was spent. There is no doubt that some road deaths are caused by road conditions, whether of the road surface or otherwise. I make the same plea to people to drive at an appropriate speed.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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After the extreme weather we have had, perhaps there is need for the Ministers for Transport and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to raise concerns with local authorities if there is strong evidence to suggest that they are not adequately financed or structured to deal with the current level of damage to roads. The situation is not a reflection on councillors. I understand what the Minister is saying but there is a responsibility for an emergency response at a national level, following the two extreme weather windows that happened within two weeks of each other.

After the first big freeze, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government announced that the Government was providing an emergency fund of €12 million for local authorities. Where and how was that money spent?

Photo of Noel DempseyNoel Dempsey (Minister, Department of Transport; Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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That provision included an allocation for damage other than road damage and is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I will ask Deputy Gormley to communicate with the Deputy in that regard.

Photo of Joe CareyJoe Carey (Clare, Fine Gael)
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Huge sums of money are left by local authorities to the end of the year. Clare County Council held back 40% of its funding for road repairs to October, November and December last, which is not the most appropriate time to carry out road works. My village of Clarecastle is a shocking example of work done in unsuitable weather conditions. Can the Minister give a directive to county councils to carry out the most substantial work between April and August? We need to get better value for money.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Could the Minister and his Department liaise with local authorities to get some of these damaged roads repaired? Does the Minister realise the anger and frustration experienced by motorists when they damage their cars badly? No matter what speed one drives at, if one drives into one of these craters one will do serious damage to an expensive vehicle, and perhaps cause danger and injury to pedestrians and others. Will the Minister take some responsibility, and agree that there is a national problem throughout the country that needs to be addressed? He must stop passing the buck.

Photo of Noel DempseyNoel Dempsey (Minister, Department of Transport; Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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I am not passing the buck.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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Not half.

Photo of Noel DempseyNoel Dempsey (Minister, Department of Transport; Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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Neither will I accept people who have local responsibility passing the buck to me. It is time people took responsibility. It is the responsibility of the local authorities to look after their local roads. By and large, they do that and do so reasonably well. I heard this rhetoric this time last year with regard to the roads. I heard fellows on the radio claiming it would take €1 billion to fix the damage to roads. It did not cost anything near that. Most local authorities managed to repair their roads, some of which were very badly damaged, within the timescale.

With regard to Deputy Carey's point about councils holding back money until the end of the year, that is a misreading of what actually happens. Local authorities do not submit their claims for the work they have done until the back end of the year.

Photo of Tom HayesTom Hayes (Tipperary South, Fine Gael)
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The Department does not come back. That is the issue.

Photo of Noel DempseyNoel Dempsey (Minister, Department of Transport; Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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I checked this at the time. Stories were circulating that money would not be spent. I checked the matter. Local authorities generally concentrate on completing the work up to late October or early November and then rush to get their claims in.

Photo of Joe CareyJoe Carey (Clare, Fine Gael)
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Does the Minister agree that is the wrong time to do the work?

Photo of Noel DempseyNoel Dempsey (Minister, Department of Transport; Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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I would prefer local authorities to get road works finished by the end of October, which is appropriate, and then rush to get claims in, than to have them wasting time submitting claims and not getting the work done, or doing it too late in the year. We must be fair to local authorities. They do a reasonably good job in this regard.

I know there are difficulties. I will make the allocation of funding clear to the local authorities shortly. I will also repeat what I said last year. That is, I will give them discretion to use their money to focus initially on roads that need repair and to make sure they are repaired as quickly as possible.