Dáil debates

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Project Ireland 2040: Statements (Resumed)

 

1:45 pm

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister, Deputy Harris, who is leaving the Chamber, is probably too young to remember a television programme called "Jackanory" but the speech he just delivered would have featured as one of the classics on the old "Jackanory" programme.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I myself cannot remember that one. Deputy Lahart is showing his age.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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My contribution will focus on Dublin, and specifically on my own constituency.

When the Government announced that it would embark on an advertising campaign in relation to the national development plan, most had a notion that it would take the form of the kind of formalised departmental-type advertisements that we see in newspapers announcing plans or inviting submissions. I was surprised when I picked up the Evening Heraldyesterday to see a double-page spread that, to a person browsing through the newspaper, appears like normal articles. It is a double-page spread of articles but at the top is the little giveaway, "In partnership with the Government of Ireland."

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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This is not customary.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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To the ordinary reader, that is a two-page spread article with quite a tabloid-like presentation.

It includes interviews with a number of persons, one of which is with the famous singer from Aslan, Mr. Christy Dignam. Christy is quoted in it. He welcomes it and states that it is very good news for Finglas, which it is, and he wishes the building work would not take nine years. Someone did not tell him that the building work will take nine years from 2027 because the Finglas Luas line is not included in the projects from 2018 to 2027. The advertisement also implies that construction work on this is beginning tomorrow.

Dr. Constantin Gurdgiev is quoted in the advertisement as well and a Finglas youth worker is also quoted. The youth worker is quoted as saying, "The link will give young people a better chance in life." What I am asking is, what young people of what generation are being thought of here? It certainly will not give the young people who live in Finglas right now a better chance in life, as the Minister will be aware, because this will be post-2027. A child born in Finglas today will not set foot on this Luas until he or she is about to enter post-primary school. In fact, well beyond post-primary school, he or she could be going to college because this is a plan for post-2027.

Did any of the three persons who feature in this article know they were contributing to an advertisement feature or that this was part of the Government's communication strategy? Was anybody paid to contribute to this article? How much did this double-page spread cost in a major national newspaper? Essentially, this is a party political advertisement in a national newspaper in what is a marginal constituency in which the sitting Fine Gael Deputy is fighting to hold on to his seat. Therefore, this is targeted political advertising that is, essentially, being paid for by the taxpayer. In the words of Christy Dignam, I can ask, "How can I protect you from this crazy [Government]", as opposed to "crazy world"?" This is something we will be coming back to repeatedly.

If the Government is trying to communicate with people in relation to developments, why is not taking out advertisements in national newspapers about the chronic traffic congestion in Dublin or explaining the dangerous overcrowding on Luas, the recent electricity breakdown that affected hundreds of businesses at peak time in Dublin or all the porkies the Taoiseach told about hospital waiting lists this week, on which he was called out by an exceptionally reputable journalist in The Sunday Business Post? I checked one or two of the newspapers that serve my area, Southside Peoplebeing one, The Echobeing another, and there were no ads for the national development plan, no ads from the Government's communications unit and no ads for Project Ireland 2040. If there were ads in The Echo, Southside Peopleor any other newspapers covering my constituency, they would show a blank page because there is nothing for the people of Dublin South-West in the national development plan. I invite people who might be watching or listening to this debate, constituents, to google the national development plan. They will see a PDF of the national development plan. If they open the PDF, they can do a word search. If they search for townlands such as Rathfarnham, Tallaght, Templeogue, Ballycullen, Whitechurch, Ballyboden, Marlay or Greenhills, they will find absolutely nothing. They will find they are sandwiched between the Luas red line and green line. This vast swathe of south and south-west County Dublin has been abandoned by Fine Gael and by the Government in the national development plan. The people who live there are particularly challenged by chronic traffic congestion. As I mentioned to the Minister the other night, they have sight of the M50 but their access to it is proving impossible.

In all the talk of housing and increased density, there is no mention in the national development plan of increasing recreational facilities, which must be a basic standard when we talk about increased housing. There is no talk of providing additional swimming pools or major parks facilities to service the increased density of housing envisaged.

There are a few mentions of Tallaght in the national development plan, such as the renal unit and the intensive care unit in Tallaght hospital, but these projects were initiated by Tallaght hospital itself. The HSE delayed, and continues to delay, the launch and tender of these projects, and now we find them wrapped up in the national development plan. The Dublin technological university is relaunched in the national development plan. It should not be part of the plan.

I am quite convinced BusConnects, parts of which I think are only at pre-consultation stage, will not come online for another three or four years as far as its impact on people in my constituency is concerned, but this is all wrapped up and repackaged in the national development plan. Meanwhile, the Minister's constituency, which already has the Luas green line, will get a metro, and still we have this large gap from Dundrum all along the corridor and right out to Tallaght and everywhere in between. There is no talk of a spur line. This does not even have to be a line on track; once it is a segregated, dedicated, exclusive corridor for public transport, I think people would accept it as a mid-term measure. However, there is absolutely no such measure in the development plan. As I mentioned the other night, there are no measures for the here and now. I absolutely accept the need for a national development plan and a national planning framework. However, what the Government lacks are proposals to deal with what happens between now and when all this infrastructure is built out, which in some cases will take between ten and 20 years. In the meantime, traffic coming into the city builds up on all the arteries leading into it. In the 1990s, if one lived in somewhere like Rathfarnham or Tallaght, one could endure the congestion because one saw the M50 physically being built every day. In the early 2000s, one could endure the congestion because one saw the Luas under construction. However, it will be a decade before anyone sees a shovel in the ground or earthworks happening in any part of Dublin on any of the projects proposed here, and even longer for some of the critical proposals.

To follow on what a previous speaker said about Dublin, as a Dubliner and a Dublin representative - I appeal to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on this as a voice at the Cabinet table - the challenge for Dublin is to compete with international cities. I think everyone pretty well accepts that. This was one of the reasons behind Fianna Fáil's proposal for a directly elected mayor, so that Dublin could go out and compete with Copenhagen, Barcelona and all the other cities to attract business and investment into Ireland. What this national development plan sets up is competition between Dublin, Limerick, Cork and Galway, which is the very last thing we want to do. Dublin and Dubliners have a right to insist and expect that this county and capital will continue to be allowed to fulfil its potential as a destination, a place to do business and a place to attract investment. However, what the Government has done in the national development plan is to set Dublin up in competition with other cities in the country as opposed to other cities outside the country in attracting competition.

There is no mention of big issues for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport such as air pollution along the M50 corridor and some of the other major routes such as the N81 and noise pollution issues in respect of the M50 corridor for people who reside adjacent to it. These are really significant issues that have not been addressed in the national development plan, and nor has a Government commitment to take the kind of approach to parts of my constituency and other constituencies that are ravaged by drugs and disadvantage been taken in the Government's initiatives regarding the north inner city. These are just some of my responses to the national development plan.

1:55 pm

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin Rathdown, Independent)
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I welcome this opportunity to address the House on Project Ireland 2040. The programme of investment set out in the national development plan will result in a comprehensive road, bus and rail network providing a high level of service to all regions of the country, linking all parts. The planned investment in transport will also prepare for increases in demand. All this is even more important as the potential risks of Brexit make access to a range of routes to global markets for trade and tourism all the more important. It is an investment priority to ensure that the existing extensive transport networks are maintained to a high level to ensure quality levels of service, accessibility and connectivity for transport users. Protecting our vital national assets and keeping them safe and fit for purpose will be key. While we are planning for the long term, we are also increasing services in the short term and completing an existing medium-term programme of investment right out to 2022.

Investment in public transport will be accelerated under the NDP to support the development of an integrated and sustainable national public transport system both to reverse emerging congestion problems and secure a significant improvement in public transport services. BusConnects is an investment priority to radically transform the bus system and deliver a step change in performance across our cities. The benefits of BusConnects will come on stream progressively from 2019. BusConnects will aim to introduce continuous bus lanes on the busiest bus corridors along with a network of park-and-ride facilities at key locations. It will also involve major improvements in ticketing and information. Dublin will pioneer the system and, as the other cities develop transport strategies, investment will also be available for roll-out of BusConnects in the main cities. Metro link is a key transport investment priority, with indicated funding of €3 billion. We will consult with the public on metro link, which will serve people from Swords to Sandyford. Construction will commence after this consultation and approval process, likely to be 2021, with a view to delivering the project by 2027. The DART expansion programme will focus on delivery of priority elements of the programme using the recently opened rail link under the Phoenix Park. This includes buying additional fleet for the DART network and measures such as resignalling and junction and station changes followed by a programme of electrification to provide high-frequency electrified services to Drogheda, Celbridge-Hazelhatch, Maynooth and Greystones. Comprehensive cycling and walking networks will be developed in cities under the national development plan. This programme will provide safe alternative active travel routes to help alleviate congestion by providing viable alternatives and connectivity with existing public transport infrastructure.

Building on the success of Government's continued investment in the Luas network, we will undertake appraisal, planning and design in the context of expanding the network to Bray, Finglas, Lucan and Poolbeg. A light rail corridor for Cork will also be appraised for the later stages of the period of the Cork transport strategy. These appraisals will ensure that we will be ready to expand the Luas where and when it is needed in line with sustained development and increasing demand in these areas. There is a strong link between investment in public transport and an increased need for operational funding. This is particularly the case for rural public transport services, which we are also planning to maintain and grow. This fact is rightly recognised in the national development plan.

The aim of the national planning framework is to consolidate the growing population in ways that allow efficient public transport systems and more walking or cycling journeys. This provides meaningful alternatives to the private car, the benefits of which are not limited to reducing CO2 emissions but also include lessening congestion and yielding more liveable towns and cities. As part of the national development plan, we will introduce more environmentally-friendly buses in Ireland's cities. Furthermore, investment is earmarked to support the transition to zero emission capable cars. The bold target of having 500,000 electric vehicles in our national car fleet by 2030 further signifies the extent of our commitment to decarbonise our transport sector over time. This all adds to the choice and experience of the travelling public, connecting more people with more places, easing congestion in our cities and combating climate change.

The importance of air connectivity for this island nation cannot be overstated. Ireland is well served by its airports and has a wide range of routes for business, leisure and tourism. The national development plan includes priority infrastructural improvements at our State airports as well as support for safety and security related projects at the smaller regional airports under the regional airports programme. The north runway at Dublin Airport is a nationally important piece of infrastructure, where, following a sustained period of recovery and growth, additional capacity is now required. Dublin Airport served close to 30 million passengers in 2017 and is a key enabler for the Irish economy. The international connectivity which will be afforded by a new runway is vital to our future prosperity, especially in a post-Brexit environment.

Shannon Group has plans to invest over €150 million in the coming years. This includes the construction of a wide-body paint hangar at Shannon Airport and the development of the group's considerable property portfolio to deliver high-quality, advanced commercial property that supports employment in that region. It will also support tourism in the region.

The ports of Dublin, Cork and Shannon Foynes are key international maritime gateways, handling approximately 90% of all goods received. The national development plan recognises the importance of ports in connecting Ireland to the rest of the world. Over the next five years, Dublin Port will progress infrastructure investment of roughly €230 million. The Port of Cork is investing in the region of €90 million and Shannon Foynes Port will be investing approximately €27 million. This investment will provide additional capacity through increasing the number, size and depth of berths, thereby preparing the ports for increases in ship sizes and frequency.

Strengthening access routes to Ireland's ports through investment to upgrade and enhance the road transport network to improve journey times remains a Government priority. For example, the development of the M11 improves connectivity to Rosslare Port in the south-east. Regrettably, roads funding, like so many other vital public goods and services, has been far less available than anyone would have liked in recent years. My Department has carried out detailed and robust studies to show what funding is needed to maintain our roads. This is why I welcome clear recognition in the national development plan of the importance of maintaining our transport network, particularly our roads. I know that the everyday condition of local, regional and national roads concerns people and businesses in every corner of Ireland, and a commitment of €4.5 billion for local and regional roads has been made under the national development plan. I am passionate about making our roads safer. In that context, properly maintained roads are safer roads.

These are investments in stronger regions, in greater resilience to the impacts of Brexit and in supporting public transport. Facing into Brexit, it is important that all our transport sectors feed into and complement each other. Connectivity is the key, connecting more people to more places. For example, the N28 Cork to Ringaskiddy road will connect the new development of the Port of Cork at Ringaskiddy with Cork city and the rest of the country. Similarly, the new N69-N21 will not only relieve congestion from the busy tourist and commuter town of Adare, it will also enhance access to Shannon Foynes Port. The planned N6 Galway ring road and the N11-M11 from Kilmacanogue will enable better, faster and more consistent bus services. Of course, the M20 project will substantially complete the Atlantic corridor.

Tourism will play a key role in strengthening rural economics and communities. The tourism sector provides employment for approximately 225,000 people throughout the country and contributes significantly to the development of rural areas. The success of the Mayo and Waterford greenways in particular show the impact that greenways can have on transforming rural communities. In the period up to 2021, almost €108 million will be allocated to Fáilte Ireland for investment in tourism product development. Fáilte Ireland will continue to invest in the experience brands of the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East and in a new brand for the midlands. Tourism Ireland will continue to invest in capabilities to ensure that Ireland really stands out and inspires and motivates people across the world to visit Ireland.

Sport plays a key role in improving the health and well-being of our young people in particular and it is vital that we strive to increase sport participation. The sports capital programme provides funding to voluntary, sporting and community organisations for the provision of sports and recreational facilities. Allocations under the most recent round of the programme were made at the end of last year, when we allocated a total of €60 million to 1,807 different sporting projects.

We will continue to invest in key programmes over the lifetime of the national development programme to support our people and our communities, I am delighted that Project Ireland 2040 commits to establishing a new large-scale sports infrastructure fund for larger projects. The new fund is designed to provide a more structured approach for such funding and €100 million is being provided. The full terms and conditions of the scheme will be finalised in the coming months.

The National Sports Campus has been a very successful development at Abbotstown in Dublin. Its inclusion in Project Ireland 2040 is fantastic and its future planning is an integral part of the development of Irish sport. Phase 2 of the national indoor arena will be completed next year. Construction of a national velodrome and badminton centre is due for completion by 2021. A review of the master plan for the campus's development will be completed this year and will be aligned with wider Government capital planning.

We are also seeking, by means of the national development plan, to mitigate some of the potential implications of Brexit. While we cannot determine the exact implications of Brexit with any degree of certainty at this stage, we do recognise that transport connectivity is crucial and that any disruption to our connectivity will impact on our international trade and tourism sectors.

Project Ireland 2040 sets out a detailed and positive vision for Ireland's transport infrastructure over the next decade. The national development plan will deliver a greener public transport network that will provide high-quality passenger interchange points, which facilitate convenient transfer between efficient and integrated public transport services that connect all parts of the country. All the planned investment in public transport combined will add greatly to the choice and experience of the travelling public, connecting more people with more places, easing congestion in our cities and combating climate change. Following publication, our focus will turn to delivery that achieves value for money for the taxpayer and enables sustained development and growth as set out in the national planning framework.

2:05 pm

Photo of Michael HartyMichael Harty (Clare, Independent)
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As a rural Deputy, my concern is how Project Ireland 2040 will improve the development of county towns and smaller centres of population, including our villages. This is a ten-year capital plan for bricks and mortar and a 20-year vision for national development in designing where people will live and work. I felt a little uneasy when I saw the media hype surrounding the launch of the two documents. It was as if the Government was trying to convince itself about the merits of these projects, not to mention convincing the electorate. Six days later, we are back to trying to solve our current crises, namely, those relating to the shortage of housing and the health service.

In our health service, an average of 612 people have been on trolleys over the past four days. This is equal to the peak number on trolleys on 6 January 2017. We need to reform our health service through Sláintecare, but that is as much about reforming culture, process and management structures as it is about introducing bricks and mortar and building new services and new hospitals.

Planning and projections are, of course, important and there will be no perfect document. However, I feel that the rush to put this on a statutory footing is ill-judged, especially before it is closely examined. The plan is very urban centred, concentrating service and infrastructure development in five cities and a few provincial towns of strategic political importance. Vast areas of rural Ireland will fall further behind in job opportunities and sustainability. We need balanced regional development but we also need balanced development within our regions. Rather than having a view of not wishing to spread resources thinly, we should take the view that each citizen should have an equal opportunity to live and work outside urban centres, or at least have that choice.

Connectivity and infrastructure should allow a more even distribution of jobs and people, and not create a number of city states. Our 19th century county towns need to be rejuvenated, not just as places to live, but also as places to work. Our villages need to be sustainable and vibrant, but they can only do so if there is employment within or nearby and if farming is supported as a viable career.

Out of a total of €116 billion, a €1 billion rural regeneration and development fund over a ten year period equates to less than 1% spread over 26 counties. Other developments in Project Ireland 2040 will indirectly help non-urban centres. However, an allocation of €1 billion out of €116 billion can hardly be described as balanced or fair, particularly when one compares it the resources going into our cities and major urban centres.

I listened to the leader of the Green Party, Deputy Eamon Ryan, during the last discussion of the plan. His contribution to this debate extolled the virtue of compact urban living, arguing that Project Ireland 2040 did not go far enough in urbanisation. He is not alone in this regard. Rather than create jobs more evenly outside cities, he proposes to bring people into cities and concentrate jobs therein, building urban cores where people live and work to the detriment of rural society. The Green Party is clearly more an urban Green Party than an inclusive all-Ireland Green Party. This plan sees rural Ireland as a holiday playground rather than an economic entity which is sustainable all year round. The Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East need to have people living and working along their paths. How can they be sustainable if there is not a hinterland and an indigenous population?

Compact development is the main theme of Project Ireland 2040, concentrating on five major cities for living and job creation. Adherents to this philosophy will appreciate this plan. However, if one believes we should be building a society which is more diverse, then this plan is a major disappointment. Must we always strive to squeeze the maximum efficiency, with no regard to quality of life or a balanced society? Must we concentrate on our economy rather than our society? How will citizens afford to buy or rent in high-density centres? Will they be happy with their quality of life? I predict that compact urban development in five urban centres will suck the life-blood from our towns and villages, should there be any left in those areas, as many of your young people have already migrated to our cities or emigrated to foreign parts due to the lack of job opportunities.

The plan does have positive aspects. The development of green energy is to be welcomed. Renewable energy projects harnessing natural offshore wind, wave and solar energy are important policy objectives. The development of functional and practical electric cars is a goal worth pursuing. Looking at a green future for Moneypoint and all other peat-burning stations is the right thing to do.

The Minister of Health, Deputy Simon Harris, recently referred to the Sláintecare report and the plan to provide 2,600 extra beds. I note that the population of Ireland is projected to increase by 1,000,000, which is equivalent to the requirement of an additional 2,600 beds. As such, these 2,600 beds will just allow us to stand still. Yes, the provision of elective-only hospitals is very positive. However, we must look at the culture, process and management changes that need to occur in our health service. That is the core of the Sláintecare report. It is not just about bricks and mortar.

I welcome the capital programme to provide €100 million for the development of Shannon Group property portfolio and the €10 million sum for the development of the Bunratty visitor centre. However, developing the infrastructure of Dublin Airport for an overwhelmingly dominant role in air travel is very unbalanced, particularly when the airports of Shannon, Cork and Knock have substantial passenger capacity and potential as aviation hubs. The proposed M20 motorway between Cork and Limerick, which links the motorway north to Tuam and eventually to Sligo, is essential for the region and is welcome. I also welcome the proposal to build 3,500 social houses in County Clare as part of the Rebuilding Ireland plan. Ultimately, county towns and villages of Clare will depend on what proportion of the €1 billion rural regeneration and development fund, which is earmarked for towns with a population of less than 1,000, they can access. The sum of €1 billion is a fraction of €116 Billion. When one considers that Metro North will cost €3.2 billion, and probably more, the regional disparity in investment is put in perspective.

On the positive side I feel Clare is in a strong position to tap into the proposed rejuvenation and development fund. I hope this fund will synchronise with Clare rural development strategy 2026, which was launched last September by the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Michael Ring. Clare was the first county to launch a rural development strategy following the Government’s action plan for rural development. The elected members and the executive of Clare County Council are to be congratulated for developing this plan. The ten year strategy targets the creation of 4,000 jobs over the lifetime of the plan through the development of community-led social enterprises supported by Enterprise Ireland, the Clare Local Enterprise Office, the Office of the Action Plan for Jobs, the Leader programme and the rural and community support unit of Clare County Council. Digital hubs will be established at numerous locations throughout the county to support rural enterprise by facilitating e-working, small-scale training and conferencing. The strategy also targets the development of community-run multi-service centres, which will aim to provide a range of public services such as GP care, postal services, social protection, health care, transport, advice and information from a single building. Innovative rural transport initiatives, such as a proposed "rural Uber", community car-pooling and community bus services such as LocalLink and Clare Bus are also earmarked under the strategy. Clare County Council will establish a rural community development officer in each of Clare’s four municipal districts.

While the overall population of County Clare grew over the past 30 years, particular rural areas suffered a population decline of up to 35%. These are areas in the peninsula area of Loop Head and in north Clare. Depopulated areas lost much of their agricultural and retail employment and gained few jobs in emerging sectors. Primary school and GP service closures and threatened closure of Garda stations, post offices and banking services have followed this rural depopulation. It is thus important to note the differences in development that exist between the corridor connecting Ennis, Shannon and Limerick and the rest of the county. Project Ireland 2040 must redress this imbalance, and whether this plan has the focus to do so is questionable. Hopefully, the Clare rural development strategy will redress this imbalance. The challenges to our farming sector are magnified by the threats of Brexit, the proposed Mercosur trade agreement and climate change.

Of course there must be a plan to develop Ireland over the next ten to 20 years. However, this plan is urban-centred and leaves county struggling to have its voice heard over city. It lacks balance within regions where rural life, while tolerated, is seen as a drain on our economy and can be sacrificed in favour of compact city development. This is a short-sighted view of our future. It is unfair and as the plan unfolds I hope that rural Ireland will not continue to be marginalised.

2:15 pm

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I overlooked advising the House that the Social Democrats and the Green Party have given their allocated time to the Rural Independent Group.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I am happy to speak on this report. There has been lots of hype about the Project Ireland 2040 plan in the media since its launch last Friday. Perhaps we should refer to its incredible launch last Friday. Who paid for that? We will not go there. I am not as enthusiastic about the report however. In fact, I could even say that, to me, the most relevant piece of the 170-page document is a picture on page 45 of a member of my staff, Ms Maureen McGrath, dancing a set at a local festival in Clonmel. That is as much as I could relate to the document on any issue concerning rural Ireland or west Cork.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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It is a good picture.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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At the outset, the report speaks inspiringly about the Government's vision for Ireland in 2040. From there on however, the chapters I have been able to read are pretty disappointing. I note that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, has highlighted the benefits, or so-called benefits, that the plan has for Cork. These are only relevant to Cork city. Consider the possibility of a light rail network to Cork. Will this extend to the constituency of Cork South-West? I have been pleading for many years for light rail to come at least as far as Bandon in west Cork. I doubt this was even considered in this plan.

3 o’clock

There are references to improvements in public transport links to our regional cities, but what about our rural areas? My daughter works in County Longford as a childminder. Each week she travels from Schull in rural west cork to Longford, which takes 12 hours. Her journey includes a bus from west Cork to Cork city although I usually drop her to reduce her journey, a second bus from Cork to Dublin and a third bus from Dublin to Longford. A journey that should takes four hours and 20 minutes according to Google Maps takes 12 hours on public transport. That demonstrates where we are and where we are going.

It is refreshing to see our regional cities of Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Galway getting some attention other than Dublin but areas beyond that have been given little attention. Dr. Frank Crowley, of University College Cork business school, has published an article on why Project Ireland 2040 is doomed to fail. I like to support my fellow Corkmen and, although we have different reasons for thinking the project will be unsuccessful, I agree with his conclusion. The president of Cork Chamber of Commerce argued that the framework acknowledged that it was in the national interest to promote growth outside Dublin to alleviate pressure in the capital and create opportunities elsewhere. This is certainly something I agree with. Two nights ago, a Private Members' motion was dedicated to traffic issues in Dublin city and every other day we hear about housing and accommodation pressures in the capital as well as the extortionate cost of living. It would make sense to alleviate that pressure and enhance rural and under-developed areas, as Mr. Bill O'Connell said.

In reference to the south west, including my constituency, the report states: "Many of these rural areas have a high degree of self-containment, operating as significant local employment and service centres for a large rural hinterland." Without the initiative and entrepreneurship of people in west cork, we would be in a sorry state in respect of employment. Many companies and individuals have created significant employment through the years with little or no Government mandate. I visited the Ceramicx Ireland factory in Ballydehob recently. Mr. Frank Wilson and his family have had to fight the fight themselves and they have created between 50 and 60 jobs. They are dedicated to their work and their community. However, the Government still offers no help in this regard. Small business owners, publicans and postmasters are crippled by different taxes and regulations. Although it is good that Cork city has been earmarked for further development, which will hopefully have a spin-off effect on west Cork, I would have liked more attention to be given directly to the area.

West Cork is one of the best places in the country for fishing and marine activities, but little or no thought has been given to this sector I acknowledge a chapter of the report focuses on marine planning but not to the benefit of people in rural Ireland and west Cork, in particular. More money should be spent on marine infrastructure and on the many small piers and harbours that inshore fishermen operate from. These little piers and harbours are to be found all along the Wild Atlantic Way. Do the Government parties not realise what an attraction they are for tourism? Kids get to take pictures of crab and lobster. It is not just fishermen that benefit from this; this is what attracts people to these areas. The tourism revenue generated by this has a spin-off effect on rural communities. Investing in these activities would provide for real rural development. The only marine-related interest that the Government parties have in west Cork is the mechanical harvesting of kelp in Bantry Bay. This will be an environmental disaster if it goes ahead. Such harvesting will kill creatures that are living in the seaweed and fears exist that the seaweed may not grow back. Unfortunately, the Government parties, in every way, shape and form, are doing their best to support this in spite of everybody in the local community pleading with them to rescind the decision, which they can do.

Inshore fishermen were not mentioned in the plan. Does the Government have any interest in them? They provide great financial assistance to local businesses. More financial help is needed for inshore fisheries in the form of hardship money, especially during bad weather. I raised the issue over and over again following Hurricane Ophelia. Inshore fishermen pay tax the same as everybody else. The sector received no help from the Government and inshore fishermen were ignored after the hurricane. If this destruction or devastation happened anywhere else in the world, the Government would rightly send aid. With the new season fast approaching, fishermen have lost so much gear that they are trying to borrow money to replace it

I reiterate the comments of my colleague, Deputy Mattie McGrath, earlier about the abolition of town councils. We have witnessed the disastrous effect on Cork County Council of this decision. The Tánaiste highlighted the great projects that Project Ireland 2040 will bring to Cork at a breakfast briefing in the city last Monday. He included the full implementation of the MacKinnon report, which provides for the extension of the Cork city boundary to incorporate Rochestown, Grange, Glanmire, Blarney, Tower and Ballincollig into the city. This will add approximately 100,000 to its population. Members of the Rural Independent Group and I highlighted our opposition to this in a motion before Christmas. There is huge opposition to this on the ground. The Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil members of the county council opposed it. Almost everybody in the county is opposed to this but the Government parties will railroad this plan through because it is their idea and no one will stop them. This is not a surprise because they are not in touch with the common man on the ground. If they were in touch with their councillors, the plan would be scrapped. Our motion highlighted the detrimental effect the MacKinnon report would have on the county council areas that are to be moved into the city but it was narrowly defeated. That was much to the detriment of the people of Cork county.

Last Monday, the Tánaiste went on to say when addressing business people in the city that he envisions the expansion of the city by another 125,000 residents. I hope it is not intended to extend the city border as far as Bandon. I do not know where he will find all these people. Perhaps, we might be lucky and he will extend the border west of the Mizen peninsula or to the Beara peninsula, where rural people have been forgotten. The Government needs to take the people of rural Ireland into consideration.

I hope the plan has been rural-proofed.

2:25 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Not at all.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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It does not look like it. This promise was made to the people of rural Ireland after the Government was hammered in the election. It said it would rural-proof policies going forward. This plan has not been rural-proofed. If it has been, the Government would need to reduce of the pay of the person who did so because he did not carry out his duty.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Did he not go to Sligo?

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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The exit of the UK for Europe is a huge worry for the people of rural Ireland and the plan has not taken that into account. The CAP budget will be cut, most likely by millions of euro, which will be another attack on rural Ireland. That budget funds much of the progress in rural Ireland. The Leader programme collapsed while the Government sat idly by. That money was for rural development but now it is gone. The plan will be of no benefit to the people of Cork South West. It will lead to further destruction for them because the money will be invested in the larger cities and counties while rural areas will be neglected.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the statements. Project Ireland 2040 is the result of significant consultation both with parties in the House and throughout the country. Given the failure of Fianna Fáil's national spatial strategy, NSS, it is remarkable to hear many of its members criticising this plan. Not one of the 22 fastest growing towns in the State between 2002 and 2016 was a NSS gateway or hub settlement. The strategy did not aid balanced development and there are now greater distances between where people live and where they work. What Fianna Fáil did, metaphorically or otherwise, was troop every one of its Deputies and Senators into a room to ask them what they wanted for their constituencies and they got it. That is not a strategy; that is parish-pump politics at its worst. I represent west Galway and south Mayo and the strategy did nothing for Galway or the west.

There was no investment in transport, housing or health, nothing. I am happy to outline some of what this Government's plan will do, not only for Galway but for the region. Our plan will provide funding for the Galway city ring road. This will provide relief from traffic congestion in order to implement smarter mobility and public transport measures. The project is currently at design and environmental assessment phase. A new elective hospital in Galway is also being funded. This will drastically reduce waiting times for elective surgery, not just for Galway but for the whole of the Saolta hospital group, which stretches all the way from Donegal to Galway and as far east as Athlone. A new emergency department will be built at University Hospital Galway. Replacement and further radiation oncology facilities are funded. There is funding for a new patient accommodation for Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe and a new ambulance service base in Merlin Park. The N50 Moycullen bypass will also be funded, which will reduce congestion in Moycullen and provide a safer route, with better journey times and better journey time certainty that will improve access to the west and in particular to Connemara.

The technological university for the Connacht-Ulster alliance consortium will get funding for significant new buildings which will be provided to the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, the Institute of Technology, Sligo and Letterkenny Institute of Technology in its bid for technological university status. The Government is committed to providing €15 million to the European city of culture 2020 project. There will be investment in national heritage, which includes Coole Park and Connemara National Park in County Galway. Gaeltacht investment includes the development of tourism facilities in Ceantar na nOileán in the Connemara Gaeltacht, investment in the Aran Islands, the development of improved pier infrastructure in Inis Oirr and the construction of new co-operative offices and community facilities on Inis Meáin. There is an investment programme for ongoing safety and maintenance and necessary new developments at Rossaveal Fishery Harbour Centre.

Towns and villages with populations of up to 10,000 people, places such as Oranmore and Claregalway, along with rural areas, can benefit from a new rural regeneration and development fund worth €1 billion nationally over 10 years. Under the sports capital programme communities and clubs across Galway and the West including in rural areas can bid for over €100 million in capital funding over the next four years. A new large-scale sports infrastructure fund of €100 million is being established for larger sports projects where the proposed Government contribution exceeds the amounts available under the current sports capital programme. That is what the Government's plan will deliver for Galway and the west; not parish pump politics but infrastructural investment in Galway, the west and north-west that has been badly needed for decades. I absolutely commend this plan to the House.

2:35 pm

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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One of the proofs that the national planning framework, Project Ireland 2040, is on the right track is that it has been criticised by all sides, some extreme, others moderate. Deputy Lahart, who I have great time for, and yesterday, Deputy Eamon Ryan, said it is not doing enough for Dublin but every other Fianna Fáil backbencher and Deputies Harty and Michael Collins said it is doing too much for Dublin and not enough for the regions and rural Ireland. That probably means nobody is completely happy but equally that no part of the country has benefitted unduly over the other regions and sectors. That is a task in itself. I commend the officials responsible for it, and the Ministers. It is important that we have a proper planning framework for the future. I discovered the Buchanan report, published at the end of the 1960s only recently. Much of what it contained is now contained in this plan. It referred to places such as Athlone and the need for development outside Dublin. I welcome the fact that the final copy of this plan seeks to ensure that there are significant centres of population north of that line from Galway to Dublin, which is not necessarily the case already.

Without wishing to criticise Deputy Breathnach, sitting across from me now, the constant criticism made by Fianna Fáil was that there was too much spin, or that its announcement was almost too big. Deputy Lahart went so far as to produce a copy of The Heraldto explain that it went too far. The spatial strategy was released with great fanfare. I think Martin Cullen was the Minister responsible for it. As Deputy Naughton pointed out, it was spectacular in its absolute and utter failure to deliver anything. I accept that for ten years, the economy could not support the ideals of the spatial strategy but it was produced in 2002. It was there for the best years of the Celtic tiger. I could show towns and cities including my own, Kilkenny, or neighbouring Waterford, that were listed as gateways and hubs that did not get a damn thing under the spatial strategy. It did not matter a whit. Nothing was delivered for Waterford, Kilkenny or Carlow, which was also a hub. That was partly because the economy did collapse and partly because the plan was completely undermined a few years later by a former Minister for Finance, Mr. McCreevy, who came into this House one budget day and announced decentralisation, which was really a case of one for everyone in the audience, another plan that was not implemented.

I am glad this is a long-term plan. I am the furthest thing in this House from a socialist but the communists thought about long-term economic planning. It did not work out very well in many communist countries but at least there was a long-term objective, not just the list of what is being done in a Member's constituency or his or her part of a constituency.

This plan states there will be 1 million extra people in Ireland in the next 20 years and 750,000 of them will be accommodated, schooled and transported outside the greater Dublin area. It beggars belief that anybody could say that objective is anything other than pro-regions and rural communities. Many of the capital announcements for major headline schemes in the Dublin region have been announced before but are long overdue and are badly needed, particularly in the area of transport.

I am glad that the institutes of technology in Carlow and Waterford have been included for funding. The boards and chairpersons of those institutions are involved in detailed discussions with a view to the establishment of a university in our region. It is the biggest single game-changer for the south east that we could hope for and aspire to. Deputy Lahart criticised the spacing out of some proposals over ten years. That is the way to sustainably build an economy. It would not be sustainable to start everything contained in the capital plan tomorrow. We must learn from the lessons of recent history in our economic development. I commend the framework plan, and the officials and others who have been involved in drafting it.

2:45 pm

Photo of Declan BreathnachDeclan Breathnach (Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet in his poem "Ode to a Mouse" speaks of "The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft a - gley". For those who are not familiar with Ulster Scots it means that the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.

I cautiously welcome the national planning framework for 2040 but I am hoping that in planning the work we will work the plan because there is no doubt that by 2040 it will probably be left to Fianna Fáil to implement the plan. I expect that we will soon have proper legislative footing under the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016. Project Ireland 2040 is a very ambitious plan for our country. As many other Deputies have already stated, however, a lot of what is contained in the plan is not new and the plan contains initiatives that have been announced already. The plan is made up of a lot of rehashed announcements that have given Leo's spin doctors a high.

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy means the Taoiseach.

Photo of Declan BreathnachDeclan Breathnach (Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Yes, the Taoiseach. I welcome the plan's national policy objective No. 2 outlining the regional roles including Drogheda and Dundalk to Newry cross-border where networks will be identified and supported in the relevant regional spatial and economic strategy. I also welcome sections 8.2 to 8.5 of the plan that highlights the importance of the Dublin to Belfast corridor as being the largest economic cluster on the island of Ireland. This point cannot be overstated. In this context I hope that the commitments to improve infrastructure will be followed through. The proposed linkage of a high speed train network between the two capital cities of Ireland in the North and South must be completed. It is important in the North-South context but in the southern context the proposal to extend the DART to Drogheda is equally as important when we consider the pull towards Dublin where many commuters in Meath and Louth will eventually benefit from that as the years go by.

These improvements in infrastructure are imperative if we are to continue to attract inward investment to the region. In late 2017 we welcomed 300 new jobs in Dundalk when the medicine packaging company Wasdell Group committed to opening a new 70,000 sq ft plant. This UK company wishes to retain a presence within the EU. The attraction of that Dublin to Belfast corridor is crucial to our region, which is equidistant to Dublin Airport and to Belfast City Airport and Belfast International Airport. The corridor is important in attracting many people post-Brexit who will just be within a one hour commute from places such as Liverpool and Manchester. That region can be sold in that fashion to get some benefit from Brexit. The eastern corridor is a huge growth area, as a potential from Brexit, and it is imperative that infrastructure is provided, not just road and rail but also housing to accommodate a sustainable population growth that will give people a good quality of life.

Providing this infrastructure will include the provision of proper connectivity with high-speed broadband as a basic requirement. Unless a person had broadband in the last week he or she had no opportunity to even read this plan. It is a disgrace that not one Member of the House has been provided with a hard copy of the document. This flies in the face of talking about the fact that many people in the State do not have a broadband service. As with housing, which I shall address shortly, we can advocate that we will do this, that or the other, yet we cannot solve the broadband, the housing or the health crises in the State. It is no good talking about master plans if we are not going to deliver them. The issue around high-speed broadband certainly reflects the lack of delivery by the Government.

The plan notes that it will be necessary to prepare co-ordinated strategies for Dundalk and Drogheda at regional and town level to ensure that they have the capacity to grow sustainably and to secure investment as key centres on the Drogheda-Dundalk-Newry cross-border network. This is very important and I welcome it. There has been much talk about city status for Drogheda. Members would all love to have city status advocated for many of our towns, including Dundalk, but it is not about a hierarchy. In my constituency it is about having the corridor and working it to its best advantage.

In the North-South context it is important and noted in the framework that the implementation be in tandem with the regional development strategy for Northern Ireland. We need a collaborative approach in developing those opportunities for the eastern Dublin-Belfast corridor.

We also need to protect rural towns and communities and when we consider the plans for the four cities it would appear that there will be a shortfall in funding, which will undoubtedly eat into the majority of the funding leaving larger towns to suffer the deficit. The national policy objective No. 15 is to support the sustainable development of rural areas by encouraging growth and arresting decline in areas that have experienced low population growth. As I have said already while speaking on a Topical Issue recently, I would like to see opportunities for those who for traditional and generational reasons have lived in rural areas and that they are allowed to remain in their local areas and build in their local community. This does not necessarily mean in the village they came from. It is not their fault the villages expanded. If they can show a traditional link to the community they should have an entitlement to aspire to build a house in the countryside.

National policy objective No. 32 is to target the delivery of 550,000 additional households by 2040. Because of this Government’s track record on housing to date, I believe this objective is aspirational rather than achievable. I have said before that an immediate solution to the current housing crisis is to provide for emergency legislation immediately, preventing vulture funds coming in and putting families out of their homes. Before the banks take their opportunity in advance of any legislation for regulation passing through this House, the only way this protection for families can be put in place is for Members to pass emergency legislation making it obligatory, in a very simple and once-off period of time, for the vulture funds and the banks to give first option to the local authorities on the purchases of those distressed loans, at the same price they are being offered to other people. The local authority would get a bargain, the State would get a bargain and people could be left in their houses. I shall give an example of this. Of the 84 compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, that were done, more than 60 were boarded up bank houses. The banks did not contest the CPOs, which shows that such a measure is constitutional; the banks did not challenge the local authority on the CPOs. I have been reliably informed that there are more than 400 such houses spread across the county. We need to take action now, not in three weeks or three months. Now is the time. The local authorities should have first call on purchasing these distressed loan books at the same knock-down price as the vulture funds. This would prevent many people becoming homeless.

I could refer to the lack of a regional hospital that was promised to the region by many Ministers in the past. We did, however, get a sop: the plan includes the Ardee ambulance base, which is welcome.

Louth's motto in its development plans have often spoken of my constituency as being the best place to live, work and grow old in. This saying was stolen by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, when he spoke for the country. That was Louth's motto long before he said it. This should be reflected in any overall planning.

All we want to see is our children growing up, getting a good education, having a nice place to live and aspiring to grow old.

2:55 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputies Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Imelda Munster and David Cullinane are sharing ten minutes. It it a case of ladies first?

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Does Deputy Munster want to go first?

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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No, Deputy Ó Laoghaire may go ahead.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Gabh mo leithscéal, there was some miscommunication. In the time available, I will confine my comments to matters relating to the constituency and region I represent, which is Cork. Obviously, population growth under a plan such as this requires very substantial population growth in and around Cork city in particular. By 2040 or 2050, the population of the county of Cork will exceed 1 million and the population in and around the metropolitan area of Cork city will increase by more than 125,000. By 2050, that increase could be up to 500,000. That is obviously a significant growth in population. In order to develop that growth, we need to ensure that infrastructure is put in place and that the city is planned in a very strategic way. Public transport is a crucial element of this and I will return to that issue.

Not just in terms of Cork but also in the context of the south and the south west generally, it is enormously important that we encourage infrastructure which does not rely on the hub-and-spoke model under which all roads lead to Dublin. We need to be able to link Cork, Waterford and Limerick. All of those areas need to be in a position to work in concert and to develop as a region. Crucial to that is the delivery of the M20. This project has been talked about for a very long time. There is no doubt that it is a substantial project but I put it to the Minister of State and the Government that, pound for pound, there is not a single road project in the State that has the same potential for economic development and delivery of investment and growth. We also need to see the delivery of the M28. It is a very short distance of road but if it is developed properly, it could unlock the potential of Cork Harbour and Cork's ability to trade with the world.

Obviously, we cannot simply rely on our roads to accommodate that level of population growth. Even if all of the identified road projects are delivered, and we will have to ensure that they are, it will not be possible to accommodate that level of population growth on our roads. We need to invest in public transport. Money has been identified. We need an awful lot more detail because if it is simply invested in traditional bus services in the short term, I would be concerned that it would not deliver the necessary mode change. We need to look at rapid transit bus and at light rail.

As a final point, it is absolutely essential that the feasibility study on light rail takes the long view and focuses not just on the city we have now but, rather, on the one we will have in the future. If it does not take that long view, the outcome of the study could be adverse. We need to take a long view on this issue and on what Cork needs into the future.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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The Government's national planning framework is big on presentation and was launched with great razzmatazz and gloss. However, it is short on detail and of information regarding the front-loading of investment. My home town of Drogheda is given third-tier recognition in the plan. Many people are of the opinion that this is just lip-service because it does not address what Drogheda needs. Recognition is all very well but if it is not backed up by a firm plan, commitment to funding for infrastructure implementation and a timeframe for delivery, it could well turn out like most plans and just be an aspirational document that lies on a shelf gathering dust. Without that commitment to funding for infrastructure and without timeframes for delivery, third-tier recognition adds nothing and is of no substance. A cynic might say that this was an appeasement to ward off any political backlash that local Government representatives might otherwise have gotten.

We should look at the damage done by this Government over the past seven years. My home town of Drogheda was stripped of its borough council status, its town clerk and any semblance of the power it once had. What is the point of designating Drogheda as a third-tier growth centre without defining what that actually means in real terms? Nobody seems to know. The plan certainly does not define what it means in any detail whatsoever. Drogheda has already been strategically placed and identified as part of the M1 economic corridor between Dublin and Belfast. There is not a peep in this plan about funding for Drogheda's northern cross route. There is not a peep about city status for Drogheda or about the second rail line that was promised. There is no mention of development of our port or of investment in jobs or housing. There is also no mention of investment of any sort for Drogheda or Dundalk in recognition of the fact that we are facing into Brexit and of the impact it will have on Louth as a Border county.

It is very easy to present a plan with promises for the future. One just has to look at the broadband plan which was announced and then announced again. The announcement was regurgitated and then the timeframe was extended and extended to such an extent that in many areas of the State it is still nothing more than a promise which was not delivered on. As I said at the outset, the plan is big on presentation, marketing and PR but it is short on commitments for funding, on timeframes and on implementation. I have to say that this Government has let Drogheda and County Louth down once again.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)
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It is very important that we get this right. We all recognise that the previous national planning framework and national spatial strategy did not get it right. We had many hubs and gateways. If one looks at the south east, where I am from, Waterford was designated as a gateway. From all of the economic indicators, right across investment in public services, investment in infrastructure, unemployment and employment rates and rates of educational attainment, it is clear that the south east did not deliver and, in fact, underperformed. We had the highest level of unemployment and the lowest level of employment for a long time, both before and since the recession.

We had the lowest level of education attainment. There is no university in the region and, while we have a first class institute of technology, record numbers of people in the south east are leaving in order to obtain third-level or fourth-level qualifications and are then not coming back. We do not have the same level of investment in research and development a other regions because baseline research and development funding is given to universities but not institutes of technology. While we have had some investment in recent years, such as in respect of the motorway, Waterford simply did not deliver as the gateway.

I accept that, at least on paper, this plan is ambitious for Waterford and that is to be welcomed. It envisages Waterford being a regional gateway city and massive increases in population and the number of jobs. There are job creation targets. The difficulty is in how all of this will be delivered and in whether the capital plan will be forthcoming. Two big issues are not covered in either the development plan or the capital plan. One is the regional airport in Waterford. There is investment in regional airports everywhere except Waterford where money is only provided to stand still.

There is also no real capital investment for Waterford Institute of Technology or additional funding to allow it and the Institute of Technology Carlow to transition into a technological university. According to this plan, 90% of all funding for higher education institutions will go into the existing universities while only 10% will go into the institutes of technology. That will not be good for a region which wants to be front and centre at the table and which the Government wants to be a counterweight to Dublin. The south east will only thrive, be able to deal with the real difficulties and challenges it faces, and play to its many strengths if Waterford city is the driver and engine of the region. That is what has to happen. As Deputy Munster said, we can have all the rhetoric, plans and fine words that we want but unless they are matched with funding, unless the silo mentality which exists in different Departments is ended and unless we have a single plan that can drive real growth and cut across Departments and which is underpinned by real funding, this will simply be another document which is long on aspiration but which will not deliver.

I very much hope that this does deliver for the south east. I am very optimistic for the region, given the splendid things it has going in terms of wastewater infrastructure, the institute of technology and the motorways. While we have a lot, there is much we do not have because of Government neglect.

There is no point in having a national planning framework that aims to increase the population if we do not invest in public services or provide the health capacity that people need. In the south east, there is a demand for a second catheterisation lab to ensure that patients have access to 24-7 cardiology care. That has to be front and centre if the population is to increase by 60%. Some of those people are going to get sick and will need to be treated. That has to underpin any approach to planning as well.

3:05 pm

Photo of Maria BaileyMaria Bailey (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak here again today on the national development plan, having contributed heavily to this process for the past year and a half. I am also clear that in the organisational structures of the plan, all the relevant stakeholders were consulted and encouraged to engage in the process, as I believed has happened. There have been over 40 public consultation engagements throughout the country and over 1,000 submissions from elected members, organisations and residents. The level of public consultation was intense and robust. I attended over half of those public meetings, which was extremely beneficial to me in respect of informing policy in a sustainable and ambitious format. None of those public consultation meetings dealt in rhetoric or aspirations. They were about constructive, informative plans for the future of our country. As chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, I attended numerous informal private briefings from and formal meetings with the Department, during which the committee submitted its recommendations and observations. The Department officials have always made themselves available to meet any members of the committee.

Having come from 12 years in local government, I have a vast understanding of the level of work and enormous commitment it takes to produce a development plan for a county, never mind a country. It would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to acknowledge the enormity of the challenge and the commitment it took to produce an investment plan in tandem with a national planning policy, the likes of which we have never seen before. I pay particular tribute to a very dedicated team within the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, namely, Mr. Dave Walsh, Mr. Niall Cussin, Mr. Paul Hogan, who is in the Chamber and many of their team. They gave enormously of their personal time to this project and I thank them for all they have done to date.

I have listened to many remarks in the past week about the statutory process and whether there needs to be a vote. I watched the political football going on for the past week. Just as I am on the pitch, I want to be very clear in the Chamber on my reading of this process. I sat through the statements on the draft national planning framework. I chaired joint committee meetings on the draft stage on 18 October, following which we submitted our report. I remained clear that a vote was not required on the final stage, because I had read the legislation and the framework. I am also clear about which Deputies were in dispute of this and who spoke or did not speak at the draft stage. I made it my business to be in the Chamber and to speak on the national planning framework because it is important to me not only as a national politician, but also as someone who wants to be part of the policy that will shape our future as a country, a future that will enable growth in a sustainable and targeted format.

It is now time to move on from this and to get to work implementing the national development plan in the interests of what I believe is the right thing to do. I want to mention a couple of the reasons I am so supportive of the national development plan. I have taken part in numerous debates in the past couple of days in which it has been pointed out how big the plan is and how many pages it contains. There have been references to reheating dinners and to the €1 billion we are spending on rural Ireland. When I talk to these people for any length of time, I realise they have not read the plan. If they had, they would be very clear on where we are going as a country and would not just be talking about how many pages are in the document. Everyone understands the consequences of bad planning of the past - the long commutes, ghost estates and empty town centres. I do not want to go back over history because our future is far too bright to delay the implementation of this plan. Project Ireland 2040 is about planning for an Ireland that we know, through evidence we have collated, will grow by at least a million people over the next 20 years. In respect of growth in employment, nine out of ten jobs have been outside Dublin in the past year and seven out of ten outside the satellite areas of Dublin. It would be bad politics not to plan and create the environment for such growth.

This is about planning for Ireland's future and not the bad planning of the past, which was built from election to election. This is about the next 20 years, during which we will need to provide an additional 660,000 jobs and over 500,000 homes. Some 25% of our population will be over a youthful 65 years and we need to plan for supportive housing. My colleague across the Chamber, Deputy Declan Breathnach, is very supportive in this area. We have had numerous conversations about viable supported living for older people in communities. I know he is very supportive and comes forward with many policies in this area. We need to provide housing on State-owned land throughout the country for this purpose.

We are going to harness and develop further the potential of our tier 1 and tier 2 ports through industry, tourism, marine life, fisheries and climate change. Ireland's territorial land is ten times greater then that of our island, which gives us vast opportunity and enables us to develop our floating wind farms, turbines and wave energy, all of which will help us transition to a carbon zero economy, harnessing the potential of the region in renewable energy terms across the technological spectrum from wind to solar to biomass and wave energy. Huge emphasis is being put into consolidating the development of places that grew rapidly in the past decade or so, with large-scale commuter driven housing development with a particular focus on addressing local community and amenity facility provision in many of our larger commuter towns through targeted investment. We are continuing the transformation of transport and communications by completing motorways, public transport and broadband links that are so badly needed to better connect communities and citizens. Investment in an integrated transport system that links Dublin Airport is long overdue. As a former ground staff employee of Dublin Airport, I fully recognise how inaccessible the airport has been in the past. Also planned are relocations of some of our maternity services and upgrading of our existing hospitals; three new elective units so they are not competing with our main hospitals; investment in primary care, community centres and mental health units, including one in Sligo; and investment in a technical university that will enable growth in education as education underpins growth. 

Launched as Project Ireland 2040 in tandem with the national development plan, the finalised national planning framework signals a shift away from the aspirational plans of the past that came after national development plans and were not underpinned by a capital investment plan. The national planning framework and the development plan are being followed through on by the three regional assemblies, bringing forward complementary regional, spatial and economic strategies, and linking strategic planning and investment at the national level with the physical planning and local economic and community development functions of local authorities. Formulation of the regional spatial and economic strategies has commenced.

I heard Deputy Imelda Munster being parochial about Drogheda. I would be happy to talk at length about Dún Laoghaire if anybody wants me to. That is where my allegiance lies. However, I am also very aware that this is a national plan. If Deputy Munster is supportive of this plan and supports her local authority, she too can play a role in developing her community and constituency, not with rhetoric but with actual supportive ways of implementing this plan. She too can be part of the growth of Drogheda.

Implementation of the national planning framework will be supported by a €3 billion regeneration and development fund for rural and urban development, and a new national regeneration and development agency. I could talk all week about the national planning framework plan. I have had it under my arm, in my car and at home for the last year and a half. I have been reading it back to front, upside down and inside out.

This is something that I am passionate about. I have no qualification in planning but I do have vast experience in it. I can see the massive potential this plan has for my children and their children in this country.

I pay tribute to the team in the Department for its commitment and dedication, and the enormity of the sacrifice those people have made in the past year to make this plan happen. The plan is about giving every citizen, young and old, equality of opportunity, quality of life and the potential to succeed in whatever area they want to succeed in. For that reason I am passionately supportive of this plan, and will do whatever it takes to support my local authority and the Government in its implementation.

3:15 pm

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I listened with interest to Deputy Bailey's speech. There have been a number of speeches in the House on this issue over the last number of days. I thought that Deputy Bailey gave a fine speech. She spoke about evidence-based policy and detailed consultations. I would love it if that were the case. It was certainly well argued and well intentioned and I would support it, were it not for the unedifying spectacle of a scramble in recent weeks by Government Ministers, Deputies and councillors to somehow allocate funding for their particular regions or areas. I believe the plan was renamed at the 11th hour for fear that it be considered an urban plan - or perhaps for fear that it be considered a rural plan - because it had to have something for everyone in the audience. If the plan was based on evidence-based policy, detailed consultation and best planning frameworks, I would be delighted to support it. However, the evidence to date does not appear to show that this is the case.

I have looked through the various aspects of the plan. I am looking at it from a Kildare perspective, considering what we need and do not have there. The first reaction from my own constituents, and even from local media, was one of confusion. There is a long list of projects across the country, and I am familiar with those in my own area. I imagine that the same applies across this House. Items such as the Sallins bypass were listed as items to be delivered by 2040, as is the Naas to Newbridge N7 widening. Multiple other plans are also scheduled to be completed before that date. Deputy Cassells has been arguing for the Slane bypass for many years, and it is also included in the plan. My constituents, and indeed my local radio station, KFM, were quite confused and spoke about the plans on the airwaves. They said that some of these projects are already under way, and that they drive past them every morning. These projects are well advanced. Some of them have been going on for ten years, between planning, pre-planning and consultations. There is confusion and scepticism as to how these projects are part of a new plan, when in fact most of them have already started.

I will return to the subject of connectivity later but I note with some degree of scepticism that the national broadband plan is one of the projects the Government is seeking to deliver. I wish it well with that project, but it does not inspire confidence.

On the theme of innovation, I asked a question only a few hours ago of the Minister of Health, who was standing in for the Taoiseach, about Government spending on research and development and on innovation. Another recent plan, published to much fanfare and heraldry, was Innovation 2020. The former Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy English, put great work into it and was very diligent about it. Indeed, it is not his fault that the plan he delivered has not been implemented. Innovation 2020 at this stage is more remarkable because of what is omitted from it rather than its implementation. The headline target for innovation in that plan was that 2.5% GDP was to be spent on research and development funding. Figures from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation published last week show that not only have we failed to meet the 2.5% - we have spent somewhere around 1.45% - but in fact spending on research and development went backwards last year. We spent less in 2017 than we did in 2016. At a time when the Government must have realised that the knowledge economy and third and fourth level education are paramount to ensure continued foreign direct investment, competitive advantage, educating our workforce of the future and attracting talent, capital and investment, it is unforgivable for the State to be going backwards in terms of research and development funding. In this context it is difficult to have confidence in Project Ireland 2040. We cannot even manage a project for 2018.

Speaking of research and development, I would like to acknowledge the presence of Jim Sullivan, who is with us today in the Public Gallery. He is vice-president of global research at AbbVie, which is a very successful multinational pharmaceutical company, which has a long tradition of investment in Ireland. Indeed, it does some fine work.

In terms of transport, I have spoken about the N7, the Sallins bypass and the local projects in my area. I want to talk about public transport. I was in London recently and I used the public transport network, including the underground. I never fail to be inspired by the connections it has. There are multiple airports around the city centre. It has the Circle line, which means that it is immaterial whether one is north, south, east or west. To go anywhere one merely has to make a couple of connections and the whole thing falls into place. My constituents in Sallins who work in Sandyford struggle to get there. It is a hop, skip and a jump between multiple different modes. If they are lucky they might be able to get a train and then take a couple of Luas journeys, providing it is not travelling through College Green at a snail's pace, as it has been most days this week. There does not seem to be the integration and connectivity such as that provided by the Circle line in London. I have long argued for the interconnector. It was one of the first projects that I advocated when I came into this Chamber two years ago. I had a Topical Issue debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, shortly after he was appointed on the topic of the DART underground. It is now listed as one of the projects in the plan. To my knowledge there are no detailed spending figures available for it. We do not see any further than a dotted line, which was in previous plans, including in Transport 21 over ten years ago. My party spent €500 million to advance it, including feasibility studies, bore holes, drilling and compulsory purchase orders, CPOs for certain land works, but unfortunately it remains a dotted line. I wish the Government well on this because it is absolutely imperative that the project is advanced.

If we look at education there are grand promises about 90,000 primary school places and many thousands of secondary school places. Yesterday I debated with the Minister for Education and brought up St. Joseph's school, Kilcock. It is situated in a building dating from the 1950s. The school urgently needs a new build. The town of Kilcock had 1,000 people when it was built; it now has 6,500, and yet it is still struggling with the same school. It has four permanent classrooms and nine prefabs. We cannot get the money to pay for a new school. Immediately after my contribution in the House I am travelling to an emergency meeting with parents in Naas Community College to try to explain why the Government committed to build at the school a number of years ago but the building work has not started yet. As much as we might wish the plan well, it is very hard to have confidence in these kinds of plans when we cannot deliver today, never mind in 22 years' time.

I have spoken about higher education and the importance of research and development and innovation to the economy. Universities are crying out for investment. They need it in terms of knowledge capital, intellectual capital and research spending. They are also crying out for facilities. Bricks and mortar are required. The programme for research at third-level institutions, PRTLI, was a fund which existed all through Fianna Fáil's tenure in government. The party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, initiated it in the early 2000s and it continued through some philanthropic investments, which were matched with State funding. It existed until this current Government took office. Lipservice is now being paid to it. There is a trickle of money still left in the programme. Two and a half years after this Government took office, the university sector has no knowledge or certainty about what will replace PRTLI. How can the universities construct a new science building, a new laboratory or a new library in the absence of funding? It is very difficult to talk about education and the need for innovation when we see these kinds of gaps.

On tourism, I must give credit where it is due and say that the Wild Atlantic Way is a fantastic project. I had the pleasure of cycling it last summer on my holidays with my family in Mayo. It is well heralded and successful. It was so successful that a marketing architect was poached to launch its marketing strategy, namely, Mr. John Concannon. He is doing spectacularly well. There are 15 or 16 people in his team, which does nothing except spin for the Government all day long. I certainly credit him with coming up with the idea for the Wild Atlantic Way. Unfortunately the Grand Canal Way lingers. The project to link Naas to Sallins, to Ardclough and into south Dublin would be a fantastic initiative. It would drive tourism and active living, and all of the positives we are trying to address across the country. However, it lingers at the end of a very long list of projects. I have raised this issue recently with a number of officials, and indeed with the Minister for Rural and Community Affairs, Deputy Ring. I hope that some progress will be made on that. We would love to see all of these things happen, but when they are not happening today it is hard to see how they are going to happen tomorrow or in 22 years' time.

On health I would have loved to have seen some kind of technological advancements in the plan, for example a commitment to a national patient identifier or a digital ID, which could transform the health system. One would imagine it would not be terribly difficult to do but it is part of the problem in terms of the disconnected approach that exists at the moment. These are the kinds of things we would really hope to see.

On climate change, I understand there is a significant amount of climate change spending in the plan, which is to be welcomed.

4 o’clock

However, the Government argued trenchantly against the Climate Emergency Measures Bill only a week ago because it cannot commit to renewable energy generation in the next 20 years. On the one hand, we are hearing that all this money will be spent and that climate change will be addressed but on the other, the Government came into the Chamber and opposed an Opposition Bill because it said it could not commit to meeting renewable targets. It is very difficult to understand where all of that is going.

I wish to talk about governance. When I was started as a member of Kildare County Council, we could not spend €10,000 on a road without oversight by the senior engineer, consultation among all the members, a vote in the chamber and a signing-off process. That was best practice, evidence-based and a good use of public money. Unbelievably, with regard to the €110 billion, €120 billion or €130 billion of public money - I forgot what is being said now but it is an awful lot of money - there is no governance council or national infrastructure commission such as that called for by Fianna Fáil. We published a Bill on governance and public spending, which has not been adopted by the Government, and we hear there may not even be a vote on any of these matters. However, I wish the plan well. I wish for it to be successful but that remains to be seen. Past performance certainly is an indicator of future behaviour and past performance is not great in this area.

3:25 pm

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
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I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on what is a hugely significant plan for our country, Project Ireland 2040. As chairman of the Fine Gael Party, I am immensely proud of the contribution my colleagues in Fine Gael have made to it, from the Ministers sitting at Cabinet - this was very much an all-Government approach by our partnership Government - to our Fine Gael Deputies and Senators. We had many long, tortuous meetings of our parliamentary party where we discussed at great length all the different aspects of both the national planning framework and the national development plan and how all of that has come together now in Project Ireland 2040. We did so not because we are parochial about our individual constituencies and counties but because we all care passionately about our country and a development that will be planned and that we will see happen in a structured way.

For the first time in the history of the State, our special plan will be backed up by solid investment in terms of a €116 billion capital plan, all of which will be underpinned by legislation. That means the plan we put in place will be followed through, that it will be implemented on a day-by-day, case-by-case basis and that it will have money to back it up. Such an approach should ensure that we learn from the mistakes of the past when previous development plans failed to deliver structured development of our country. Whether it was the bungalow blitz of the 1980s or the sprawl of Dublin during the Celtic tiger years, our country has been failed by not sticking to the plans that were drawn up or working to plans that were more designed on the electoral cycle than on the long-term vision we have introduced here.

For my county of Kildare, the plan is vital. Due to our mix of urban and rural areas, as the Ceann Comhairle is all too familiar with, and our close proximity to Dublin, this plan is about stopping the sprawl of Dublin, making sure that its density increases to a higher density, that the brownfield infill will happen and that Kildare, Meath and Wicklow do not become suburbs of Dublin. That is crucial.

For Kildare, a new acute mental health unit for Lakeview is imperative. Currently, capacity is at 140% in the Lakeview unit. The then Minister of State with responsibility for mental health, Deputy McEntee, allocated €5.5 million to Lakeview in late 2016 for the improvement of the infrastructure in that unit, as the Ceann Comhairle is aware. However, that would only provide an additional eight beds and a high observation unit. The point that I and the management made was that this was not enough. We need to grow the capacity. As the Ceann Comhairle is all too aware, Kildare people must go to Portlaoise, Tallaght and St. James' hospitals to overflow beds because we cannot cater for those who have acute mental health needs in Kildare, never mind the community support and step-down facilities that are needed also.

A few months after that, I brought the then Minister of State with responsibility for mental health, Deputy McEntee, to Naas to meet with the senior management in Lakeview, Donal O'Hanlon and Paul Brophy, and the team. I brought the Minister of State's successor, the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, to Lakeview as recently as last December to impress upon him the need for a new build. We now have that in our plan. That new development is crucial and as you are aware, a Cheann Comhairle, the Lakeview unit currently adjoins Naas General Hospital and the ability of that unit to be a new space that could allow us increase the capacity in Naas General Hospital is crucial also. That represents joined-up thinking. There is reference in the national action plan, Project Ireland 2040, to 600 new acute beds to be delivered throughout the country by 2040. We will have an existing building adjoining Naas General Hospital and should be able to deliver that additional capacity much sooner.

When we talk about our health service, and Naas General Hospital, we need to be aware that the population of Kildare has grown by 100,000 in the past 30 years, so we should not be surprised that there are people on trolleys. There are massive capacity issues in Naas General Hospital, as there are even today. The way we address that is by providing those additional beds and additional space, and a key component of that was the endoscopy unit that was announced for Naas General Hospital. That key element was very close to being delivered in 2011 but was then shelved. That had a devastating impact on the hospital, our health care services and waiting lists in Kildare. The endoscopy unit is back on track. It has planning permission. It needs to be able to go out to tender. It has only two years left on its planning permission and I will continue to push for that to be delivered, as I pushed for it to be in this national development plan. It is a crucial development to ensure that Naas General Hospital's position within the hospital grouping is secured and has a strong foundation into the future.

In terms of our road infrastructure, there has been criticism in the House and in the media of some projects on the list that are progressed. The idea that we would announce a national capital development plan and not reference the need to widen the M7 motorway or a ring road for Athy is ludicrous. People would say, "Where is it?". In terms of it being progressed, we are accused by the Opposition that this is a negative development. However, the fact that we progressed the southern distributor route for Athy during a recession was crucial. We got that funding when there was no money in the country to bring that road through to planning stage - the planning permission we now have - and within a few months, we will have diggers on site in Athy, as the Ceann Comhairle is aware, because it is something he fought for also. I will not take any criticism for the fact that the ring road for Athy and the M7 are progressed. They were progressed when the country had no money. Imagine what we can do now with a growing economy as we continue to grow jobs and increase development.

Similarly, the reason there are so many people sitting in their cars on the M7, which we need to widen, is because of the failed policies of the past. Many constituents from Kildare and Laois commute to Dublin every day. The ease with which they can get there is important but having locally developed jobs and industry in our area so that all of those people do not have to commute is crucial also. That is at the heart of Project Ireland 2040.

Other areas such as the €100 million for large-scale sports capital infrastructure development is crucial. I very much hope our county grounds in St. Conleth's Park, Newbridge, can access some of that money. It desperately needs a new, modern stand. We have one of the poorest county grounds in the country but want to have one of the best because we are a very proud GAA county. I hope that Kildare GAA will benefit from that fund, as will all of the many clubs that have benefitted in recent years from sports capital grants. The commitment of a sports capital grants in the coming years is also crucial.

The situation in our health sector is telling. In 2011, no hospitals were being built. By the time this plan is finished, we will be constructing ten hospitals, three of which are under way already. That is crucial. When people talk about waiting lists, it is down to capacity. It is also down to our primary care centres, planning for one of which in Athy we hope to be applying for very soon. Those are the developments we want to roll out. St. Vincent's Hospital, Athy was one of the 90 community care facilities that we also want to see upgraded and its capacity increased. It should be a building fit for modern day use due to the great care it provides.

Project Ireland 2040 covers many different areas. A rural regeneration and development fund will provide an additional €1 billion. There will be investment in our towns, villages and outlying rural areas. That will be on top of existing funding, such as the town and village renewal scheme and all the rest. The €2 billion urban regeneration fund will significantly benefit large rural towns of over 10,000 people of which there are 41 in the country. Newbridge, in Kildare, will have the potential to access this funding and that will allow it to be an even greater driver in our local economy and provide the jobs that all the people who live in Kildare need. They will not have to travel to Dublin for high-quality jobs.

There is a €8.4 billion allocation for a school building programme between 2018 and 2027 to deliver an annual average of 20,000 permanent school places a year. That is desperately needed. We need extra provision in school places at second level, in particular for children with special needs in our mainstream schools. We urgently need progress on the planned extensions to Athy community college, the Cross and Passion College, Kilcullen, St. Conleth's community college and Patrician, Newbridge as well, but the broader issues of future provision beyond that is crucial also. We need to see progress on that. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, has now been given the money to move that on and I look forward to the results of ongoing demographic surveys. I stay in touch with Department officials and continue to highlight the need for certainty for parents that they will have that provision and those school places about which there is a great deal of anxiety, with which the Ceann Comhairle is all too familiar.

Broadband was mentioned earlier.

There is no doubt in my mind that the 19% of premises in south Kildare which depend on the national broadband plan really need it. I have been in consultation and raised the matter with the Minister, Deputy Naughten, on the floor of the House within only the past few weeks. The national broadband plan must be given every chance to work and if it does not, we need a plan B. The reason we are at 19% is that the national broadband plan has driven the private sector to roll out commercial broadband over the past five years to 74% of premises in the county while in the coming period commercial broadband will be provided to the remaining 7% as part of Eir's 300,000. The existence of the national broadband plan has driven the €2.75 billion investment by the private sector to roll out commercial broadband over the past five years. If the plan had not been in existence and if we had not had a tender process, the commercial sector would have been a lot slower to deliver that.

It is not possible to get to every element of Project Ireland 2040 in the ten minutes I have been given.

3:35 pm

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Roscommon-Galway, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy did not do too badly.

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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He did great.

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
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I did not even touch on climate change, the measures there and the earmarked €22 billion. This is about planning for our future, ensuring we learn from the mistakes of the past and ensuring the 1 million extra people who will live in this country between now and 2040 have a very good quality of life. We must have balanced regional development and we must sustain our rural as well as our urban communities. I look forward to working on the implementation of the plan with each of the relevant Ministers and to ensuring that nothing is lost in the time of its delivery.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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That was two seconds over.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank Deputy Heydon and call Deputy Rabbitte.

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak to Project Ireland 2040. I hope I will be as good as Deputy Heydon and get in as many of my local areas as possible. It is the second time he did it today. He did it already with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, when he was discussing family resource centres. I will approach Project Ireland 2040 from two perspectives with the first being as spokesperson on children and youth affairs for Fianna Fáil.

I have gone through the plan in depth and I am disappointed. When we were talking about everything that was going to be invested in schools, I was looking at the mirror of what was going to be done with child care facilities. We are looking at population growth of the order of 1 million people in the next number of years. I looked for funding to support urban and rural communities to develop private or community child care facilities but all I can see popping up at me on drilling down into the plan is the €6.8 million which was already put in place and increased this year. When one applies that among the 26 city and county child care facilities nationally, that equates to €221,000 per annum. When one divides that further according to the seven tiers of capital funding for which private and community child care facilities can apply, some will get €50,000 and some will get €20,000 and some might be able to amalgamate the two. In Galway, for example, where there are 225 child care facilities providing full-day services, that means approximately seven projects will be successful. Nationally, that means seven projects per county will come through on an annual basis, which is disappointing given that counties like Cavan, Monaghan and Leitrim are already at 97% capacity and will be looking for capital investment. We are not talking capital investment of €50,000 or €20,000 in these cases but about €1.2 million or €1.3 million projects to build the centres of excellence required. Child care services are already being provided in portacabins outside Carrickmacross. There are a number of child care providers looking for investment nationally, including in Kerry or at Mountbellew in Deputy Eugene Murphy's constituency where there are capacity issues right now. To get its service over the line, that provider needs €180,000 to put on an extra room to cater for the 26 children who are already using a room in a local national school. Those rooms can be also used for aftercare. In that regard, €50,000 is not a great deal of money. I use that as a particular example.

It would be disingenuous to fail to acknowledge the major projects in health and for hospitals. The position for every child who will need access to hospitals locally is laid out clearly. However, in relation to the replacement and refurbishment of the 90 community nursing homes nationally, not one community child care facility was acknowledged in the plan. A planning application has already been submitted on the Portiuncula ward block. A lot of people are wondering where it is at. It is already on the map. Page 92 of the plan refers to disability services and states that the NDP will continue to support the capital programme for people with disabilities. I am disappointed it did not refer to "people and children with disabilities". On page 93 of the National Development Plan, child care investment projects are set out and reference is made to ensuing equality and supply of sufficient child care spaces. Yet again, there is no mention of the buildings child care facilities will use. The plan refers to the youth services to support and target disadvantaged young people. We already have a very good DEIS programme but we are still talking about the schools completion programme which was there under previous Governments. While the programme is excellent, it needs investment. That can be done here and now and does not need to be under a national plan.

The continued development of ICT and standards for Tusla are mentioned. Anyone who listens to questions from me to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, every month will know that ICT in Tusla is critical. We have had many cases in the past 12 months, including the Molly case and the Grace case, and we all know it was down to paperwork. Unless we have in place the proper infrastructure for people to do their day's work, we are at nothing. There must be accountability and traceability and we must invest in technology. We should not be talking just about technology today, we should be talking about upgrading it and moving away from the pen and paper. Oberstown has been on the agenda since I arrived in the House. Only €1 million was left to be spent there this year. One questioned in the beginning whether it was a suitable site because it was being governed by the OPW. It is down to doors at this stage, I understand. I wonder why Oberstown is still on the agenda. I spoke about the €6.8 million which does not hit the mark at all.

I said at the outset that I would approach this from two perspectives. I was going to speak as a spokesperson for the first half of my contribution and then get parochial for the second half. The Minister, Deputy Naughten, will be glad to be here to hear about the parochial.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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The Deputy mentioned Portiuncula. Is that not close to home?

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister should wait until he hears me talking about the western rail corridor, phase 2 from Athenry to Tuam and phase 3 to Claremorris. The extension of the western rail corridor could increase passengers and tourism. Why, in the name of God, are we looking for another review of it? There are people in Tuam who are dying to be like people in Waterford. They are dying to put in their greenway, not on the line but adjacent to it. Why can we not carry out the feasibility study to show the beauty and opportunity for rural Ireland in running that from Athenry to Tuam, Miltown and on to Claremorris? I do not want to remove the western rail corridor; I am talking about putting this adjacent to it. The space between the two hedges is 90 ft wide and it could be used in this way. A programme is coming out in a few weeks seeking expressions of interest in greenways. Is the further review on the rail corridor going to delay it? It is very disappointing for the people of Tuam who are very ambitious and who want their greenway. I cannot blame them and in fact I am fully supportive.

CFRAMs is a hot topic for me because I live beside the Shannon on one side and I have the Atlantic in Kinvara on the other side. I was disappointed when I saw the big projects laid out for the future in Limerick, Tralee, Dundalk, Carlingford and Drogheda. There is no mention of the Burren lowlands, which project is at engineering stage. I would have thought the Burren lowlands project would have made it into a plan for the next 22 years as with the gate at Portumna to prevent flooding. It is the only gap all the way along the Shannon and it is where Emerald Star line comes in. I look forward to the gate which is a listed CFRAM project. I do not see it here which is a bit disappointing. On the other hand, I should be reassured that Athlone is being well looked after. They will sort out their flooding in Athlone and send it down to Portumna, thank you very much.

Staying with water, the eastern and midlands water supply project is at consultation stage. What does that mean? For those listening in, it means the pipe will go the 170 km from Parteen on the lower part of the Shannon basin to Dublin.

It is projected we will have a water crisis in Dublin by 2050. If I thought this was to assist in addressing some of the issues regarding flooding, alleviating problems on the west coast or helping people in the east, I would be very supportive of it. However, I do not know if that is the case and we need more communication on that.

In regard to the greenways project strategy, the project is to be delivered in 2018-19 and includes the completion of the Kildare and Meath sections of the greenway, but it also refers to the Galway to Dublin greenway. I found that amazing for the simple reason that there has not been much engagement in consultation. The last time it was decided there would be a greenway going from Dublin to Galway, it hit a road block because the planners drew the map and got the line where it was going to go but they forgot to ask the farmers about the land. If they are talking about having this finished in 2018-19, what is the position in regard to consultation? I am very supportive of it but I would like to have an understanding on it.

It would be remiss of me not to talk about the marketing of the Shannon. The Minister, Deputy Ross, referenced this earlier in regard to the development of the lakelands district, of which I am wholeheartedly supportive given how wonderful the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East have been. However, we are squeezed in the middle, although, to be fair, the Minister, Deputy Naughten, is there himself. It would be wonderful to think this could be done at a fairly lively pace and not be put on the back foot.

3:45 pm

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is, at its core, about delivering efficiency. The Department exists to address the connected challenges of our country, the rural parts of our country in particular, which are being significantly left behind where they need to be in terms of modern telecommunications infrastructure. We are also, as a country, playing catch-up on our obligations in regard to climate change. The national development plan gives us a means to deliver on these objectives in a much more comprehensive and fundamental way. We will continue to use our natural resources in a sustainable manner to drive change, to transform rural Ireland, to support employment and to protect our people and our planet for future generations. The national development plan is the first plan in a decade and represents a step-change in our efforts to meet our climate objectives.

Some have criticised the plan as not being ambitious enough but, far too often in the past, there have been bold visions that were accompanied by a lack of finance and a lack of authority to implement them. This is a practical plan with the funding commitment to deliver upon it. The national development plan commits to expenditure of almost €22 billion for climate action - that is, €1 in every €5 that is being spent over the next decade will be climate-related. Some €14 billion of this will be investments by our semi-State companies. With this plan, we are moving from being climate laggards to climate leaders in Europe.

The commitments we have set out in the national development plan to further our transition to a low carbon, climate resilient society will also be central to delivery of the national planning framework, which will influence where we live, where we work and how we travel. The national development plan envisages a radical step-change, with €4 billion on upgrading energy efficiency of our residential commercial and public buildings, including all of our schools built prior to 2008, and €1 billion on rolling out the most energy efficient and climate friendly heating technologies in our buildings. We will have at least 500,000 electric vehicles on our roads by 2030 and we will roll out the charging infrastructure to make this a reality. We are going to ban non-zero emissions vehicles being sold in Ireland from 2030 and no NCT certificate will be issued for non-zero emissions vehicles from 2045. We are now explicitly committing to ending the production of electricity from coal at Moneypoint by 2025, becoming one of the first countries in Europe to do so. We are the first country in Europe to introduce a nationwide ban on the sale of smoky coal. These decisive actions are ensuring that our children and their children have access to clean air.

Our semi-State companies will collectively spend almost €14 billion over the next decade under the national development plan on renewable electricity investments, smarter meter deployment, grid upgrades and interconnection to cater for the growing demand and to diversify our sources of energy supply. Solar panels on our homes and community-led electricity and energy products offer a real opportunity for local economic growth. Project Ireland 2040 is putting our climate ambition into practical action. The most innovative aspect of the plan will be the establishment of a climate action fund of €500 million to leverage further investment from the private sector to finance our transition to a low carbon economy. There is also another €500 million in a disruptive technologies fund. This provides us with the tools to support innovative solutions to our climate and future economic challenges.

We are also putting in place a fund of €1 billion to support provincial towns and rural communities. This allows people with good ideas at long last to turn them into practical solutions. As Deputy Eugene Murphy will know, there are 18,000 ha of cutaway bog north of Lanesborough in the Mount Dillon complex. We intend to reflood that cutaway bog, with the climate benefits this will provide. It will create one of Europe's biggest wetland parks, with cycleways, walkways and even its own railway. This fund is very much a "get up and go" fund. It will support communities like Elphin, where people have come together and come forward with an innovative plan, and also Rooskey, Castlerea and Boyle, where communities have come together and decided how they are going to build on the strengths they have in their own towns, and which can now access a fund to do that. We have been very innovative in doing this in Roscommon and we have shown we can provide that leadership. There is now an opportunity for other counties and communities across the country to follow our lead and example.

Early implementation will be essential in order that we capture the full climate benefits of these measures and do not store up problems with achieving our targets over the next decade. The radical step-change represented by the national development plan will need to be matched by efforts in all sectors of our economy. These expenditure commitments will need to be complemented by taxation measures, regulation and behavioural change. These are the other three legs of the climate action chair. The challenge ahead of us on climate is clear. It is the work of us, as politicians, to bridge the gulf between the global challenge and our national responsibilities, between Ireland's obligations and every single person's responsibility.

What we are missing in our towns and villages across Roscommon, Galway and the other counties of this country is young people. We see clubs struggling to field teams. Young people are back at Christmas and Easter and during the summer holidays but every single community deserves to be able to keep local people in their own community. I had a conversation with Canon Liam Devine, who is in Loughglinn after leaving the town of Athlone. He told a story about last Christmas and the Éire Óg team in west Roscommon. On St. Stephen's Day the local team played the emigrants. Canon Devine, who has a big interest in football, said to them, "We have a great team this year", until someone turned around and told him, "They will all be gone next week", because it was the emigrants who had won that game. It is a sad reflection of what is going on right across rural Ireland.

The national development plan and the planning framework are about turning that around. One of the key planks in the context of doing that is the delivery of the national broadband plan in every single community, parish and village in Ireland. That alone will deliver the type of efficiency about which we are talking. It will also encourage young people to return to live in those communities and set up businesses there. I understand the frustration and anger over the delays in the process. We have received promise after promise from both telecoms companies and my predecessors but I am determined to deliver. I want to harness the anger to which I refer in order to secure high-capacity broadband and a network that will meet the needs of our generation, of our children and of their children. We need to put in place a network that will cater for our future needs. I am committed to moving ahead with the procurement process that is in place. My Department is working to a timeline for selecting the preferred bidder by this September. We might be able to achieve that sooner in light of the single-bidder scenario. I am also committed to ensuring the deployment of high speed broadband to almost 540,000 premises across the national broadband plan State intervention area and to have this completed within a three-year timeframe.

We face a huge challenge but this plan is a new beginning. People will find weaknesses in it and it is the Opposition's job to identify those weaknesses. We have a plan, let us start implementing it. We should, by all means, identify weaknesses in it. Let us ensure that it is reviewed regularly and adapted to meet our needs. What we must do - this is the purpose of the plan - is create an economy for our people. It is not about raising children to serve an economy when they become adults. For far too long, we have listened to the economists; it is time we started listening to our people at every crossroads the length and breadth of the country. We must listen to their needs and then adapt our economy in order to meet them.

3:55 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
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The State has been rudderless for the past 16 years. It has had no development plan whatever. The absence of a plan, combined with the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil policy of no investment, has led to the sloppy, haphazard urban sprawl which radiates from Dublin into towns located in south Ulster and Connaught. It has emptied swathes of the country. Even the Minister's county has suffered greatly from the damage caused by lack of investment in recent years.

The proposed increased investment over the next five years is only marginally ahead of the rate of inflation in the construction industry. Looked at in the context of the increased population in the same period, the result of this plan will lead to, at best, the economy standing still over the next five years. The major problem I have with it is that everything is back-ended towards the latter part of the period of the plan. It is nuts to do that for a 20 year policy. It is cynical for the Government to say it will do most of the development for the country in 20 years' time when few of them will be left in the Chamber never mind in government.

I will speak briefly about my own county. Every Deputy will plead the best case for his or her county believing that he or she has good reason to do so. Meath is absolutely different. Meath is at the bottom of almost every single investment criteria in the State. It is a proud and great county but the level of funding going into Meath is incredible. Meath has the lowest number of gardaí per capita,receives some of the lowest amounts for roads, its rents are continually among the highest, Meath County Council has the lowest income per capita, the lowest staff per capitaand the lowest level of business rates. It has one of the lowest levels of mental health investments and has the lowest investment in children's services per capita.

When they woke up this morning, most workers who live in Meath left the county in order to get to their places of employment. That does not happen in any other county. Meath people commute more and further than their counterparts in any other county. The list of metrics is endless. This situation must change. However, there is no change in this national development plan in which the Government has given Meath the clippings of tin when it comes to investment. This Government has assigned Meath the role of a dormitory or commuter county except without providing people with the means of commuting. One of the most glaring and damaging omissions from the plan is the absence of any mention of a Navan to Dublin rail line. Navan is the biggest town in the country which does not have a rail line. Families are hammered with three and four-hour commutes daily, and are obliged to shoulder all the financial and family costs to which that gives rise. We are talking about a 34 km extension, promised for significantly over 25 years, which would service one of the fastest growing population areas in the country. The Government now tells us that the 250,000 living in the Meath area is not sufficient for a rail line to go to the centre of the county. That is hokum. The rail line was included in development plans long before the population grew to its current level. The Department's own website clearly states that Fine Gael mothballed this project due to the reduction in Exchequer capital investment in the programmes. The one thing Meath has plenty of is Ministers but they are about as useful as mudguards on a tortoise.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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I will focus on the health aspects of the plan but it would be remiss of me not to mention metro north, or metro link as it is now known. I went to look for my old election posters when I heard the announcement because it is a sure sign that an election is coming; it is definitely not a sure sign that metro north, metro link or anything like it, will be coming. The people of north county Dublin have been fooled too many times before, and we will not believe it until we see it. Putting it in a glossy brochure or advertising it in the cinema is not the same thing as delivering it. We will wait and see.

The capital projects relating to health under Project Ireland 2040 are, primarily, repackaged and relaunched projects, not unlike metro north, and many of them are already under way. Two of the headline announcements were the national children's hospital and the National Maternity Hospital, despite these being announced years ago. A sample of some of the other the previously announced projects include the national cancer strategy capital developments. These projects include: the national programme for radiation oncology at Cork, Galway and Dublin, which Senator James Reilly, when he was Minister for Health, launched; the national forensic mental health service hospital at Portrane, which was announced by former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny; and the National Rehabilitation Hospital redevelopment in Dún Laoghaire, which is already under way and which obtained planning permission long ago as 2015. Even when the latter is built, it will not add any extra capacity.

Of those new projects announced, many are long overdue. For example, a ward block was announced for University Hospital Limerick even though this was needed years ago. The hospital consistently deals with approximately 40 to 50 patients on trolleys each day. Last year, there were 8,869 patients left on trolleys in Limerick alone. Similarly, we welcome the announcement of a ward block for Waterford, particularly as there were 5,525 patients left on trolleys in University Hospital Waterford in 2017. A new endoscopy suite was announced for Naas General Hospital and, while this is welcome, I hope it fares better than the surgery theatre there which has not been used once in 15 years because there are not enough staff to run it. The latter is despite the fact that nearly 7,000 people are on waiting lists at the hospital.

The announcement of a new hospital for Cork is good news. Cork needs a new hospital. There were nearly 10,000 patients left on trolleys between the Cork University Hospital, CUH, and Mercy University Hospital in Cork city last year. A new hospital is long overdue. We hope that a new hospital does not mean scaling down services at CUH or the Mercy.

I welcome the commitments to genuinely increase capacity. However, capacity is a twofold issue and it means nothing without the recruitment and retention of staff. The plan is heralded as preparing Ireland for the future; all the while, the health announcements in it will barely see us meet current demand and unmet need.

4:05 pm

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I genuinely welcome that we have reached a time in Irish politics when long-term strategic capital and infrastructural planning has become part of political discourse. This, of itself, is a good development. For far too long, we have staggered from Government to Government, mandate to mandate, budget to budget, on the basis of those who shout loudest and hold ministerial office delivering or being expected to deliver big ticket projects for their own constituencies. This approach has served us badly historically and without doubt has contributed to the imbalance that is evident across Ireland where Dublin is the major organ of the State without which all other regions of the country would fail to survive.

I will contradict myself somewhat as I genuinely believe that there is a flaw in this project, that is, the failure to direct adequate funding and strategic infrastructural development towards the north-west region, specifically, the central Border counties, including my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan. There are certain mentions of Cavan and Monaghan. The commitment to delivering the N2 Clontibret to the Border, the N2 Ardee to south of Castleblaney and the N3 Virginia bypass are all welcome and important, but these are long-flagged developments. The reiteration of the Government's commitment to "participation in the further development of the A5" North of the Border rings hollow. Let me offer a view of connectivity from Dublin to the north west. In my view, dual-carriageway has reached over capacity and is outdated. I believe in time we will look back and ask why we did not go ahead and build a motorway. What of a high speed rail service, Dublin to Letterkenny, with stops in Monaghan and Strabane and a spur to Derry. These are all worthy of consideration.

What of the restoration of the Ulster Canal? There is a mention of it in the document, but to move on to "the next phase". What is that and when will it happen? I want to see the Ulster Canal - a watercourse - restored as an inland waterway that will bring a new vista and new life and activities into areas long neglected, including Clones and Monaghan town. Greenway developments are fine but I now want to see a waterway.

Looking at the issue of health of which my colleague has spoken, I note the redevelopment of St. Davnet's campus in Monaghan signalled for providing a new primary care centre, a mental health unit and a 20-bed elderly residential setting. All of that, of course, is welcome as far as it goes. Sadly, as I know all of these projects only too well, there are disappointments for some behind each of these steps. That said, the biggest problem I have here is that these are not new projects or proposals.

There is nothing in this plan, although I welcome the fact that we are now talking planning long term, that is innovative or game-changing, in particular, for the central Border counties and the north-west region, which will allow us to address the historical imbalance and neglect by successive Governments. At a time when the reunification of the island is no longer a distant vision or pipedream as some may have seen it, there was an opportunity here - I hope it is still there and that this is not set in stone - for us to start to plan for this major transformation of the island and its potential, North and South. By 2040, I believe Ireland will be united and, therefore, Project Ireland 2040 should have been a framework to make this process as seamless infrastructurally as possible.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, is sharing with the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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It is good to be here welcoming a good plan. One must look at where we started from, that is, areas, in particular, the north west, that effectively were left behind. I refer to the connectivity that we are talking about in terms of roads, the N14 Lifford to Letterkenny, the A5 and the roads that Deputy Ó Caoláin spoke about. It is the first time that the north west has been connected correctly to what somebody described as the main economic driver of the country, which at this stage is County Dublin. There is the road connection to the north west, the rail connection to Sligo and then the vision that will be air connection to Knock airport, which is much more than a regional airport. That is the real benefit that the north west will experience in the future. Of course, there is the connection of the roads: the N17 from Sligo down as far as Tuam - the Tuam-Gort bypass is built and the connection between Galway and Limerick is built - and the connection of the M20 from Limerick to Cork. That is the connectivity required. One of the staggering statistics that amazed me from the previous census was that two thirds of the population of the island live within 20 km of the sea. It is so important to connect up all that area, from Belfast to Dublin, down into my county of Wexford, the connection between Oilgate and Rosslare connecting the ports, the connectivity between Rosslare, New Ross, Waterford and Cork, and back up along the Atlantic corridor. For the first time ever, we have a plan that will connect all those areas - roads, people, airports, railway links and, of course, the most important aspect of all of this, jobs. It revolves around jobs. There are 660,000 jobs to be created. There are jobs that will be operational in 2040 that have not even been invented yet.

There are so many good projects in this plan. The school programme, at primary and post-primary, amounts to €8.8 billion, but that is not only for the schools and classrooms. As we come up to the completion of that programme, it is to move on to the next stage, which we did not get to do because we did not have the money in the past decade, for PE rooms and computer rooms so that we can start the children off with good habits in young classes, achieve improvements in post-primary classes and move on from there.

The three elective hospitals are important. We have too many waiting lists. We also have also too many hospitals. The three elective hospitals that will be built I hope will be of a scale where we can do away with the waiting lists. We can use the economy of scale in Dublin, Cork and Galway for those three new units, to 2,600 beds, for the hospital groups to get themselves organised and to put in place those beds where the population bases are and use the hospitals to the best of their abilities. It is not that they all will be in one hospital. A general hospital might become an area of expertise in one specific treatment or that type of thing. It is important to have that vision for this.

We also must remember that there will also be the technological universities. That will be so important for my region because it has suffered more than any other region. We have the lowest level of third-level participation because there was no university in the south east. When one conducts the analysis on why students do not return, it shows it is because they leave for college and the smallest percentage returns. That has had a significant impact on the region of the south east.

The other aspect of this that is important for my county, Wexford, is Rosslare Port. It will be really important in terms of Brexit. I spoke about the connectivity from Wexford to Dublin - the major economic organ of the State - and to Cork. While everybody is of the view that all roads lead to either Dublin or Cork, in my view, the opposite is the case. The roads lead to every other part of the country. That is the future so that we do not have everything having to be done in two or three areas, and we can develop the counties that are within an hour and a half distance with motorway network being constructed around the country. Those areas will then thrive and become economic generators in their own right.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I welcome Project Ireland 2040, which was launched by the Taoiseach on Friday last.

For me, in reading the document, the following foreword said it all: "We now have the opportunity to shape a new model of the physical development of our country which can drive substantial progress in economic, social and environmental terms as an island in a European and in a global context." This line sums up for me what this project is all about.

It is about building a future, a vision for our children and their children. I believe it is the first time a plan such as this has been announced, committing as it does to building up our infrastructure and public services. However, the main players in this are the people - all of us here, our children and their children - and the impact this forward-thinking will have on their lives in the future. This is a very significant announcement. It is a €116 billion plan, a roadmap for Ireland catering for a larger population, an extra 1 million people. We want to take different approaches to future planning by focusing not only on bricks and mortar, but also on social, economic and cultural development. We are investing in our towns, cities and, above all, rural communities.

Investment in our health service is a key element of the plan, and I am very supportive of the plans to improve and enhance our health service. Capital funding for our health service will be 165% higher for the next ten years than it was in the previous ten years. Through these investments, together with the implementation of Sláintecare, we have a solid plan to create a better future for our children and a better health service for all. A major programme of investment in health infrastructure will be guided by a recognition that the best health outcomes can be achieved by directing our health services towards primary and community care, where people's needs can be met locally, in order that our local people can have high-quality acute and emergency care provided to them in appropriate hospital settings. This will include completion of our national hospital projects already under way.

The development of our national children's hospital at St. James's Hospital is a landmark project which will deliver a state-of-the-art children's hospital for the country in 2022. I fully support this project and as I travel by it daily I see the real progress that has been made on the ground in recent months and the significant impact it will have on the area. I also welcome the plan to relocate the Coombe maternity hospital from its original site to St. James's Hospital, which will bring together adult, paediatric and maternity services all on the one campus. We have long awaited this, particularly our maternity services.

We will deliver 2,600 more acute hospital beds, which will make a real difference to patients and address in some way the overcrowding in our hospitals. In addition, we will deliver 4,500 new community beds, which will provide both long and short-term beds for the elderly. This is significant as in recent weeks many Deputies on both sides of the House have raised the significant problems faced by many elderly people trying to access long-term care beds and respite care.

There is a commitment to improve our mental health services with investment in a 120-bed hospital in Portrane, north Dublin, as well as a ten-bed child and adolescent mental health unit, a ten-bed mental health intellectual disability unit and additional acute mental health units across the country. I know the Ministers of State, Deputies Jim Daly and Finian McGrath, have warmly welcomed the opportunities that this could create for people with disabilities and older people into the future. We will also see construction at the National Rehabilitation Hospital of a 120-bed facility, which is badly needed to support services provided at the hospital. This plan will provide for the development of cancer facilities in line with the national cancer strategy, which is very important.

In my own brief, I look forward to continued commitment on our drugs strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, and the Healthy Ireland initiative, which is making great progress in promoting a healthier and more active lifestyle for people young and old.

We in government are committed to supporting families. Much work has already been started in this area, such as the roll-out of the affordable child care schemes, investment in early years education, and the provision of parental leave. I hope this will continue. I also welcome the €8.4 billion investment in primary and post-primary schools, which my colleagues have spoken about. Here in Dublin, we are seeing a significant commitment to our transport network. I hope, if I am around in 20 years' time - at my age, I doubt I will be - to continue travelling as a senior citizen, with my free travel card, on the new Luas lines, underground and DART.

I also welcome the commitment to improve housing stock and availability under a new €2 billion urban regeneration and development fund. I continue to have people come into my office daily looking for both social and private housing. I hope in the future we can consider all people for housing and not just circle the wagons around one specific kind of housing because many people in this country right across the board need housing.

4:15 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I call Deputy Eugene Murphy. I will ask him to move the adjournment of the debate at 5 p.m.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Roscommon-Galway, Fianna Fail)
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I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this plan. We can all bore holes in it and say it is not to our liking, but I will be fair about it. Where credit is due I will give it, and where I see holes in it or where I am disappointed I will point that out as well. However, I hope at all times to be constructive in my contribution to the House.

It is good to have a plan such as this laid out, to have some idea of where we are going in the future and to deal with many of the problems we have. While we can talk about the fanfare and the launch of the plan and so on, which is fair enough, how much of it we can achieve in the long term is what I, and every Member of the House, should be interested in. I do not disagree with anyone from whatever constituency being parochial. We must have a national plan. However, we must also recognise that we must try to bring with us those areas that have been left behind. I acknowledge that in some urban areas there have been appalling difficulties, appalling poverty and bad housing as well as the difficulties we have in many parts of rural Ireland.

This brings me to my own constituency. I welcome the fact that the N5, a national primary route, will now be included for development. It should happen over the next few years. This is the vital route from Longford to Westport, on which there is a huge amount of traffic, and which involves significant business from Roscommon and County Mayo, with many employers exporting material constantly complaining about the bad state of the roads. As a Deputy for the region, and with other Deputies and Oireachtas Members, I have met the chambers of commerce in Galway and Mayo on numerous occasions. Some of these companies' headquarters are in America and they have smaller units in Ireland, and they constantly complain about the state of the roads.

The proposed works regarding the N5 are good. Regarding the N4, which also goes through County Roscommon, I very much welcome the fact that the motorway will come from Mullingar to Roosky, but then we will have a long stretch of road, a big area, again going right through Roscommon and down to Sligo that will not be developed. Again, this should be somewhere in the plan. Admittedly, the Government has to bring it so much of the way and look at the funds it has available to do this, but we should have a longer-term plan to commit ourselves in total to bring that motorway to Sligo and eventually to Donegal.

When we think of transport issues we must think of counties such as Sligo and Donegal. All of us throughout the country accept that our regional and county roads need a lot more money. As my party's spokesman on the OPW and flood relief, I see every week the amount of damage now being done because of weather. I acknowledge that the Minister, Deputy Naughten, has spoken very strongly about climate change here and is very committed to his role in that regard. How much of his plans he can achieve I do not know, to be realistic. There is a financial commitment to it because we will have to spend significant amounts of money on our infrastructure because of our changing weather patterns. It is quite obvious that the weather patterns are changing dramatically and having a serious effect on this nation, and we will have to spend more and more resources as a result.

The are other benefits for my constituency. The focus on Athlone is good for County Roscommon as long as we keep our county boundaries. I believe the focus on Athlone will have a ripple effect on a part of our county but not all of it. The south and the middle of the county will do very well but I am still concerned about the north of our county because that area desperately needs development.

I believe the Acting Chairman wants me to adjourn the debate. I hereby do so.