Dáil debates

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

National Development Plan: Motion [Private Members]


8:55 pm

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:notes that:
— Project Ireland 2040 combines the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the ten year National Development Plan (NDP) 2018-2027;

— Project Ireland 2040 was published in February 2018;

— the NDP sets out the investment priorities that will underpin the successful implementation of Ireland’s infrastructural commitments in the NPF;

— the NDP commits to €116 billion capital spending in the period from 2018 to 2027, with Exchequer funding allocated for public capital investment over the period amounting to €91 billion;

— a fundamental purpose of the NDP is ensuring that public capital investment is clearly aligned to the delivery of the objectives and priorities detailed in the NPF;

— since the publication of Project Ireland 2040, there have been significant cost overruns on two key projects listed in the NDP – the National Broadband Plan and the

National Children’s Hospital;

— these cost overruns have a significant knock-on impact on the funding available to other planned-for projects listed in the plan;

— the ten year NDP is fundamentally undermined by the significant cost overruns of these two major construction projects;

— many of the projects listed in the plan will not have the required funding available to them for completion as a result of significant cost overruns on other projects; and

— since the publication of Project Ireland 2040, a climate emergency has been declared by this House and, as a result, significant revisions of the plan are required in order to deliver on this declaration; and
calls on the Government to:
— immediately identify which planned-for projects in the NDP will be delayed or cancelled as a result of lack of funding;

— recognise that the declaration of a climate emergency by the House requires significant revision of the NPF and NDP in order to deliver meaningful action on

climate change; and

— urgently revise the NDP and NPF to properly reflect the current spending on listed projects and the impact on the €116 billion overall budget and its allocation across


We all recall the fanfare and staging that accompanied the launching of Project Ireland 2040. There was quite a bit of commentary about the costs involved with the advertising campaign, including cinema advertisements and controversial regional newspaper pieces that were made to look like editorial copy. That coincided with the establishment of the spin unit which was subsequently dismantled. However, behind the spin, the actual reality, where there are a lot of ballpark figures, made very clear that many projects in the plan were aspirational at best and had no real chance of being delivered in a timely way. One cannot pin down absolutely the cost of everything but there are an awful lot of ballpark figures and guesstimates. Having the national planning framework and national development plan in tandem is absolutely the right approach and I have been critical of that not happening in the past. We are seeing very substantial plans for increases in population on the east coast. I can see it in my own area, as well as in Fingal and other areas. It cannot happen without balancing those communities with the infrastructure they require. That is critically important if we are going to build sustainable communities. If we are to get to a regional balance, we cannot count populations twice and three times. We will only grow our population by a certain amount. If we are to do that and get balanced regional development, there has to be a way of doing it without compromising communities, or having plenty of housing - I hope there will be plenty of housing - but very little of the other infrastructure that is required.

Notwithstanding the original plan and its possible unviability, the overruns, particularly with the national children's hospital and the national broadband plan, have come into stark focus.While no figure was put on the national broadband plan, there was no expectation that it would be many times the amount that had been talked about. The cost of the national children's hospital project had been estimated at €790 million. We then discovered that that was not a nailed down figure and know from the tendering process that the final cost will now be somewhere around €1.7 billion, when the technology that has to accompany the building has been factored in. That is not an absolute final figure and we were told at the Committee of Public Accounts that containing the cost to that amount will be a challenge. In the national development plan a total of €11 billion was set aside for the entire portfolio of health projects. However, here we are just one year into the lifetime of the plan and we have already committed almost €2 billion of that to just one project. It was originally supposed to be about getting the very best outcome for newborn babies and was to be developed side-by-side with a maternity hospital. Making that happen on or near that site is going to be enormously challenging. It does not even have the provision to land a helicopter, for example, which could be a means of transport. It is surely self-evident that other things provided for within the €11 billion health budget will now suffer as a result and things like acute services, emergency department upgrades, or primary care units, for example, may well be compromised as a consequence. We need to hear from the Government about how that is going to be handled.

Similarly, a huge plank of Government fanfare surrounding the national broadband plan was about appealing to rural Ireland. It is not so rural and I must say that within my own constituency there are locations where the broadband quality is less than it is required to be. There was no expectation that it would run to a subsidy of up to about €3 billion. However, due to the chaos and mishandling of this Government's approach to both the tendering process and the deal itself, we have seen the cost of delivering the national broadband plan escalate. When it was first announced by the then Minister, Pat Rabbitte, it was somewhere in the region of €350 million. That was way off the mark, but €3 billion is not something any of us expected. There have been many ballpark figures and guesstimates. If we are going to have strategic planning, it has to be based in some semblance of reality. The whole idea of the national development plan was to give comfort and assurance that a long-term strategic vision could be delivered on. For example, there are a number of fairly significant things on the horizon on the income side of things. One of those is Brexit and the other is the corporate tax area, which the G20 is discussing. We were told by the Taoiseach not that long ago that if there was a hard Brexit, there would probably be no money for a national broadband plan. However, the preferred bidder has been announced and the timeframe for signing a contract is during the ploughing championships. Does the Minister have any idea of the optics that is putting out? We are locked into a contract that the Taoiseach himself has said that, in the context of a hard Brexit, we possibly would not have the money to deliver on. The reality is that what it says on paper regarding the long-term outcomes planned for is belied by short-term decisions and actions which are systematically exposing the budgetary flaws at the heart of the national development plan. The Government would like us to believe that it is no big deal and that future budgeting arrangements can accommodate the changes, but when I have money in my hand, I can spend it once. I cannot spend it twice or three times on different things. The national finances are the same and the Minister will probably argue that choices have to be made. It is a big deal that these overruns are there and it is taking us for fools to say it is not going to impact on other things and other very important projects.

Since the publication of the national development plan, this House has also declared a climate emergency. We had an all-party committee that did very good work and the House debated it and declared a climate emergency. That cannot be a tokenistic declaration. We have to adjust our behaviour as a consequence of making that declaration. There has to be meaningful action and it is not just about how we spend money but about when we spend it. I can give an example. The electrification of the train line in my constituency up to Celbridge and Maynooth is going to be a really important project. The line is electrified as far as Celbridge, and the train comes into town and terminates at Heuston. What happens then? There is a capacity issue with the Luas, because the critically important DART underground, or interconnector, for example, has not been factored in. That seems to be off sometime into the future. Transport is one of the three key elements regarding climate change and one must factor in the big ticket items that are going to make that difference. They are going to be in cities. That is one of the issues and it is self-evident that that needs to be done. It was self-evident decades ago and other Governments in the past can equally be criticised for not spending money when it was available to undertake that kind of a project. We have long since advocated the spend and save approach.

We fundamentally believe spending strategically on the right things at the right time does not mean continuing to waste money on trying to backfill problems when they emerge. It is positive that a large amount of new rolling stock has been purchased. I had been seeking same, but there must be an integrated network to make it viable. I would have expected that to be the approach taken to this issue.

Due to successive Governments consistently failing to address climate and environmental issues adequately and to spend accordingly, we are facing into hefty fines for missing our 2020 targets. Missing them will make it even more difficult to meet the 2030 targets, as we will already be on a slippery slope. I introduced legislation on energy security and climate change in 2012 that was debated a year or so later. It would have set targets and indicated how to meet them. The then Minister, Commissioner Phil Hogan, introduced legislation a week or two later without targets. He is now critical of us for being laggards even though he had the opportunity to introduce legislation with targets and did not do so. This requires difficult choices. It is a question of timetabling and deciding where to make a difference.

The Government's amendment to the motion talks of transitioning to renewable energy as being a key priority. It also refers to the impending publication of an all-of-government action plan that will use funding available under the NDP to help achieve targets. From the amendment in the names of Deputies Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin of the Green Party, however, we can see that we would still have a shortfall in emissions reductions by 2030 of approximately 70% even if every initiative in the NDP was implemented. This shows that there is even an issue with our ambitions.

Put simply, the NDP is not fit for purpose where strategic actions to address meaningfully the climate and environmental emergency are concerned. In terms of the reality of delivering on projects listed in the NDP, the Government believes it is feasible to brush off the impact of cost overruns on two major projects in the face of the level of spending that is required to address the climate emergency adequately is just more smoke and mirrors. The Government has a laissez-faireapproach and is relying on future budgetary adjustments as a fallback when there are overruns.

In its report today, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council identified some of the risks, including our over-reliance on corporate taxes. This takes us back to the early 2000s, when concerns were constantly raised about the reliance on a transient tax. I do not entirely agree with the council on what should be done, as we believe the State should spend to save. DART underground is such an example.

The G20 countries are seeking to make significant amendments to corporate taxation. If there was a significant shortfall like the last one in future budgets, not only would it influence what we could spend under the NDP, but it would also radically change our debt-to-GDP ratio. In turn, that would impact on our annual budget and ability to fund services, as we would have to service that debt. That point cannot be ignored in how we deal with the NDP.

I knocked on quite a number of doors in many places during the recent local elections and there were serious concerns raised about the cost overruns and the Government's ability to get a grip on the delivery of capital projects in a way that was cost effective and prudent. The Minister must have heard the same thing, as people were not just deciding to say this to Opposition canvassers who arrived at the door.

Long-term strategic planning is welcome and the NDP and national planning framework constitute the right approach, but they have been undermined by a number of events already and will be further undermined by others, not least the question of how Brexit will play out. The long-term plan must be deliverable and prioritise sustainability in all its forms, both economic and environmental. We are paying a price for the glaring mistakes of the early 2000s when, for example, the opportunity to build sizable numbers of local authority houses was not taken. Would we have the same housing crisis now had it been taken? We could have delivered a decent public transport system, meaning that we would not now be playing catch-up. We could have retrofitted the built environment, or at least commenced it. That all of these tasks needed to be done was evident. Imagine the very different society that we would be living in now had all of that happened and had we prioritised spending. While I realise that was prior to the Minister's involvement in government, we would not now be living through the housing emergency in its current manifestation.

This is being described as one of the slowest moving cities in Europe. In the early 1990s when the Luas received European funding, the argument made at the time was that the public transport system needed to be funded because Dublin had become uncompetitive owing to traffic chaos. Now, Dublin is at least as bad as it was then, if not worse. I include in that the city's fringes and counties like mine. We have prioritised the car over investment in public transport. Some of that predates the Minister's time in office, but if we do not make choices now, people in ten years' time will be asking who was in office and why they did not decide to take the approach that was necessary to address what was evident at the time, namely, that a flawed budget was underpinning the NDP and we were not paying anything like the attention to issues such as climate change that we needed to.

The three main areas are housing, transport and agriculture. We can do something in respect of each and must be ambitious in that regard. Unless we tackle them, the problem will grow larger for us from 2020 onwards. If we do not meet our 2020 targets, it will become much more difficult to meet our 2030 targets. This Government will be viewed as not having dealt with the decision on the requisite major investments and the strategy for same as it should have. I urge the House to revisit the NDP for those purposes.

9:05 pm

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I move amendment No. 2:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:"notes:
— the significant progress made in implementing the National Development Plan (NDP) as detailed in the first Project Ireland 2040 Annual Report published on 2nd May, 2019;

— that climate action and the transition to renewable energy is already a key priority in the NDP with circa €30 billion dedicated to this over the period of the plan, and in addition, the Government will shortly publish a new all-of-Government Climate Action Plan which will set ambitious targets for decarbonisation over the coming decades, using the funding available in the NDP to the maximum potential to help achieve these targets; and

— that the approach to remaining funding requirements will be clarified in the Summer Economic Statement and the Mid-Year Expenditure Report."

I agree with many of the points made by Deputy Catherine Murphy. She articulated the need for capital investment in an economy that has a young society and is growing quickly. We are all aware of the many intense needs in the economy in areas like housing and public transport, as acknowledged by the Deputy. She made the point that if we are going to increase capital investment, we must do so in a strategic way that is integrated with the national development plan. I differ from the Deputy insofar as I suggest we already have a plan, Ireland 2040, that looks to meet many of the objectives she mentioned. I accept that there are challenges and appreciate that there are things we should have done better. We have acknowledged the mistakes that have been made in the case of the national children's hospital. This plan seeks to provide for a significant increase in capital investment and to respond to the challenges that have been mentioned.

I would like to make two points in response to what the Deputy said about the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council's fiscal sustainability report which was published earlier today. First, I have debated these matters in this Chamber and elsewhere during my three years as Minister with responsibility for handling this issue and not once during that time has a Deputy called on me to spend less or to run a larger surplus. That has not yet happened to me. Even in the debates that have happened since the council's report was published earlier today, calls for such policy action have not been part of the narrative. Second, I would like to respond to the Deputy's point about corporation tax by reminding her that we decided in last year's budget to change the rate of VAT that applies in the hospitality sector. Of course, the increase in corporation tax is making a large contribution to the funding of the various capital projects we are debating this evening and has already enabled a great deal of progress to be made under Ireland 2040. If we examine what that progress looks like, we will see that it is real.

When Ireland 2040 was being launched last year, I faced Opposition claims that the plan did not exist. Those who made such claims last year are claiming now that Ireland 2040 is being undermined. I suggest this change can be attributed to the progress the plan has already made and the difference it is already making in communities. Eighteen primary care centres were opened last year, with a further 11 centres due to open this year. Ireland 2040 is enabling the delivery of more homes, including the social and public housing that is needed. In the area of higher and further education, new investments are under way at Technological University Dublin. In the area of arts and heritage, 47 new projects moved ahead in 2018 due to funding enabled by Ireland 2040. That is what is happening. Of course, there are areas we need to challenge and improve. Of course, we have learned from things that have been done with the national children's hospital project. We need to ensure those things are done better in the future. In acknowledging what has gone wrong and what could have been done differently in the case of the national children's hospital, I will not lose sight of the argument that many other things that are happening under Ireland 2040 are making a real difference to the lives of citizens and can make a difference to the lives of more citizens.

If there was ever a point in time when capital expenditure needed to increase by 24%, which is what we are doing this year, surely this point in time, when we are approaching Brexit, is it. This year, capital investment in the economy will move beyond €7 billion. As the Deputy correctly said, many of the challenges we are facing have resulted from the unevenness of our investment in the so-called capital of the country, which is code for people's homes and the buses and trains they can get on, over the years. Such investment has tended to surge and plummet. Ireland 2040 is seeking to increase investment quickly in the medium term before sustaining it in the longer term. The existence of such plans is one of the reasons the economy has grown in the way we have seen in recent years and one of the reasons we have seen changes in projects like those to which I have referred. In addition, a number of processes are in place to track where projects stand and where we are overall. We have launched the investment projects and programme tracker, which is publicly available. We have launched an online mapping tool to help citizens to understand where key projects stand. We are putting in place the Land Development Agency to deal with the issue of how to create public land banks in cities in a way that enables and incentivises the delivery of more homes by landowners.

Climate change is one of the main areas in which outcomes are called for in Ireland 2040 and one of the biggest recipients of funding in the plan. Almost €30 billion has been allocated against funding choices that can make a difference to climate change. The objective of the contested public transport projects under the plan is to get more of our citizens onto high-speed public transport. The retrofitting of existing homes is another priority under the plan. We want to do some work on renewable heat. All of this is being put in place by Ireland 2040 and by the priority that is being placed against climate change as a result. It is understandable there has been much debate about funding allocations in this context. The strength of those allocations is that they are multi-annual. When we have got to points of strength in the economy in the past, we have usually increased capital investment up to the point at which we can no longer afford it. We look to increase public investment and then have to cut it back at a time when we need it the most. In this plan, we are looking to increase capital investment over time before holding it steady to respond to many of the challenges that are debated in this House day after day, particularly in the context of motions like this one.

I accept many of the arguments that have been made by Deputy Catherine Murphy about things that are needed. I differ from her on the progress that has been made under Ireland 2040 in seeking to address the issues she has identified. The amendment I have proposed refers to the progress that has been made, acknowledges what has been done with regard to climate change and mentions that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, will publish an all-of-government climate action plan. By seeking to manage how we fund projects over many years, as opposed to doing it year to year, we will have the resources we need to respond to the issues that have been raised by the Deputy. I contend that one of the best responses to the many challenges facing us involves managing and funding capital investment in the economy in a way that delivers better homes, better universities and better public transport at a time when citizens are most in need of such services.

9:15 pm

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Offaly, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I would like to share time with Deputies Cassells, Murphy O'Mahony, Cahill, Lisa Chambers, Ó Cuív and Eugene Murphy.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Offaly, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity presented by this Private Members' motion which asks the Dáil to direct the Government to review the national development plan. We support the motion and will vote for it. We also support the amendment that has been tabled by the Green Party which seeks to provide for a climate impact assessment and audit of the plan to be carried out and we will vote for it too. Given that the Dáil has declared an emergency in this area, as we have heard, it is right and proper that we avail of the opportunity when it arises to review the benefit and gain that may accrue from infrastructural expenditure such as this. I note what the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, said about the climate action programme that is to be brought forward by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, and others. The Taoiseach has been quoted today as saying the Government supports climate action that does not make the country poorer and does not cost jobs.

Does he know that Bord na Mona is shedding between 450 and 600 jobs, as it accelerates its decarbonisation programme? I take it he does not know that and it is very unfortunate that he would make such comment. It is also very unfortunate that he has not put in place, with the available carbon tax revenue, direct funding and assistance for a transition group that has been put in place for the region. Then again, neither the Taoiseach nor his Government saw fit to ensure the EU would include the peatlands in the coal mining districts-in-transition fund set up for such areas throughout Europe. It will take an application to the new European Commission for that to be rectified but that signifies, in a small way, that the intent is not there on the part of the Government to address areas that understand what is expected of them but get no compensation, help or assistance to ensure the transition is meaningful and can be beneficial rather than detrimental.

I also believe it is necessary for this Dáil to instruct the Government to cater for a review because of the issue of overspending. The national development plan is not long in vogue and, as Deputy Catherine Murphy said, great fanfare greeted its initiation and there were many pages of print across local newspapers, thanks to the national spin unit, which was dismantled thereafter because of the obvious efforts it made to create the impression it was something that it is not. Simply put, the national children's hospital and the national broadband plan will accommodate an overspend in the region of €2.56 billion. What impact will that have? Will it mean that projects announced for different parts of the country in housing, education, health and primary care, among others, will be forgone? That is the advice that was given to the Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform by his own Secretary General. It is also the advice given in the independent assessment by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council published today. The council points out that the ceilings set by many Departments have been exceeded over a number of years. The council's report also notes that the structural deficit impinges on the targets set by the EU in the context of the fiscal rules. The contention that has been around this House for many years that Fine Gael is the only party that can manage the public finances has been blown to shreds in recent weeks alone.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform said on the "Six One News" on 8 May last - I will check my dates - that no project of any shape or form within the national development plan would be impacted on by the overruns related the national broadband plan or the national children's hospital but he cannot give such a guarantee. He said the overruns would be catered for through revenue resources. However, these are the same revenue resources and projects contained within the Government figures and projections that the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council has said are "not credible" and are "irresponsible". The report published today is damning. I put it to members of the council at a committee meeting earlier today that the Government's figures are based on volatile corporate tax receipts. The Minister has acknowledged this and has said he has catered for it in this year's budget by not including an expectation of a similar amount as that collected last year. However, I am sure corporate tax receipts will be used to cater for the overspend that will inevitably happen in the Department of Health, among others. The Government's figures are also based on a soft Brexit and the implications of same. Various reports have looked at the alternative which could have a far greater impact on the economy and the national development plan. The bottom line is that in order to cater for the overspend at this early stage, the Government must either increase taxes, borrow more, cut projects within the plan or cut current expenditure. That is a fact. The Minister and his party often accuse others in this House of engaging in fairy economics but he gave a lesson in fairy economics recently when he claimed that the overspend would not impact on any planned project.

It is for these reasons that I believe, especially given the numbers in this Dáil, the recent elections and the sentiments expressed to me on the doorstep, that people expect that all those elected to this House and to local authorities should be able to work together for the betterment of those that they serve. The Government rushed to announce this, as it has rushed to announce many things, but there was not a whole lot of work behind it. The Government is good on the hard hats and the high-vis jackets but is not so good when it comes to the shovel and getting the work done. I hope the Government will take note of what the House is saying and will ensure a proper review takes place. In that way, it can be straight with the public as to what will emanate and be delivered as a result.

9:25 pm

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Meath West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to debate the call for a review of the national development plan. There is no doubt that Government's behaviour in the context of the national development plan, Project Ireland 2040 and, in particular, the national planning framework, was disgraceful and showed the contempt with which the national Parliament is held by this Government. The Parliament was bypassed in terms of a proper debate and, crucially, an actual vote on the endorsement or otherwise of the national planning framework. I have heard members of the Government claim in this House and in the media that a vote actually happened when it blatantly did not. Instead, straight after the bypassing of that vote, we had the around-Ireland roadshow, with goodies for certain constituencies and certain Deputies. A bit like the spin unit that was spinning that news, the strategic communications unit, SCU, is gone and a lot of the money needed to deliver these projects is vanishing as well, most of it into the crater at St. James' Hospital. Now we come to the crux of the matter. A significant part of the planning framework relates to where the population will be dispersed and centred in the next 20 years but is contingent on the supporting infrastructure being in place to allow people to live in areas that have the physical and social amenities that they need. We have seen all this before. The overarching document gives the green light to the regional and, subsequently, the county plans but with the obvious demand for new housing, sites will start to be developed. What will not keep pace is the supporting infrastructure necessary for people in these areas to live quality lives, especially on the east coast. Lest we are accused tonight of cheap political digs for a debate, the facts speak for themselves. Take the issue of education as an example. Even before the publication of the national development plan, scores of new schools were announced on the eve of the last general election. There were half a dozen announced for my own town alone but not one of those schools has been developed. We have asked questions about them in this House but there is still no sign of them. If the goodies announced prior to the last election have not been delivered, how is it credible that the projects in this plan will happen? The Minister cherry-picked a number of items in the plan and cherry-picking is what is being done in terms of deliverability.

The Green Party has tabled an amendment seeking a climate impact assessment as part of the review, which we are supporting. In my constituency there is a proposal that gets just a fleeting reference in this plan but it could assist greatly in the reduction of car emissions in a county of 200,000 people. I refer to the development of the Navan to Dublin rail line. The Government is saying that it will throw its eye over the viability of that project in a few years' time. The Taoiseach travels that road and must see the backlog of traffic each morning at 6 a.m. He should back the rail line project which could help in terms of climate change, as well as improving the lives of the decent people of County Meath.

Photo of Margaret Murphy O'MahonyMargaret Murphy O'Mahony (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I wish to speak about issues specifically pertaining to my constituency of Cork South-West. The national planning framework and the national development plan were launched amid much media hype. However, this has long since waned and the truth is that the Government has failed to deliver on a massive scale. I have listened to hours of spin at the health committee on the delivery of the national children's hospital. Where are we today? We are waiting on a hospital that will cost almost €550 million extra. We are now in a position where other projects around the country will be greatly impacted on. This is inevitable no matter what the Minister tries to claim. Essential services such as respite and endoscopy units in Bantry General Hospital could now be put on the long finger.

Numerous broadband plans have come and gone, each having missed its deadline. At the end of it all, what do we actually have?

We have nothing more than confirmation that it will cost six times more than the initial price. I genuinely believe some Ministers do not appreciate how detached the Government has become from rural Ireland. I know of areas in which there is no broadband coverage and no mobile phone coverage. I know of areas in which one might send an email in the hope it may be delivered 30 minutes later. How can we expect to attract investment into places like west Cork, areas which have great things going for them, if we cannot even offer basic broadband coverage?

If I may once again refer to Bantry General Hospital, its staff attempt to run high-tech equipment in the course of their daily duties but the IT infrastructure available to them does not lend itself to same. We are talking about people's livelihoods and, in this case, people's lives. It is simply unacceptable.

Today I heard members of Government continuously make reference to the fact that the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council is only an advisory body. If the Government is not willing to take its advice on board, is its existence surplus to the Government's requirements? This haphazard approach has to stop. As stated previously, it is for this reason we will be supporting this motion and the amendments.

9:35 pm

Photo of Jackie CahillJackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The spin and marketing around the launch of the national planning framework and national development plan, Project Ireland 2040, demonstrated exactly how the Taoiseach and those around him view their role in government. It was, and is, an exercise in style over substance. The spend on the marketing that ran alongside the launch was truly shocking. The choreography and presentations by Ministers told us clearly what the Government's mindset is. All the film launch was missing was canned laughter and applause.

All of this would have been fine if the country was not in the middle of an unprecedented homelessness crisis. It would have been mildly amusing if the housing crisis that grips the country was not running out of control month by month while the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government offers launch and relaunch of failed policies. It would have been amusing if our health service was not on its knees and if the Government's handling of the national children's hospital was not resulting in a spend overrun that will see health projects in my county delayed while patients suffer. I refer to projects such as St. Patrick's Hospital in Cashel, where badly needed investment has been promised but where, because of ineffective government, serious doubts remain as to whether the timeframe for delivery will be met. I also refer to the acknowledged need for acute mental health beds in County Tipperary. This need has been accepted by the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, but his hands will now be tied by the lack of funding arising from this Taoiseach and his senior Ministers being more interested in their image than in bringing forward effective Government policies that would see major problems in our economy resolved.

The serious issue of proper regional development has also been lost in the fanfare. The plan tells us that regional development is a priority but the failure to deliver on rural broadband tells the real story of the Government. It is solely a matter of individuals being more important than the facts. The facts in respect of regional development and rural broadband are clear; one is impossible without the other. This important fact has been lost in this plan and by the Government.

I will make a final comment about the objective in this plan to support and develop town centres in rural counties. Again we see a clear disconnect between the plan and Government policy. In my home town of Thurles the local authority will invest millions of euro in developing Liberty Square in the coming years, but the Government has allowed a State-owned company, An Post, to abandon its central location in that same square.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am happy to support the motion and speak in favour of it. The launch of the national planning framework and national development plan was one of the most cynical the State has ever witnessed. An unprecedented marketing campaign followed. Deputy Cassells is correct; it was like a bag of goodies being given to Deputies to take back to their constituencies as though they had delivered something enormous when they had delivered nothing at all. We look to overspends on the two biggest capital projects the State is facing into: the national broadband plan, which is seeing an overspend of €2.5 billion on its original estimate of €500 million; and the national children's hospital, the cost of which has increased by €447 million from the spend originally announced. It is not credible to suggest that this will have no impact on funding for other capital projects. It simply does not add up.

It is not only Fianna Fáil or other Opposition parties saying this. The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council today released a report in which Seamus Coffey had the same message for the Government, which is that its budgetary plans for later years lack credibility - a scathing assessment if ever there was one. I cannot understand why the Minister would not want to immediately identify the projects which he cannot fund and to be honest with citizens and with this House. I cannot understand why he would not also want to identify projects that will be delayed, because it is not possible to continue on the same trajectory when his budget and resources have been significantly impacted upon. It simply does not make sense.

The council also calls for recognition of the climate emergency, a call supported by this House. Clearly the national development plan, Project Ireland 2040, does not account for this. Surely it would be prudent on the part of the Government to assess those plans to see where they stand and how they need to change, because it is obvious that they do need to change. This motion makes sense and it would be unwise not to act on it and not to look back over those plans. To suggest that projects planned for the end of 2040 will be delivered in 20 years' time simply lacks credibility. We discussed the local property tax earlier. The suggestion that local authorities would take in the same amount of local property tax while new changes result in 80% of people paying increased taxes and only 20% paying reduced property taxes does not add up. I happily support the motion and urge the Government to act.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will be very brief. As the Minister is probably aware, I never agreed with the approach taken in the national development plan. It is just a list of projects put down on a sheet of paper. It seems that three big problems arise in everything the Government does. The first is the total inability to make planning decisions in any coherent way. The second is the failure to deliver projects on budget. The third is the failure to deal with the housing crisis. Since I only have less than half a minute left, I would like to say I do not understand a plan that states there will be 40,000 extra people in Galway when we cannot house the people who are in the city. In fact, we are housing people in emergency accommodation outside the city because it literally does not have enough buildings for the present population. This whole plan is bizarre and should be rewritten. It was never brought to the Dáil for debate and it is non-functional.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Roscommon-Galway, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I have no option but to be brief. I will concentrate on my constituency because I have limited time to support this motion. My colleagues have made the case in respect of the overspend on the children's hospital and broadband, but I will tell the Minister about the type of things that are happening in my part of the world with regard to broadband. People who are trying to fill out passport applications online see their connection break down. Such occurrences have caused untold trouble for families in my region. People can be paying wages online on a Thursday evening only for the system to break down. These are the difficulties we are having.

I will also refer to health issues in my area. On many occasions I have questioned the Taoiseach regarding the absolute need for work to commence on the emergency department at Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe. It is shovel ready - if I can use that phrase - but it is not being given the go-ahead. Those projects are being deliberately held up by the Government. There is another one at the Sacred Heart Hospital in Roscommon and another in Carrick-on-Shannon. Those projects are not moving and I believe they are being deliberately held up as a result of this plan in which, I am sorry to say, I have never believed.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am not going to criticise the way in which the plan was launched. Some of those who have levelled criticism at the Government with regard to how it was launched would have done exactly the same thing had they been in the Minister's position. That is the reality. I am not going to play politics in that regard. What I want to get into is the plan and what the motion calls for. What it calls for is not something at which any Government should turn up its nose. Nobody is asking for the plan to be completely stopped.

From my reading the Social Democrats' motion makes three reasonable requests. It wants the Government to identify which planned-for projects in the NDP will be delayed or cancelled as a result of lack of funding. That is a very reasonable request two years into the plan. The Minister for Finance has said those cost overruns will not impact on the national development plan and that it can cater for those cost overruns through revenue. If that is the case, it is the Minister's responsibility to show the House how he can achieve that.

The second request is for the Government to recognise that the declaration of a climate emergency by the House requires significant revision of the NPF and the NDP in order to deliver meaningful action on climate change. Again any reasonable person would recognise given where we are now on the back of the report of the climate action committee and the declaration of the climate emergency, it is prudent to revisit the NDP to ensure we can meet targets. The Minister has outlined some of the things the Government will do and the additional funding to be invested to ensure we can meet some of our targets. However, I do not see anything wrong with asking for a complete revision of the plan to ensure we can meet our targets and that we are energy efficient.

The final request is for the Government to urgently revise the NDP and the NPF to properly reflect the current spending on listed projects and the impact on the €116 billion overall budget. Again that is a very reasonable request. We accept this is an enormous capital programme going out to 2040. I understand why the NPF goes out to 2017. We need to give some direction to the construction sector. We need to ensure we can achieve all that. However, there is no harm in revising things. I do not know if there are built-in revision mechanisms between now and 2040. If there is not, I see nothing wrong with pausing and revising the plan to ensure we can achieve what the Government set out to achieve. That is a very reasonable request. For that reason we support the motion.

9:45 pm

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Many people in rural areas and the west would like to see much of the plan happen faster. That is one of the big issues. One of the aspects of the plan relates to climate change. It is about balance in the economy and balanced regional development. One of the big issues for the people living west of the Shannon is that we do not see enough infrastructure being built fast enough in order to develop an economy in that part of the world which can rebalance the economy which is probably overheating in Dublin with traffic jams and all the problems with rent, housing, etc. Part of that could be done through ensuring we have more places for people to live outside the city and in other regions around the country.

Having more places for people to live also requires more workspace development for people to work in those areas. That is one of the problems we have. Many people require workspace development to allow them to work from home or work from hubs near home. Broadband is one of the key infrastructural elements we require to make that happen and we require that as quickly as possible.

I come to the climate change aspect, particularly around how land is used. The Government is missing the big picture in respect of what we can do with climate change. Obviously land can be used to sequestrate as much carbon as possible and there is an economic opportunity to make that happen. However, if the Government simply leaves the market to deal with it, it will not happen. That has been the experience in the past. The Government needs to be a player in this area.

In order to develop the kind of sectoral approaches we need, particularly in regard to biogas and biomass which hopefully will replace the non-renewable carbon fuels we are using to produce most of our electricity, we could go down that direction. However, doing so requires all the biomass to be grown somewhere and it has to be grown on farmland. The farmers who grow that need to know they will get a guaranteed long-term payment for it. Half a dozen farmers cannot just decide they want to grow biomass. They need to know there is a structure, a market and payment for it. Nobody will do that on the required scale unless the Government has an involvement.

One of the things missing from the development plan is the concept of the Government playing a role in developing key sectors to ensure our climate change targets are met. To do that would be a major advance. It would not add much cost to the national development plan, but it would certainly give people confidence that there will be an emphasis on ensuring our climate change targets are reached.

Housing is one of the big issues. I come from a small rural parish with a three-teacher school going down to a two-teacher school owing to lack of children because no families are living in the area. Many rural areas do not have enough people because we do not have the jobs or infrastructure. However, at the other end of the country the place is bursting. We need to place an emphasis on rebalancing the economy. That will not happen if we leave it to the market to do it and if we leave it to business to develop on its own; the Government needs to play a role.

We need an economy that creates more wealth for more people everywhere. We need more services for more people everywhere. We need more supports for more small businesses everywhere. For that to happen the Government needs to show it is prepared to put the money in place.

As my colleague has said, the motion before the House is very reasonable. It calls on the Government to state how and where it will find the funding to develop the projects promised in the plan in the context of the significant cost overruns in other areas. It is not ridiculous to ask for that. Equally it is not ridiculous for the Government to take cognisance of the impact climate change will have. There are issues across the country with developing renewable energy, particularly the solar panel business. Deputy Stanley has a Bill before the House on microgeneration so that people could generate energy on the roofs of people's homes and businesses. So far nothing has happened with that because the Government is holding it up.

If the Government is serious about these things, it needs to be moving this aspect forward. For instance, what is happening with charging points for electric cars, particularly for people living in rural areas? People living in those rural areas have higher mileage on their vehicles than people living in urban areas. However, there is practically nowhere outside towns and cities for them to charge electric cars. Equally people living in rural areas do not have the options that people have in other places.

To make a difference we need infrastructure that will require key investment to happen fast. To do that requires turning the national development plan back to front. Many of the things planned for the last few years need to be done in the first few years. That is one of the key problems I saw when it was launched in Sligo last year with great razzmatazz. That is fine; every Government will do that. At the end of the day the funding that has been put in place and the funding that has been promised is not being delivered for many of the communities that need to see it now.

The motion is not asking the Government to do too much. At this point the Government needs to place the emphasis where the greatest potential is. The greatest potential for the economy is outside the areas where the economy is overheating; it is out in rural areas and out in the regions which is where most investment needs to be made. At this late hour I implore the Government to ensure the infrastructure is put in place, particularly broadband and the roads infrastructure required in rural areas so that business can develop and be sustainable.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

On behalf of the Labour Party, I support the motion and the amendment to the motion. In moving the Government's countermotion the Minister noted the significant progress made in implementing the NDP based on a report published in May.

This has been a Government of spin rather than substance. We have heard a considerable amount of conversation, declamation and declaration on the national development plan, the first aspect being the decision to push the timespan of the plan out from a normal one of five, seven or ten years to 22. In effect, this means that everything in the wide world can get done but maybe in year 19 or 22. Will Fine Gael still be in government then? Who knows? It will certainly be at least three to four general elections after the next general election. It is part of the craft of spinning to have a timeline that is so long that one can say one has committed to everything and will have done everything. Who will know?

On what the Minister was talking about, I would like to ask him a couple of questions about the broader Dublin area. Where in the national development plan is the electrification of the railway line from Dublin to Maynooth which runs through both of our constituencies? If the railway lines to Maynooth, Portarlington and Portlaoise were to be electrified, which should be achievable in about ten to 15 years under the plan, it would result in the transformation about which the previous speaker was talking, thereby benefiting much of rural and central Ireland. The greater Dublin area would be put on a footing with places such as London and Paris, to which it is quite reasonable to commute by train or some other very speedy mode of transport from a distance of 70 or 80 miles. It allows for much stronger towns farther out. There could be a viable, independent string of towns with both local attractions and the capacity for fast commuting. That would reduce road congestion and very long, slow commutes. Many individuals, including couples with children, are forced, because of the extraordinary price of houses in the big cities, to make extremely long commutes to and from their places of work.

Where is the Luas to Lucan and the metro to Swords? I have seen so many cost evaluations and descriptions of underground and overground options that, even though I know the route quite well, I am confused about what the Government's real intentions are.

Fine Gael has developed a serious problem over the question of competency in managing and organising the implementation of the projects needed for the State's normal functioning and growth. In the discussions today the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council featured again the overrun associated with the national children's hospital and the enormous uncertainty over and considerable increase in the ticket price of broadband. We all want to see broadband extended to every home in the country. We know that rural broadband is an essential resource for most people, wherever they are living in Ireland. It allows those in politically and geographically remote areas to develop enterprise, do more work from home and run businesses from their home areas.

In many ways, however, we have a national development plan that is all things to all men and women and that has a massive timeline that almost makes one doubt whether any of it will be implemented. The opening parts of the plan, covering the years 2018, 2019 and so on, have all been inherited from the previous Government. There is very little that is different. I am glad that the Minister has referred to the further development of Grangegorman, but, as he knows, this work has been ongoing for well over ten years. Construction began during the term of the last Government. It is good that the work is continuing, but the Government did not invent the project. That is why there are such questions over competency in the case of the national children's hospital. Where are the additional projects?

The plan is deeply disappointing when it comes to dealing with climate change. Where is the vision that will decarbonise the economy and provide transition employment for those who will be affected by decarbonisation? I refer to the workers who have been working in Bord na Móna on the bogs and perhaps the staff at the Moneypoint plant, one of the biggest polluters in Ireland. Action in that regard has been pushed out to 2027. There has been some talk about bringing the date forward by a year or two, but there is no definitive date.

In the aftermath of the Dáil declaring a climate change emergency, we should pause. All of us, including members of the Government, have something to contribute in that regard. We should sit down and work out a serious climate change plan to address the most polluting areas in the economy such as the Moneypoint plant. We should set out a coherent plan such that, within a maximum of six or seven years, we would take the polluters out of the equation and replace them with renewable energy sources that will allow us to achieve our climate change targets. I am disappointed that climate change is not really touched on.

9:55 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Not only has County Donegal been left out of national infrastructure projects but it is also becoming very clear that persistent cost overruns on specific projects provided with funding under the national development plan will have a negative financial impact on smaller projects across the country, particularly in County Donegal. For County Donegal, the concerns about the national development plan include concerns about funding commitments in respect of a number of local community hospitals, including St. Joseph's in Stranorlar and Sheil Community Hospital in Ballyshannon. The Taoiseach has denied the fact that cost overruns associated with the national children's hospital have anything to do with this but doubts remain. There are very strong doubts in the community in County Donegal. Doubts also remain about funding for flood defences which have has been called into question by local residents, particularly in Buncrana. To date, there have been no commitments made by the Government or the local authority, suggesting future funding is uncertain. This is particularly worrying as a provisional timeline of ten years, given in the national development plan, is already ten years too late for the communities affected.

The much awaited upgrade of the A5, a vital infrastructural project and a key economic driver for the regeneration of the north west, had its funding deferred to address cost overruns at the national children's hospital. A pattern is emerging. There is a history of cost overruns associated with pretty much every large-scale project proposed in the history of the State, including various motorways, the Luas, metro underground, the national children's hospital and, of course, the national broadband plan. Clearly, there is a conflict of interest when Ministers announce projects for political reasons, yet ignore the financial and regulatory realities of implementing them. The evaluation of projects should not be made by people who propose them. Conflicts of interest can lead to underestimating costs. It is clear that incompetent Governments need to be stopped before crises such as the homelessness and health crises recur. This is not to mention climate change and the need for the national development plan to address climate change issues which it completely ignores. The Government states it has factored climate change measures into some of the plan but not all of it.

Much more needs to be happening at this stage and the Government needs to realise that, wake up and smell the coffee and ensure it can meet the targets necessary for all of us for the climate future.

The national development plan is out of date and needs to be revised to take into account cost overruns and climate change responsibilities. Any compensation to address the cost deficit will need to be looked at in detail in order that funding can be secured in a fair and transparent manner and to ensure that rural areas such as County Donegal, which have not benefited from any of the developments in the past, are addressed. Climate responsibility needs to be reflected in public projects, infrastructure and transport. That is what will deliver for people.

10:05 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate and thank the Social Democrats for introducing this sensible motion. I cannot imagine why the Government would amend the motion and it is welcome that Fianna Fáil will support it. We are simply asking that the projects to be delayed are identified, which is the least the people of Ireland deserve. The motion asks for recognition that a climate emergency has been declared and seeks an urgent revision of the national development plan, NDP, and national planning framework, NPF, to properly reflect current spending levels. In addition, the Green Party is asking for a climate impact assessment of Project Ireland 2040.

When the Minister is finished talking, perhaps he will note that this is a serious matter and that the Deputies speaking at this time of the night are doing our best not to be negative and to come up with solutions. I realise there are many things a Minister must do but, as has been said, the NDP and the NPF began in spin, continue in spin and bear no relationship to the reality of a declared climate emergency.

The Taoiseach, in response to a question from me following the declaration of a climate emergency, said in this House that the declaration was simply symbolic. While he tried to clarify that statement afterwards, the declaration is anything but symbolic. The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, addressing the Dáil on 29 May, pointed out that we are losing biodiversity around the globe at a rate unprecedented in human history. Report after report from the United Nations and organisations in Ireland have stated we must face the climate emergency and do something about it. It would be sensible to say at this point that we need to review the NDP and the NPF for that reason. Some of the language used in the plans is good and I liked the repeated references in them to sustainability. I thought these were not bad plans when I read them first but, when I looked in more detail, I realised there is complete policy incoherence in both plans. I do not know how many sides of its mouth the Government can talk from but these incoherent policies suggest it is certainly more than two. We talk about sustainability and regional development while, at the same, promoting the unsustainable development of our cities without public transport, continuing with the type of development that is leading to more climate change and talking about investment in more fossil fuels. There is total policy incoherence in both plans.

It is time to take our leadership from the children of the country and across the world who have asked that damage to the climate is not done in their name. This is a sensible and rational motion that is asking us to stop and reflect. Let us look at where we are, given the climate change emergency and the overspend on two projects. Like my colleague, Deputy Catherine Murphy, I sit on the Committee of Public Accounts and, to my horror, the business case for the national children's hospital by a private company - we await information on the cost of that and who carried it out - was deemed by another private company not to be credible. This was after the event. I will be careful because I may have the language wrong but the words used to describe that business plan were along the lines of "not credible" or "faulty". Deputy Murphy might be able to help me with the words used.

The Minister stated nobody in this Dáil had ever asked him to reduce spending. That is true, but we have all asked him to spend more efficiently, more effectively and in a different way and to spend public money on public buildings, infrastructure and transport. We have asked the Government not to waste money on projects such as the national children's hospital by using the distancing mechanism of setting up a board comprised ostensibly of private people with expertise. We have been left with a cost of almost €2 billion for a children's hospital that will not have any accommodation for families and will not deal with research. We are dependent on charity and philanthropists to fund those two areas.

Something is seriously amiss with the Government's view of the economy given the rate of child poverty in the country and the housing crisis. I was at the launch of a Simon Community campaign marking 40 years in Galway. The figures show that in the past four years average rents in Galway city and county have increased by 42% and 49%, respectively. This is in a city where rent caps are in place.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

By 2040, it is anticipated that Ireland will approach the pre-Famine population level of 8 million. In the intervening period, it is estimated that an additional 660,000 employment opportunities will be required. It is vital that we have a strategic approach to public capital investment. The national development plan has committed to a capital spend of €116 billion. This all sounds great on paper but I have big concerns about the plans of the Government and the reality that it will deliver. Since the publication of Project Ireland 2040, there have been significant cost overruns on three projects, namely, the national broadband plan, the national children's hospital and the new metro plan. It is scary that the Government will spend €10 billion on these three projects alone. I doubt the credibility of the national development plan.

The Government must realise the impact of spending €10 billion on three projects which have all suffered cost overruns. These overrun projects have cost the average, hard-working taxpayer in more ways than one. Not only is it disgusting for a taxpayer to see his or her money being spent in a reckless fashion but these taxpayers also have to suffer the knock-on impact on funding that is available for other planned projects. That inevitably impacts on the hard-working taxpayer. Are these overruns the reason we have found out, in the past two weeks, that there is an embargo on home help hours? This embargo is causing major stress for families in west Cork whose elderly loved ones will not get a home help service. It is also a considerable test for the great home help providers in west Cork who are under great pressure to deliver a service.

I would also like to see how west Cork will do in the national development plan. What has the Government planned for us? Will it be anything like the rural regeneration programme under which 43 projects, most of them in west Cork, did not get a brown cent? What are the Government's plans? Will west Cork be excluded again? I am calling on the Government to immediately identify which projects that were planned for in the NDP will be delayed or cancelled as a result of a lack of funding.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Social Democrats for introducing this important motion for debate tonight. While we are talking about the national development plan, I want to remind this House that there are people providing home help in Cunty Kerry today who are not being paid for their mileage. They have to pay for petrol for their cars to go and give home help. When we are talking about millions and billions of euro, I am thinking of those people who are going out today, giving home help and who have to pay for their own petrol because they are not being given their petrol allowance.

We have seen what the Government has done with overruns on major projects but I want to talk about projects that we are waiting for in County Kerry. We desperately need more beds to be provided in Kerry University Hospital, KUH. We desperately need more room in that hospital. We need it to be extended and investment in it. We desperately need our new community hospital to be built in the great town of Killarney. We desperately need what I call a bypass for the bypass in Killarney and a connecting road from the main Killarney-Cork road to the Muckross Road which would, in turn, service Ireland's National Event Centre, INEC, owned by the O'Donoghue family, which has provided entertainment and much needed employment in Killarney for decades.

We must also ensure the bypass for Macroom and Ballyvourney will go ahead as scheduled. We urgently require major investment in Cahersiveen Community Hospital or for a new hospital to be built.

We urgently need the Kenmare bypass to be extended and made into a proper bypass as should have been done in the first instance.

Last night at my clinics in County Kerry, I met parents who have young people with intellectual and physical disabilities and who need services. These are the type of things we need to ensure happen. We need to ensure more local authority houses are built in County Kerry, where they are as rare as hens' teeth. The housing list in the county is getting longer and longer.

I am pleading with the Government to think about County Kerry in the context of the national development plan. The Government should think about the needs of people there, the infrastructure in need of investment and the home helps who put petrol in their own cars to be able to give care to people in their homes.

10:15 pm

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak for a couple of minutes on this very important topic. The Project Ireland 2040 plan and the millions or billions that will be spent in the meantime matter little to a particular lady who gets 20 minutes' home help and does not have anyone to cook her dinner. She is sick and tired of sandwiches and being showered. No one has time to cook a dinner for her. That is very unfair. Another lady, who is very elderly, has €57 left for her weekly outgoings after paying for private home help to supplement the small amount of home help she gets from the HSE. This plan matters little to such people who are being cut to the bone.

On hospitals, Kenmare and Dingle hospitals are only half open. There are people on trolleys day after day and other people waiting in emergency departments.

During questions on promised legislation, I raised the issue of the lousy deal that is supposed to be given to farmers under the fair deal scheme. People are waiting 12 or 14 weeks to be assessed for the fair deal scheme and their families are trying to pay for their stay in a nursing home because they cannot be left in community hospitals.

The plan refers to climate change and all the money that will be spent on it. The current generation of farmers are doing so well for their environment and have complied with all the regulations with which they have been asked to comply. I thank the generations of farmers who got us here, the people who came before us and looked after our land and country. Like everyone else, I appreciate our environment - rivers, lakes and mountains - and so did those farmers. They got us to where we are. There is now a new wave of people who are saying, "Save the planet and to hell with the people." That is what is going on.

The Government is planning to spend billions between now and 2040. Where will it get that money? It will get it from the farmers and off the backs of the poor people who are trying to go to work and have only a car to take them there. The Government is talking about imposing more carbon taxes. Carbon tax matters little to those who do not have housing.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Deputy's time is up.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I ask the Ceann Comhairle to allow me a little latitude. If we were to comply and become completely emissions free, that would account for only 0.13% in a worldwide context. We are talking about bringing Ireland into line and the Government is trying to paralyse people in this country, but what about those in Japan and China who cannot see their belly buttons as a result of fog and smog?

People who want to put a roof over their heads are being stopped from doing so by serial objectors, but the Government is doing nothing to stop that. What good is the 2040 plan to those people?

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to speak to this Private Members' motion and confirm my support for it. There is no doubt that the launch of this plan was a mix of ballyhoo, spin and marketing, as was referred to by other Members. The whole situation was bizarre. We have been talking about balanced regional development for decades, but this plan has nothing to do with it. If anything, it has to do with unbalanced regional development. Rural Ireland is the poor relation in the plan and is, therefore, at a serious disadvantage in terms of the projects and process it contains.

I support the motion and the amendment tabled to it by the Green Party. It is clear that no climate impact assessment of the national development plan was carried out before its launch. A climate emergency was recently declared by the Dáíl. It is obvious that the plan requires significant revision if we are to meet that declaration, which should be a foregone conclusion.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, placed emphasis on the progress made in this plan and referred to several projects. Of course, none of those projects is in County Tipperary. The housing situation in the county is diabolical. Approximately a dozen local authority houses have been built there in the past five years and none will be built there this year. There are approximately 4,000 families on the local authority housing waiting list. Homeless clinics are held on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings in the county council offices in Clonmel. One of the clinics on a recent Friday morning was attended by 49 families. There is a significant number of homeless families and individuals in bed and breakfast and hotel accommodation across the county. Indeed, the situation is such that a local Catholic priest recently found it necessary to address the subject at Sunday mass. That is an indication of how difficult is the housing situation and the plight of homeless families, particularly those who have young children.

The Minister referred to transport, which is a key element of any development plan or set of climate action measures. Public transport provision in County Tipperary has been reduced since the plan was announced. In a county such as Tipperary, transport is hugely important for the normal day-to-day economic operation of the economy, enabling people to go to work, school or elsewhere. Far from increasing public transport provision, the public bus service in Tipperary has been reduced. There is no longer a public bus service from Clonmel to Dublin. Attempts to close the Limerick to Waterford railway line are ongoing. The line from Waterford to Rosslare has already been closed. One would have thought that the upgrading of that line would be important from a climate impact point of view, as well as economically. We need the line and the carriages that run on it to be upgraded because it is not possible to run a reasonable rail service with very old carriages and a line that has a maximum speed of approximately 40 miles per hour.

Neither the Minister nor the Government was keen to improve the standard of transport in County Tipperary. Of course, the situation is very similar throughout the rest of rural Ireland.

County Tipperary was also excluded from the regional jobs plans, which are effectively part of this programme. Ten towns across the country were earmarked for development and the provision of advance factories and office facilities by IDA Ireland. Not one of these ten towns is located in County Tipperary. That is what these jobs plans mean for County Tipperary. Towns in the county are at a huge disadvantage when compared with the other ten towns that have been earmarked and with all the cities.

There is no doubt that the huge cost overruns relating to the national children's hospital and the national broadband plan will impact on various projects across the country, including those in County Tipperary. I refer, for example, to the reopening of inpatient psychiatric beds in Tipperary that were closed by the previous Government. This is now in the balance because of these overruns. There is the phase 2 development of South Tipperary General Hospital and the construction of a 50-bed ward. There is Our Lady's hospital in Cashel, which has had €14 million spent on it and is vacant and unopened. That project has also been put on the back-burner. We are not at all sure of the position regarding the development of the 100-bed unit at St. Patrick's Hospital for the elderly in Cashel and there is no news at all of the development of the Dean Maxwell home in Roscrea. Many of these projects will be affected by the lack of funding because of the overruns relating to the national children's hospital and the national broadband plan.

Bizarrely, the plan refers to promoting and improving town centres but the Government recently allowed An Post to move its post office from the square in Thurles. The local authority is going to spend something of the order of €8 million or €9 million on improving that square. The Government is allowing An Post to pull the carpet from under that development and is continuing a situation whereby there are significant retail closures and vacancies on the high streets in towns, not just in County Tipperary but across the country.

10:25 pm

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is worthwhile reflecting on the journey public infrastructure investment has made in recent times. The International Monetary Fund, IMF, public investment management assessment, PIMA, mission to Ireland in 2017 found that while Ireland had a reasonable stock of public capital assets, there were signs of infrastructure needs. Consequently, the Government has significantly accelerated public capital investment in line with national and international analysis, which concurs that Ireland's public capital infrastructure needs to be substantially strengthened in order to build the resilience of the economy in response to risks such as Brexit. As stated in the national development plan, public capital investment will increase to about 4% of modified gross national income, GNI*, and will be maintained at that level for the duration of the plan.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform recently completed an analysis of how Exchequer capital funding has been allocated and spent in the past 15 years. Gross capital expenditure increased by over 53% between the years 2005 and 2008, peaking at €9 billion. Significant cuts were applied to capital expenditure between 2009 and 2013 as public financial constraints took hold. Capital allocations were reduced by 62%, falling to a total capital allocation of €3.4 billion in 2013. Allocations have steadily increased since the low point in 2013. The overall 2019 capital provision of €7.3 billion is over double that allocated in 2013. Capital spend exceeded 5% of GNI* from 2008 to 2010. However, this was a result of the general economy contracting rather than capital spend increasing. The proportion of national income devoted to public capital fell to 2.3% in 2015. In 2019, at 3.5%, public investment is still below the level that obtained between 2005 and 2007. Clearly, however, the recovery of spend must match the capacity of the construction sector to deliver.

Exchequer capital allocations cover a wide range of expenditure items, including infrastructure projects, infrastructure programmes and investment programmes. Capital expenditure is varied and can include items such as: the purchase of IT equipment and software for Government administration; the purchase, construction and management of buildings; the roads programme; the school building programme; the housing programme; the purchase of vehicles and grants to industry delivered through the enterprise agencies; and forestry premia. The multi-annual Exchequer capital allocations agreed under the national development plan underpin each Department's capital planning process for a five-year period, initially from 2018 to 2022. Capital spend is concentrated in four sectors, which account for over 70% of total spend over the whole period. These are the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport; Housing, Planning and Local Government; Education and Skills; and Health. With the exception of transport, all the main sectors received their highest ever nominal allocations in 2019. As the overall level of capital funding is approaching an all-time high, with a commitment to further increases over the lifetime of the national development plan, the focus needs to be on efficient application of this funding and ensuring the capacity of the construction sector to deliver in respect of the increased demand.

In that regard, an important element of the progress that has been made in the past year relates to the work being undertaken to increase the capacity of the construction sector to deliver the investments under Project Ireland 2040. The Government and the construction sector group are actively working on increasing growth and productivity in the construction sector, and a number of actions have been included as part of Future Jobs Ireland. Modernising the sector through greater use of technology presents an opportunity to alleviate some of these pressures. The Office of Government Procurement has produced a strategy to increase the use of digital technology in public works projects. Building information modelling is now the norm in the private sector, particularly for foreign direct investments relating to data centres or complex manufacturing facilities. We are now focused on bringing this to the public sector. For example, the upcoming Dunkettle interchange in Cork will be delivered with building information modelling. Furthermore, the Office of Government Procurement has recently commenced the review of the capital works management framework. This has the potential to produce greater efficiencies and value for money for the taxpayer and for the industry. During the past year, engagement between the construction industry and Government assessed sectoral issues such as costs, labour supply, productivity and waste management. The group is working to secure the sustainability and vitality of the construction industry.

Various initiatives are under way to promote the capacity of the construction sector. The Government's expert group on future skills needs is working to assess demand in the sector and to come up with some new actions. Furthermore, the industry members of the construction sector group are working on a campaign to improve the attractiveness of construction sector careers, including selling the sector as modern, technology-centric and environmentally sustainable. In addition, we continue to drive growth in apprenticeships and changes to the work permit regime. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is leading an extensive analysis of construction sector productivity and the development of a strategy to drive improvement. This is likely to have implications for Departments and agencies as well as industry. This will also take forward actions on the development of a construction centre of excellence.

These actions are being undertaken to help to ensure that the construction sector has the capacity to deliver on the ambitions of Project Ireland 2040 in a sustainable, timely and cost-effective manner.

Many Deputies referred to different projects throughout the country. Many of those projects are progressing well. The Government published nine regional updates demonstrating progress across the island of Ireland. There is also an interactive map of 500 projects available at www.gov.ie/2040 and I encourage people to look at it. The overall message from the first year of Project Ireland 2040 is a positive picture of increased investment in infrastructure that will improve the quality of life for all citizens. That is why we make the investments to which I have referred.

10:35 pm

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank those who contributed to the debate. I also thank the Deputies on this side of the House who indicated their support for the motion. I very much welcome the Green Party's amendment and we are very happy to accept it.

It is very clear from the wording used in the motion that the cost overruns relating to a number of major infrastructural projects are having a major impact on planning. They need to be dealt with and the consequences must be addressed. The idea of a national development plan is to bring certainty to projects and the funding underpinning them in order that those projects can be well planned in advance and implemented without hitches. We are far away from that. The national development plan emphasises this repeatedly and stresses, in particular, the value of moving to a multi-annual funding model. It states this is intended to facilitate more systemic and structured capital investment planning by Departments. This represents a decisive shift from agreements with Departments over capital allocations on a year-to-year basis. The overruns on two particular projects have already undermined this approach to capital investment. Departments, project managers and implementers no longer have any certainty that the funding that was earmarked for various other projects can be achieved. The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council published a report earlier which demonstrates the scale of the impact on projects arising from these overruns. Already, the national children's hospital project is looking at a 94% overrun. Of course, there is a much bigger overrun - currently standing at 500% - in respect of the national broadband plan. If we take the national children's hospital overrun and project from it a 100% overrun in respect of the major projects envisaged in the national development plan, it means that we will have €12 billion less to spend on other projects. That will happen if this level of overspend continues on the major projects. It would be like losing the money relating to the judgment handed down in the Apple case.

The report published this morning is absolutely scathing of the Government and the State's general inability to ensure cost containment in major capital projects. It lists those projects and discusses some of the reasons for the overruns relating to them. It identifies weak leadership, a lack of expertise, constant changing of the terms of project and other factors, all of which we have seen with the children's hospital. If the remit, detail or specification changes, there is a hike in price every time. The report also identifies a conflict of interest in public and private funding of major infrastructural projects. This, of course, is the tendency of the Government and those which preceded it to use public private partnerships for the delivery of major projects. Such partnerships bring with them excessive costs.

The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council makes it clear that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform was established for the very purpose of controlling cost overruns in respect of major projects. It was supposed to be a place for expertise to ensure that we could get value for money and we would not continue in the blank-cheque mode that characterised so many public infrastructure projects in the past. Unfortunately, this has not worked out as planned. With the national broadband plan and the children's hospital, we have seen where there are major gaps in the expertise required. It is the kind of expertise that is employed in the main in private sector projects, with rigorous examination of a contract to ensure every last detail is nailed down before going to tender. There is also the use of fixed-price tenders and throughout the project delivery, there is very close oversight with a clear line of accountability. None of that exists in major capital projects and this leads to the major problems and overruns.

It is quite clear that the cost overruns to which I refer will have a major impact on individual projects. The Government must come clean about those projects that will lose out as a result of the failure to manage cost containment of big projects. Of course, the Government argues that none of the projects in the plan will be affected by the overruns but how can anyone believe that? I have no doubt that the biggest losers from the overruns will be the projects looked at as part of the mid-term review of the plan, or in cases where the plan is less than fully committed. These projects have been promised and were seen as more than likely to be funded. They are, of course, highly unlikely to be funded now as they were thrown in with so many pet projects from Ministers. Hopes were raised, particularly in the regions, that a number of these projects could be funded but they will be sacrificed now. These projects include the extension of the Dunboyne-M3 Parkway line to Dunshaughlin and Navan, which was earmarked for consideration under the mid-term review. Phase 2 of the western rail corridor from Athenry to Tuam is likely to be sidetracked. The Arklow wastewater treatment plant was not mentioned in the plan but Irish Water has indicated it is still open for consideration. The extension of the Luas to Bray, Finglas, Lucan and Poolbeg is under review, as is a light rail corridor for Cork. We can have all the talk we like about balanced regional development but that will not happen unless we commit to the infrastructure necessary to allow the regions to develop. If we put projects such as the Cork rail corridor on the long finger, we will never have the shift in population to the areas that could accommodate more people with the necessary infrastructure.

As the motion mentions, we have just declared a climate emergency. We should, without doubt, redraw the plan to allow for its lack of ambition in respect of environmental matters.

In just the second sentence of the national development plan the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance state: "This ambitious plan will drive Ireland’s long term economic, environmental and social progress across all parts of the country over the next decade". On many levels but particularly in respect of the environment, that is simply not true. There is not enough in the plan to lead Ireland to a carbon neutral position. It will take a completely new plan to achieve that objective. In the meantime, this House has declared a climate emergency and if it is to mean anything at all, it behoves us to go back to the plan to ensure dealing with that emergency is a central aim of it.

The Climate Action Fund is just €500 million, while a high proportion of other environmental related funding comes from non-Exchequer sources. For example, there is more funding committed to roads than public transport. The plan for a low-carbon agriculture sector is also less than convincing. Rather than concentrating on the development of new beef markets, the Government should be concentrating on diversification in farming.

It is clear that there is not enough emphasis on public transport in the national development plan. Much of the funding earmarked for public transport will not result in new delivery but will go towards maintenance and rehabilitation. We need to cover renewal needs, while also investing extensively in new projects. At least €10.2 billion will be spent on roads under the plan, whereas the total public transport spend will be €8.6 billion. At the very least, these positions need to be reversed. We have some of the slowest moving cities in the world. This undermines our competitiveness and adds significantly to the cost base of the economy. The more we emphasise roads over public transport the worse it will become.

I reiterate the call made in the motion. Given that we accept that we have a climate emergency and that there have been such substantial cost overruns on a number of major projects, it behoves this House to insist on the Government reappraising the entire national development plan and refocusing it in a way that will ensure value for money and the protection of the environment.

Amendment put.

10:45 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 13 June.

The Dáil adjourned at at 9.55 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 12 June 2019.