Thursday, 23 September 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
National Development Plan
I thank the Deputies for submitting these questions.
The revised NDP is currently being finalised and it will set out annual expenditure ceilings for the initial five years for each departmental Vote group, including capital ceilings for 2022. This document is due to be published in the coming weeks, following final Governmental approval. Subject to Government approval, it is my intention that the revised NDP will be published before the budget.
As part of the programme for Government, the review was brought forward from 2022 in order to assess the resourcing requirements for the most important challenges facing us, as a nation, including Covid-19, climate action, housing, balanced regional development, healthcare, etc. The final phase commenced in October 2020, which included public consultation, Review to Renew, as well as further evidence-gathering by way of sectoral submissions for Departments and a series of technical papers. The results of phase 1 were published in a report in April on my Department's website. The technical and consultative work carried out as part of phase 1 forms the evidence base to underpin the decisions being taken in phase 2 of the NDP. The objective of phase 2 is to set out the revised sectoral capital allocations as well as providing a renewed focus on delivery of efficient and cost-effective public infrastructure. The range of indicated sectoral priorities will be identified as part of the final revised NDP.
It is important to note that the NDP is fundamentally a high-level financial and budgetary plan which sets the framework and broad direction for investment priorities. Following the intensive work by my own Department and all other Departments on these issues, I look forward to being able to publish an ambitious plan that balances the significant demand for public investment across all sectors and regions of Ireland along with a major focus on improving the delivery of infrastructure projects to ensure speed of delivery and value for money for the general public.
I want to talk about two road infrastructure projects in Tipperary. The first is essential and relates to the N24. This project will bring about connectivity between Waterford, Rosslare and Limerick. Tipperary town is completely choked with traffic congestion. It is essential that it gets priority and is dealt with first in the context of this very essential road infrastructure project across the southern part of the country.
My hometown of Thurles is suffering the same serious traffic congestion. There is relief road plan for Thurles that is ready to go. It has all of the permissions, the land has been acquired and is awaiting capital investment. We also need a financial commitment to a ring road for Thurles. Again, the commercial viability of Thurles, like Tipperary town, is completely threatened by traffic congestion. It is essential that those road infrastructure projects be included in the capital development plan. We need action on N24 project, with particular emphasis on the bypass of Tipperary town, and the ring road for Thurles.
That is great. Thank you.
Can the Minister confirm if the €1.1 billion in additional capital outlined in the summer economic statement will be allocated across Departments under the revised NDP? Health and housing are two massive areas in respect of which there are serious infrastructural deficits. I hope that the revised NDP and the upcoming budget will tackle these deficits. Can the Minister confirm the ceilings for housing and health for 2022? Will he indicate how much more capital the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage will receive under the NDP for 2022 compared with the capital provision and the projected outturn for 2021?
We will just get through this. Deputy Mairéad Farrell's question and that Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan are both in this group. There are three other questions grouped with that of Deputy Cahill . Anybody else who wants to come in may do so later.
I thank the Minister for his reply. This is a unique opportunity for us, as Deputies, to highlight the importance of certain infrastructure projects within our constituencies. There are some that I would certainly like to see included in the upcoming revised NDP. The first I will mention is the need for a southern relief road in Bandon town. Bandon is the largest town in my constituency. It has major potential but at the moment it is experiencing serious traffic congestion. There is a transportation and public realm enhancement plan, TPREP, work which would make the town more pedestrian-friendly and which should ease traffic within the town, but this will not work unless a southern relief road is provided. There is a partial road in place at the moment and it needs to be completed. It is a vital piece of infrastructure, not just for Bandon town but for all of west Cork and I would love to see that included in the plan. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
The additional €1.1 billion in capital for 2022 outlined in the summer economic statement will be allocated as part of the capital ceilings that will be published in the review of the NDP. The detail of exactly what the Departments of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Health, Transport and so on for next year and for every year out to 2025 will be confirmed when the review is published and the ceilings are set out.
I thank Deputies Cahill and O'Sullivan for raising a number of specific projects they are passionate about and have been lobbying for in the course of the review of the NDP. As they will understand, the selection of individual projects is generally made by the line Department, which then provides material to us in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, where we have overall responsibility for co-ordinating and pulling together the revised NDP and setting the ceilings. I have nonetheless taken note of the issues they raised and acknowledge they have raised them with the line Minister as well.
I want to raise a further couple of infrastructure projects in my county, one of which the Minister visited before he took office, namely, the Dean Maxwell nursing home, Roscrea, which is very important to the town but needs significant capital investment. I hope that will be catered for in the programme.
The other project is in Ardfinnan, which the Taoiseach visited on Friday last. A pedestrian walkway bridge in the town would be very important. There is an historic bridge, which is a protected structure, and for the past six years there has been single-lane traffic, which is very disruptive to the village. I urge the inclusion, therefore, of the pedestrian walkway as well. I could list a litany of further projects but they are just two in my constituency that I would love to be considered.
I am a bit disappointed that the Minister will not outline the ceilings. He is making my life slightly more difficult. I assume we will have them in good time before the budget is introduced. If the Minister does his change his mind and wishes to give us that additional information, that would be lovely.
On the NDP, we have heard many reports of bid-rigging and about the costs of projects and so on being inflated. Officials from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation are on record as stating that this is happening and is inflating costs, which is a matter of great concern. We need to examine the regulation of such tenders. What are the Minister's plans in that regard?
I appreciate that we must raise these projects with the line Ministers as well, which we have done, but this is a unique opportunity for us to raise projects with the Minister and highlight the importance of having them included in the NDP. I will outline a few further projects.
The Bantry flood relief scheme was discussed in the Chamber earlier. That needs to be progressed and included in the plan. In health, the need for an endoscopy unit in Bantry General Hospital is very important. Finally, in the area of tourism, there are three key projects I would love to be delivered for west Cork because it is a key tourist destination, namely: the development of the Dursey cable car across Dursey Island - what a fantastic feature that could be; the development of a Baltimore breakwater, which would allow the development of marine facilities at the well-known tourism destination of Baltimore; and the stunning fishing village of Union Hall in west Cork, which needs an upgrade in its marina and pier facilities. Cork County Council is developing a plan in that regard and I would love it to be supported.
As my colleagues have done, I welcome this opportunity to raise these issues with the Minister. He will be aware of the N25, which is probably one of the busiest roads in the country. There is currently a major bottleneck at Castlemartyr. I understand that there are approximately 22,000 vehicle movements per day through one small crossing there. There have been major tailbacks and the area is now highlighted regularly on traffic news as one of the main black spots. Cork County Council and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, are anxious to provide some form of relief road there and have carried out quite a bit of work on that but I understand that unless it is included in the NDP, it cannot proceed.
Another road the Minister is familiar with is that into Cobh. The town has experienced substantial growth in marine traffic, including cruise liners, and there are major plans, as the Minister will be aware, to develop offshore wind energy facilities and so on. The road into the place, however, is Dickensian and the bridge was built in the 1800s.
I acknowledge the great work the Minister and his team are putting into the review, which involves a very detailed process. Nevertheless, this is an opportunity to signal the rebalancing of our economy towards the Atlantic economic corridor. There are a number of key projects in this regard. I refer to the Western rail project, which is ready to roll. The project was recently reviewed by Dr. John Bradley and shown to be economically feasible. The Athenry to Claremorris extension is ready to go and would be a key investment in low-carbon transport for the Atlantic economic corridor.
Separately, the N26 is the final major road infrastructure project to have been undertaken in County Mayo. The first phase was completed in 2004 and we now need to move on the second phase, along with a continuation of the project linking the N26 to the N59. We have engaged with the line Department but we need a whole-of-government approach to indicate this review takes seriously the Atlantic economic corridor and the associated counties.
I thank Deputy Cahill for placing the NDP on the agenda. In respect of Dublin and questions over the MetroLink, I ask that it be prioritised in the NDP review, as well as DART underground. These are key infrastructure projects that were mooted previously and need to be retained on the agenda, as does the N11 interchange. Finally, coastal defence is required for Dublin Bay and that could perhaps be linked it with the Sutton to Sandycove walkway and cycleway. All the projects are essential for Dublin and its expansion.
There is a long list for every county in regard to the NDP. I would love to see the Minister hit the nail on the head with regard to the unsewered villages of rural Ireland. In Clare in particular, there are five or six of them. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, visited Broadford just a few weeks ago. It is important that we end that long-standing practice of raw sewage passing into local streams and drains.
The first phase of the Limerick northern distributor road has been approved and its construction is well under way, but it stops at the roundabout. We need to complete it in its entirety and that needs to be a priority.
Finally, in preparation for the new NDP, there has been much discussion of park-and-rail facilities along the Clare-Limerick-Galway railway track. I would love them to be developed in proximity to Cratloe and Thomond Park, near to Limerick city. Would it not be wonderful to get that railway line along the west of Ireland, giving proper connectivity to the west?
I thank all the Deputies for raising a host of projects with me directly on the floor of the House. Many of those projects have been brought to my attention over the course of the review of the NDP and colleagues have been in touch with the relevant line Ministers as well, as have I in respect of a number of the projects. I will do so again, particularly in regard to any that have been raised for the first time this morning.
I might make a few broad points. The content of the NDP is not exhaustive. It is not a list of every project that each line Department intends to deliver over the next ten years. Nevertheless, I fully understand the desire to have specific projects called out and included in the plan.
There is a need to improve delivery and address capacity constraints, given that we are seeing significant underspends in the system on the capital side. I do not want there to be underspends because we are allocating the money for a reason. We want the projects to be delivered and completed. I assure the Deputies that balanced regional development is a core objective of the review of the NDP and we will provide a record level of public resources for what will be the largest and most ambitious public capital investment programme in the history of the State.
We are going to provide a record amount of public resources for what will be the largest and most ambitious public capital investment programme in the history of the State.
Finally, on the issues of value for money and the pressures that are arising in respect of construction inflation and so forth, I and the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, are both engaging with the Office of Government Procurement on the issues that are arising there in the context of the public works contract. We want to see tenders successfully completed and awarded and jobs delivered.
We are way over time given the number of speakers who contributed. We are moving to other questions but one Deputy inadvertently missed his priority question so, with the permission of the House, I am prepared to let him back in because it was inadvertent. I am saying that in case he is listening. The next question is No. 6 and I am going back to strict times now. The Deputy is not present so I will go through the list. I call Deputy Devlin.