Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Regional Transport Infrastructure: Motion [Private Members]


5:50 pm

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I move:

“That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

— State-led strategic infrastructural investment is essential for the social and economic growth of our villages, towns, and cities and to ensure balanced regional development and increase connectivity;

— the network of 94,000 kilometres of regional and local roads across the State provide vital connectivity to rural Ireland;

— the State’s regional airports carried 5.45 million passengers in 2019 and reports from 2016 and 2019 demonstrate that Cork, Shannon and Ireland West Airports generate a combined annual €2.13 billion to the economy and support directly or indirectly 29,050 jobs;

— our ports are vital assets to our coastal and island communities and have important economic functions including building resilience in respect of supply chains post-Brexit;

— public transport investment, including bus and rail, can play a major role in decreasing CO2emissions from the transportation sector and provide workers, families, and communities an alternative and sustainable mode of transport;

— the recently published National Development Plan 2021-2030 sets out a broad vision for infrastructure investment; however, there are many projects without a commencement and completion date or an identifiable funding allocation, with projects seemingly prioritised on the basis of planning considerations rather than their importance for achieving balanced and strategic development; and

— the current strategic rail review is being completed on an all-island basis which is a positive development;

further notes that:

— the approach of successive Governments has failed rural Ireland and the downgrading of the North and Western regions from a ‘developed region’ to a ‘region in transition’ by the European Commission is an example of this;

— senior members of Government, up to and including the Taoiseach, have indicated publicly that a number of critical regional infrastructure projects outlined in the National Development Plan 2021-2030 may never be delivered, casting doubt on approximately 30 road projects, while other public transport projects will be delayed by years;

— Bus Éireann Expressway bus routes from Galway, Limerick, Cork and Belfast have been cut, impacting connectivity and frustrating efforts to reduce transport emissions;

— an economic appraisal by former Economic and Social Research Institute economist Dr. John Bradley in June 2021, entitled ‘The Atlantic Railway Corridor - The Galway-Mayo Rail Link: An Appraisal’, assesses potential demand for Phase 2 and 3 of the Western Rail Corridor at 575,000 passengers per annum by 2030, and finds in a cost-benefit analysis that restoring the rail connection between Galway and Mayo via Tuam yields a positive net present value and a benefit to cost ratio of greater than one, concluding that a strong business case based on potential passenger and existing freight flows to southern ports justifies it being prioritised for delivery; and

— no firm commitment to deliver the extension of the Western Rail Corridor to Mayo has been provided in the National Development Plan 2021-2030; and

calls on the Government to:

— provide clarity on all projects included in the National Development Plan 2021-2030, including funding and timescales for the progression and the estimated completion of projects, ensuring balanced regional development is prioritised in the delivery of projects;

— introduce a statutory requirement that all Government Departments and public bodies will undertake rural impact assessments in relation to their measures, especially where measures have a socio-economic impact on rural Ireland;

— fully commit to the delivery of the Western Rail Corridor extension to Mayo as a key infrastructure project for regional development and seek relevant sources of European Union funding to advance the project;

— prepare a new all-island national aviation policy that recognises the impact the pandemic has had on our regional airports to ensure they can continue to contribute to sustainable regional development;

— resource Bus Éireann via the National Transport Authority to ensure there is no curtailment of the intercity Expressway bus services; and

— urgently expediatethe delivery of key public transport projects as outlined in the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (CMATS) 2040 and Galway Transport Strategy.”

I am sharing time with colleagues and I will take five minutes.

This Private Members' motion is an attempt to put balanced regional development and investment in public transport at the centre of Government and to be central to tackling the climate change crisis. The national development plan was to be the litmus test of the Government's commitment to regional development. I believe that is a test that it has failed. Right now, workers and families are being hit hard by carbon taxes. This is not only unfair but also an environmental strategy that will not work. Taxes designed to change behaviour only work when the people have alternatives. This motion is crystal clear. We need State-led investment in strategic infrastructure for our regions. We have decades of evidence of how successive Governments have failed to deliver for rural Ireland, not least the west is categorised by the EU as a region in transition. This is not a case of just a political party saying that Governments have not delivered for the west. This is being said by the EU also and by many other commentators. We desperately need State-led investment in infrastructure but, sadly, we seem to have another Government that is unwilling to lead. We have 94,000 km of regional and local roads across the State that provide vital connectivity for, and to, rural Ireland. Yet despite years of empty promises, in Mayo we still do not have delivery on the likes of the N26 and R312.

Sinn Féin has brought forward this motion to give the Government a second chance, a chance for it to show voters it is serious about regional transport infrastructure, it is serious about reducing carbon emissions and that it has a vision for our country beyond maintaining the status quoand blocking change. This motion is a direct response to the Government failure to deliver on very modest demands for investment in infrastructure in the regions. The motion calls on the Government to provide clarity on all projects included in the national development plan, ensuring balanced regional development is prioritised in the delivery of projects; to introduce a requirement for the Government to undertake rural impact assessment of all policies; and to prepare a new all-island national aviation policy that recognises the impact the pandemic has had on our regional airports such as Ireland West Airport Knock; to resource Bus Éireann via the National Transport Authority and to ensure there is no curtailment on the intercity Expressway services; as well as to urgently deliver key public transport projects such as those outlined in the Cork metropolitan area strategy and the Galway transport strategy.

Regarding an issue that is very close to my heart as is the case for many people in Mayo and across the west, the motion calls specifically on the Government to fully commit to the delivery of the western rail corridor extension to Mayo. The western rail corridor has become a byword for regional development and investment in the west. Why has the Irish Rail 2040 rail freight strategy not even been released yet? That strategy has remained unpublished for almost a year and it is referenced in a number of recent publications, including the terms of reference for the rail review and the draft consultation for the greater Dublin area transport strategy published today. The west will not forgive another Government for failing to deliver on this project.

If the Government does not support this motion and commit to the western rail corridor, what little faith people in Mayo and across the west have left in it will continue to erode and disappear. The publication of the economic report by the former Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, economist, Dr. John Bradley, earlier this year confirmed what Sinn Féin has been saying for years, namely, that there is a strong business case for restoring the rail connection between Galway and Mayo via Tuam and the western rail corridor should be reopened and prioritised as a capital project. Many Government Deputies from the west have been very critical of the national development plan, NDP, and the complete lack of any commitment to the western rail corridor. They are right. Not including the project in the NDP is a missed opportunity for the Government to show it is committed to regional development in the west. I call on Members from the parties in government to take this second chance to support regional infrastructure development and the reopening of the western rail corridor by voting in favour of the Sinn Féin motion.

6:00 pm

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion. It is incredible that on the day the national development plan was launched, we were told by the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, that there were projects included in it that will never be delivered. That made sense, however, to any of us who read it, given that it provided for €5.1 billion for new roads, €800 million of which was already committed to roads at construction, but there was a long list of 30-odd projects at a cost of approximately €1 billion each. We could see straight away that the numbers did not add up. Despite this, two days later, to appease disgruntled backbenchers, we were told by the Taoiseach that there were things not included in the plan that would be delivered. That said it all. It is exactly what one gets when there is a coalition pulling in different directions and for different reasons. It was clear the Government could not agree what needed to come out of the plan, so nothing came out of the plan. It was a charade and an embarrassment and it would be a joke if it were not so serious.

There is any number of reasons that the NDP is hugely important. It should be a statement of the commitment of the State to lead in delivering balanced regional development and strategic development. There is an important point that has not been picked up on in the debate, namely, that there seems to be a dangerous shift in decision-making processes. Instead of trying to create an overarching plan in a logical way, there is a shift to a kind of survival-of-the-fittest strategy. We are told projects will proceed on the basis of which of them get through planning and reach the starting line, or the famous decision-making gates, first. It will be very difficult in this scenario to provide a counterbalance to the already dominant regions.

I could say more about rail and roads provision but there is not time. The plan is not good enough. The Government has a second chance to get it right by supporting the Sinn Féin motion.

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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Is léir do chách go bhfuil an Stát ag teip ar an iarthar agus ar na pobail tuaithe mar gheall ar easpa infheistíochta cuí agus níl sa phlean forbartha naisiúnta ach leanúint den treocht sin. Ní féidir gan na torthaí den treocht seo a fheiceáil nuair a bhreathnaítear ar staid na mbóithre i gConamara. Tá an R366 ó dheas agus an N59 ó thuaidh an-dainséarach ar fad. Ní féidir le daoine rothaíocht nó siúl orthu go sábhailte agus bíonn timpistí orthu go minic. Tá grúpa ar an gCeathrú Rua ag impí ar an Stát ar feadh blianta le haghaidh maoiniú do chosáin agus do chúram ar bhóthar Dhoire Fhatharta agus tá siad ag fanacht go fóill. D’ardaigh mé féin bóthar Chuan na Loinge i gceantar na noileán anuraidh. Bhí an bóthar ag cur bac ar dhaoine dul chuig an obair agus ar scoil mar go bhfuil sé faoi uisce chomh minic sin. Tá muintir Ros Muc an-bhuartha go mbeidh drochthimpiste ar an mbóthar mar gheall ar na poill mhóir atá ann, agus nach bhfuil cosain ná soilse air. Tá go leor samplaí eile fud fad Chonamara.

We also see this lack of investment in other aspects of daily life in rural Ireland. The 20-X20 bus route has not been reinstated, even though thousands of people in rural towns and villages relied on it. Earlier this year, the 51 bus route was cut back severely, leaving passengers with no evening service after 5 p.m. Fortunately, after intense criticism, that decision was rolled back, but only slightly. Rather than fully reinstating the service, with one bus leaving every hour until 8 p.m., there is now only a 7.05 p.m. service. Even before these cuts were made, rural Ireland needed more public transport links, not fewer. The NDP also failed to commit to a western rail corridor, something that is desperately needed to build connectivity between communities in the west. It seems we all share a vision of an Ireland with less reliance on personal motor vehicles but that vision will not be realised without policy and funding.

I want to raise another piece of infrastructure that is central to the success of coastal areas like my constituency, namely, piers. For communities that are built around the sea, including many parts of Connemara and, in particular, our offshore islands, a safe and functional pier is vital. I encourage the Minister to support the motion.

Photo of Claire KerraneClaire Kerrane (Roscommon-Galway, Sinn Fein)
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In 2019, the EU downgraded the west and north-west region from a developed region to a region in transition. This is not something that just happened; it was the direct consequence of our region being at the bottom of the table when it comes to Government investment in health, roads and third level education. It is a direct result of the failure of successive Governments to invest in critical infrastructure and ensure the region west of the Shannon got its fair share. Unfortunately, by the looks of the national development plan, the Government has failed to grasp the serious situation in which our region finds itself.

We have an opportunity to address this by way of the European Regional Development Fund. For every €100 the Government spends in our region, the EU will provide €60 of that contribution under this funding. It is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss. Taking public transport as just one example, we have a situation, as referred to by my colleague, where the 20-X20 Dublin-Galway route, an important route covering a number of rural towns from Ballinasloe to Ahascragh, has been lost. There is also an issue with the Local Link bus service, which covers a really important route from Ballaghaderreen to Roscommon, stopping in rural towns and villages that have no access whatsoever to public transport. When I contacted the National Transport Authority, NTA, seeking an increase in the service, I was told that the authority is there to work with Local Link to increase the network but the money is not there to do it. Ordinary people are being crippled with diesel and petrol prices the likes of which most have not seen before. At the same time, the very few alternatives that are there, such as Local Link and the 20-X20 route, are being pulled or the money is not there to fund them.

The Government needs to make a decision. Is it going to fund the alternatives and make it easier for people to access them, or is it going to keep cutting vital public transport networks and refusing to fund the existing ones to make them better? This is the decision that has to be made. It is not just about investment in public transport; it is about investment right across the board to ensure those of us who call the west of Ireland home can live there contentedly and raise families there.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Taking a map of our island and following the route to Donegal, a person is lucky if he or she is setting out on that journey from Dublin because there will be motorway for the first 30 minutes of it. After that, however, the drive will be on a mix of national and secondary roads, often winding, poorly lit roads in dire conditions. If one is going to where I am from, Gweedore, or somewhere on the Inishowen Peninsula, the journey will take four and a half or possibly up to five hours. Is it any wonder that our towns and villages in rural Ireland are suffering and failing to retain talent and attract investment? The infrastructure to support the north west and other parts of rural Ireland is simply not there. Donegal is one of only three counties in this State that do not have access to rail services. The last time a train travelled through Donegal, my mother was a teenager.

I welcome the indication by the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, that a rail network to the north west, as he termed it, is doable. It is long overdue. However, any railway to the north west must directly connect the region to Donegal via stops along the way, whether in counties Tyrone, Monaghan or Meath. That is the vision and ambition the north west needs. Investment in rural transport and infrastructure must also include investment in bus services. Last week, I raised the issues with the Bus Éireann route that connects Donegal town to Dublin.

It was cancelled 183 times in the past two years. One could not make that up - 183 times cancelled. That is happening without warning and often without proper notice via Bus Éireann. People are standing on the side on the road in the dead of night with no idea whether the bus will show. Constituents have contacted me and have told me how they have missed flights and appointments. This Government is launching another flashy brochure about major investment in new rural bus services and people are literally standing at the side of the road wondering if the bus will turn up. Some 183 times in the past two years, it has failed to do so. I ask the Taoiseach for an urgent review of route 30 with Bus Éireann to resolve these problems. Tacaím le rún Shinn Féin. Tá méid curtha chun tosaigh ag mo pháirtí leis an infheistíocht cheart agus an struchtúr ceart a chur i gcrích sa dóigh is go mbeadh infreastruchtúr den chéad scoth do mo chontae, Dún na nGall, agus do réigiúin tuaithe eile ar fud na tíre.

6:10 pm

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin has brought this motion before the House because rural Ireland is sick and tired of being paid lip service. Rural communities have been dismissed by Government for far too long. The days of the development plans being used for Dáil re-election must end now. During my time in the Dáil, I have constantly made representations about the shortcomings of our public transport links, but what actions have been taken? Has the timetable between Limerick Junction and Waterford been adjusted? No, it has not. Has the same been done for the Ballybrophy line? No. Has the X12 service been restored for Roscrea and Nenagh? No, it has not. Does the Minister for Transport have any intention of stopping rolling work closures on the Ballybrophy line, in favour of getting the job done in one go? No, he does not. Indeed, he did not even give me his views on the matter when I asked in a parliamentary question. When announcing the connecting Ireland rural transport plan recently, we were told the new standard for rural bus services is at least three return trips per day. Why does this standard not apply to the north and south Tipperary rural rail lines?

People in rural Ireland continue to face the same old struggles to do business and travel to work or education or even hospitals and yet as much attention was given in the national development plan to plans to extract water from the Shannon as was given to any projects for my county. That says much about this Government. Deputies such as I may stand here and outline what our constituents and rural businesses need, but this Government persistently ignores our citizens.

We see the Government clapping itself on the back for its plans to reduce emissions by freeing up town centres. Try convincing the people of Tipperary town of its concerns. There was no mention of the need for a bypass of Tipperary town in the national development plan, despite it constantly being raised in this House. We just saw the N24 project being relegated to subject to approval status. This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the project. We need clarity on this and on all the projects alluded to in the national development plan.

These are just some of the reasons we needed to bring forward this motion. Rural Ireland needs a balanced approach to development that helps our towns, villages and rural communities and listens to them. In this Bill, we propose a statutory requirement that all Departments and public bodies will undertake rural impact assessments on measures that have a socioeconomic impact on rural Ireland. We need this Government to come clean with people, instead of delaying matters under the guise of glossy brochures and we ask it to support this motion.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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This motion is about ensuring we establish a proper infrastructure throughout rural Ireland in order that people can function and live to their full potential. Due to the failure of past and current Governments, that is simply not the case. The western rail corridor is one of the key infrastructure projects which needs to be delivered for the west of Ireland to ensure it can be competitive and bring industry, commerce and productivity back into that region and yet the Government continues to turn its face against it. The transport infrastructure policy of this Government needs to have a clear focus on delivering the western rail corridor. That needs to happen as an absolute priority. Buses and where our bus network throughout the country has huge problems continues to have issues.

Fortunately, County Leitrim has been part of a recent pilot project with the Local Link where we have improvement in the number of buses on the roads, connecting all our small towns and villages into Carrick-on-Shannon, Sligo and other areas and more people are using them. It proves the point that if infrastructure is put in place, people will use that and ensure it is delivered. Government continues, and this has been a policy for many years, to put pilot projects in place, prove they work and then pull them and put them nowhere else. We have seen that happen time and again. We want to make sure that does not happen in this context and the work that has been done on the Local Link project is spread throughout the entire country and expanded upon, because, that is what needs to happen.

I also want to raise the issue of school bus transport, which has been an almost continuous yearly issue in that children are left standing along the side of the road who cannot get a bus to school. Absolutely key for people living in rural areas is making sure they have transport to send their children to school in every part of the country, not just in some select areas, which seems to be the policy of this Government up until now.

The other issue I will raise is aviation and specifically Ireland West Airport. The local authorities throughout the west have come together to put money aside to try to help develop Knock airport because it is key strategic infrastructure that needs to be developed to develop the west and ensure the potential of the people in the west is there for future generations. Unfortunately, the Government continues to put all its emphasis on a few small areas, mainly in the capital city. We see today the Government is pulling what money it was going to deliver, even for the capital city. A huge problem we have continuously highlighted is of people in rural Ireland needing to get fair play and it must be ensured that they are delivered some sense of that. Key to all of this is having adequate infrastructure in place. The national development plan is full of promises but little hope for the people who want to get delivery of all of these projects.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak about regional transport infrastructure. I have no doubt there will be much agreement among all of us on the importance of regional and rural transport infrastructure. Too often, when we talk about transport, we end up discussing the cities. However, I am keenly aware rural and regional Ireland need improvements to its transport infrastructure and I am happy to have the opportunity to update the House on what this Government will deliver in that regard.

Government is not opposing this motion. However, there are a number of issues and inaccuracies within it, which will be highlighted in the ministerial speeches. I must take issue with the statement that successive Governments are failing rural Ireland. In that past few years, we have seen the creation of a specific Department dedicated to rural and community development, while in 2018 the Government published the national planning framework of which two of its ten national strategic outcomes are dedicated to regional and rural Ireland, while the national planning framework is fundamentally centred upon ensuring a more balanced approach to development. Just this year, the three coalition leaders launched Our Rural Future which, at its heart, has an ambitious vision for a thriving rural Ireland which is integral to our national economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being and development.

This Government recognises the importance of investment in our transport infrastructure for rural Ireland, how it is essential for the social and economic growth of our villages, towns and cities and the key role it can play to ensure balanced regional development and increased connectivity throughout the State. Included among Our Rural Future's 162 actions are those related to improving active travel, bus, rail and road infrastructure and I can assure the House the national development plan provides the funding to ensure delivery of these actions in the coming years.

This Government is allocating unprecedented levels of funding toward improving active travel and greenway infrastructure throughout the country. For the first time, local authorities outside of the five cities can now apply for funding to the National Transport Authority, NTA, to support active travel improvements in towns and villages throughout the country, which is hugely positive. In our greenway programme, we are eager to see greenways better link in with local areas to ensure they become more than just tourism amenities and can connect local communities with each other and with local services.

Deputies will be aware that the national development plan commits towards Connecting Ireland, a massively ambitious plan for rural bus services throughout the country. This new plan seeks to improve the existing bus networks, add new bus services and enhance the current demand responsive transport network. Improved and more comfortable transport options will support passenger journeys to and from rural communities, creating opportunities for balanced economic growth and stronger regional development. The NTA is currently consulting on the draft proposals and I encourage all Deputies to take a look at those proposals for their areas and make suggestions as to how they might be improved.

I note the motion seemingly calls on NTA funding to be provided to expressway services.

Deputies will be aware that there are two types of public transport: publicly subvented public transport and commercially operated public transport. Taxpayer funding is provided to publicly subvented services through the public service obligation, PSO, programme. It is not provided to commercial services because they are commercial. It is a basic premise and also a feature of EU law.

During the pandemic, Expressway, like other commercial operators, was able to avail of temporary Government financial support. However, the impact of the pandemic has been profound on certain Expressway routes from Galway, Limerick, Cork and Belfast. Following the decision to cease operating these Expressway services, the NTA completed a detailed assessment of various corridors to determine whether it was necessary for a replacement PSO service to be introduced to ensure no loss of connectivity to the travelling public. The NTA concluded that other than the X8 from Dublin to Cork route, sufficient connectivity is provided by the remaining operators and that the public service obligation is adequately met by other rail and bus services, thereby negating the need for further intervention.

In relation to rail, the national development plan, NDP, commits to increased investment in the inter-urban and inter-regional rail network. This increased investment will permit track relaying on the Dublin to Cork line to increase line speeds. It has been facilitating track renewal works on the Ballybrophy line. It will also allow for improvements on the Limerick Junction to Waterford line. Importantly, a strategic rail review has commenced. It will examine all aspects of inter-urban and inter-regional rail on the island of Ireland. It will examine how to improve regional rail connectivity. The review will provide an investment framework for the development of the railway sector over the coming decades. As well as enhancing regional accessibility and supporting balanced regional development, it will consider the potential for high-speed rail links between the major cities. It will also consider the potential scope for improved rail services and infrastructure along the various existing or future potential corridors of the network, including the western rail corridor. It will provide the objective, evidence-informed basis we need to make investment decisions about the rail network. I expect a public that consultation phase on the review will commence in the next few weeks.

I note the motion also refers to two of our regional cities, Cork and Galway. I am glad to report that there are significant projects under way in both cities. I am even more pleased to report that this Government will deliver significant projects in all four regional cities. In Cork and Galway, public consultation is well under way on the BusConnects projects in each city, with the NDP committing to substantial completion of those projects by 2030. In rail, phase one of the Cork commuter rail programme was included in Ireland's national recovery and resilience plan. It is scheduled for completion by 2026, with both Ceannt Station and Oranmore station having committed funding in the next few years for upgrades required at both stations.

Early next year should see the completion of a feasibility study on possible future upgrades for the Athenry to Galway corridor. This Government and I recognise that we need to invest in our national, regional and rural road network. The NDP commits to maintaining the quality of the existing national road network, with approximately €2.5 billion earmarked for the protection and renewal of our existing assets across the State. Some €5.1 billion is also being allocated to new national roads out to 2030, which will enable better regional accessibility across the country, as well as compact growth. At a regional and local level, funding will allow the Department to continue to provide significant grant support for a range of protection and renewal programmes. Regional and local roads are a vital lifeline for rural communities and also act as public transport links for local link services as they exist today and will be expanded in the future.

Taking to the skies for a moment, I would like to highlight the new Regional Airports Programme 2021 to 2025, which was published this year. The new programme proposes a continuation of the subsidised air services between Dublin and the regional airport at Donegal. As part of the new programme, €10 million in capital and €3.9 million in operational support has been made available to the regional airports during 2021. A further €6 million was made available under state aid-approved schemes to help airports mitigate the effects of Covid-19. Overall in 2021, three regional airports, Donegal, Ireland West Airport Knock, and Kerry, will have been allocated almost €20 million in Exchequer supports. The two regional State airports in Cork and Shannon will have received €51 million in 2021. This level of funding of our State airports is simply unprecedented.

Finally, on aviation, I note that the motion calls on the Government to prepare a new all-island national aviation policy. However, I would note that since its departure from the EU, the UK is no longer required to implement the EU acquisin respect of civil aviation. Given that civil aviation is under the remit of Westminster, as it is a reserved matter, it operates under a different regulatory framework to civil aviation in Ireland. Air transport operations between the two jurisdictions are governed by the provision of EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. Therefore, it is neither appropriate nor feasible for the next iteration of the national aviation policy to be approached from an all-island perspective. Obviously, the issue of improved cross-Border connectivity will continue to be considered under the North-South Ministerial Council, NSMC. I am happy to inform the House in that regard that the Irish Government has agreed to take forward a review of potential options for supporting viable air services on two routes, Belfast to Cork and Derry to Dublin, as part of discussions on air connectivity. As I said at the outset, the spirit of this motion is broadly in line with the principles of this Government. However, it does not reflect the great work currently undertaken, nor our vision for the future of regional and rural transport services. It is about making sure that people have options.

Transport connectivity is hugely important for people who live and work in rural and regional Ireland. It is key to bringing life back into our towns and villages. To have strong local economies, and to give people real options for getting around, one needs good transport links, including good public transport options. Expanding the public transport network and increasing service levels in the ways set out in our policies and currently being delivered by our projects will lead to a balanced regional development and greater connectivity.

6:20 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Minister of State. We will go back to Sinn Féin. Deputy Thomas Gould is sharing time with Deputies Stanley, Guirke, and Brady.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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Last week in Cork we saw the announcement of BusConnects. Unfortunately, huge areas of Cork that will miss out on any public transport or proper public transport. Rural areas that have come into the city boundary are particularly affected. The Government talks about the importance of reducing the effects of climate change, of saving the environment, and about preventing global warming. Yet, the things that make the most sense, that will not destroy people’s lives, are just not being done. Areas such as Carrignavar, Whitechurch, and many other areas on the periphery of the city, will only have buses every two hours. How does this provide public transport for people?

Over the summer, we were canvassing, knocking on doors, and meeting people again. We were going to houses where there were four cars. The husband and the wife both had a car, as did the son who might be going to college and the daughter who might be going to work. There were four cars at each house. If we are talking about proper transport systems and about proper public transport, how we are going to get people out of their cars? For many people living in these towns and villages, what has come out of COP26 means nothing to them. BusConnects, which they need, means nothing to them because it is not being provided. That is down to the Government’s failure, to the failure of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and of the Green Party, to deliver proper public transport.

Alongside this, there is the scandalous price of public transport, in particular the train from Dublin to Cork. I checked the price this afternoon. The cost of bringing a family of two adults and two children up from Cork to Dublin by train is almost €200. The Government is trying to get people out of their cars. People have to go to Dublin for events, holidays or what have you. How can you justify that kind of expenditure, compared with using a car? If you use a car, you can stop off and get food and fuel and it would be at least half the price of the train. The Government needs to care about providing public transport that is affordable to people. You cannot travel by bus from many parts of Cork to the city and many people cannot afford to use the train.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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The motion is about recognising the importance of regional transport and for it to be financially backed. For years, I have been calling for the construction of the Mountmellick N80 bypass. This is important regional infrastructure. It has been promised for decades with little progress.

The feasibility study was completed last year. The Government needs to be ambitious about regional transport and it needs to be backed up with money. Mountmellick bypass is based on a busy route, the N80, connecting the midlands and the west to the port of Rosslare, which is even more significant now due to Brexit, since hauliers are using this route to get goods to Rosslare and directly to the Continent, understandably bypassing the British landbridge. The current situation is unacceptable and ignores the serious traffic issues on the ground in Mountmellick. Trucks are driven through the centre of the town. There is a T-junction in the middle of Mountmellick. Lorries have to cross over to the wrong side of the road, at the very far side, to get around this. This presents dangers. Despite all of this, the project is not included in the national development plan. I tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister for Transport some time ago and was informed that the project is not even listed on the national roads programme 2018-2027. There is no mention of it in the national development plan. I ask the Minister to look at the N80 again. It is carrying a substantial amount of traffic, including from the Minister's county, to the west. Traffic coming from Mayo, Roscommon and other counties and going to Rosslare is travelling through the centre of Mountmellick. I ask the Minister to revisit that.

I also raise the need for bus shelters. I have been raising this with the National Transport Authority for years. If we are going to get people to use buses, we have to provide bus shelters. Borris-in-Ossory, Mountrath and Castletown on the R445 need bus shelters. Ballylynan, Newtown and Crettyard on the N77 need bus shelters. If we expect people to use the bus, that is what we have to do. People catching the bus in those localities are getting soaked on a wet day, or on a wet morning going to work, to a hospital appointment or to anything else. Bus shelters are fundamental infrastructure. I ask the Minister to take this up with the NTA. Why is it so difficult to put these in place? In the neighbouring jurisdiction, just up the road, there are bus shelters all over the place, even for school transport. We need to give that role to local authorities and let the local authorities provide them. They will fix it and provide shelters. The NTA is not the right body. If you have to write to somebody in Dublin about a bus shelter at Crettyard, the game is lost. That needs to be done at local council level. I appeal to the Minister to devolve that power in his time in office.

6:30 pm

Photo of Johnny GuirkeJohnny Guirke (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
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With the draft transport strategy for the greater Dublin area, which was announced today, the people of Meath and the surrounding counties will be disappointed by the Government again but they will not be surprised. It has been revealed that building works on the Navan rail line that we have been demanding for decades will not commence until 2031 at the earliest. Given the shambolic record of this Government in delivering projects, it will most likely be a decade or more after that. We are in the middle of a climate emergency where building the Navan rail line could do more for the environment than any other project, taking thousands of cars off the road. Meath is the fifth largest county in the State, with 210,000 people, and it is growing. Navan is the largest town in Ireland not serviced by rail. Some 81% of people leaving Meath to work do so by car. I spoke to a lady the other day who asked me about the Navan rail line and when it might be built. She told me that every day she goes to work, leaving Meath for Dublin. She pays €6 every day on tolls, €15 a day on parking in Dublin, and €100 on fuel for the week. That is more than €200 a week just to get to work and then home. It is getting to the stage where people are not able to afford to get to work.

We are spending €2 billion a year on congestion. For many years, the people of Meath have been left behind by successive governments, spending up to ten extra hours a week out of their lives away from family, due to overly packed buses and traffic congestion. This is entirely unacceptable. The people of Meath and beyond will not accept a start date of 2031 for the Navan rail line. We have waited for long enough already. This is another example, in a climate emergency, of a Government that is out of touch, out of ideas and without foresight. It will fail to deliver the Navan rail line at its peril.

Photo of John BradyJohn Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
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Last week, the Government announced the climate action plan. Unfortunately, what we have seen today in the NTA's draft transport strategy from 2022 until 2042 is a failure to bring forward ambition. There is certainly no ambition when it comes to Wicklow. Unfortunately, we have a Government that makes little mention of Wicklow, especially west Wicklow, which has little or no public transport. The Government is blocking the upgrade of the N81, which is critical infrastructure. If the Government is serious about reducing the daily number of car journeys by 500, one would think that it would put public transport in place. There is no mention of west Wicklow in the NTA strategy, such as extending the Luas from Tallaght to Blessington. There is no provision for increased bus services. On the other side of the county, there is little by way of plans for the Dublin to Rosslare rail line that could be rolled out immediately.

There is a reference to the possibility of extending the DART to Wicklow town. It has been talked about over the last number of years and it is badly needed but according to this plan, it may happen within the next 20 years. It is a failure of ambition. There has been talk over the last decade about extending the Luas as far as Bray. That was contained in previous plans, with the possibility of getting that brought forward before 2030. In this plan, it could be 2042 before that takes place. Unfortunately, the two main roads in the county, the M11-N11 and the N81, are both congested daily. People sit in their cars, trying to commute to work, because of the failure to provide jobs within the county. We need to go back to the drawing board in respect of the climate action plan and the draft NTA plan because they fail the people of Wicklow. They fail dismally to put in place the infrastructure and public transport that are needed now. We have 19th century infrastructure for the railway in the county. That needs to be invested in now, not 20 years into the future.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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I am glad to speak on this motion for the Labour Party. It provides a timely opportunity for a debate about the need for better public transport and general transport infrastructure. We will support the motion. I am glad the Government is not opposing it. It is timely, especially with the announcement today relating to the greater Dublin area. The motion refers to transport infrastructure outside Dublin. We might take a moment to ponder just how disappointing today's announcement by the NTA is and what knock-on impact it will have for transport infrastructure outside Dublin 2, the counties in the immediate vicinity of Dublin, and for all of us living and working in Dublin city. In my constituency, Dublin Bay South, we clearly need to see what it will mean for us all. It will clearly have a seriously detrimental impact on the Government's ambitious targets for climate emission reductions. That is a real concern. I have been calling on Government to provide greater clarity about the implementation of measures to reduce emissions.

I welcome the ambitious climate targets that we have set ourselves. We must all recognise the need to meet those targets. We must also be conscious of the need to have clarity about how those targets are to be delivered. Marie Donnelly, the chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council, was clear last week about the need to put in place, over this year and the next few years, the necessary infrastructure to enable us to deliver the more ambitious reductions in climate over the latter half of this decade, between 2025 and 2030. Yet, today, the NTA made an announcement kicking forward any delivery of major projects, such as MetroLink, light rail and overground infrastructure. This announcement is deeply disappointing. It is an appalling delay. It illustrates why we need a clear timeline and plan to meet targets when we see such delays.

One of the positives that we have seen over the last 20 months was an increase in people using active transport such as walking and cycling. I welcome the NTA's commitment to improving infrastructure there. We need to be clear that cycling infrastructure in Dublin is still severely lacking. It still feels unsafe to cycle on many streets in the city centre. I speak as someone who cycles every day. The segregated cycle lanes across many parts of the city are welcome but, all too often, they are not joined up.

A cycle lane finishing with oncoming traffic on O'Connell Bridge is one example of that. We need to ensure much better cycle infrastructure and give people the choice of using public transport. Today's announcement for the greater Dublin area is disappointing.

There are issues with our transport infrastructure across the country, particularly in the north west. Our policy is to ensure better investment in public transport, not just in Dublin, but in towns and villages across Ireland. We have put forward the idea of a rural transport guarantee to ensure every rural town has guaranteed access to reliable, affordable and sustainable public transport and every child has a guaranteed place on a school bus. Our transport spokesperson, Deputy Duncan Smith, has put forward the need for that joined-up thinking across the country with regard to rural and urban public transport.

Some of our public representatives in counties affected by the lack of investment have asked me to put three questions to the Minister of State, which she might address in the round-up at the end. First, Councillor Conor Sheehan in Limerick asked whether the Minister of State will supply a timeline for commuter rail stations around Limerick that were announced in the national development plan. I would be grateful for a response, even in writing at a later date. Second, will the Minister of State provide a timeline for the rail spur to Shannon Airport? That question is also from Councillor Conor Sheehan. Third, Nessa Cosgrove in Sligo asked me to find out when we can expect to see real movement on the western rail corridor. That was clearly an issue of great concern to all those in Sligo and other counties in the west.

As the Labour Party spokesperson on disability, I raise the question of accessible transport. Not only must our transport infrastructure be sustainable and climate-friendly, we must also ensure it is accessible. I have been sent videos of people struggling with wheelchairs on buses and in train stations as part of the Make Way Day campaign and more generally from colleagues in Labour Disability and others. Footpaths and shopping amenities can often be an impediment to access. People with disabilities need guarantees of being able to access public spaces. Local authorities should conduct an audit of accessibility in towns and villages across the country, looking at simple remedies such as dishing of paths to ensure no kerbs, matching up of paths with opposite sides of the road and pedestrian crossings. They may sound like basic and mundane measures but they can be the bedrock for those with disabilities or those pushing buggies, on which safe and secure transport networks are based. These are the sorts of measures that will encourage more people to walk to work or to shops rather than take private cars. We have legislation providing for access officers in all public bodies but we need dedicated disability officers in local authorities to work with planners and ensure we can rectify past mistakes in building infrastructure that is not accessible enough. I have put in parliamentary questions on how public bodies can comply with their obligations under the Disability Act, particularly in ensuring towns and villages are safe for those with disabilities.

There is a need to stop further cuts. The motion contains a reference to cuts that have been made to Bus Éireann Expressway routes from Galway, Limerick, Cork and Belfast and states that these cuts have impacted connectivity and frustrated efforts to reduce transport emissions. I endorse the points made in the motion because if we want to reduce our emissions and meet our targets, we must ensure cuts made to routes are reversed.

We saw in the Climate Change Performance Index today that our low performance has slipped further. We are now 46th in the rankings on how we have addressed the climate crisis. We remain among the low performers in greenhouse gas emission categories and we know we are performing poorly on international ratings generally on meeting climate targets, despite having set welcome ambitious targets. These cutbacks to crucial routes in cities outside Dublin must be addressed to ensure we meet the targets and provide connectivity for people in different settings.

Part of the motion deals with regional airports. Since March 2020, we have consistently called on the Minister for Transport and the Tánaiste to ensure the sectors most affected by the coronavirus pandemic, namely, aviation, tourism and entertainment, continue to receive adequate supports throughout the public health emergency. We are conscious, as all colleagues are, of the unique challenges that have been presented to the aviation sector, in particular. I call on the Minister of State to ensure supports, where necessary, are maintained, particularly for smaller regional airports.

The Labour Party supports the motion and urges the Minister of State to look at the announcement made today in relation to the greater Dublin area and ensure that where we have, on the one hand, ambitious targets on emission reductions in transport, we do not with the other hand make cuts to public transport routes, delaying the development of vital public transport infrastructure and not delivering the sort of transport facilities we badly need.

6:40 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I call Deputy Catherine Murphy, who is sharing with Deputy Holly Cairns.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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This is a timely debate, particularly given the announcement of the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area that was published today. It is important that other parts of the country pay attention to what is occurring with this strategy because one would expect the same approach to follow in other areas. Between 1996 and 2016, the population growth in this region was as follows: Dublin city and Dún Laoghaire both grew by 13%; south Dublin by 28%; Fingal by a whopping 41%, making it the fastest growing area in the country; Meath by 40%; and Kildare by 39%. Fingal, Meath and Kildare absorbed most of the population growth and housing development.

Looking at patterns of growth elsewhere, the suburbs of Cork have grown. The part of the county that has come into the city has grown most. In Galway, development is occurring in the suburbs and putting significant pressure on the city centre, without transport alternatives, rail being the most efficient of those. We see housing developments arriving in what is called a development-led approach. There is pressure on facilities and services, such as schools and community facilities, but transport is the most prevalent one. As I pointed out last week on a similar issue, when you listen to AA Roadwatch in the morning, the N4 and the N7 are mentioned repeatedly every day. We know what that is like because it is the area we are trying to navigate through.

The expectation is that when high levels of population growth are seen, other services will follow, but that is not usually what occurs. Many transport projects were announced but not built. The railway interconnector was first suggested in the 1970s. It was part of the Dublin transportation initiative in the 1990s. Six governments later, we hear today it has been postponed to 2042. That is five governments away, assuming a government lasts five years. It is depressing. MetroLink is again delayed and no commitments to dates of delivery can be provided. Transport is the second-biggest emitter of CO2 and we have binding targets that will get much more difficult as we proceed through this decade and into the next. There appears to be a reliance on electric vehicles to reach the targets in urban and rural areas where there is not a great chance to provide large-scale public transport, albeit it should be provided in a different way.

In my constituency, DART+ is going to Kilcock, but you cannot get on it. I pointed that out last week. There is no station but there are eight railway sheds. That does not make sense. The same will be the case with the Kildare line. It is only going as far as Celbridge, but there is a big catchment of about 50,000, including Naas and the towns around it. People feel they have no option but to get in the car and that is what the Government wants to discourage.

Cities like Galway are choked with traffic. Cork cannot be the counterpoint to Dublin unless it is properly planned and there is provision of services. The same is the case in relation to suburban transport in Limerick.

It is not that there is an unwillingness by urban communities to use public transport, but they must be given the opportunity to do that through ambitious projects that can be delivered within a reasonable timeline.

In recent weeks, two carbon budgets were announced and commitments were made at COP26. If we miss our targets on transport and retrofitting, it will put increasing pressure on the agriculture sector because these areas are all interconnected. Today, the Tánaiste said the Dublin transport strategy was not approved by the Government, but most of the projects were included in the national development plan and we are seeing some of them postponed. Unless we have timelines, it is very difficult to see how we are going to meet our targets on transport. This is a very serious issue, given how transport relates to the other aspects of our climate targets.

6:50 pm

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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Transport infrastructure is an essential prerequisite for regional development. I will focus on a few key points in the time available. First, public transport in rural areas is essential for accessibility and social inclusion and can make a substantial difference in achieving climate goals. The lack of a robust and reliable public transport system continues to be a challenge and an obstacle for people living in rural areas in accessing employment, education and health services.

Public transport is an equality issue. It is a vital service that helps those who cannot drive or cannot afford a private vehicle to get jobs, reach medical appointments and take part in cultural events. People with disabilities in west Cork highlight the inadequacy of the Local Link services, despite recent improvements, and how some services are not wheelchair accessible. People must rely on family or taxis to get around or even to attend day services or training in some cases. The lack of transport remains a significant barrier. It is also an age and gender issue, as young and older people are the demographic groups which disproportionately use public transport. Many of the older cohort do not have driving licences, especially women aged over 70 who, for historical reasons, never learned or were not permitted to learn how to drive. They deserve a public transport system that allows them to live full and healthy lives.

Furthermore, the absence of proper bus stops and shelters is a major issue. Towns and villages across west Cork and rural Ireland are screaming out for sheltered bus stops that would at least allow people to sit and wait out of the rain. That is a bare minimum. Given that we are in Ireland, we know it is going to rain. It is unbelievable that in most towns and cities there is not even somewhere to sit and stay dry. That is a major disincentive to the use of public transport.

Despite a decrease in transport emissions last year due to Covid restrictions, this sector is a massive contributor to our overall emissions. Public transport can play a clear role in alleviating this. As we face a period of significant change to meet our emissions targets, public transport can and must be central to these plans. We need more public transport. We also need more frequent services, guaranteed accessibility and late-night routes. Such services must be subsidised. Funding is the key to this. Despite the Minister of State's assurances on the amounts spent, unless funding translates into regular, dependable and accessible transportation for as many people as possible, it is not working.

Second, there will still be a requirement for safe and well-maintained roads. They are a crucial social and economic link. Economic strategies can only be successful if the necessary infrastructure is in place, from broadband to roads. Roads are essential for emergency services and connecting rural communities with hospitals and even GP surgeries which are increasingly contracting. Public transport obviously has limitations in rural areas compared with built-up areas, and roads are fundamental to filling in the gaps. Crucially, better and safer roads also encourage cycling and other active travel. We need rural transport to be joined up to allow all people, young and old, to switch from different forms of mobility quickly and cheaply.

I raised the issue of road safety recently. There are numerous accident black spots in west Cork, such as the New Court corner west of Skibbereen and the Baxter's Bridge junction near Bandon, which I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, knows. They are unbelievably dangerous. How many accidents does it take for something to change? I seek an assurance that once a place is known to be dangerous, automatic interventions are implemented to save lives.

Third, in terms of maritime transport, there is a need to support the ferry services that sustain island communities. They are vital links that must not be overlooked in discussions of rural and regional transport.

The motion calls for clarity on all projects in the National Development Plan 2021-2030, including funding and timescales for the progression and estimated completion of projects. Deputy Catherine Murphy highlighted a concern of mine around the Government's rural development policy. A plan without clear targets, timescales and costs is not a plan but a wish list. The success of rural Ireland lies in a properly funded transport system. We need better public transport, integrated approaches and safer roads. Ultimately, we need the public investment to make this possible.

The Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, referred to rural Ireland but it is difficult for many to understand how far-reaching the impact of the lack of public transport is in rural areas. I will give one example. In the past, people could always go to the community welfare officer if they needed to present as homeless and look for emergency accommodation. Due to the upsurge in homelessness on account of the housing crisis, they now have to go to the local authority housing office. There is no public transport from many towns in west Cork to the housing authority. The issue was brought to my attention in the case of people fleeing domestic violence who do not necessarily have transport. They might have children and lots of stuff and they cannot get to the housing office. That is an absolute disgrace and it highlights the specific need for transport in rural areas.

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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I thank Sinn Féin for introducing the motion, which gives us an opportunity to discuss infrastructure. The Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, is aware of my passion for the western rail corridor and I will take a few minutes to speak about that initially. There is a lot of confusion about what we are trying to do but, in a nutshell, we have rail connectivity from north Mayo as far as Claremorris, and then it takes off eastwards towards Dublin. We have rail connectivity from Galway to Athenry and the service goes down along the south coast and complements the western rail corridor, phase 1, which was opened in 2011. This is the fastest growing rail line for commuter passengers in Ireland currently, with more than 500,000 passengers last year. Phases 2 and 3, which would link Athenry to Tuam and on to Claremorris, are left as a void. This connectivity would bring together Galway and Mayo. It would also bring together Galway, Mayo, Clare, Limerick, Cork and Waterford in terms of rail freight. It is a very simple project, which is shovel-ready, in other words, it does not need planning permission or consent from anybody. It is a replacement of the railway track from Athenry to Claremorris. What would that do for the economy, balanced regional development and every one of us who lives in this area, including both the Ministers of State who are present?

By providing such connectivity, we are opening up the potential for rail freight as part of our carbon emissions targets. At the moment, we run rail freight from Ballina, right through the congested lines at night, to bring it down to Waterford and Dublin Airport. We are trying to develop a port in Foynes, to make it a flagship for offshore wind development, but we must also develop Galway Port and establish connectivity with it. We also need connectivity with Cork and Waterford and to open up the western rail corridor. The corridor has been supported by the Atlantic economic corridor task force, Chambers Ireland and the local authorities in Galway and Mayo. I dare say it is probably supported by every political party in this House. The only thing that is holding it up is the absence of the willingness to do it.

The Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is passionate about doing the western rail corridor. He is doing an all-island review at the moment to try to bring together a full strategy for rail. I accept what he is doing, but I believe there is an opportunity for the Government to put its stamp on regional Ireland and take out of the equation the mantra that we are not doing anything for the west, the north west or the mid-west. We have a situation where we can positively discriminate in our investment in the region. According to the European Union, we are a region in transition and we can tap into a 60% share from Structural Funds to make projects like this happen.

We should use this as an opportunity to develop the area.

One of the most unique things is that there is some resistance to it but I think that resistance comes from within a Department which has control of transport. I do not know why, but it just does not seem to get that what we are trying to do is develop Ireland. I live, work and have my constituency office in Tuam and that is where I went to school. Tuam is the largest town in County Galway. If we build out this network, we will be reconnecting Tuam to the national rail network. The western rail corridor is unique in the sense that it is probably the only piece of infrastructure that does not link into Dublin, so it has great potential. We need to make sure that we can link Westport, Ballina and Claremorris to Galway and Tuam, then down to Ennis and along to Limerick and Cork. We have to look at the potential for tourism development in all of this. We have to look at the idea that we can bring tourists into Shannon and Knock airports and get them around the region, using the brand of the Wild Atlantic Way and using the western rail corridor as a mode of transport for them.

It is very important that we take this on board in a positive way and that we are brave about it. Some people will say that rail is a thing of the past. In what we are doing in terms of climate action and changing our whole approach to living in order to save the world, one of the key potentials we have is rail transport. What I mean is that we take the trucks off the road and put the containers onto rail freight. Companies are demanding that so they are running their businesses in a way that meets their green carbon targets. That is the potential that is there but, for one reason or another, successive Governments have never supported the idea of rail freight in Ireland. It has only happened through the efforts of a certain few people who have produced much of the rail freight from Ballina down to Waterford, against the grain and against a lot of resistance from within Departments. We do not subsidise it. About €2.5 million is contributed from the Exchequer to Irish Rail annually but a levy is then put on top which ensures it does not make any money. It is hilarious what is going on there.

It is also important that we think about this. When we talk about tourism, there are companies in Ireland doing rail tourism and they rely on lines like the western rail corridor to make sure we further realise the potential on the west coast, from Cork up to Donegal. It is important that we take that on board. In phases 2 and 3 of the western rail corridor, we have a gem of a tourism attraction, which is Ballyglunin station, the location of the film "The Quiet Man" that was made many years ago. Even today, businesses like Ashford Castle are bussing tourists over to that station as an attraction. It has a powerful attraction. Would it not be great if we could run trains from Galway out there with tourists on a day trip? It is a place where the local community are refurbishing the station, turning it into a museum and also into a broadband connection point and digital hub, which is bringing innovation and history together in a museum.

We have the potential right on our doorsteps to do this. From the point of view of the west of Ireland, it is important that we create this linkage and get rid of the stigma that we are not supporting the west. We can put funding into the area but when we talk in the national development plan about a cancer treatment facility in Galway for the west of Ireland which services Donegal down as far as Limerick, we need to have the public transport for people to access that. What better way to do it than by train? People can travel and work on the train, and there are many benefits to doing this, for example, it is the safest mode of transport. The only thing that is missing is the fact we just do not seem able to get it to a stage where we can start the work.

This is something the Government and political representatives in the west have to consider seriously. We have to work together to make sure we do this. This will create the linkage and create the spine for the activity that is needed if we are to survive and grow out of being just a region in transition. As I said, it has the support of the Northern and Western Regional Assembly, the Border, Midland and Western Regional Assembly and the Southern Regional Assembly. It also has the support of local authorities and all of the business communities. The only thing that is missing is the Department of Transport, which needs to come out of the dark ages and to see how, under phase 1, this is the fastest-growing line in Ireland in terms of rail transport. Phases 2 and 3 will only add to that, and we will only see the full benefit when we link it all together.

7:00 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I call Deputy Michael Collins, who is sharing time with Deputies Danny Healy-Rae and Michael Healy-Rae.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Rural communities are the most at risk of energy and transport poverty. That is according to a new study from a variety of universities which claim that rural residents in Ireland are most at risk due to a lack of access to national heating infrastructure, a high risk of power cuts and the fact they live in older homes with poor insulation. Transport poverty issues are linked to the lack of nearby goods, services and jobs, as well as poorer services when it comes to public transport. Rural villages across Ireland have no access to viable public transport, even under the Connecting Ireland plan the Government published for public consultation a few weeks ago. The National Transport Authority, NTA, plan only proposes an overall increase of 25% in rural bus services, and a 25% increase on nothing amounts to little, let us face it. A frequent, reliable and direct public transport system is key to reducing rural isolation and reducing dependency on cars. However, the Government simply does not get the importance of public transport outside the M50.

I am blue in the face from saying the same thing over and over in the Dáil. The Government wants us to reduce our carbon footprint but without proper and adequate transport. There is not a hope in hell this can be done. We were further ahead in the 1960s, when we had a train network that extended all over west Cork, right down to my own parish of Schull and down into Bantry and places like that, than we are in 2021.

At the same time, in saying that, I welcome the plan that was published last week. There is obviously room for change and, when having a meeting with the NTA, it was generally accepted that we would have a bit of feedback into the plan. I see that services will run five times a day on the Baltimore to Union Hall route and three times a day on the Dunmanway to Kinsale route, which will take in Clonakilty, Courtmacsherry, Kilbrittan and Ballinspittle. Services will also run three times a day from Dursey to Kilcrohane, Castletownbere, Glengarriff, Bantry and that area and there is also Mizen Head to Castletownshend, which includes Goleen, Schull and Ballydehob. I have concerns and I will be working with the NTA going forward in regard to areas like Drinagh and Ballinacarriga. The route from Goleen and Durrus to Bantry is not being serviced, and there is also Lisheen, Ardfield, Inchydoney, Timoleague, Ballyroe and Newcestown, and out to Ardgroom, Eyeries and Allihies. These are areas that need to be looked at. They cannot be exempted and let go. The very focused, frequent service that people get in Dublin is what we should be getting in rural Ireland.

Cork Local Link has been excellent in rolling out services in the last number of years. It should be connected with West Cork Connect, which is another service that is coming out of Skibbereen and Bantry several times a day to Cork. We also need to look at late-night services. We cannot just say we are going to provide a service in the morning. Young people want to use public transport and the Government is advising us to use public transport. It is another area that needs to be looked at.

We need to look at school transport. We put proposals to the Government in our budget submission that we would cut down on the original 3 km limit for children going to school, which is very important.

I am assuming that all these new NTA plans will include the PSO routes so that young people will get the 50% deduction on all this travel going forward. It is an interesting time and I hope the Government can deliver immediately.

7:10 pm

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I am glad to get the opportunity to talk about this very important subject because we do not have public transport in many places in rural Kerry. A few years ago the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, said that one car in a village would service six or eight different families. Is that the ideal that he is still going by or that the Government is still going by? I welcome the eight new routes that should be allocated to Kerry, including from places like Fenit to Farranfore Airport three times per day.

However, much of the carbon tax that is being collected, after the €225 million that was given away the other day, is for new bus after new bus for Dublin city. Double decker buses and other long buses in Dublin have big signs on their left-hand corners warning people to look out for the tail swing. Buses are so big and plentiful that there is hardly room for anything else on the roads. If you watch outside the Dáil gate the buses are going by one after another and there are only two or three people at most inside any of them. Places like Gneeveguilla, Scartaglin and Cordal are far away. The Government is saying that 500,000 people will be walking by 2030 but can you imagine walking from places like that to work or cycling from Gneeveguilla or Scartaglin, Lauragh, The Black Valley or Bonane? That is not on. I know it might not be by choice and that the Government is tied on to the Green Party but that is the decision that was made and that is the worry I have.

On school transport, no child should be left behind if he or she is more than 1 km from a school. I mention our road network and the local improvement scheme, LIS. We still have 676 schemes on the list. The people in Kerry are entitled to a good road to their doors the same as the people in Dublin 4. These are public roads; not private ones. They are public roads that were never taken in charge. We need a bypass for Killarney because it has over 18,000 vehicle movements every day. That is too much, the people of Killarney are being choked up and it could affect our tourism product.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank Sinn Féin for bringing this very important Private Members' motion. We are starting on the back foot when we have a Minister for Transport who says he does not like building roads. There is a massive increase in the cost of motoring and fuel is going close to €2 per litre, which is a frightening prospect because everything is reliant on roads in our country. I recently had a meeting with a number of car dealers in Kerry. A wise man attended that meeting and he is not young but I will not say he is old either; he is an experienced car salesman. He asked me if I would stand up inside in the Dáil and tell the Government that people cannot afford the electric cars they are being told to buy.

There is nothing in the world as efficient as a properly serviced and maintained diesel engine. That is a fact and I will argue that with any environmentalist. Any environmentalist who thinks he or she has a monopoly on protecting the environment does not. We are as concerned as anybody else about protecting the environment but we have the common sense to know that if you own a well-performing diesel engine it is rubbish and nonsense to think about getting rid of it to buy an electric car. We are after closing down a number of our ESB generating stations so our electricity is becoming scarcer and at the same time we are telling people to use more of it. If you own a diesel car the message should be to hold onto it, maintain it, change the oil in it and keep it running for as long as you can. You are doing better for the environment by doing that then by buying something for which the production of its battery is an enormous blow to the environment. That is a debate for another day.

I welcome the Macroom and Baile Bhuirne bypass and the future Listowel bypass. We definitely need a bypass for the Killarney bypass. Even though we have a Minister for Transport who does not like building roads, we will have to try to build those roads in spite of him and without him. We will do so because we are entitled to them. The same as the people in Dublin are entitled to a lot of things; we are entitled to these things in County Kerry as well. I thank the private taxi and bus operators who provide a service in County Kerry and in rural Kerry, whether it is Tralee, Killarney, Killorglin, Cahersiveen, Listowel, Kenmare or Sneem, we have excellent people there providing those services. They are not public services; I am talking about private operators and I thank them for the business they conduct.

We are in a worrying time. Last week a lot of people would have turned in their graves. It is not for me to comment on what other political parties do but the leader of the country and of what we would call a one-time major political party came out and made a statement. He was accused of making a speech that could have been attributed to the Green Party and he said he took that as a good compliment. When the Taoiseach of the day comes out with a statement like that we are in worrying and disturbing times.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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I want to make a few points about public transport in Cork. The transport news that has dominated today has been the news of the delays in key public transport initiatives in Dublin. It is in sharp contrast with what the Government said last week at COP26 and at the launch of the climate action plan that there are delays in key public transport initiatives. A key public transport initiative in Cork is the plan for light rail. We need to know when we will have light rail and we will not be tolerating delays to it. Delays in Dublin are also unacceptable.

BusConnects is in the news in Cork and a new round of public consultation on it has opened. The proposal is to increase services in the city by 36%. That is not sufficient and it needs to go further. There are big population increases on the cards in Cork over the next number of years and a 36% increase does not match up to that. We need to be more ambitious. BusConnects needs to ensure that the travelling time for people in key suburbs is not increased by connecting with other areas. For example, the trip from Ballyvolane to the city centre by bus takes about 15 minutes. If that service from Ballyvolane was to run to the city centre via Blackpool that would increase to something closer to 30 minutes. I understand that is the type of measure that is being looked at. We need to improve the service for the people in the likes of Blackpool but we should not do so at the cost of disimproving the service for the people in Ballyvolane. If BusConnects is to be a success, it would be important to take that point on board.

Under BusConnects, 200 extra buses in Cork city is being spoken of. An investment of €200 million is being spoken of. The central bus garage at Capwell is not a suitable location for an expansion of that size. Capwell is already too small for the needs in the city. It is bounded by houses on both sides. It is bounded by schools as well. It has been accepted for some time now that Capwell will not be sufficient. There was an attempt to secure a depot at Monaghan Road last year. The attempt to do that was not successful. There has been an attempt to secure a depot at North Esk. My understanding of the position is that at best Bus Éireann would be able to secure the North Esk site for a maximum of five years for a variety of reasons. I am not 100% certain of them and will not speculate here on the floor of the Dáil but I understand that five years is the maximum that could be got there. Therefore, North Esk is not a long-term solution. It may not even be a medium-term solution.

I understand that there is another reason an alternative location for a bus depot is needed in Cork city. Above and beyond the expansion of the fleet, there is the question of the electrification of the fleet. My understanding is that if you electrify your bus fleet, you need more storage space, not less. You need to have room for chargers, you need to have more space between your buses and you may need to dig up what is underneath the ground surface in your depot. My understanding is that what is underneath the ground surface in the depot in Capwell would make doing that a difficult and expensive job, which may even raise a question mark as to whether you can have Capwell as a depot for your buses alongside another location or whether you will need to move from Capwell, lock, stock and barrel, and have another location entirely. The question of securing a new bus garage, depot and storage space in Cork city is a priority issue of some urgency now that will need to be watched carefully.

On BusConnects and the expansion of public transport, in the budget it was announced that there was to be half-price travel for a cohort of young people, I think, aged 18 to 23, to be introduced. That is a step forward but it is a half-measure. The climate emergency does not call out for half-measures. It calls out for emergency measures. The emergency measure that is necessary here, I believe, is free public transport for all. That is an idea the time of which has come. It is something about which we need a government to say, "Yes, we are going to do that." There needs to be pressure put from below on Government by the emerging climate movement to have free public transport in this country.

On the question of a Cork-Limerick motorway, the idea of treating the climate crisis as an emergency in the State is not compatible with building a motorway between Cork and Limerick and a motorway should not be built between Cork and Limerick. That is not to say that there is not investment needed on the road there. There are a number of towns that need to be bypassed and increased safety provisions need to be made on that road. However, if we are looking at improved connectivity between Limerick and Cork, and we should do that, what we need to look at is improving rail services between the two cities and improving bus services between the two cities, including stop-offs that will facilitate people in getting from A to B in work situations, and improving public transport as you come into both Limerick and Cork so that when you arrive, you are able to travel efficiently and cheaply around the city that you are arriving in.

Those are the key points that I want to make. I reiterate the point about the bus garage and the bus depot in Cork. That is an issue, given the expansion of services with BusConnects and issues of electrification, that needs to be addressed now as a matter of some priority.

7:20 pm

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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Deputy Harkin is sharing time with Deputy Connolly.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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First, I thank Sinn Féin for bringing forward this important motion on regional transport infrastructure, which, if delivered, would be an important component in helping to deliver balanced regional development.

It is worth examining where we are right now and the latest figures in regard to roads and road spend. The most recent figures that I have are from the Northern and Western Regional Assembly. Between 2008 and 2018, the average national road spend per kilometre in the north and west region was €87,000, in the southern region was €103,000, and in the eastern and midland region was €199,000. Some people might say there are more national roads in the eastern part of the country than, for example, in the rural north west, and that is true, but the figures quoted here are per kilometre. In effect, the amount spent per kilometre in the north and west area is less than half of what is spent per kilometre in the eastern half. That is a shocking difference and clearly shows the huge imbalance in national roads spend per kilometre between the regions. If we look at regional and local roads, there is a gap. It is much less, but there is still a gap. There is a lesser spend per kilometre on regional and local roads in the northern and western region than in the eastern and midlands region. In fact, according to the Northern and Western Regional Assembly, the spend per kilometre is 9% less. There are a lot of figures there but they clearly illustrate the imbalance in spending and it is very significant.

We have all been assured that the national development plan will reverse this trend and, finally, deliver balanced regional development. However, as this motion states, "senior members of Government, up to and including the Taoiseach, have indicated publicly that a number of critical regional infrastructure projects outlined in the National Development Plan 2021-2030 may never be delivered, casting doubt on approximately 30 road projects, while other public transport projects will be delayed". It will, therefore, be extremely difficult to see if the national development plan, NDP, is, in fact, delivering the regional balance. That is why I strongly support the call that there must be clarity, or at least more clarity, around funding and timescales for all projects in the NDP. Without some level of clarity, we will be living on the never-never, as it were, and my huge concern is that this approach may further widen the gap between the regions.

A really important part of this motion is that there will be a rural impact assessment undertaken by all Departments and public bodies in relation to their programmes. We are told that we will have value for money impact assessments and climate impact assessments, and that is perfectly correct, but we also need regional impact assessments if we are genuine about delivering balanced regional development.

Earlier the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, was present. I wanted to raise with her the issue of Sligo Airport. I think this is my sixth time to raise it in the House.

Sligo Airport has no passenger services but operates the busiest search and rescue operation in the State. It has not received a single cent of public money in more than ten years. It needed about €370,000 to fund essential works. That was whittled down to €280,000 and finally to €200,000 but there is still no money on the table. The latest we are told is that it is on the Minister's desk awaiting ministerial approval.

I ask the Minister of State to pass this query on to the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, for a written reply as the delay, at this point, is simply inexcusable.

I thank Sinn Féin for giving us a chance to debate the crucial issue of regional transport infrastructure.

7:30 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I also wish to start by thanking Sinn Féin for the motion. I will zone in on two aspects that have already been mentioned, namely, the rural-proofing of all policies and budgets, which we have sought for years and the delivery of the western rail corridor extension to Mayo as a key infrastructure project for regional development.

There are two reports in this regard, namely, one by EY entitled, The Western Rail Corridor: Financial and Economic Appraisal, followed by a very detailed report by Dr. John Bradley, The Atlantic Railway Corridor – The Galway-Mayo Rail Link: An Appraisal. Both are worth reading. The first was commissioned by Iarnród Éireann followed by a peer review and that was followed by Dr. Bradley's detailed report that sets out the differences and the issues between the two reports. What is not at issue the need for the western rail corridor, as set out in a number of policies that have already been clearly set out by Deputy Canney. I will mention one point quoting the regional spatial and economic strategy, which observed that “The Western Rail Corridor is of strategic importance as it represents a piece of key enabling and sustainable transport infrastructure for the region". I am looking at a report where it finds that the business case does not justify it and it fails to tie it in with policies. I do not see it quoted anywhere in the report that it is of a strategic nature and it is essential. There are a number of interesting things about Dr. Bradley's report. He dedicates it to "Dr. Micheál Mac Gréil, SJ, ar ócáid a nóchadú breithlá" - we all know who Dr. Mac Gréil is - on his 90th birthday, and who, Dr. Bradley says, fought so long and so hard for the development of the west. The Minister of State came in here tonight and her speech took issue with our statement of the fact that we have ignored rural Ireland. She said that is not true. I am afraid it is true. We see it in that dedication to that priest and sociologist, and onward with the groups on the ground who have all fought to have sustainable development in the west of Ireland. We have utterly failed to do that. We have many good policies which I could not argue with. It is the implementation of them that has a lot to be desired. Another interesting thing about Dr. Bradley's report is his mention of Alexander Nimmo and his works in Ireland. We all know who Alexander Nimmo is and we are certainly very familiar with him in Galway in both the city and the county. Nimmo's Pier is a stone's throw from where I live. When there was no money in Ireland, and he was given instructions to have minor works, he ignored the instructions and went for a massive public infrastructure programme, which has stood the test of time. Nimmo's Pier is still there in Galway among many other piers, houses and so on. That was at a time when we had nothing.

If we have struggled to put the west on the map it is all the more important now with climate change and the biodiversity emergency. The Government will hear this over and over again because we have to make words mean something and we have to allow sustainable development in the west of Ireland to take the pressures off the cities. I am all for one who wants to develop Galway city, but in a sustainable way. When she was here, the Minister of State utterly failed to say that we have no park-and-ride in Galway even though it is in the development plan since 2005, we have no feasibility study on light rail. I heard Deputy Barry talk about Cork. We have 24,000 signatures from many years ago begging the Government to carry out a feasibility study. In the context of tonight's motion, I would point the Minister of State towards Dr. Bradley's research. He sets out the differences between the two reports and the cost analysis. He said there was a very strong business case for re-opening the railway from Galway to Mayo. He set out the differences between the two reports. I am running out of time to go into them but capital costs was one of the main arguments. His report takes that apart. There is also time saving. Dr. Bradley also said the EY report is full of errors, and not only typographical errors. He was not even negative about it, he just highlighted it. He said he was giving a fresh appraisal of this project because it is absolutely essential in the context of climate change and of Brexit, that we would have balanced regional development. It makes absolute sense to have a railway running from Galway up to Mayo and beyond if we are seriously interested in our commitments under law, in relation to climate, and in relation to balanced regional development.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick County, Fine Gael)
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I am deputising for the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who is unavailable tonight. It is clear that Deputies on all sides of the House are committed to improving transport infrastructure in regional and rural Ireland. I think it is clear we are all committed to improving transport infrastructure in rural and regional Ireland. Nobody has a monopoly on this issue. It is clear this Government is committed to improving transport infrastructure across the country. That commitment is evidenced in the national planning framework and the Our Rural Future policy but is also backed up by the funding allocated under the national development plan for the next ten years and the funding allocated under budget 2022 to allow Connecting Ireland launch next year. To pick up on a point made by an earlier speaker, sometimes projects do get delayed. That is part of the planning process. Were the Department of Transport, a Minister or local authority to interfere in that, I am sure that some of the Deputies who spoke would take issue with the same Government for a different reason. All Deputies will remember the tribunals that took place for different reasons. Planning processes are independent and for a good reason. We all agree that an improved transport system has an important role to play in promoting balanced regional development and enhancing rural connectivity but also crucially addressing climate change. There is no dispute from any side of the House, let alone the Government side, that these improvements need to be delivered. However, there are aspects of the motion that seem to wish away best practice in terms of project delivery. It is clearly the case that costings and schedules for projects are subject to uncertainty in the earlier stages of development. The earlier the stage of planning, the more uncertain the cost of the project and the timelines around delivering it. The purpose of the public spending code’s decision gate approach toward Government approvals is to gradually develop that certainty, in order that when the Government is asked for decision gate 3 approval, the cost and schedule estimations are then as certain as they can be and are the baselines against which to measure success. It is simply the case that within the national development plan you have a variety of different projects at different stages of their project life cycle, so for some the cost and schedule estimation process is well developed and for others it is much less well-developed.

I also share the motion’s wish for improved investment in our national rail network. That is why the Department and the Minister welcome the increased funding provided by the NDP to do just that. I know there are passionate views expressed by Members from all parties, and none, about various proposals to further improve our rail network. The Minister and I recognise the long-standing advocacy of groups such as West-On-Track in terms of their campaigning for the reopening of the western rail corridor, which Deputy Canney and others mentioned. As noted in the motion, earlier this year West-On-Track published a report it had commissioned on the proposed reopening. I do not think it would surprise anyone to know that a report commissioned by an advocacy group advocated reopening the line. What the Government has approved is not to consider issues like the western rail corridor in isolation but instead to look at our inter-regional rail network in its entirety, not just to consider it on the basis of the State’s network but to look instead in the context of the entire island of Ireland. That is why we have launched a strategic rail review and I encourage everyone to take part in its public consultation, which should launch very shortly.

The Minister and i welcome the motion’s acknowledgement that the impact of all Government measures on rural communities needs to be assessed closely. I have no doubt but that the proposers will welcome the fact this is already a requirement. All memorandums for Government decisions must provide an assessment of the impact on rural communities. Furthermore, the national planning framework places the concept of balanced regional development at the very heart of everything the Government must do across all its policies and strategies.

I endorse the comments of my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Naughton, on Connecting Ireland. The initiative could potentially be transformative for public transport in rural Ireland. It will expand bus services across the country, linking local communities with the destinations they need to access, be it for work, education or leisure. This is something previous speakers referenced, especially in the context of Covid. Obviously, in rural Ireland the car will always play an integral part in people's transport needs. As we strive to meet our climate action targets, those cars will increasingly become zero-emission vehicles. While I welcome the continued funding committed in the NDP towards the protection and renewal of our regional road network, if I could be parochial for a moment and consider my own County Limerick, the Government has committed to funding the improved active travel, bus and rail infrastructure that will benefit both the urban and rural areas of the county for generations. The Limerick greenway, Limerick BusConnects, Connecting Ireland and improved rail infrastructure services will be funded under the NDP and I look forward to seeing that being delivered.

In conclusion, I reiterate my view that the House broadly agrees on the need for investments in rural and regional transport services and state as fact that the Government has demonstrated a commitment for ongoing investment across these services. I thank the Acting Chairman and Deputies for giving me the time to respond to the House on that. I am sharing the remainder of my time with Deputy Calleary.

7:40 pm

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputies Conway Walsh and O'Rourke for giving us the chance to discuss this matter this evening. Deputy Connolly quoted an tAthair Micheál Mac Gréil, to whom the Bradley report is dedicated. I will come back to the report in the context of the Minister of State's remarks. I want to speak about another priest, Monsignor James Horan, who, 40 years ago, showed how it is done. In the face of the same kind of opposition and the same kind of sticking its head in the sand from the Department of Transport as we have today, especially the permanent side of it, he developed Knock Airport. He had a phrase which is often quoted by our colleague, Deputy Ó Cuív. He referred to the policy of the Department as "MAD", meaning maximum administrative delay. Keep putting it on the long finger and hopefully it will go away. Tonight there is an all-party motion saying we are not going away. We are not going away on the western rail corridor. We are not going away on road projects such as the N26 or on proper regional development. We do not want sticking plasters but ambitious stuff that makes a difference. That is what is laid out in the Bradley report. I tell the Minister of State it does not matter who commissioned it. Its findings will stand up to any independent analysis. In that it is unlike the EY report commissioned by the Department at a cost to the taxpayer of €500,000, which has many flaws within it.

The context of waiting for an all-Ireland rail review for a project that has been reviewed so often is typical of the maximum administrative delay strategy. This works. It works not just in the context of the western rail corridor and the extension of the existing corridor to County Mayo and beyond, hopefully, but in the context of the all-island Atlantic economic corridor. If we are serious about regional development we will build a ballast to the east right from County Derry to County Kerry. It would be all-island and all-coastal, with a spine going down through it that has rail at its centre. This would be rail that is sustainable. It would be rail not just for freight but for passengers too. This will allow people to move off-road into a proper commuter rail service linking the west. It will link the cities of Galway and Sligo to communities for hospital services, education and day-to-day living.

That is the kind of sustainability we should seek in the climate action plan yet it seems the west coast is to be the location for offshore wind and onshore wind. Whatever kind of wind farm you are going for will be located in the west. We will be expected to provide the energy but we are at the end of the queue when it comes to the benefits. These are kind of the benefits I am referring to. The western rail corridor will allow, through the Atlantic economic corridor, the infrastructure of wind farms to be moved by rail not road. As I have said, it will encourage people to go off-road and use public transport for their day-to-day work. It fits all the headings this Government is about and last week's climate action plan is about, yet we keep delaying it. We keep saying we will have another review. We cannot have any more reviews. I am calling for the preliminary work to begin. It is not a choice between the rail corridor and a greenway. Both can exist perfectly well alongside each other. It seems again we are being offered greenways all over the west but tell that to the second biggest producer of Coca-Cola concentrate in the world. Tell that to one of the biggest healthcare manufacturing sectors in the world, which we have in County Mayo. Ask them do they want to export their stuff on a greenway or do they want to do it on a proper road or on a proper railway. Real regional development is about putting that infrastructure in place with ambition and respect and without any further delays.

I join Deputy Connolly in paying tribute to an tAthair Micheál Mac Gréil; a priest, a sociologist and somebody with no commercial interest in rail but who has led this campaign. I pay tribute to West-On-Track, including Colmán Ó Raghallaigh and people like him who are leading it in spite of so many hits. They are in the spirit of Monsignor Horan. Ireland West Airport Knock has developed into a facility that employed 170 or so people before Covid with over 800,000 passengers. The economic benefit of it still has not been fully reached. Why do we have to keep fighting? Why do we have to keep constantly harassing? These are things we are entitled to. The only change I would make to this motion is that I think we need an all-party committee on the implementation of the NDP. It covers so many different projects and Departments. It suits those who do not want to see progress to have it siloed in committee after committee. One overall Oireachtas committee on the implementation of this plan would see it delivered once and for all.

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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We return to Sinn Féin and Deputy Funchion to close the debate.

Photo of Kathleen FunchionKathleen Funchion (Carlow-Kilkenny, Sinn Fein)
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I thank my colleague, Deputy O'Rourke, for bringing this important motion forward. The constituency I represent, Carlow-Kilkenny, is a good mix of urban and rural. While it is a fantastic place to live and work we are certainly lacking public transport. It is an integral part of a functioning rural community and has an important role in reducing emissions, which we are all apparently in favour of, though when it comes to actual practice it is hard to know whether we are.

As part of the recent budget ,the young adult travel card was announced. It was welcome and I though it a positive move. However, for rural communities where we do not have very much public transport it excludes private bus operators. I am obviously an advocate for public transport but in some of our communities where we do not have that, to not roll it out to those operators is a missed opportunity. We would really would benefit from that. Students from counties Carlow and Kilkenny would especially benefit from that as we have had a recent announcement about the institutes of technology in Carlow and Waterford amalgamating to form a technological university for the south east. It would be hugely beneficial for students if they could avail of this but for the most part there are only private providers in the constituency at the moment.

It is ironic that our Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications is currently at the COP flying the flag for Ireland and all we are going to do to encourage people out of their cars and onto public transport yet it is certainly lacking in this constituency. I add that as somebody who travels to Kilkenny on the three days we are up here, if I were to rely on public transport I would have to leave here at 6 p.m. to get the 6.30 p.m. train, as it is the last train to Kilkenny. It is incredible to think that is the situation in 2021.

I briefly mention the situation in Carlow with the bus service. There has finally been an announcement it is going to go out to tender but it is not going to launch until next autumn. Imagine a town like Carlow still has no bus service and we only recently got a proper bus service in Kilkenny city. I am going to run out of time very shortly so I again commend my colleague and urge everybody to support the motion. On rural communities, the Minister of State is in one himself and it really is important we have good public transport and that there are options for people.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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I want to show the Minister of State a map which he may have seen before. It is a map the Northern and Western Regional Assembly published a number of years ago. If one looks at it the deficit in infrastructure in the north-west of Ireland, working its way down to the west, is very clear. Let us look at it. There is no motorway network to the fourth largest city on the island, Derry, and County Donegal. There are about 500,000 people in the cross-Border region of west County Tyrone, County Donegal and County Derry. There is no rail connection and no motorway connection.

For the past ten years, the Government has starved the City of Derry Airport although 40% of the passengers who go through it come from Donegal. It has got no funding from the Government for the past ten years. Funding was removed when the Derry to Dublin airport link was taken down. There is no road or motorway infrastructure, no rail and no air connecting approximately half the county of Donegal and all of Derry. It is stunning. It is the same for electricity infrastructure. We have said this for many years. This motion is so important because we in the west and north west of Ireland do not have a motorway or rail connection joining up the west of Ireland. Cork, Limerick, Galway, Sligo, Derry and that huge mass of population in the west has no motorway connectivity for nearly all of it and no rail connectivity for a big part of it. That has to be the priority, but from reading the national development plan it is not at all clear to me that this Government gets the scale of the neglect of the west and north west of my county of Donegal, right down to Cork. It needs to be addressed and prioritised. I agree with Deputy Calleary that we now need a committee to come to grips with this because successive Governments and senior civil servants have failed to do so. We need a sense of urgency and an investment plan. We need to work with the likes of the Northern and Western Regional Assembly, which has no political axe to grind. Its members are just speaking the truth. I will hold up the map again to show the damning indictment of the failure of our people in the west and north west.

7:50 pm

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I thank all my colleagues, including Deputy O'Rourke and others from rural constituencies, who have worked on bringing this motion forward. As others, across parties, have said, it was a shock to read the national development plan and realise that the map Deputy Mac Lochlainn talked about was not going to change. I thank all the other speakers. I have listened intently to everybody's contribution and rarely has there been such consensus across the House on what we need to do.

We have to examine who is in the Government and who has the ability to deliver the things we have agreed on tonight. I appeal to Deputies within the Government to go back to the heads of their parties and make them understand they are the ones elected to this House. Senior civil servants with pens and paper are not elected to this House. We are the people who are accountable to those who vote for us across the constituencies. The key pieces of infrastructure we talked about form the vision for rural Ireland. They are the catalyst for development and are the things we need. There are wonderful, bright people across the board in rural Ireland. We talked about some of them tonight, such as Monsignor Horan, who Deputy Calleary referred to, in addition to Micheál MacGréil, Colmán Ó Raghallaigh and many others in businesses and communities throughout rural Ireland who share the vision and commitment to making rural Ireland, and the entire country, work for us all, but they are being blocked. We need to unblock what is happening and we need to challenge the analysis that is sometimes presented to us, whether it is from an auditor or a senior civil servant. We need to show people who is in charge here. All of the Deputies know that we can make a cost-benefit analysis say whatever we want it to. Depending on the criteria we use, we can predict the outcome. The population-led cost-benefit analysis being used across the board will just not work for rural Ireland in terms of the investment decisions that need to be made.

People in rural Ireland want to do their bit for climate change. In fact, they want to do more than their bit. They want to be leaders in climate change, whether it is through wind or wave energy, or many other things, but we cannot do it unless we are given the basic infrastructure, such as public transport. The Atlantic economic corridor task force sets out a vision for us all on where we need to be and the potential that is there but, again, it cannot do it without the key infrastructure we need. That is why many of these communities and businesses know that this Government is out of touch with how they think, and with what they want and need to make their areas work. They want more than launches, brochures and photos and, post Covid, they expect to have more than that delivered for them.

The western rail corridor is a shovel-ready project, having had ten years of very hard work put into it. The report forwarded by Dr. John Bradley concluded all that work. It makes sense economically, socially and from a climate change perspective in terms of freight, passengers and what we want to deliver for the west. The vast majority of politicians across this House agree it needs to be delivered. We need to address the implementation deficit and we need to get it delivered. That would really show the Government intends to listen to people in rural Ireland and the west. I again ask this Government to go back, look at the western rail corridor and deliver it along with the other key infrastructure projects that have been talked about tonight.

Question put and declared carried.