Dáil debates

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Ceisteanna - Questions

Cabinet Committees

1:42 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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7. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with transport will next meet. [48290/21]

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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8. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with transport will next meet. [52454/21]

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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9. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with transport will next meet. [53405/21]

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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10. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deal with transport will next meet. [53057/21]

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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11. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with transport will next meet. [54394/21]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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12. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with transport will next meet. [54397/21]

Photo of Cormac DevlinCormac Devlin (Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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13. To ask the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee that deals with transport issues; and when it is next due to meet. [54497/21]

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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14. To ask the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee that deals with transport issues; when it last met; and when it is next due to meet. [54498/21]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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15. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with transport will next meet. [54651/21]

1:52 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 15, inclusive, together. There is no dedicated Cabinet committee dealing with transport; rather transport-related matters are discussed in a number of Cabinet committees as appropriate. This occurs most usually at the Cabinet Committee on Economic Recovery and Investment which last met on 30 September and is due to meet on 22 November and at the Cabinet Committee on the Environment and Climate Change which last met on 3 November. Issues relevant to the transport sector can arise at other Cabinet committees such as the Cabinet Committee on Northern Ireland and Brexit and as with all policy areas, they are regularly discussed at full Cabinet meetings where all formal decisions are made.

In addition to meetings of the Cabinet and Cabinet committees, I regularly meet Ministers, including the Minister for Transport, to discuss particular issues. As outlined in the NDP, the Government is clear in its commitment to deliver quality transport infrastructure and services in a way that is sustainable. As set out in the Climate Action Plan, which we published last week, we have to take definitive action now to reduce our emissions. The transport sector must play a central role in this and we are working to significantly reduce transport emissions by 2030. We will achieve this through investment in transforming and decarbonising our public transport services, in accelerating the pace of electric vehicle take-up, and in improving our walking and cycling infrastructures. Specifically, budget 2022 allocates €3.4 billion for transport, of which €1.8 billion is supporting sustainable transport. In this way we are ensuring we continue to improve our transport infrastructure to meet people's needs, address the objectives of compact, sustainable growth and regional connectivity and meet our climate and environmental targets.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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The publication of the draft transport strategy for the greater Dublin area raised a huge amount of concerns. It will be at least 2031 before MetroLink is in place. For growing towns like Swords it confirms what the NDP pointed out, namely, this project has no actual start or completion dates. Is that not fair to say? Will the Taoiseach respond? Suburbs like Lucan and Finglas are also facing another ten years of congestion with new Luas lines years away. So many people are so depressed by what was revealed as the reality facing them in the past couple of days. No matter how much the Government spins it, that is the reality. Plans for the underground DART line in Dublin have been shelved until at least 2042.

The Taoiseach spoke about the COP and about us really needing to play our part and obviously dealing with transport. How does that marry with the timelines stated in the plan that has been announced and that we are now fully aware of?

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I raise with the Taoiseach the issue of access to public transport for people with disabilities. Last Friday, lifts at nine railway stations were out of order, meaning people with disabilities could not access public transport and trains at those stations. It is completely unacceptable this would happen. It is vital public transport be accessible to everyone. This issue has been going on for years and Irish Rail has failed to rectify it. Lifts at railway stations frequently becoming broken and being out of order mean people cannot access trains to go to work, school, college and other activities. It is utterly unacceptable. Will the Government ensure Irish Rail acts urgently to rectify this so everybody can access public transport, which is what Irish Rail is funded to do?

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I raise the absence of school transport for the children of Carrigaline Community Special School. There are 29 children who require school transport but none was planned as the school opened at the end of September, a full month after all other children returned to school. In fact, there are a number of children who are yet to set foot inside the school because they simply cannot get there. The Minister seeks to lay the blame at the door of the education and training board, ETB, and Bus Éireann but the truth is the fault lies with the Department and its failure to plan for the educational needs of these children, despite the fact most of them were already in the education system. Due to the nature of the education provided, many of these children live a significant distance from the school. There is temporary transport for just 12 children and even the transport provided in that case is not appropriate to their needs. The children attending at Carrigaline Community Special School have a right to their education and the Government has domestic and international obligations to uphold and deliver these rights. Surely it is not beyond the capacities of the Department and semi-State partners to ensure these 29 children get what they need. I ask the Taoiseach to resolve this matter urgently.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I add my voice to the call made by Deputy Cian O'Callaghan on access for all. I commend the Access for All campaign for highlighting the constant problem at DART stations. We have many of them in our area. A key aspect of that is the lack of staff in DART stations to actually assist people when there are difficulties with lifts and to report these difficulties and so on.

I also wish to ask the Taoiseach about something I have asked him about before, that is, the grants for taxi drivers moving to electric vehicles. The scheme was discontinued and I got answer from the Department saying the €15 million funding had been used up. There are many taxi drivers who want to move to electric vehicles. The €20,000 is inadequate and for some it is €10,000 because you have to scrap a vehicle. We need to make this available. Some are saying companies can get up to ten or 20 grants while individual taxi drivers cannot access the scheme, which is completely wrong. We need to put more money into that scheme and re-establish it as a matter of urgency.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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The programme for Government states: "... the Government will prioritise plans for the delivery of Metrolink, Luas and other light rail expansion, DART expansion and interconnector ...". I presume the Taoiseach will say the Government is prioritising this but it is certainly some type of prioritisation when the Government is delaying it for a decade. The word "prioritise" loses all meaning in that context. People will scratch their heads and wonder how on earth it makes sense to be talking about a cut of up to 50% in carbon emissions from transport on the one hand and literally the next week to have this cutting of vital public transport investment. However, if one looks at the National Transport Authority's Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2022-2042 it begins to make sense in a certain perverse way. In it the height of the ambition is to increase public transport use at morning times by 4%, specifically, by 20% to 23.9%. That is it. That is the height of its ambition. It also wants to reduce car usage by less than 10%. It is incredible but it explains the whole focus on electric cars as opposed to what we need, which is investment in free, green and frequent public transport.

Photo of Cormac DevlinCormac Devlin (Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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The NTA published its Draft Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2022-2042 yesterday and there has been much miscommunication about it. The plan clearly states the railway order applications will be made for the Metrolink and the DART+ west next year and the Finglas LUAS in 2023 or 2024. The draft strategy also envisages the roll-out of BusConnects between 2022 and 2024. All of that is welcome, though I would like to see the roll-out of the bus routes a little bit faster. Other elements of the plan represent significant shifts in policy. It is regrettable to see the DART underground pushed out to at least 2042 and the shelving of the LUAS green line being upgraded to metro standard. It is important all stakeholders have the opportunities to analyse and make considered submissions to the strategy. Institutions, industry, residents, local authorities and Members of this House will all want to have, and should have, their say. The NTA is proposing a very short period of consultation. Will the Taoiseach ask the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to request the NTA extend the consultation period until mid or late January?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Last but by no means least is Deputy Barry.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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By no means least, a Cheann Comhairle. The reopening of the United States of America for non-essential travel is an important moment for Aer Lingus. The company is running 70 flights to the United States this week and every seat on those flights has been booked. The company now plans to increase transatlantic capacity for the months ahead. This should be the moment Aer Lingus withdraws the austerity proposals with which it has confronted its workforce. Those proposals, as the Taoiseach knows, include a wage freeze to 2024, lower starting pay rates and cuts to both shift allowances and sick pay. However, Aer Lingus has not withdrawn these proposals. The Taoiseach's Government has the power to put pressure on that company to do so. The fact Aer Lingus's wage bill is being paid in large measure by the State through the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, gives the Taoiseach's Government real leverage here. Will the Taoiseach now take the opportunity to take appropriate action to defend the wages and conditions of these key workers?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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First of all, earlier this afternoon I dealt with issues pertaining to the NTA and the strategy.

I again have to agree absolutely with Deputy Devlin. It has been completely and deliberately spun in a different direction by Deputies; for what reason I do not know. The three key priorities are BusConnects, DART+ and MetroLink. All three of those key projects in the national development plan, NDP, are being moved very quickly by the Minister. They will be brought before the Government, some before the end of the year, and in January or February next year, with a view to getting the planning application for MetroLink in particular, early in 2022.

2:02 pm

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Very good.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That is the start date but, as Deputies know, all the environmental impact assessments and all the preliminary work have started already. Major work has already gone into MetroLink and we have to get it ready for planning. As public representatives, the most effective thing we can do is to collectively get behind it when it gets into the planning process. That will be challenging because Deputies will come to the House saying different things when we get to that stage.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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They are begrudgers.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is equally important to point out that under the strategy published yesterday, and Deputy Kelly raised the point about emissions and so on, implementation of the full measures will reduce transport emissions in the greater Dublin area by 69%. This is very significant because further investment in DART and Luas, which are already fully electric, is how that reduction will happen. It will also be as a result of the complete transition away from fossil fuels for buses within 13 years, although I would like to see that happen faster. Acceleration of investment in walking and cycling infrastructure will also deliver substantial greenhouse gas reductions. That is the agenda.

There are a whole range of other projects, such as the rail line to Navan and so forth, that are provided for in that plan.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are running out of time.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy McDonald raised the issue of school transport in respect of Carrigaline Community Special School. It was a very good announcement and decision that we, together with the ETB, got that school up and running so quickly, which was necessary. The ETB and Bus Éireann should ensure there is proper school transport. I will engage with the Minister and the parties involved in the development of that school, which is providing good quality education for the children who needed access to special education in what has been a challenging context for quite a number of years. We have put a particular focus on facilitating access to this school for the children involved.

I take Deputy Cian O'Callaghan's very fair point on Irish Rail and access issues. I will work with the Minister in making this an absolute requirement across the board in respect of that issue. Deputy Boyd Barrett raised it also.

I will revert to the Minister on the issue of more funding for the electric vehicle, EV, taxi system. I have no issue with more funding to facilitate more utilisation and take-up of electric vehicles by taxi drivers.

I have dealt with the issue raised by Deputy Paul Murphy. We are not cutting public transport initiatives. Some €165 billion over the next ten years has been allocated in the NDP, at a ratio of 2:1 in favour of public transport over cars.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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It has not.