Thursday, 22 September 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
4. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the number of new routes that have been connected in south-west County Cork since Connecting Ireland was first announced; and the location of these routes. [46555/22]
As Minister for Transport, I am conscious of the need to connect our people and places throughout Ireland. It is important to provide access opportunities for all citizens to employment, education, healthcare and shops, and this is especially true in rural areas such as south-west Cork. One of the key plans for enhancing the existing transport network is under my Department and the NTA's Connecting Ireland rural mobility plan. The overarching aim of Connecting Ireland is to develop an integrated, accessible and sustainable network of public transport offerings.
At the moment, routes identified through the Connecting Ireland consultation process are being prioritised to provide emergency public transport services to areas where the population and transport demand has increased due to the requirement to house Ukrainian refugees in rural locations. This is being achieved by accelerating network improvements, including additional stops, route modifications and more services to increase connectivity. Following extensive consultation, stakeholder engagement and detailed planning, nine new and enhanced services have been launched as part of the Connecting Ireland programme to date this year. A further 28 are at procurement stage, while a further 12 are at detailed planning stage. It is envisaged these 40 new and enhanced services will be implemented this year, subject to procurement and the availability of drivers and buses.
The Deputy will be pleased to know that in south-west Cork, the NTA plans to implement two service enhancements this year. The first is the 2A, from Skibbereen to Killarney, via Bantry, Glengarriff, Kenmare and Kilgarvan, which is planned to be implemented in November this year. Enhancements to the 236A, from Dursey Sound to Kilcrohane, via Castletownbere and connecting with the 2A at Bantry, are also planned before the end of the year. Further services are in planning for south-west Cork under Connecting Ireland as we develop the programme in the coming years.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but this is all kicking the can down the road. It is not delivery. West Cork remains disconnected in regard to transport. The Minister has been in office for almost two and a half years and I have seen no additional service, as he proved when he stated this is another exercise that will happen in a year's time or whenever. Areas in west Cork are not connected, while others, such as my parish of Goleen, have a bus that leaves at 7.30 a.m. and does not come back until 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. These people have every right to survive as much as any community, whether that is in Dublin, Kildare or anywhere else. Why are these people being totally disconnected? In other areas, such as from Dunmanway to Clonakilty, there is no proper service or no service at all. In Coppeen, Dunmanway or Bandon, there is nothing, and the same is true of Drimoleague to Skibbereen, or Goleen and Durrus to Bantry.
These areas have to be looked at. It was lovely to hear the Minister talk about the route from Skibbereen to Killarney, which is fine for the person who wants to go for a day's spin-out, but for the working person who needs transport, it is not being delivered.
That service, first and foremost, is for the people of Skibbereen, Bantry and Glengarriff, as well as the people in Kerry and beyond. It will start in two months and it is a new service. It is a good news story for the people of Bantry, I would suggest. Similarly, for the people of the Beara Peninsula, it is a significant development. Let us go further, however, if we can get the money. I will be perfectly honest, given we have a €70 billion demand in transport but only €35 billion in the pot, but I think Connecting Ireland should be one of our top priorities because we need good rural transport.
Further services are planned, such as the 01, from Cork to Tralee, and the 02, from Cork to Skibbereen, which will connect into the service to Killarney that I mentioned. Furthermore, the 237A, from Mizen Head to Castletownshend, will be welcome, I am sure the Deputy will agree. It will go through Lowertown, I would imagine, and all the places in between. There will also be the 237B, from Baltimore to Union Hall, the 253, from Dunmanway to Kinsale, and the 257, the extension of the route to Kinsale, although they are kind of in the horizon of what we want to do next. We will have to show that it works and we will have to get passengers up and revenue in, but I do not foresee us stopping with these routes. We are only at the start of this.
If we get the revenue and the passengers in, I see this expanding continually.
Obviously, I would be very happy if a new service was operating right now between Skibbereen and Killarney; it would be perfect. However, the ordinary everyday working person finds it difficult to pick up public transport in west Cork. People are not finding it easy. It is non-existent in quite a lot of places. The funny thing is that there are commercial operators out there. West Cork Connect has made several proposals but the NTA keeps refusing them. These are proposals that will not cost the State one brown cent. The Minister is asking for money. The people of west Cork are forking out tens of thousands of euro on carbon tax so we can make sure there are beautiful transport services in and around our capital. That carbon tax should be delivering for the people of rural Ireland, however, and it is not happening. The Minister said maybe down the road, but that is kicking the can down the road.
I would like to thank Local Link Cork under Mr. David O'Brien, which delivers an excellent service with the funds it has. There are certainly areas with no service whatsoever that need to be looked at. They may now be looking at this not happening for the next 12 months or two years - we do not know. The Minister said he is looking for money; I am saying he has the carbon tax, which he should spend on rural Ireland and public transport. In my view, the NTA is disconnecting Ireland if it continues to refuse the proposals of a commercial operator to carry out some of these routes from Goleen to Skibbereen or Goleen to Bantry.
I will spend the money on public transport all right; the Deputy need not worry about that. I absolutely agree with him. This must be key for the ordinary Joe and Josephine on the side of the road. We only started this last year so we are learning. The first two were in counties Leitrim and Kerry, down on the Dingle Peninsula, where really good lessons were learned. In Leitrim we learned that we can integrate Local Link and other public transport services with the health transport needs we have. As I said in the Dáil yesterday, I would argue that in the review of school bus services, we should link that in to see whether we can design systems in a way that ensures we get a better school transport system, a better health transport system and a better public transport system. That is where I think we are. Let us test and learn to see as we go forward how we can improve and expand. Integrating a variety of different services is one of the ways of doing it.
Local Link plays a vital role and provides a really important service. We need to promote it better. There are many services that people do not know about. We need to work on the bus stops, which is not hugely expensive. Money is tight, but we can have a small sign attached to a wall so people know it is the Local Link stop. We can create stops in a creative way. That is where we need to go here. We need to evolve services in new ways and do things differently so we can provide public transport around the country.