Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 May 2024

Road Safety and Maintenance: Motion [Private Members]


10:00 am

Photo of Duncan SmithDuncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann: notes that:
- as of 10th May there have been 73 traffic fatalities this year, an increase of 30 per cent on 2023, the worst total in nearly a decade, and each death a tragedy for their families and loved ones;

- for too long the Road Safety Authority (RSA) has not been sharing data on road traffic collisions with local authorities due to General Data Protection Regulation concerns;

- roads, paths and cycleways across the country are in an appalling condition, with changing weather patterns due to climate change resulting in more severe storms and heavier rain leaving unprecedented damage behind;

- in both rural and urban local authorities there are unrepaired potholes, damaged surfaces, uneven paths, and broken or missing cycle lane separators, with not enough funding available to make necessary and essential repairs; and

- the 2024 Revised Estimates for the Department of Transport show a 3 per cent cut in regional and local roads investment leading to a direct reduction in the length of paths, local and regional roads that will be maintained and improved this year, with overall funding for road networks and road safety down 11 per cent, while Active Travel capital funding is down 12 per cent on 2023;
further notes that:
- the improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of each local authority under section 13 of the Roads Act 1993, but most of the funding allocations under the regional and local roads programme have not increased since 2023;

- only €11 million was provided this year, the same as in 2023, for safety improvement works;

- increased congestion and larger vehicle sizes are exacerbating road disrepair, while older people, those with disabilities and parents with children are most affected by damaged footpaths;

- there has been a welcome increase in funding for Active Travel Projects in recent years but if allocations are unspent these cannot be redeployed for repair work, and there is no dedicated funding programme for the maintenance and restoration of existing footpaths or cycleways, with local authorities having to use own resources for this work; and

- in 2023 only a combined €135,000 was awarded under the regional and local roads programme to the four Dublin local authorities;
recognises that:
- additional Gardaí resources have been deployed to road safety policing, but more dedicated Gardaí are needed to ensure existing laws are enforced, and new measures from the Road Safety Act 2024 must be quickly implemented and the RSA must focus on tackling the causes of road traffic collisions;

- unrepaired road surfaces and paths are a danger to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, and if we are to encourage more people to switch to Active Travel then more investment in maintenance is needed;

- local authorities are not properly resourced to repair and maintain roads, paths and cycleways under the Active Travel Investment Programme and regional and local roads programme, and increased costs are reducing the amount of remediation work that can be carried out; and

- a failure to repair road surfaces and paths quickly leads to further deterioration, resulting in more expensive reinstatement at a later date; and
calls on the Government for:
- a renewed focus to reduce deaths and injuries on our roads, with increased enforcement by An Garda Síochána, and a new strategy from the RSA that addresses the concerns of all road users including cycling and pedestrian groups;

- the sharing of traffic collision location data covering both fatalities and injuries between the RSA and local authorities;

- a national inspection programme to ensure roads, cycleways and footpaths are at a suitable and safe standard, with a funded programme of audits in every local authority;

- an immediate increase in the allocation of funds for repair of damaged road surfaces;

- local authorities to be allocated Active Travel funds to repair and maintain existing paths and cycleways, and allowed to deploy unspent funding for maintenance works; and

- ringfenced funding to local authorities for the direct hiring of staff in road, cycleway and path maintenance and repair.

The House recognises, and the Labour Party has brought this motion forward due to the fact, that it is beyond clear that road safety as an issue is trending in the wrong direction. It is in danger of becoming an even bigger crisis than it has been in recent years. This year is on course to prove the most lethal for traffic fatalities in more than 15 years. All the good work and hard work done over many years since 2003 and 2004 is in danger of being completely erased. As of 10 May, there had been 73 traffic fatalities so far this year. This is an increase of 30% on 2023, which was the worst total in almost a decade. We only spoke about road safety last month in the House when we had statements on it, and the figure at that time was that 63 people had died in our roads. Figures also show that the increase in road deaths in Ireland since before the pandemic is the worst in the EU. It ranked fourth worst in 2023 in terms of fatality rates relative to 2022. We are past the time for working groups and expressions of concern. We need urgent action from the Government. Every death is a tragedy for families and loved ones, who will forever grieve the preventable loss of someone they love so much. Of course, it is not only deaths but the many life-changing and life-altering injuries that occur on our roads.

There has been consistent mismanaging of road safety and broader issues for drivers. These include the outrageous backlog of driving tests the Government has failed to tackle. More than 86,000 people are waiting to book or take a driving test, including 31,000 people in our capital city. The Government knows as well as I do this encourages people to drive illegally on learner permits and it allows young drivers to pick up general bad habits. When, at the end of any argument, Government members or senior figures try to say a lot of this is down to poor driver behaviour, it is not the get-out they think it is. Poor driver behaviour is down to not having enough lessons, not doing the test and bedding in general bad habits when people are learning to drive and in their early months and years on the road. Only last October, we saw a figure that indicated up to 30,000 people on their third or subsequent provisional driver licence have never sat a driving test. This is 30,000 people on our roads who have never sat a driver test and should have. Some learners have been driving for up to 30 years without ever holding a full licence. It is incredible to think that is the case in 2024 in our country. With such large waiting lists, it is almost a certainty that these figures will have risen and will continue to rise. This puts drivers, including young drivers, pedestrians and all road users at risk.

We have some data on road deaths that show almost half of Ireland's road deaths this year have involved people under the age of 30. They now represent 41% of all traffic fatalities. As the motion calls for, we need to see more data being shared. For too long the Road Safety Authority has been unable to share data on road traffic collisions with local authorities due to GDPR concerns. I know the Minister of State is working on legislation to amend this. Part of the motion is to put pressure on him to ensure the amending legislation is brought through as quickly as possible.

We also need to have a serious conversation about the shortcomings of the Road Safety Authority. Only last month, 30 road safety advocacy groups declared no confidence in the RSA and stated it is no longer fit for purpose. They stated it was focused on those with least capacity to make a difference on road safety rather than those with the most. For example, it has given 40,000 high visibility vests to preschoolers but it does not support active travel projects, remains silent in debates over walking and cycling infrastructure, and does not comment on lenient sentencing and unsound court judgments or court arguments. We couple this with the chronic waiting list for driver tests and instances of the RSA not renewing driver testers on temporary contracts to tackle the backlog in driving tests. This is something I have raised in the transport committee with the unions. I have written to the RSA about this also. Questions need to be asked of the RSA. The RSA needs to have a big role in tackling road safety but there is a responsibility on it to do more and to do better. We also want to make clear that the RSA does not have sole responsibility for this. Ultimate responsibility lies with the Government and Ministers, including the Minister of State, the Minister for Justice when it comes to enforcement of legislation, and the Minister for local government when it comes to budgets for local authorities, which I will discuss later.

Some things are clear from the data. We need to see impactful solutions and resourcing from the Government. We just have to look at the figures for the Garda roads policing units. The units have 627 members, which is a reduction from 688 last year and 692 in 2022. Let us take the figure for 2009, when there were 1,055 members of the Garda roads policing unit. The unit's strength is down 37%, or by more than one third, since 2009. This is at a time when our population has increased by more than 1 million. Today, the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris will appear before the transport committee and state the Garda is actively recruiting to the roads policing unit and that he hopes to get 55 more gardaí attached to it. He will also speak about the half hour per shift each ordinary garda has to dedicate to road safety. To take the first point, if he achieves the target of adding 55 new people to roads policing units this year, we will still be miles away from the levels we had in 2009. As for the 30 minutes of road safety policing, at the transport committee today the Commissioner will state there has been an increase in detections of mobile phone use, drug driving and drink driving. This is good but we all know that 30 minutes per shift is an unsustainable solution. It is a short-term, eye-catching measure. It shows that when we give resources to the Garda and increase resources we catch more people engaging in the dangerous behaviours of drug and drink driving, distraction with regard to mobile phone use and speeding. This is why we need to drastically increase the number of gardaí dedicated to the roads policing unit. The numbers the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris will mention today will not come anywhere near this. The Government and the Minister for Justice in particular need to take that on board.

We need to take drastic choices on road safety. I implore the Minister of State and the Government to work with the Opposition to get meaningful and important legislation passed. This motion is an example of an opportunity where we can see this in terms of the Government offering its full support and backing it with tangible processes to help deliver an improvement. The Labour Party has a Bill coming to the House in my name in June, which I hope the Government will support. It relates to the non-consensual recording of road traffic accidents. Second Stage of the Bill will be taken on a Thursday evening in June. We all know there is a grotesque phenomenon of people recording the aftermath of road traffic incidents. That is bad enough but the sharing of such images on social media platforms is disgusting and despicable. I hope the Minister of State will support the Bill on Second Stage. We are not precious about the manner in which it goes through the Houses. If it can be turned into an amendment to an existing Bill, we will accept that. We think it would send a strong message that this behaviour on our roads is absolutely unforgivable and something that no just and decent society would tolerate.

Another important aspect of the motion relates to road maintenance and the condition of our roads. Every time we are out, whether in the teeth of an election, as we are now, or two or three years from an election, we hear that the condition of our roads is appalling.

Funding has flatlined in some areas and decreased in others. There are inflationary pressures, of course, but we believe there is a political decision not to invest in basic road maintenance, including surfacing. That is something that cannot be allowed to continue. The amending legislation the Minister of State will introduce to deal with GDPR issues will allow the necessary sharing of data with local authorities. We know from local evidence and from speaking to people on the ground when accidents occur that road surfacing is going to become an even greater cause of road accidents. It will no longer be tolerable to stand over the lack of funding for road maintenance and repair.

I hope the Minister of State understands our reasons for tabling this motion. Labour holds the issues of road safety and road deaths very seriously. We want to see an improvement. We want to work with the Minister of State and everyone else in the House to reduce deaths and serious injuries and to improve safety on our roads. This is not just the Minister of State’s responsibility – it is also the responsibility of other Ministers and the RSA – but he is the one holding the torch, so we ask that he support our motion and put in place processes to improve the condition of our roads and the lives of people using them.

10:10 am

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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I am glad to second this important motion on behalf of Labour and to thank my colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith, for tabling it.

Throughout history, there have been everyday tragedies that were once thought an inevitability. In the days before it was eradicated, it was thought that smallpox would forever take the lives of young people across the world. Most tragically, gun violence is thought of as an occupational hazard for small children heading to school in certain parts of the world today. What unites these seemingly hopeless problems is that there are solutions, as there was to the Covid pandemic. When implemented, these solutions have saved lives and certain tragedies are now not seen as inevitable in Ireland.

When a form of violence, a senseless tragedy or a major cause of death and injury is eliminated, we might reflect on how those states of affairs were ever allowed to continue. I hope and believe that, one day, we will talk about the tragedy of road deaths in the same way, namely, as something that we once tolerated, even assumed would continue, before we took the necessary action to stop it. I hope that our children will not believe that people once got killed or injured every day on Irish roads due to dangerous driver behaviour, bad planning, unsafe roads and poor maintenance. They will not believe that, on average, news bulletins reported a new road death - a new human tragedy - every other day. Indeed, our children already express shock when we tell them the amount of alcohol that motorists were once permitted to consume and how that was tolerated in our culture. In 1969, the then State Pathologist, Dr. Maurice Hickey, described that new stricter limits would render an 11-stone man over the limit after 2.75 pints or four whiskeys. "That is if he drank them quickly”, he said. Driver behaviour and our tolerance of behaviour has changed since then, and happily so. Driver behaviour in terms of seatbelt wearing has also changed dramatically. More needs to be done to change driver behaviour towards mobile phone use while driving and towards driving under the influence of drugs, but we also know that effective interventions on alcohol and seatbelts have saved lives. We must have the ambition to believe that Irish roads can be made safer through more changes in driver behaviour and more interventions by the State.

The figures are rising. Unfortunately, the trajectory is in the wrong direction. We need a new and urgent plan for ending road deaths and injuries, for ending the fear that many people, particularly vulnerable road users like cyclists, feel when going about their daily business. That is the context in which we in Labour have introduced this motion. The issue is being raised all around the country. Our local councillors, TDs and Senators in urban and rural areas alike are reporting significant concerns, anxiety and distress about road safety. The calls in our motion are among the many components that need to be tackled by the Government. Deputy Smith has mentioned the unjustifiable delays in getting tests for new drivers. Those tests are a very important component of road safety. I am glad to see the electric scooter regulations being introduced. They are long overdue and will be another important component of road safety.

In particular, our motion calls for greater enforcement of road traffic laws by the Garda, a matter that Deputy Smith discussed. We want to see a total rejigging of the Road Safety Authority's powers and capacity to recognise the pyramid of road users, prioritising the safety of vulnerable road users, in particular pedestrians and cyclists. We want to see the sharing of vital collision data by the RSA with local authorities so that our councils can build infrastructure to protect people. We want a national inspection programme for our roads and more funding for active travel infrastructure, road repairs, pavement maintenance, cycleways and staffing within local authorities. Driver behaviour and the state of our roads, coupled with poor enforcement, have left pedestrians and cyclists running the gauntlet while taking even the shortest of journeys. That threat is magnified for those travelling with children in buggies, for older people and for those with disabilities.

Yesterday, we marked annual bike week in the Oireachtas. We cycled around Leinster House with fellow Oireachtas cyclists. Even in the immediate vicinity of Leinster House, we observed how road defects and narrow cycle tracks made it difficult to navigate roads as a cyclist. We all know this; we see it all the time. People are driven by unsafe road surfaces out of cycle lanes and into the centre of the road.

Motorist behaviour contributes significantly to cyclists' risks. A video posted on X recently by a journalist, Mr. Peter Branigan, showed starkly the dangers cyclists face every day. It showed a cyclist coming through a junction I know well in Ranelagh in my constituency. It is the junction between Milltown Road and Sandford Road. In a 15-second video, we saw extraordinary obstacles and risks posed to cyclists by driver behaviour and poor road design. I hope that the cyclist involved is all right and any injuries are minor. Unfortunately, drivers turning out of driveways too quickly and drivers simply not seeing cyclists are the sorts of obstacle cyclists face constantly.

We often think of road safety as a competence of local authorities and the Garda. Clearly, more needs to be done to resource the Garda. It is time for the Government to take a stronger role. We have spoken about the trajectory going in the wrong direction. We have seen 73 traffic fatalities this year, each a human tragedy. That number obscures the countless others who have obtained what may be life-changing injuries on our roads. I have had recent discussions with cyclists who have suffered broken elbows, broken legs, dislocated shoulders and pelvic injuries. These were significant injuries that, in many cases, were brought about not only by poor driver behaviour, but also by poor road design, a lack of road maintenance and unsafe cycleways. These events are deeply traumatic for those who experience them. They are also traumatic for witnesses. My colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith, has sponsored an important Bill to criminalise the filming and sharing of videos of car crashes and other collisions. That legislation will be before the House in June and we want to see the Government supporting it. The most effective way to curtail the trauma of those videos circulating is to prohibit their circulation. Even more effective than that would be to eradicate these awful collisions in the first place. To view them as inevitable is to sanitise or ignore the reality of such collisions. We know that the vast majority of injuries and fatalities are preventable through the sorts of effective intervention that our motion outlines. We are all conscious of the sorts of injury that are caused by a lack of repair and maintenance of road surfaces, pavement surfaces and cycleways. We all know black spots in our constituencies and communities where people are injured, sometimes multiple times. Recently, a canvasser spoke to me about a woman who had been seriously injured after falling on a pavement in Ringsend that the council has still not repaired despite our seeking an intervention numerous times. We heard from other neighbours about how many other people had taken falls and been badly injured on the same stretch. We need to see stronger intervention by local authorities to make our roads, footpaths and cycleways safe, particularly where dangers have been identified and issues of road safety and pavement surfacing have already been brought to the authorities' attention.

In conclusion, I wish to speak to a particularly important component of our motion, namely, the need for data sharing by the RSA. This is a matter that Deputy Smith has raised numerous times in recent years. It was first drawn to my attention by our Labour candidate, Mr. Ciarán Ahern. We have become deeply frustrated because multiple parliamentary questions that we submitted to the Minister for Transport were either ruled out of order or only received cursory replies, farming out responsibility to the RSA.

We must see national accountability on this. I look forward to a substantive response from the Minister of State on this issue. As a lawyer, I cannot see how GDPR rules can prohibit the sharing of information with such a vitally important public policy purpose. As a public representative, I am frustrated that it has taken a "Prime Time" programme to spark any sort of political action on what is clearly a national political issue. How can we expect local authorities to make good planning decisions on road safety when they are going in with bad information? I received a parliamentary question response just today, stating that collision data collection is not even a statutory function of the Road Safety Authority. The recent negative coverage in the press has to lead to a rethink of how the RSA operates because, at present, it is not fulfilling its duty to safeguard road safety, road users, cyclists, pedestrians and all of us who use the roads.

Let this motion not be an occasion for Government TDs simply to list unsafe areas in their constituencies. Let this be a moment when the Government acts in response to our motion to make our roads safe once and for all, to end the carnage on our roads, and to take the sort of interventions that we have seen taken in the past to eradicate what were once thought of as inevitable human tragedies. There is nothing inevitable about road deaths or road injuries. We need to see action from the Government to stop these happening.

10:20 am

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputies from the Labour Party who have tabled this motion on the importance of road safety, along with the condition of our roads and active travel infrastructure. I welcome the opportunity to debate these important concerns. I also acknowledge constructive engagement and support of Labour and indeed other Deputies in progressing the recent Road Traffic Act. A collaborative approach from all parties and none is the best way to reduce road fatalities and serious injuries. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, and I share many of the concerns outlined in the motion. I stress that the Government is committed to improving the overall safety on our roads, cycleways and footpaths by introducing measures like road safety awareness, policy reform, enhanced enforcement, investment and engineering solutions, all of which are vital in reducing road deaths, as well as serious injuries, and helping to create a safer transport environment for all.

With this context, I can confirm that the overall objective of the motion is broadly in line with the principles that we are trying to advance, and we will not be opposing it. On that basis, I want to set out some of the issues which require clarification and which I will speak to this morning. First, I offer my deepest condolences to all of the families, friends and communities of those who have tragically lost their lives in traffic fatalities on our roads and footpaths this year. Each death and serious injury impacts not just a victim, but their family, friends and the wider community. We are unfortunately currently on course for more than 210 deaths on Irish roads this year. The Government and I, as a Minister of State, are absolutely committed to trying to reverse this trend that we have seen in recent months and years and making our roads safe once again for all road users.

On the data issue that has been mentioned, the provision of up-to-date collision data to road authorities remains of the utmost importance. The wider issues related to GDPR and data-sharing are being progressed as a priority. Access to information on serious road traffic collisions is crucial to allow the Road Safety Authority to conduct research to underpin its work on road safety education and fulfil its statutory role in developing road safety strategies. It is also essential for local authorities to have access to this information, to identify whether road factors are contributing to collisions and to focus investment on safety improvements at those locations.

Deputy Bacik referred to her own legal background. We have had clear issues flagged to us relating to GDPR. While much of this information is not personal, there is the potential for personal data, including medical data in the form of reference to types of injuries, to be included in the collision analyses. Furthermore, there is the possibility that pieces of information taken in conjunction could enable the identification of an individual. For this reason, the Department has engaged extensively on the issues arising with the RSA, An Garda Síochána, local authorities and the Data Protection Commission to identify a solution which will allow for the sharing and use of data in a manner compliant with GDPR. The Department is currently engaging with the Data Protection Commissioner and expects to enable the resumption of this later in the year. In addition, the Department of Transport is also examining the possibility of amending legislation to allow a more limited subset of data to be directly shared with local authorities. To be clear, important safety analysis and the funding of safety schemes is still ongoing while the data-sharing issue is being resolved.

On many roads, the Department continues to undertake collision analysis on behalf of local authorities, using more limited data sets. This enables locations of interest to be identified and notified to local authorities. The Department invites applications from local authorities for funding of related low-cost safety schemes. This ensures targeted investment for road safety in areas of the network where it is needed most. The road traffic collision data on MapRoad was available to local authorities for their applications to the Department for 2024 and previous years for low-cost safety schemes on the regional and local road network, in addition to their own local knowledge and expertise. In 2024, 261 low-cost safety projects are being funded by the Department. Locations of interest represent 22% of these projects. It is important to reiterate that, in addition to locations of interest, local authorities also submit applications for safety schemes based on local knowledge and engineering expertise, as well as data available up to the end of November 2023. Of all the low-cost safety schemes funded by the Department in 2024, 67% were on regional roads and 33% were on local roads.

The Government introduced the Road Traffic Act 2024 as a key response to the rising trend in road fatalities. It addressed three key issues. Drug-testing for drivers involved in serious collisions will now be mandatory. People who commit multiple penalty point offences on the same occasion will receive multiple points. Default speed limits will be reduced in line with the recommendations of the recent speed limit review. We are working to commence these provisions.

Regarding regional and local road conditions, as Deputies are aware and as outlined in the 2024 regional and local roads programme, the Government is strongly committed to protecting the existing regional and local road network. This network is fundamental in connecting people and places across our country. It facilities business, education, tourism, healthcare, agriculture and the provision of critical services and activities. As outlined in the motion, the improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of each local authority in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from the council's resources, supplemented by State road grants. Ireland's regional and local network spans more than 96,000 km.

The network requires significant funding to ensure it remains fit for purpose, safe and resilient. As such, €658 million was allocated to regional and local road grants for 2024, with approximately 90% of this funding being directed towards maintenance and renewal works. This investment in our network represents an increase of €32 million over the 2023 allocations, which is a 5% increase in funding. I think the motion states that it is at 3%. Notwithstanding that, the Government recognises the impact on the regional and local road network, particularly after difficult months of bad weather. We are exploring options for any additional supports which could be made available to local authorities in light of the road conditions that are being flagged to us nationwide by councillors and candidates across the country.

Due to the vast scale of the network, the Department employs an array of grant types to ensure investment is targeted across the network, from supporting scheduled maintenance works to funding climate adaptation projects to build resilience. The initial selection and prioritisation of maintenance and renewal works is a matter for each local authority. In line with the agreement made in 2015, the four Dublin local authorities do not receive Department grants under the main maintenance and rehabilitation grant programmes, as they have been required to self-fund these works from local property tax receipts since 2015. It should be noted that all regional and local roads funding goes towards improving and maintaining roads to ensure a safe network. The Government has furthered demonstrated its commitment to road safety through the allocation of approximately €10.5 million in low-cost safety schemes, as well as supporting other safety measures being completed under grant programmes such as restoration, improvement projects and specific grant schemes.

I agree with much of what was said about the need to strengthen enforcement and increase the numbers in our roads policing units. I welcome the initiative of the Garda Commissioner in making sure that every regular policing unit has a strong role in roads policing. That has resulted in improved levels of enforcement but we need to monitor that and make sure it continues.

Second, on the issue of the Road Safety Authority and its reform, recommendations will be brought to me in the coming weeks that focus on structure, finance and the need for the organisation to be modernised in the context that it has been there for 20 years and we need to make sure it reflects the road safety priorities for the future.

Reference was made to the driving test waiting time. It was at 30 weeks, which was a completely unacceptable level of wait time for many young people. I share the concerns and many people have contacted me about this issue. We have resourced the improvement of that. It was 30 weeks last August, it is now at about 15 weeks and falling, and we expect it to be back to about ten weeks by the middle of the summer in order that people are not waiting excessively. We will continue to monitor it to ensure service delivery.

With regard to the concerns about walking and cycling infrastructure, I recognise that the focus to date of investment in active travel infrastructure has been on the provision of new infrastructure, with a view to developing connected networks for cyclists and pedestrians. Some €1 billion has been invested since 2020 and the active travel scheme has had significant project spend, with €310 million and €340 million spent in 2022 and 2023, respectively. As such, there was no underspend in the active travel budget which could be used for the purposes suggested in the motion.

In terms of the wider need for maintenance and restoration, this is something we are seeking to advance as part of our budgetary discussions so we ensure a greater proportion of the funding goes towards maintenance and restoration in the context of an expanded network.

To conclude, there is significant work to do. Road safety, along with continued investment in transport infrastructure, is essential to create a safe environment for all road users. We are working extensively to resolve the data issue which has been flagged. I believe the continued enhancement of the transport network and investment in that is key to ensuring safe and secure transport infrastructure for all. I appreciate the constructive input from Labour on these matters.

10:30 am

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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I wish to share time with Deputy Sherlock.

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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Like much of the public infrastructure in this rich country, our roads, cycleways and footpaths are suffering from chronic underinvestment and, tragically, to an extent, the cost is being measured in the lives of road users. There has been a 30% increase in fatal accidents on our roads to date this year while, at the same time, investment in road infrastructure and road safety measures is falling in real terms. Despite the millions invested in the welcome new active travel projects, local authorities receive no dedicated funding stream for maintaining cycleways, which is extraordinary. Many cycleways amount to just paint on a road and where separators are put in place, they quickly become broken and displaced. Vital repairs are often postponed or delayed due to anticipated future projects. There is also no dedicated funding for maintaining and repairing footpaths, which should be introduced alongside an audit of the state of footpaths in each local authority and an ability to deploy unspent active travel funds for maintenance works.

The bad winter weather and, of course, the impact of climate change have seen many road surfaces damaged but there has been no real increase in the overall level of funding under the regional and local roads programme. The longer it takes to do repairs, the more it will cost, and the cost of roadworks has increased substantially while funding remains flat. Clearly, substantially more funding is needed due to construction inflation and associated higher costs. The Revised Estimates for the Department of Transport in 2024 show that active travel funding is down by 12% overall. The funding for road networks and road safety overall is down by 11%, principally due to a lower spend on national roads, but the investment in regional and local roads is down by €18 million. In fact, the extra spend this year is coming from capital carryover. In every aspect of roads infrastructure, investment is either down on last year or the money allocated is covering less ground. Pavement renewals will fall from 250 km in 2023 to 210 km in 2024. The length of regional and local road maintained will fall from 3,100 km in 2023 to 2,640 km in 2024. The length of regional and local road improved will fall from 2,550 km in 2023 to 2,160 km in 2024. There are over 96,000 km of regional and local roads in Ireland but there is no clear funding framework or predictable multi-annual funding envelope available.

We want to see an immediate increase in the allocation of funds for the repair of damaged road surfaces. I and my Labour colleagues are also calling for local authorities to be allocated active travel-related funds to repair and maintain existing paths and cycleways, and for them to be allowed to deploy unspent funding for maintenance works. We also want to see ring-fenced funding to local authorities for the direct hiring of staff in road, cycleway and path maintenance and repair. We have seen a significant number of local authority office staff, if I can describe them as such, hired in recent years but there has not been a related increase in the hiring of outdoor staff, which is a real concern to the Labour Party and to the trade unions that represent them. We simply cannot take the risk of underinvestment in public roads. The cost of addressing this ongoing problem is high but the cost of ignoring it is higher still, and too many families around the country are paying that awful price.

With regard to road safety and our efforts to slow down traffic and disincentivise and discourage speeding, I draw to the Minister of State's attention the fact that GoSafe workers have been in dispute with their employer for some time. They are represented by SIPTU. The Labour Court has made recommendations over the last few years in regard to the improvement of employment contracts and employment conditions for GoSafe workers. However, GoSafe, which enjoys multimillion euro contracts from the State and the taxpayer, acts with impunity and ignores Labour Court recommendations, and it will not go to conciliation or recognise SIPTU. I want to know exactly what the Minister of State intends to do about that.

I also draw attention to a situation that arose in County Louth last week following an accident on the M1. I commend the members of An Garda Síochána on pursuing a number of individuals who took images of that crash site and they issued those responsible for taking images on their phones with fixed penalty notices. That is exactly why we need to address this moronic, idiotic and antisocial behaviour, as outlined in the legislation being brought forward by Deputy Duncan Smith in June. I look forward to that debate.

The Minister of State will be aware that Drogheda, Ireland's largest town, does not have a driving test centre and the Government has not delivered that driving test centre. The Road Safety Authority, in my opinion, has acted appallingly in its attitude to Drogheda. We had a temporary test centre and as the RSA decided not to renew that contract, Drogheda, Ireland's largest town, has been left with no driving test centre. It is a disgrace and shows the Government's lack of interest in Ireland's largest town. We cannot address all of the aspects of road safety if we are not providing driving test centres in major towns and cities like Drogheda. It is a disgrace and it needs to be addressed.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I want to speak first on the investment in local regional and national secondary roads, specifically in regard to the town of Mallow, where €300,000 has been allocated to progress the northern relief road. I know the Minister of State met the mayor of County Cork and senior officials of Cork County Council recently, where they made the case for the full allocation of approximately €1 million-plus to be made to progress that plan to the planning application stage. My colleague, Councillor Eoghan Kenny, received correspondence from the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, last week to say that the €300,000 allocated should be enough to progress that project to the planning stage. If the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, is talking to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, he might tell him that it will cost €500,000 for an environmental impact assessment alone. To state that it is going to cost €300,000 to get that project to planning is not a credible answer to correspondence from Councillor Eoghan Kenny. We are asking for the €1 million-plus to at least allow us to get to the planning stage.

Cork County Council and Cork City Council have paid out €8 million in compensation claims and public liability claims in the past five years.

That has to tell us something. It has to tell us that there is a serious underinvestment in footpaths and in the public realm throughout the country, particularly in County Cork, where there is more than 25,000 km of road networks.

I welcome the fact that the Government is not opposing the motion but we are calling for greater investment in the very basic infrastructure over which people traverse on a daily basis throughout their lives. Footpaths are key, and I want to speak to housing estates in particular, which are now largely ignored, particularly where they are taken in charge by a local authority. The Minister of State talked about extreme weather events. We now have a situation in Cork where large local estates that were taken in charge are prone to serious flooding issues during storms or heavy weather events. As part of the Minister of State's thinking, in which he talks about developing a new strategy around how we fund for climate action and mitigation, I ask him to please factor in those housing estates we are all speaking for here today. It is not just about local and regional roads but also about those larger housing estates, which need investment as well, particularly where they have been taken in charge.

We need to get back to basics in this country regarding what local authorities do. We are blue in the face as public representatives in making cases to local area engineers. I feel sorry for local area engineers and anybody working in any transport or roads department of any local authority because they tell us they are now trying to penny-pinch and do bits of a road here and bits of a footpath there. They cannot do the entirety of a footpath or road because they do not have enough money. We are going back over and looking for little bits of money on five-year programmes. If we have started part A or phase 1 of a stretch of road, five or six years down the line we are at phase 4 or 5 and phase 1 has to be overlaid again. It is nonsensical and we just need a little bit of cop on.

The Minister of State should have as part of his remit or the proposed review an audit of how moneys for roads programmes are utilised. If I was to say to my constituents that the entirety of the road will be done but they would have to wait two years, they will gladly wait two years as opposed to having part of a road done next year. People understand as well so a little bit of common sense is what we are asking for.

10:40 am

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy. We will move on to the Sinn Féin Deputies, who have 20 minutes. Deputies Martin Kenny, Patricia Ryan, Johnny Guirke, Thomas Gould, Paul Donnelly, Ruairí Ó Murchú and Mairéad Farrell are all sharing the time.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Labour Party for bringing forward this motion. We have discussed the issue of road safety many times in this House over the past number of months. To date this year, there have been 72 funerals of people who have died on our roads. People who have been seriously injured are probably a multiple of that, and the impact that has on communities is something that is very distressful and a really serious issue we need to get to grips with.

The reality is that we have always had a certain level of road deaths. That has come down in the past decade, and now we are seeing it creep back up again. It is not just creeping; it is actually flying back up again, and that is a serious problem we have to deal with. We also recognise that 70% of collisions happen on rural roads. That is something we also need to deal with because a lot of these rural roads have issues where there are multiple collisions happening on blind corners and junctions, and issues where there needs to be road works done to make them safer.

I had an example recently, which was Carns National School in County Sligo. It is a national school along the main road between Bundoran and Sligo town, and the side road goes off to where the school is. It is a blind junction with traffic travelling very fast. We have asked the local authority to look at it. The officials are saying that there have not been enough collisions on it to enable them to have safety works put in place, yet all the families who bring their children to school can see the danger. They recognise it every day. The teachers working in the school see the danger. I see the danger when I go there for 20 minutes and look at it, yet we have this situation where Transport Infrastructure Ireland does not see it because it has not had a report of enough collisions in order to take action.

There needs to be some level of recognising the reality and I have that in many communities up and down through my constituency. Communities come together where there is a stretch of road and they can see the danger, and they say it is only a matter of time until somebody is killed there. We wait and do very little until that actually happens. There needs to be an effort made to listen to people on the ground who are dealing with this on a regular basis.

Speed has been a major factor in a lot of these collisions and a lot of that speeding is happening because of intoxication, the use of drugs and all so on. We need greater enforcement and we need more gardaí out enforcing the rules of the road to ensure people obey them properly. That will only happen if we have the gardaí with the blue light flashing. The GoSafe van is fine and it serves a role but it is not a replacement for An Garda Síochána. That is the problem we have over the past decade or more, where a major part of the system has been privatised and given it to GoSafe, rather than giving it to the Garda. If the gardaí were on that stretch of road monitoring traffic, they would not just be monitoring speeding but everything else as well. They would notice a stolen car or where a car behaving suspiciously. They would watch out where there has been burglaries in an area, where farm machinery has been stolen or something like that. Gardaí are multifunctional in what they try to do. That is the difference, and there needs to be recognition of that.

Another issue we need to recognise is that technology has a role to play. This week we heard there are going to be traffic light cameras put in place in at two junctions but there is an issue with having the legislation in place to deal with that. This has been talked about for years. Why are we not in a situation where that legislation is not in place? The failures we see around all of these issues are contributing to the number of people being killed on our roads. Colleagues mentioned earlier the issue with the number of people who are driving continually while on a provisional licence, sometimes for years. Again, this is another issue that needs to be got to grips with, and I have raised this with the Minister of State previously.

We also have to recognise the driver training issue. Many of the people who are being killed on our roads and involved in these collisions are younger drivers. I met recently with members of the Professional Driving Instructors Association and I spoke to them about this. They told me that the number of mandatory lessons in Ireland is among the lowest in Europe and that there needs to be a review of the syllabus that is used for driver training. I know the Minister of State has spoken about that and has said that is going to happen but the RSA is sitting on these things for years. It has to take responsibility. It is not just an organisation that puts ads on the television. It has to do more than that. We need to hold it to book in respect of that and recognise that an awful lot of the things it is supposed to do are simply failing to be delivered on. It has to step up to the plate here and ensure that the funding it receives from Government is not just about advertising. It is also about putting measures in place that will actually save people's lives.

The issue of technology has also been mentioned, and I know the use of mobile phones and distracted driving is a very serious issue. In other jurisdictions, there is technology in the cab, particularly for fleet drivers, that watches the driver and ensures they are alarmed and alerted if a mobile phone is being used. We need to look at those types of situations as well. I was very alarmed to see this week where there were a number of garages and motor factors selling devices that can be plugged into a seat belt. If the person was not wearing their seat belt they could plug this in and the beeping would not be going on in the car. It circumvents a safety measure that is built into every car in the country.

We have issues here that we need to deal with and we need to take this very seriously because we cannot have a situation where more people are dying on our roads.

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on road safety and I thank the Labour Party for bringing this forward. Any move or action aimed at reducing road deaths and accidents must be welcomed. However, when I read that this Government actually cut 10% or a whopping €150 million from the road safety and maintenance budget in budget 2024, I was completely taken aback.

The numbers are telling. Some 72 people have already lost their lives on the roads this year, as my colleague has said. Each of these people probably had plans for when they got home. We are only halfway through 2024. The first death of this year was in my constituency of Kildare South where there have been 73 collisions so far, with seven out of ten of these on rural roads. My constituency is predominantly a rural area and I have lost count of the representations made to Kildare County Council asking for traffic calming measures on roads such as the Athy to Carlow road, where more than half of the vehicles travelling on it over a seven-day period were found to be speeding - some going over 120 km/h - with three collisions over two nights in March this year.

I have come to expect the almost standard response that there is nothing in the budget for traffic calming, speed bumps or any other road safety measures to be installed by the local authorities. I am still waiting for a decision on a safety plan for the Borraderra road in Monasterevin, which again has seen more than its fair share of accidents. I have had the engineer out to no avail. When reduced numbers of gardaí on patrol in Monasterevin, Athy and surrounding areas are factored in, the situation is even worse.

The reduction in numbers of gardaí has a direct effect on the number of people who are speeding and there can be no effective enforcement without gardaí. I have yet to receive a proper response to enquiries about the actual number of gardaí and Garda vehicles in my constituency. The Minister of State might be able to enlighten me, or he might put someone on the case who would do that for me.

The Government needs to reverse the funding cuts. Road policing units must have a minimum number of gardaí in them. Consequences must be proper deterrents and legal loopholes that prevent the RSA from sharing collision data with road engineers must be corrected. The Minister of State said that is being worked on, which is welcome, but I want to know when it will be brought into force.

10:50 am

Photo of Johnny GuirkeJohnny Guirke (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
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I want to address the state of the regional and local roads infrastructure in Meath, as well as the danger and the expense it is causing to motorists. The roads in the county, especially those in north Meath, are in a state of neglect. This neglect has translated to a risk that constituents face every time they start their engines. They must avoid some of the worst potholes - or should I say “craters” - in the country and it is getting worse.

Navigating these craters on four wheels is a nightmare, let alone on two wheels. It is a pure death trap for those who ride motorbikes. We receive a constant surge in emails and calls from constituents who are frustrated. They are tired of the continuous neglect of our road infrastructure that needs resurfacing and regular maintenance. Special funding is needed to bring the roads in north Meath up to a safe standard and we need targeted investment. The roads in north Meath are beaten and battered from years of being neglected and under-funded. There has been a lack of investment for years and it has left a backlog of well over 100 roads in north Meath that need immediate attention.

My colleague, Councillor Michael Gallagher, has been raising this issue for more than a decade, with little help or support. He has rightly pointed out that despite the best efforts of our outdoor staff and engineers of Meath County Council, they are fighting a losing battle against the elements and have inadequate support and funding from the Government, the Minister and previous transport Ministers. Constituents who must pay for repairs on their cars are being left out of pocket for vehicle damages that have been caused by the very roads they fund through their road tax.

Roads in north Meath do not just require a temporary patchwork, but a comprehensive plan to address the root of the problem. It is unacceptable that the condition of these roads is acting as a deterrent to investors that visit many factories and businesses in north Meath. The current three-year roads programme, as it stands, is insufficient. It does not meet the needs of north Meath. It is a disgrace that such a programme was passed when it fails to address the critical needs of the roads to make them safer. I highlighted this with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, three years ago, before the roads programme was passed. We need a plan that does not just fill the potholes, but that rebuilds the roads infrastructure.

We believe that north Meath deserves better. We want a fair share of investment, an investment that will not just fill the potholes for a week, but that rebuilds the roads for the future and makes them safer for all to travel on. It is time that our elected officials, including the Minister of State, come to north Meath so I can show them these roads that are a pure and utter disgrace and so they can witness first-hand the conditions we are speaking of. We invite them to come not for a photo opportunity, but for a discussion about why the roads in north Meath have been left behind and what immediate actions the Minister of State will take on this. We are asking for an immediate fund to bring these roads up to a decent standard that will make it safe for anyone who travels on them.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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On Monday evening, a young man in my constituency was seriously injured in a motorbike accident. At the moment, he is in a critical condition. Our thoughts are with him and his family at this time. He, unfortunately, is just one of a number of people, especially young people, who have been involved in serious road accidents in my constituency. There are a number of reasons for this. A northern ring road was promised more than 25 or maybe 30 years ago but it still has not been developed, and now there is a situation where articulated trucks, heavy goods vehicles and traffic are going through residential areas that were never designed for them. When will this Government commit to delivering a northern ring road for Cork city?

The northern relief road in Mallow also needs to be completed. When will the Government fund that? There is a stretch of road between Cork and Limerick on which people have died and where there are known black spots. Driving through them today, they are as dangerous as they were ten or 20 years ago. I know the Government is developing the Cork to Limerick road but we need urgent action to be taken to protect people.

There is another thing I want to the Minister of State to know. Cork city is losing one garda per week. In a five-week period in February and March, we lost five gardaí. In the first three months of this year, Cork city lost 31 gardaí. How will we manage to patrol the roads and have a deterrent if we do not have the gardaí numbers to do so?

There is more that can be done in legislation. Four years ago, Kimberly O’Connor, a young lady who was really a child, passed away. I have asked the Minister time and time again to ban the sale of company cars to young people. These are cars that have no NCT, insurance or tax and are being sold to young people. I believe this is being done illegally and the Government needs to move on this.

Finally, the footpaths in our constituency are a disgrace. Some €12 million has been paid in compensation in a period of five years between Cork city and county councils.

Photo of Paul DonnellyPaul Donnelly (Dublin West, Sinn Fein)
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A number of issues with road safety were alluded to earlier and there is a core problem around all of them, namely, enforcement. I want to start by expressing my deepest sympathy and offering my condolences to all those who have died on our roads. Last week, a young man was killed in our constituency on an electric bike in a tragic incident that occurred in Allendale.

Electric bikes are brilliant. I have one and I have been using it for the past ten months. I am hooked on cycling for commuting and enjoyment. However, I have noticed in the past ten months that there is a significant number of illegal electric bikes on our streets. Quite interestingly, I saw a post by An Garda Síochána, which was marking bikes for anti-theft measures. It marked one of these bikes, which was clearly illegal. It was clearly one of those bikes can travel upwards of 50 km/h or 60 km/h. I found that quite shocking. I see those bikes passing me. My bike is legal. It travels the 25 km/h that is legally allowed, but I see bikes passing me that are probably doing 30 km/h or 40 km/h. I have yet to see one single incident of enforcement around these illegal bikes which are extremely dangerous.

Anybody who has been knocking on the doors over the past number of weeks is constantly being told about electric scooters and electric bikes and how dangerous they are because people are cycling these on the paths. They are not on the roads. Regarding these bikes, people should have insurance, they should have licences and they should be trained on those bikes. Unfortunately, there is zero enforcement in this regard.

The second issue I would like to raise, which I raised previously when we last debated road safety, is that of a site that is being developed in Kellystown beside Scoil Choilm. I have complained and sent a planning enforcement notice to Fingal County Council. This developer submitted a road traffic management plan that was rejected by the council. I am holding a picture of the site and the site entrance, which is right beside Scoil Choilm. This picture was taken yesterday, when a massive truck passed by at 8.41 a.m. as children were entering the school. Again, I emailed Fingal County Council, but very little action is being taken to enforce the law. A specific issue in the planning application for which the developer received planning permission was that there was supposed to be no trucks passing between the school opening and closing times. In the past four weeks, dozens of trucks have been going in and out of this site, yet there is zero enforcement. Are we waiting for a child to be killed? That is absolutely shocking.

There is an issue that I would like to raise with the Minister of State, and it was also raised earlier by our Labour Party colleagues. This is the issue of the cycle lanes and allowing funding from the active travel fund to be used for existing cycle lanes. I invite the Minister of State to cycle along Tyrrelstown, the boulevard and its cycle lanes, as well as the cycle lanes in Hansfield. They are more like rumble strips than they are cycle lanes.

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I agree with much of what has been said. There has been a huge number of deaths on the roads and our thoughts go out to all those people. I know the Minister of State was in Dundalk recently and we spoke about the issue of the Avenue Road roundabout, which was at least addressed. I, along with Shannon McCann and many others, have raised the issue of the intersection at Sexton’s, which the Minister of State visited. It is a vital piece of infrastructure in an area that is very built up when compared to what it was previously.

11 o’clock

It is something that needs to be addressed. A huge number of projects are in limbo, whether we are talking about the N2 Ardee to Castleblayney road scheme, which has been brought up to me by Councillor Pearse McGeough multiple times or the N53, particularly that part of it from Hackballscross to Sheelagh right to the Border to Concession Road. It really needs to be upgraded. Mr. Jimmy Myers would not forgive me if I did not bring it up.

I spoke to the Minister of State previously about the damage that is being done in the Cooley area with regard to flooding. There was a request by Louth County Council for €1.6 million. The figure that was given is €1 million. I have worked with Ms Fiona Mhic Conchoille and for a long time with Councillor Antóin Watters on this. We were out in Ballymakellett lately. There is still a huge body of work to do. We have huge legacy issues with the state of the roads across the board. I am hearing about potholes in areas where people never spoke about them as an issue in the local elections. That is before we start talking about a particular issue I will bring to the attention of the Minister of State as regards Mullatee and then school safety. We need a process in councils on how we introduce road traffic calming because there is no system whatsoever at this point.

11:00 am

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le Páirtí an Lucht Oibre as an rún seo a chur os comhair na Dála. Ar ndóigh, tuigeann muid cé chomh dona is atá rudaí ar na bóithre faoi láthair agus tá sé fíorthábhachtach go ndéanfadh muid chuile shórt gur féidir linn chun stop a chur le líon na ndaoine atá ag fáil bháis ar na bóithre faoi láthair. Má bhreathnaíonn muid ar Ghaillimh, feiceann muid go bhfuil líon na ndaoine ag ardú agus caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil muid ar fad ag smaoineamh ar na teaghlaigh atá acu féin agus ar ndóigh ar chuile dhuine a chaill duine éigin ar na bóithre. Nuair atá muid ag caint ar bhóithre agus ar shábháilteacht ar na bóithre, caithfidh muid breathnú ar chuile shórt ina iomláine.

Tá a fhios agam go dtuigeann an tAire Stáit, an Teachta Chambers, go maith cé chomh dona is atá roinnt de na bóithre i gConamara óna chuid ama mar Aire Stáit na Gaeltachta. Bhí mé féin amuigh arís ag bóthar Chuan na Loinge. Tuigeann muid ar fad na deacrachtaí atá ansin ach go háirithe. Tá airgead tugtha i gcomhar stáidéar féidearthachta, ach i ndáiríre an rud a theastaíonn faoi láthair ná go gcuirfear airgead isteach sna bóithre sin. Tuigeann muid go mbíonn tuilte ann ag bóthar Chuan na Loinge agus mar gheall air sin, ní bheadh otharcharr in ann dul tríd an uisce sin. Ní féidir le daoine dul chuig an obair mar gheall go bhfuil na tuilte chomh dona sin. Má bhreathnaíonn muid ar na bóithre iad féin, feiceann muid go bhfuil an dromchla ag titim as a chéile agus go bhfuil líon na bpoll ag ardú. Níl an t-airgead ag an gcomhairle contae chun déileáil leis sin. Chomh maith leis sin, tá roinnt chéibheanna ann nach bhfuil aon chineál barrier ann agus tá sin fíordhainséarach freisin.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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The number of people killed in incidents on our roads is an issue of major concern for all of us. Speed, together with the consumption of alcohol or drugs and distractions such as mobile telephone use, is most definitely a factor in some collisions. The reduction in the numbers involved in the traffic corps over the past few years rather than in increase is relevant when we consider enforcement. Temporary solutions, such as 30 minutes per day for uniformed members, is welcome, but it is not sustainable on an ongoing basis.

Over the May bank holiday weekend, for example, 613 vehicles were seized for various offences, which tells us that enforcement is important. That is done for safety reasons, not to punish people. GoSafe vans augment the enforcement. However, they are usually visible on national primary roads. Often, the least safe roads do not have safe locations to park with a vehicle.

Cyclists as well as pedestrians are among those who have tragically lost their lives and suffered major injuries, including life-saving injuries. When road conditions and road safety are being considered, we need to think more widely than cars. Cyclists and motorcyclists are high-risk groups, as are pedestrians. Poor road surfaces can impact these groups to a greater degree, as can road design.

If we were to take an evidence-based approach to road safety, it is simply not tenable that information collected by the RSA on collisions is not then provided to local authorities or TII. This nonsense has to be resolved and should not have gone on for so long.

In the past, local authorities collected a wide variety of data relating to traffic collisions using a CT68 form. Everything from weather conditions to road conditions and so on was mapped. This included accidents where there was material damage to a vehicle. That information is now provided to the RSA by the Garda where there is a fatal accident or a serious injury, not material damage. There is little point in gathering statistics if they are not used to reduce road accidents. Local authorities and TII need that information to construct a cost-benefit analysis and prioritise funding where road conditions are a factor.

Road type matters too. We need to break that down. National primary and secondary roads are primarily funded by the Department with TII administering the fund. Regional and local roads are funded by local authorities directly with some, but not all, local authorities getting significant grant funding from the Department. The way local authorities are funded complicates the picture. Most people presume that when they pay their motor tax, it goes to road construction and maintenance in their own area. In fact, it goes into the national coffers. Local property tax was collected for additional services, and that is what people were told was for libraries, parks and so on. In fact, some of that funding must be used for roads and housing, reducing the need for departmental funding, which I believe is a three-card trick.

Baselines are used to determine this. They were set by local authorities as far back as 2000, using the 1996 census, when motor tax was ring-fenced to fund local authorities. Those baselines were recently revised. It was decided that population increase, even when it is extensive, is less important than geographic size. In fact, population increase only has a tiny weighting when considered against geographic size. This means that some of the most rapidly growing local authorities do not have the resources to hire staff or provide services in proportion to the growth of their population. It has the effect of reducing or eliminating government grants for roads and footpath maintenance, which distorts the picture. Just as road mileage is important in terms of maintenance, so is road usage when we consider things like the volume of traffic, including heavy goods vehicles.

County Kildare, for example, got the minimum increase in its baseline but had one of the highest increases in its population between the two census', with 25,000 additional people. The Minister of State will remember a previous county engineer, Mr. John Carrick, who estimated that 80% of all traffic coming from and going to Dublin came through County Kildare on the N7, N9 and M4. We hear every day on AA Roadwatch about traffic that comes off those roads into Kildare and does damage. That is national traffic.

Nowhere in this review was there an assessment of service deficits, even in situations where whole new communities have been constructed and obviously require services. Places such as Ongar and Tyrrelstown in west Dublin simply were not counted in terms of need. Such an audit or assessment would identify the absence of services or where services are stretched to their limits. It would also consider staffing deficits, including in road departments. If such an approach was taken, it would have an impact on the baselines. These are not going to be reviewed again until after the next census, so it is a huge disadvantage to have an increase in an area's population. Why would it be encouraged? It is madness. It has an effect right across, and it certainly has an effect on the amount available. Regions certainly do not get Government grants for roads.

The motion refers to 2023, when only €135,000 was awarded under the regional and local roads programme to the four Dublin authorities. That is the example. The reality is that four Dublin local authorities were required to spend local property tax on roads and footpaths. That is why the amount is so low. That would come as a surprise to most people in the Dublin area who are major contributors to the motor tax fund and, indeed, local property tax fund. A person's motor tax is used as general taxation and his or her local property tax is used to fill potholes, not for parks, libraries and other facilities.

This has a bearing on the ability of local authorities to even seek grant funding for projects, including some of those for active travel, because they do not have the funding to hire people directly. They cannot get consultancies to do the work because they are all overworked and unavailable. We have to look at the totality of the funding. What is happening in regard to these baselines is so convoluted that it is difficult to explain to the public. The Government is getting away with it and it is hugely disadvantaging areas, particular those where there are large and growing populations. It has a bearing on road conditions and that has to be addressed.

11:10 am

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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The next grouping is the Rural Independent Group.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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When it comes to roads and road funding, I could say quite a lot. I would need four or five hours rather than four minutes. I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, but the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, should be here. It is a pity they are not because the Minister has a lot of questions to answer regarding lack of funding for roads. A report published in the past six months stated that the lack of funding for road improvements could cost people their lives. I am not blaming any one person or any particular issue but if roads lack funding, there will be car accidents and from these come very sad situations for so many families throughout the country.

Like everybody else present, I have been canvassing a lot recently. People have asked me what the number one topic coming up on the doorsteps is and whether it is migration or the cost of living. The cost of living and migration are issues but, my God, it is roads that are mentioned. County Cork has been absolutely starved of funding. It receives among the lowest levels of funding per kilometre of all the counties, as I am worn out from saying in the House. A TD in west Cork recently organised a meeting with the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers. That was four years too late. He is up here talking about it and sending out sympathetic soundbites. We need to do something.

The front page of a local newspaper in west Cork recently featured an article in which a Fianna Fáil councillor blamed me and Deputy Cairns for a lack of funding. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are in government. The councillor in question might have forgotten that but he should have thought about before he pointing fingers at others. We can only plead and hope the Government is listening. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have refused to listen. Cork County Council commissioned an independent report from the All Island Research Observatory, AIRO, which showed Cork receives the lowest funding per capita right across the board, from roads and to local and community involvement schemes. It has the lowest level of funding. Why is that? The reason is clout at the table. The senior Ministers at the table are whipping the money down their roads and forgetting to provide funding fairly based on geography.

I will pick out one issue, even though it is not in my constituency. There is a bridge in Crossbarry in west Cork where it is obvious to anybody who stands on it that it is a miracle people are not being killed on it on a regular basis. It is a narrow bridge on a very busy road. Funding is being sought to erect a timber bridge on the inside. I stay below in Wicklow when I am up here in the Dáil. In Wicklow, in the same situation, not alone did they get a lovely footpath on the outside, and it was correct to provide that, but they also got a timber footpath inside the bridge, which is beautiful. People down in Crossbarry cannot get a bridge anywhere. There are children terrified for their lives because lorries are basically brushing up against them every day of the week. Sometimes one lorry cannot pass because there is another lorry. There are situations like that. It is understandable that there will be a loss of life but the Government does not seem to care. It does not seem to want to do anything.

As for the local involvement scheme, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, announced holy glory funding a couple of weeks ago. Cork County Council said it needed €5.1 million; it got €2.5 million. The Minister was roaring and shouting about it but what she did not tell us was that the funding was spread over two years. She forgot to tell the people of west Cork that so she conned them. We are getting €2.5 million, which sounded great of course, but the soundbites are not a true reflection. In Adrigole, there has been a road closed for the past five years. A bridge collapsed and there is no money to fix it. It is just astonishing. As other Deputies can imagine, if a road collapsed in their constituency, it would be fixed. These things happen. However, in this case, the road has been left closed and we move on. I talked to people in Ballinspittle which was recently flooded. In Courcey Rovers GAA club, the water came in from the roadside and destroyed some of its grounds and nobody will repair it but themselves. The story goes on. I could be here for hours.

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy should give way to his colleague.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Ar an gcéad dul síos, I thank the Labour Party for bringing forward this very important motion. It is an issue we have to deal with. My God, my own county was devastated last year with young deaths and we have had some this year again. This is a very important motion. There is not a simple solution. The Garda traffic corps has been decimated and we need those situations improved. We made bad decisions in investing a huge amount of money in GoSafe vans, which are only punishing people in safe areas. They will not go to accident black spots. They want to be just inside a 30 km/h, 50 km/h or 60 km/h zone, making soft money catching people. I am not condoning people breaking the speed limit. I am just saying we are investing huge money in that and not investing it in the traffic corps. At least if members of the traffic corps are on a check point or doing speed checks, they can check cars. A car with no tax, insurance or NCT and with bald tyres can pass a speed van and it will not be detected, whereas the traffic corps has the technology to detect whether a car is insured. Its members can then follow the care and can also give chase in an area if there is a robbery or something else happening. I ask the Government to invest in the traffic corps. I salute the members of the traffic corps in County Tipperary for their diligent work. I pay tribute to Ray Gilmartin who retired recently after several years' service.

As regards roads, Kilkenny County Council is the lead authority for the section of the N24 from Cahir to Waterford. I hope the Labour Party will not mind me raising this issue, which is a huge one affecting counties Kilkenny and Waterford and south Tipperary. Funding of €2 million for this year alone to enable the consultants Arup to continue its preparatory and investigatory works and bring the project to planning stage has been withdrawn. That €2 million is needed to continue this badly needed road because all those counties are affected. There were three fatalities last year and one already this year on that road. It is a death trap.

Deputy Collins mentioned a bridge. We have a bridge in Ardfinnan, which we used to call a bridge over tranquil waters. Now, it is a troubled bridge over tranquil waters. It has been one way for the past ten years. A lot of this is pure stubbornness and obstinance on the part of council officials. An Bord Pleanála held a hearing and people objected in numbers, including members of the community council, people from Ardfinnan and beyond, business people, schools and everybody else. The services would not listen to them but An Bord Pleanála did. People in Ardfinnan are being punished. All the community leaders are being punished for the people being proactive in making submissions and getting involved. Sometimes they do not get involved in public consultations but they are being punished by the council. In actual fact, an application for funding was taken off last year's list. Now we have consultant reports again. We have as much money spent on consultants on this bridge as would have built a new footbridge. A cantilever footbridge built onto the existing road bridge would cost around €1 million. There has never been a fatality on the bridge, thankfully.

Funding has been cut this year, while costs have gone up by 30%. This means we had a 50% cut in roads budgets in County Tipperary this year. I also question much of the work that has been done. Resurfacing work and everything else has been done on roads that have no foundations. We need to have a holistic examination of this. I do not blame the schools for everything but we also need to get into the schools, during transition year especially, to provide training for young drivers, cyclists and those using e-scooters. They are dangerous on the roads and we need legislation to deal with them. I have taken up cycling recently with the assistance of an e-bike, so I have experience on that side too. It is not a very safe way of travelling on the roads. You have to mind yourself and expect all other road users to mind themselves as well. Courtesy on our roads seems to be diminishing on all sides at the moment, as is respect. People should have a bit of patience and show good co-operation with others. I am thinking of schools and everything else. There is not a simple solution but it is a very good motion. It is time we looked at this but, as I said, we also need to re-examine the way we are spending our money.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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I an grateful for the opportunity to speak on this motion and to the Labour Party for bringing it forward. This year has been devastating for road fatalities. My heart goes out to all the families and loved ones affected by road deaths and road accidents. There have been 67 fatal collisions with 72 people killed on Irish roads so far this year. This is the highest we have seen in a number of years and it is very worrying. The European Commission’s country-by-country analysis comparing road deaths showed that Ireland had by far the worst percentage increase of any country, at a shocking 29%.

Only Ireland and Norway - the latter saw a 14% increase - had double-figure percentage rises. On average, countries saw road deaths fall, not increase, by 12%. It is clear that Ireland is not doing enough when it comes to ensuring the safety of all road users. This needs to be a priority for the Government going forward. Every life lost on the road is an awful tragedy and many of these deaths are preventable.

The Road Safety Authority has been running very effective campaigns, many including young people. This is extremely important, given that since 2019, people aged between 16 and 25 have accounted for about 20% of all road deaths, despite making up just 12% of the population. In 2023, more than a quarter of all road fatalities were in that group. We need to ensure that we involve those most affected and give them the information and tools necessary to tackle this issue. Programmes such as Your Road to Safety aimed at all transition year students to help them to develop the awareness, knowledge and skills to become safe road users are vital in ensuring safer roads. I saw a very powerful video yesterday made by the transition year students of St. Catherine’s Vocational School, Killybegs, County Donegal, as part of this programme. The video was designed as a television advertisement aimed at tackling dangerous behaviour behind the wheel. It addressed risky choices many young people make such as overloading the car with people, texting while driving and drink driving. The video showed great initiative by the students. It shows just how effective programmes like this can be when we involve young people and give them the opportunity to address the issues that impact them directly. Young people are more likely to engage in videos made by their peers than advertisements they see on television or online. We should be actively including young people in the design of road safety advertisements and campaigns. Videos such as the one made by the students from Killybegs prove that young people are willing and very capable.

The RSA should also work more closely with city and county councils. We cannot properly tackle this issue until that is the case. The fact that the RSA does not share data on road traffic collisions with local authorities due to GDPR concerns is ridiculous. How can GDPR impact road traffic incidents when the names of the person involved in accidents or registration numbers of their cars do not need to be provided? Information has to be provided on where the accident happened, how it happened and whether the conditions of the road impacted it. Surely, GDPR would not have any impact on that. GDPR becomes an excuse for bodies to do nothing, to not contact people and not talk to each other. That is wrong. I cannot believe this failure has anything to do with GDPR or the intentions of GDPR. It is just a cop-out by organisations. In the past, Donegal County Council had difficulty getting responses from the Garda on how road traffic accidents were happening. There was no record of a many of them. Communities knew they were happening but there was no official record. When the council went to do road safety measures, it had nothing to draw on to apply for funding to make that possible. I hope that issue has been addressed and, if so, that it will continue. Everybody must work together to ensure safety is a priority and that these measures are put in place and can be effective. How can we expect councils to tackle this issue when they are not given a full picture of the problem?

The Government needs to ensure sufficient funding is provided to local authorities. It is very disappointing that there has been a 3% cut in regional and local roads investment, while overall funding for road networks and road safety is down by 11%. This cut in funding, as with almost every cut in funding, hits rural communities the hardest. Most deaths on the roads happen on non-national roads because they are lower quality. These roads are largely located in rural communities. Funding needs to be targeted at them. We are talking about road safety, yet there has been an 11% cut in funding. It does not make sense. Perhaps that, rather than anything else, is the reason there has been such an increase in road traffic accidents and fatalities. Donegal's roads have required significant investment for a long time. Given that the county does not have a rail network and we rely solely on our roads, we should be prioritised for future funding. I urge the Government to ensure our roads are safe by providing sufficient, ring-fenced funding to local authorities for road repairs, cycle lanes and footpaths and to treat the increase in road deaths as a matter of urgency and priority. Rather than cutting funding, it should actively increase it. That is one way of reducing the number of deaths.

11:20 am

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle and all the Deputies for their contributions to the debate on road safety, the maintenance of transport infrastructure and other issues. I thank the Labour Party for tabling the motion. I welcome the opportunity to debate this important topic on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Chambers, who addressed the House earlier. In the contributions made by Deputies, as in the motion, we heard about the range of challenges and opportunities, as well as the progress made to date, in creating a safe transport environment for all. We are all in agreement about wanting to provide a safe and secure transport network that serves the needs of all members of society.

In relation to data sharing, as the House is aware, the Government is committed to delivering the road safety strategy this decade, with the goal of halving the number of fatalities and serious injuries on our roads by 2030 and working towards Vision Zero by 2050. The Department of Transport has been working intensively to resolve the GDPR issues around the sharing of collision data through engagement with the RSA, An Garda Síochána, local authorities and the Data Protection Commissioner. While this is a complex area, the Department anticipates that the sharing of data will be resumed later this year. The Minister of State asked me to stress that important safety analysis and funding of safety schemes are ongoing while the data-sharing issue is being resolved. Locations of interest continue to be identified and notified to each local authority, which then applies for low-cost safety schemes towards the end of each year for funding and implementation in the following year. This ensures targeted investment for road safety in areas of the network where it is needed most. In 2023, 55 locations of interest safety schemes were applied for and funded. In 2024, 60 locations of interest safety schemes were applied for and these are being funded and implemented in the current financial year. In addition, the local knowledge of local authorities has been employed to help to identify and select safety projects on our road network. Since 2022, close to 900 low-cost safety schemes have been funded, at a total cost of €31.2 million. Other larger specific safety schemes costing up to €5 million each can also be applied for and funded in each year.

The Road Traffic Act 2024 was introduced in response to the rising trend in road fatalities. The Act addresses three key issues. Drug testing for drivers involved in serious collisions will now be mandatory rather than optional, people who commit multiple penalty point offences on the same occasion will receive multiple points rather than just one set, as is the case at present, and default speed limits will be reduced in line with recommendations of the recent speed limit review. This means that the default limit for roads in built-up areas will reduce from 50 km/h to 30 km/h. For national secondary roads, it will reduce from 100 km/h to 80 km/h. For local roads, it will reduce from 80 km/h to 60 km/h. The Department is working to commence these provisions as soon as possible to help to support our efforts to achieve Vision Zero.

In terms of the regional and local road network, the Government remains strongly committed to the protection and renewal of our road network. Our vast, interconnected road network is essential for connecting people, businesses and communities, so we must continue to protect it. That being said, it is well understood that the road network suffers deterioration over time and that these impacts are felt by communities, especially on the more rural public roads that serve local areas. For this reason, the Department of Transport allocates significant levels of funding for road maintenance and improvement each year. For grant types that focus on road strengthening and improvement, the allocation of funding is based on the length of roads in a local authority area. The objective is to allocate funding to eligible local authorities on as just a basis as possible, keeping protection and renewal of the road network to the fore. The rationale for this approach is that it is objective and, critically, avoids any perverse incentives that might arise if another basis were used. For example, providing higher levels of Exchequer funding where road quality is lower could create a disincentive for local authorities to devote own-resource funding towards achieving a high-quality network. Each local authority is legally responsible for ensuring its network is maintained and improved. This approach also means that, while central government is supplying significant funding, we are acknowledging that local authorities are best placed to make determinations in their own areas for maximum delivery of results.

The Department of Transport, along with local authorities, continues to work towards enhancing the climate resilience of the road network in these challenging and changing climate conditions. Under the relevant roads programmes, the Government is committed to the protection and renewal of the country’s roads, with funding each year being provided to help support important works on the road network. The Department of Transport is currently exploring options across its wider investment programme to determine whether the potential exists to reallocate and direct some additional funding toward the regional and local road network to help to address the worst impacted areas of the network following persistent rainfall this winter.

We know the devastating effect persistent rainfall has on our road network. It is a big strain for local authorities, particularly in counties that have a larger road network and larger areas to cover. Such weather can detrimentally impact the structural integrity of the road network, causing significant damage with pothole development and ultimately pavement failure. Protecting the existing road network is fundamental for road safety and connecting people and places, and we recognise that. With this in mind, and through this significant investment of €658 million in Exchequer funding in 2024, the Government continues to display its commitment to the restoration and maintenance of our important road infrastructure.

When it comes to active travel, the safety of all road users, including pedestrians and cyclists who are our most vulnerable, is of the utmost importance. The reason the Government has invested so heavily in the active travel network in recent years is to provide those who wish to walk and cycle the space and security to do so. With this increase in funding comes the need to increase the capacity to spend it within local authorities, which are ultimately responsible for project delivery overseen by the National Transport Authority, NTA. To this end, the Department of Transport has funded dedicated active travel teams within local authorities, which are specifically tasked with bringing walking and cycling infrastructure projects from concept to construction in partnership with the NTA. Approximately 240 staff are currently employed for this purpose across all 31 local authorities, funded by the Department of Transport, and we have seen the full allocation spend achieved under the active travel programme for the past two years as a result. This is something the general public does not see. People only see the potholes that are filled or whether the roads are in good or bad condition. We know from a structural perspective that there is no point in central government giving money to local authorities if we do not support them to expand and grow their teams for delivery, particularly in the area of active transport. Once funding becomes available for the day-to-day maintenance and upkeep of walking and cycling infrastructure such as sweeping, hedge cutting and sign cleaning, the Department will examine whether additional resources within local authorities are required for this purpose, as suggested by this motion.

I assure the House that the Minister for Transport fully recognises and emphasises the important role that transport infrastructure plays in all our lives and is aware of the concerns that have been raised in relation to road safety throughout the country. The ambitious investment plans in the transport sector over the coming years for cycle lanes, footpaths and road networks, along with the increased implementation of policy and legislation, will go a long way towards helping us reach the Vision Zero objective. This will, in turn, assist in helping to improve the safety of the transport network and, overall, ensuring that lives are not lost. I believe that with the work done in recent years and the ongoing plans and future developments. we will achieve a better, safer transport environment for all of the people of Ireland. On that particular point, both the Cathaoirleach and I are from rural constituencies with large road networks. Some members of the Labour Party who raised this motion also know the vast difference for local authorities with significant rural networks as well as urban networks.

This is a quality-of-life issue for people. If you want your children to cycle to the local sports club or to school and want to encourage that, the road needs to have a decent surface. They need to be safe doing so, not trying to dodge potholes on their bicycle or however they are making their way. In a similar way, when it comes to the speed at which cars travel on those roads, enforcement will always have a key role to play from a road safety perspective. What is incumbent on us in how we fund our local authorities and work through the Department of Transport and beyond is to make sure those roads maintain the high standard of surface we have now become used to. I remember many years ago as a young boy travelling the country with my uncle to see Kildare play in national league games. You always knew when you hit Northern Ireland because when you crossed the Border in the nineties there was a better road surface. That is not the case anymore because our roads have come up to a high standard. We have a high level of expectation and want to continue that. It is not something we ever want to go back on. We recognise this at times of difficult weather. It can be persistent rain or frost after rain that can wreck roads, particularly in rural areas. There is a big challenge for our local authorities. We want to work with them to make sure we have the best surface possible, we keep our roads as safe as possible for users and that, across the range of measures in this motion, we work together to make sure that happens.

I again thank all Members for their input. When the debate concludes I will relay to the Minister of State the points made after he had to leave.

11:30 am

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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As we strive and succeed in reducing deaths by diseases such as heart failure and cancer, we deploy ever more technology and research into new medicines and procedures with the objective of prolonging life. We are going in the other direction when it comes to deaths and injuries on our roads. Road traffic accidents happen in an instant. Vibrant and healthy individuals with full lives to live and ambitions to fulfil are taken from us in a moment and leave devastation and unimaginable grief. We must apply the same analysis, vigour and determination to reducing this heartbreak as we devote to tackling diseases and chronic illness. There must be a co-ordination, a focus of resources and a clear strategy that addresses the causes of road traffic accidents. There must be enforcement, safe road engineering, education and safety awareness and campaigning, and clear modalities for co-operation between agencies and data sharing with all involved.

On enforcement, the notion that we have privatised the Gatso vans is a frustration. I drive on the M11 to County Wexford. Between Dublin and the new motorway, there are four different speed limits depending on what part of the road you are on. It is annoying to see a Gatso van parked 500 m before the new motorway, with no other objective than to capture and frustrate people, when you are on a motorway quality road, which is a dual carriageway. They must be deployed where there are real accidents, and I want the Minister to address that issue. I want him to fundamentally focus on one area, which is the condition of roads, junctions and footpaths in an area I know best, County Wexford. The motion before the House spells out what needs to be done. There needs to be a comprehensive and clear public plan to identify every dangerous junction, potholed road, broken and dangerous footpath and cycleway, and to fix them. We have the resources and the capacity to fix them. This would not only enormously contribute to reducing serious accidents, but countless minor accidents causing pedestrians to fall and cyclists to be knocked off their bicycles. Exhorting and encouraging safe driving is important, but the State must step up to the plate and do its part in giving us safe roads.

In County Wexford we have 3,522 km of non-national roads, which are regional and county roads. Some 45% of Wexford's non-national roads now require reconstruction. The national average is 15%. The surface dressing cycle in my home county is every 33 years. The recommended cycle before the impact of recent climate change was ten years. I am interested in the Minister of State's speech. Wexford devotes more of its own resources to resurfacing than most counties. More than 30% of the total spend for fixing these roads comes from its own resources. It is not true that account is taken of how much counties pony up themselves. Nor is State support uniform throughout the country. Departmental grants for this purpose range from €4.80 per mile to €9.60 per mile in the allocations made last year. If there is a formula, it is certainly not based on miles of road and there has to be an explanation for this.

There are specific works I want to mention in the minute I have left. Larkin's Cross on the N25 is a main road from Rosslare to Waterford and the west. It is a dangerous junction. Kyle Cross junction is on the N11. As the Minister of State knows, the motorway ends in Oylegate and all of the southbound traffic going to Rosslare and Wexford must cross this dangerous intersection. A few kilometres further on is Ferrycarrig bridge, which is another highly dangerous and hugely trafficked junction. There is a dangerous series of bends on the main Enniscorthy to New Ross road and the N30 outside Clonroche school. These are four of the many I could instance that can be fixed. We can contribute and the Government must contribute to solving this dangerous situation.

11:40 am

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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The Minister of State is a decent man and a decent Minister of State, but the Minister for Transport or a Minister of State in the Department of Transport should be here to conclude this debate. It should be a rule of the House, with all due respect.

There is a bit of passing the buck between the Departments of Transport and Justice, the Department of housing in conjunction with local authorities and the RSA when it comes to this issue. It is a big conglomerate of different people and no one is fully in charge. We blame the RSA, the Department of Transport or whoever but a real focus is needed now, given what is happening. As my colleagues outlined, what is happening as regards fatalities and serious injury is simply unacceptable. Not to repeat the points, but the issue of GDPR and the sharing of traffic collision data is a complete joke. It should be solved within weeks.

Like everyone else, I spent recent months canvassing with my local election candidates, Louise Morgan-Walsh, Fiona Bonfield, Michael Brennan and Jordan Lewis. It is a fact that roads are the biggest issue. I was recently in the Silvermines at a place called Capparoe. I will use the L-6066-1 and L-6066-2 as examples because we could all name hundreds of roads. They are not roads. They do not exist. The roads have been destroyed. The past nine months of continuous rain means that many roads have been destroyed. We really need to look at an audit of local and regional roads. I am a big supporter of the low-cost safety schemes but there are simply not enough of them. I am the son of a local authority roads worker who worked on the roads for three decades. Driving them, he says he has never seen them in as bad condition in his life and he is 85 years of age.

There are now 31,000 local authority staff. There were 38,000 in 2008. Even if they do not have the funding to do the work, managing water alone saves roads. That has been given up. It does not happen to the level required any more. We have changes in our weather patterns and we need more directly employed workers. I feel sorry every time I have to pick up the phone to ring the local engineers because they cannot perform miracles. It is impossible. They do not have the staff or the capacity to contract in the staff or work and they do not have the funding. Funding levels have dropped for pavement renewals year on year, for regional and local roads and for improvements to regional and local roads. It is not just maintenance. It is improvements. It is not happening to the level required. Let us look at what is coming down the road as regards climate change. The additional funding that has been given out for emergencies, especially for what happened in Cork, is not sustainable.

I will say a few words on roads policing. The Garda Commissioner stated today at a committee that he will get 55 more gardaí. It is a simple fact that there has been a 15% drop in policing numbers in roads policing. I represent Templemore and the gardaí treat the 30 minutes per day as a joke. The word used is "Tokenistic". Traffic garda numbers are down from 804 members in 2013 to 664 members this year. If the Government and the Department of Justice were really serious about this, those numbers would be brought up to previous levels. Let us consider what is happening in Limerick. All members of the most successful traffic garda unit - I am being very careful - have not been charged with anything, but have all been suspended. That is a whole unit and 1,400 or more tickets have not been prosecuted through the courts. What does that say about what the Government thinks about road safety? People were caught doing a range of minor to serious things and nothing happened. The Garda Commissioner is now looking for new people to replace these gardaí. That tells me what the Government thinks about road safety, as some of those people will have gone on to commit other serious offences.

The situation of driving tests was outlined by the Minister of State earlier. To be proud of getting down to 15 or 16 weeks in six months or so is laughable. The whole system of driver testing and the process by which it is done in which people can drive intermittently between various different stages need to be completely reviewed.

We need more transport options in rural areas. The fact that there is a lack of taxis and hackney cabs in rural areas to facilitate people so they will not drive at certain times needs to be looked at.

I hope the Minister of State will absolutely endorse the Labour Party's Bill on the filming of fatal collisions brought forward by our colleague Deputy Duncan Smith with great elegance. Ultimately, the bottom line is that we need more funding, especially for regional and local roads. The weather conditions have been so bad that what is there now will not work. On top of that, we need renewed vigour as regards policing and policing that will result in actual enforcement. The figures show that the volume of policing is drastically down. Finally, we need a whole-of-government approach that does not go from Billy to Jack as regards the Departments of Transport, housing, Justice and the RSA. Road safety and the issues we raised today cannot be farmed out.

Question put and agreed to.

Cuireadh an Dáil ar fionraí ar 11.46 a.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar meán lae.

Sitting suspended at 11.46 a.m. and resumed at 12 noon.