Seanad debates

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Commencement Matters

Road Network

10:30 am

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin Rathdown, Independent) | Oireachtas source

That is right. I congratulate the Members on being elected to the Seanad. It is a great honour. It will be a great Seanad. Seanad reform is coming and it is wonderful to have a House in which there is no Government overall majority ramming things through. The Government will have to talk to the other parties and Independent Senators to get legislation through. I welcome that and I believe the Seanad will play a significant role, which it has not played in the past. I look forward to being in the House frequently over the next five years.

I thank the Senator for the opportunity to address this matter. I welcome him in the Seanad although I am sorry he is here because he was a very good Member of the other House, as also applies Senator Coffey. No doubt they will be back in the Dáil in the near future.

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding for the national roads programme. The planning, design and implementation of individual national road projects is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, formerly known as the National Roads Authority, NRA, under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. Within its capital budget the assessment and prioritisation of individual projects is a matter in the first instance for TII in accordance with section 19 of the Roads Act.

Ireland has just under 100,000 km of road in its network and the maintenance and improvement of national, regional and local roads places a substantial financial burden on local authorities and the Exchequer. As a result of the financial position, there have been very large reductions in the Exchequer funding available for roads expenditure over the past number of years. For this reason the focus has had to be on maintenance and renewal rather than on major new improvement schemes. The proposed upgrade of the M20 was one of a range of proposed road development projects which had to be deferred.

The capital plan published in September 2015 outlined proposed transport investment priorities to 2022. The transport element of the plan was framed by the conclusions reached in my Department's strategic investment framework for land transport. This report highlighted the importance of maintenance and renewal of transport infrastructure together with targeted investments to address particular bottlenecks and critical safety issues. The capital plan provides €6 billion for investment in the roads network in the period to 2022, with €4.4 billion earmarked for the maintenance and strengthening of the existing extensive network throughout the country and €1.6 billion for new projects. Allowing for the commitments relating to the public private partnership, PPP, projects, the balance available for new projects within the available capital envelope was limited.

Given the funding constraints a project of the scale of the M20 would have absorbed asubstantial proportion of the budget for new projects. In those circumstances, as I understand it, the decision made by my predecessor was to provide for a mix of smaller scale projects across the country to address particular constraints, including bottlenecks and port connectivity. While it will not be possible to address all the demands for improvement schemes over the capital plan period, the plan provides for the gradual build-up in capital funding for the road network towards the levels needed to support maintenance and improvement works. In this context a number of important projects in Cork are included in the plan, including the upgrade of the Dunkettle roundabout and the N22 road between Ballyvourney and Macroom. In addition, the plan also provides that the N28 upgrade scheme will also commence, subject to necessary approvals.

We are all conscious that the recovery of the economy is generating spending pressures across the system, including capital investment needs. As part of the programme for partnership Government there is an increased emphasis on the need for spending on public services, but the Government still must operate within the EU fiscal rules and this constrains options. There will be a mid-term review of the capital plan, as Senator O'Donnell mentioned, and this will provide an opportunity to assess progress and consider what scope there is for increased levels of investment depending on economic growth. As regards the M20, I expect that the position with the project will be considered as part of the mid-term review.


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