Seanad debates

Friday, 26 February 2021

Covid-19 (Transport): Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party) | Oireachtas source

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach. It is good to see her in the Chair and I welcome the Minister. It is probably no exaggeration to say it has been a frightening and scary time for all of us in the country. The Health (Amendment) Bill 2021 on quarantining was before the Dáil this week and it is due before this House on Monday. While that is a necessary step, it is important that it be balanced with human rights and that is what the Government is doing.

This is also a time for a reassessment of where we are as a country. At a meeting of the Joint Committee on Climate Action this week, chaired by Deputy Leddin of the Green Party, we examined emissions from transport, in particular, and different sectors. If we think about what has happened over the past year where there has been an overall reduction of only 6% in our emissions during a time most of us were at home, it shows the scale of the challenge before us. We have this opportunity, as the Minister said, if we are going to all be at home, to invest in the kind of transport infrastructure that will make our lives the best they can be while we are in our communities. We also have an opportunity to bring back economic activity to areas that have not experienced such activity previously.

We know that international travel will be reduced so what do we do instead? We must, therefore, reinvest in local tourism and transport. That is what was laid down in the programme for Government. We did not know at the time these measures were being put in the programme for Government, however, that they were going to be even more important now than ever before.We have had many Green wins over the past couple of weeks but they are wins for the Government and society as a whole. There was €68 million for greenways, with quite a significant portion of that going to Galway, for instance. We are still seeing the July stimulus funding dripping into communities. We have seen €240 million for cycling and walking, with 248 new promised staff. We need to see action on all of that quickly in order to build up our economies. In my constituency of Galway, having a cycle bridge over the Corrib across the old Clifden railway line will be transformative.

Previously, we discussed roads projects. We need to address that elephant in the room as well. When we are looking at emissions, overall there has been a 136% increase in transport emissions in a ten-year period in Ireland and we are now looking at a reduction overall of 7% per annum. We will need to change the way we look at transport drastically and that means looking at what roads are necessary and what roads are not necessary. When we look at roads that can bypass towns and bring back public realm spaces in those towns and improve the quality of life in terms of air quality, those are opportunities where we could say that roads actually make people's lives better. In particular, I am thinking of such places as Moycullen and Tipperary town. Some of my party's Deputies, such as Deputies Ó Cathasigh and Leddin, would be behind those kinds of projects that would bring life back, particularly where arterial routes are damaging people's quality of life. A great deal of freight goes along some of these roads that need to be upgraded in order to make people's lives better.

The Minister mentioned freight. It is a good opportunity to talk about how we manage freight. Dr. Tadhg O'Mahony came before the Joint Committee on Climate Action of which I am a member earlier on this week and stated that a key plank of improving the sustainability of freight in the EU is achieving a modal shift to rail. Now that we really have this European funding and other funding, how are we to put that in place to make our lives better? Rail is long term. It is outside of what we are looking at but now is probably the time to look at investing in that Waterford-to-Limerick line and the western rail corridor as well. If we will be switching to electric, maybe it is freight that we should look at first because that is where a great deal of the emissions and the pollution are emanating from. It is certainly quite clear that even a switch to electric vehicles does not bring the quality-of-life part of the economy back to areas in which we will really need to invest heavily in the aftermath of this pandemic, and as we plan for the future in how we deal with tourism, how we get around and how we deal with a better quality of life for our children that we have seen glimpses of throughout this pandemic.


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