Thursday, 10 November 2005
Dublin Port Tunnel.
I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Callely, for addressing this matter. I have raised this issue a number of times over the past two years and do so again due to the ongoing public debate concerning an impending height restriction on large vehicles. I wish to put on record the contents of Mr. Pat Kenny's radio interview with the senior Dublin City Council engineer, Mr. Michael Philips, on 6 October regarding the Dublin Port tunnel.
Much misinformation has been put into the public arena. For example, comments to the effect that there are 9,000 trucks travelling in both directions on the quays were made in that interview. We are speaking about how many trucks will be accommodated in the tunnel and taken off our streets but the most senior people involved do not know how many trucks there are, giving a figure of 18,000, which is twice as many as is the case. Most bizarrely, the engineer went on to say the reason we have 5.3 m. bridges on our motorways is not to accommodate trucks but road surfacing over the years. Have Members ever heard anything so outlandish?
It was said that these trucks are not allowed anywhere in Europe except Spain and the United Kingdom. I recently visited Helsinki, where a new port is being built in Vuosaari. A tunnel from that port will transport all of the newsprint and paper products used in this country, possibly even the paper from which I am reading. This tunnel has an operational height of 5 m. However, senior politicians and engineers here say these trucks are not allowed anywhere.
It is a numbers game, namely, how many trucks there are, but this should not be the case. The goods in those trucks generate thousands of jobs in this economy, many of which are in manufacturing. We have a declining manufacturing base due to our competitiveness and peripherality. The argument is bogus if it is based on numbers of trucks because it is quality not quantity that counts in this instance. I do not mind whether the figure is 180 or 280 trucks. The real point is what is in those trucks, and bears little relation to our trumpeted manufacturing ability, peripherality and competitiveness.
In respect of the potential limitations, under what section of the Road Traffic Act 2004 or other legislation can a Minister act unilaterally without consulting our EU partners? There is no maximum height restriction on trucks in this country. The trucks we are discussing have been licensed by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for approximately 15 years. Senior people involved say the trucks have only been here since 2000 and they do not want them any more but this is not the case. Much misinformation has been put into the public arena, which is why I wish to set out these few facts. I also wish to move the debate on by determining which legislation allows the Minister to act unilaterally.
I apologise for submitting this as an Adjournment matter. I know that the Minister for Transport and the Minister of State have attended often but we do not have enough wide-ranging debates to cover all of these points. I await the Minister of State's reply.
I thank my good friend and colleague, Senator Morrissey, for raising this issue. I take it the Senator is referring to Directive 96/53/EC relating to maximum weights and dimensions for vehicles in the European Union. The purpose of this directive is to support the Single Market in road haulage. It does so by requiring member states to accommodate and allow motor vehicles complying with the specifications for weights and dimensions set out in the directive to circulate throughout the territory of the European Union. A member state cannot prohibit the use in its own territory of such vehicles from another member state. While member states may introduce separate standards for domestic transport operations, such standards do not affect the right of international transport operations complying with the EU directive to operate.
The directive sets a limit value on vehicle height of 4 m. This means that a member state cannot reject or prohibit the use in its own territory, either by international or national traffic, of vehicles up to and including 4 m. in height. It may do so for vehicles of a greater height. I am aware of the debate on the height of so-called "supercubes" and ordinary heavy goods vehicle. If we make a recommendation in this area, the issues to be considered are the impact it will have on the Irish road haulage industry and, equally, how it would be enforced.
In October 2004, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, announced that the operational height of the Dublin Port tunnel would not be changed. Therefore, the Dublin Port tunnel will be completed as planned with an operational height of 4.65 m. My local newspaper Northside People received correspondence about me and the Dublin Port tunnel. I wish to take this opportunity to clarify to Members of the House and the newspaper's readers that the contractual arrangements are for the Dublin Port tunnel to be completed in December 2005. We estimate that the period of operational and safety tests will take approximately 12 to 16 weeks, after which we will be in a position to formally open the tunnel to traffic. The tests are to ensure that appropriate supports will be in place, whatever the volume of traffic in the tunnel at any given time. It would be remiss of me to change those dates because that is the contractual arrangement. If overruns occur I will seek to reduce them and try to have the tunnel opened as quickly as possible. The operational height of the tunnel, when complete, will be greater than the height limit applicable in most other EU member states and the height limit set in Directive 96/53/EC.
Dublin City Council and the NRA have made known to the Department their view that the Dublin Port tunnel will facilitate almost all of the heavy goods vehicles currently using Dublin Port. The Dublin Port Company and the National Institute of Transport and Logistics each carried out a vehicle height survey, both of which indicate that between 0.6% to 1.7 % of heavy goods vehicles entering and leaving the port exceed 4.65 m. I do not know when those surveys were carried out. I will ask my Department to inform Senator Morrissey on that if he so wishes.
I also researched this issue, simply by making direct contact with some of the main players in the Irish market. I understand that cab height does not count, the trailer height is taken into account and curtain trailers are referred to as "supercubes". Concern exists on the impact the directive may have on the haulage industry in terms of costs, competitiveness, job creation or losses, changing trends in haulage and whether one double-stacks the pallet or whether they must be carried singly. These issues must be taken into consideration.
Senator Morrissey raised the important point of weight. We must examine not only the impact of height but also that of weight. We received a number of views on the issue of safety, including from the Garda Síochána and Iarnród Éireann. One can understand their position but we must seek clarity on whether safety issues surround the height or weight of vehicles. The question of whether there should be a maximum vehicle height is a complex issue. A range of factors of national importance such as business competitiveness, rail safety, environmental and quality of life issues, protection of existing infrastructure, and the need for certainty in planning for future infrastructure investment must be taken into account in considering this matter. Those are only some of the factors involved and that is why it is a complex issue.
I have some knowledge of this issue, as Dublin Port is close to my constituency, as are the airport and one of the main arterial routes into the city. I also have many friends in business and I am familiar with the movement of goods and heavy goods vehicles. Shortly after arriving at the Department I announced that I would not make any decision on the re-introduction of a maximum vehicle height, which was 4.25 m., until the views of all interested parties had been considered. Last December, I published a consultation paper outlining the central issues relating to vehicle height and invited interested parties and the public to submit their views on the issues. A total of 46 submissions were received from corporate entities, representative groups and individuals. The responses to the public consultation process confirm the differing sectoral viewpoints held on the matter. Given the level of engagement with organisations and the public at large, the suggestion that no consultation took place is not correct. I have been in regular contact with the IRHA and the umbrella group——
That is a must and of course we apply EU regulations and are happy to do so. We keep in regular communication and consultation with the EU.
On the question of whether we should introduce a maximum height in Ireland it would be foolhardy of us to proceed without having appropriate communication. I understand we were burned in the past, I was not at the Department at the time. We should first establish and clarify the domestic situation and resolve the complex issues. I am considering a Department report on the outcome of the consultation process with the public and interested parties, and it is my intention to make a decision on the matter before the end of the year. In the event of a decision to introduce any restriction on height or weight, it will be necessary to continue interaction. More importantly, if change occurs to the directive it will be necessary to consult with the European Commission before the necessary statutory instrument can be made. For the benefit of the House and Senator Morrissey, such consultation is obligatory under Directive 98/34/EC on technical standards and regulations. I assure the Senator that will be adhered to. As he knows, I go about my business in the correct and proper manner.