Seanad debates

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

8:00 pm

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State and thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this motion. It refers to the Dublin underground interconnector, which is frequently referred to as the underground DART. It could provide an underground facility that would link many of Dublin's existing train stations. By so doing, it could free up capacity for additional services and trains to come into the city centre. On its merits, the project makes a lot of sense because it seeks to join up existing infrastructure across Dublin and the Dublin region. I have two reasons for raising this matter. While it will deliver a much-needed benefit to the city of Dublin, all of the cost, in terms of the construction location and where the debris will be removed from, is located in a part of Dublin in the constituency in which I live. I refer to East Wall and North Wall. They will be very much affected by the construction of the project for many years while they will not share in any of the direct benefits the project will deliver. In those affected areas there is great support for the project because of the benefit it will deliver to the city. However, they have important concerns they seek to have recognised in the oral hearing organised by An Bord Pleanála.

The second reason for raising this matter is to understand, in light of the publication of the four year plan, whether the Minister of State can clarify when construction is expected to take place on this project. If the nearest construction date for the project is 2014, as some documentation leads me to believe, will consideration be given to deferring the oral hearing with An Bord Pleanála that has just started? Millions of euro will be spent by the State and private interests in legal representation and the organisation of and participation in the oral hearing for a project that will not be commenced for a number of years and will not be operational for many years after that. In light of the country's circumstances, is there not merit in organising the oral hearing nearer to the start date of the project? This will ensure taxpayers' money and money spent by affected interests will be spent on a project that is going ahead.

Photo of John MoloneyJohn Moloney (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I apologise that the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, cannot be present. I will respond to this matter on behalf of the Minister. Following the establishment of the National Transport Authority on 1 December 2009, the implementation of infrastructure projects in the greater Dublin area, such as the DART underground project, now comes under the remit of the National Transport Authority rather than the Minister for Transport. The legislative basis for this is section 11(1)(e) of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, which refers to the principal functions of the authority being "to secure the provision of public transport infrastructure".

The Government published the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014 on 24 November. The four year plan sets out the capital allocations for the Department of Transport for the period 2011-14. It is important to remember that no project has been cancelled and planning and design will continue so projects can commence as funding becomes available. At the time of the publication of the four year plan the Minister for Transport advised it would not be possible to deliver the tunnel element of the DART underground project in the immediate period. However, the Minister emphasised that some of the re-signaling and associated works, which have capacity benefits in and of themselves, will proceed over the next four years. This will prepare the network for the delivery of the underground tunnel once financial resources permit.

In the meantime, An Bord Pleanála has commenced the oral hearing for DART underground. Matters relating to oral hearings on infrastructure projects such as the DART underground come entirely under the remit of An Bord Pleanála. It is unlikely that the railway order will be made by the end of 2011. The DART underground project is an extensive programme involving the construction of an underground tunnel, to be delivered by public private partnership, and the delivery of various other re-signaling and associated works to facilitate the integration of the northern and Kildare lines via the tunnel.

When completed, the project will provide the missing link that will deliver a fully integrated rail network for the greater Dublin area, linking with all modes of public transport, including metro north. As the Minister for Transport indicated yesterday, the capital provision for public transport investment in 2011 is €394 million. This will enable the completion of the Luas extension to Citywest and the continuation of advance works on metro north. It also provides funding for planning and design work on other Transport 21 projects with a view to the earliest possible delivery as financial resources become available. Funding is also being maintained for a number of important public transport programmes, including railway safety, accessibility, integrated ticketing, traffic management and bus priority.