Thursday, 16 April 2015
Roads Bill 2014: Second Stage
I am very pleased to be here this afternoon to present the Roads Bill 2014. The purpose of the Bill is to merge the Rail Procurement Agency, RPA, with the National Roads Authority, NRA. The Bill provides for the dissolution of the RPA and the transfer of its staff, functions, assets and liabilities to the NRA. The Bill also provides a timely opportunity to update certain existing provisions in the Roads Act to reflect current policy and practice. The newly expanded NRA will remain as a non-commercial State body and its statutory name will not change. However, the merged entity will use the name Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, for operational and branding purposes to better reflect its broadened remit.
The merger of these two State bodies is being implemented under the Government's agency rationalisation programme, which forms an integral part of the Government's wider public sector reform plan. This plan included a specific commitment to implement 48 agency rationalisation and reform measures under an agency rationalisation programme. The Government reaffirmed and broadened its reform programme in January 2014 with the publication of the new Public Sector Reform Plan 2014-2016. A recent progress report on the implementation of the rationalisation programme found that measures affecting more than 90% of the bodies to be merged or rationalised were completed by the end of 2014. When the remainder are fully completed, there will be 181 fewer bodies operating in the Irish public service than in 2011 as a result of the measures taken in the programme. The progress report found that over €24 million in annual savings will be achieved when the programme is fully implemented. It is anticipated that the annual saving under the merger of NRA and RPA will be approximately €3.4 million, following the third year of the merger.
In line with the objectives of the Government’s overarching agency rationalisation programme, it was considered appropriate to reduce the number of State agencies under my Department's aegis and the merger of NRA and RPA is one of a number of agency restructuring initiatives currently being implemented. I am mindful of the specialist expertise developed over the years in both RPA and NRA and it is my intention that, through this merger, valuable technical and professional skills will be retained to support the development of transport infrastructure into the future. The specialist areas of expertise concerned would include project management, negotiation and management of PPP contracts, transport planning, engineering design and advice, planning and environmental procedures, and property acquisition and management. It is anticipated that the sharing and further development of these skills in the new agency will, over time, lead to a reduction in the use of external consultants. The new body will be encouraged to seek out opportunities to provide technical support, advice and services to other bodies on a commercial basis.
The purpose of TII will be to provide, maintain and operate, either directly or indirectly, roads and light rail infrastructure and services in a safe, cost effective and sustainable manner to contribute to meeting Ireland's long-term economic, social and environmental objectives. The merged entity will retain all the existing functions of the NRA and the RPA and the key relationships they currently have with my Department and with the NTA will remain largely unchanged. My Department will continue to provide policy direction, and funding allocations for TII and its work programmes will be based on priorities set out in the Government's capital investment plans. TII will continue to undertake public transport infrastructure projects, including light rail projects such as the Luas cross city line, on receipt of direction from the NTA to perform delivery functions on its behalf in the greater Dublin area and it will continue to receive funding from the NTA in respect of those projects.
Regarding roads, TII will remain as the sanctioning authority for national roads and will continue to have overall responsibility for the national roads programme. TII will continue to receive funding directly from my Department for this role. The principal functions of TII would be to secure the provision of a safe and efficient network of national roads and to secure the provision of, or to provide, such light rail and metro infrastructure as may be determined from time to time by the Minister. In respect of national roads, the organisation would have overall responsibility for the planning and supervision of works for the construction and maintenance of national roads, and such other functions in relation to the construction and maintenance of national roads as are assigned to it. In respect of light rail, the organisation would be entitled to enter into agreements with other persons in order to secure the provision of light rail infrastructure whether by means of concession, joint venture, public private partnership or any other means, and to acquire and facilitate the development of land adjacent to any railway works, subject to an application for a railway order where such acquisition and development contributes to the economic viability of such railway works.
In addition to the merger provisions in the Bill, I am availing of the opportunity to update existing provisions in the Roads Acts, having regard to current requirements in relation to the public road network and functions of the NRA. These provisions are designed to give mandatory statutory footing to NRA standards for design, construction or maintenance works on national roads; to provide for the payment of grants by the NRA to road authorities in respect of their functions in relation to regional and local roads; to clarify the position regarding recovery of unpaid tolls; and to allow TIl and road authorities to engage in consultation with An Bord Pleanála before making planning applications in respect of certain national road schemes.
A merger implementation group is finalising detailed plans for the integration of both bodies. Proposals for the organisation structure, grade profile and total staff numbers for the new merged entity were recently approved by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, having regard to wider policies and practices for the restructuring of State agencies, in particular, the employment control framework. The implementation group has put in place plans for integration of HR, ICT and finance systems. All NRA staff will relocate to the RPA offices in Parkgate Street on a phased basis and the process will be completed by October of this year.
The integration of two State bodies into one new entity presents a number of challenges, particularly from a human resource management point of view. In this instance, the transfer of a commercial State body into the non-commercial sector is especially challenging and issues concerning terms and conditions of staff require sensitivity and careful consideration. In this context, I understand management and staff have engaged constructively in a recent industrial relations conciliation process. A draft protocol agreement encompassing a range of HR issues was concluded under this process and a ballot of union members on the draft agreement is under way. I expect that all parties will continue to work together with a view to achieving the seamless integration of the two separate entities.
It is encouraging to note that both agencies are maintaining a strong focus on the delivery of their respective mandates and they are not allowing the merger preparations to distract them from performing their functions, including the delivery of important transport infrastructure projects under the Government's current capital plan. For example, the RPA is engaged in leading with the delivery of Luas cross-city, with services due to commence by the end of 2017. This plan will link the Luas red and green lines and carry an additional 10 million passengers every year. Although the RPA is being dissolved, the merger with the NRA provides an opportunity to ensure that the value created over the years by the RPA, in terms of organisational, engineering, design and project management skills, will be retained and integrated into a new body which will be a leader for planning, delivery and management of road and light rail infrastructure for years to come.
The NRA is responsible for overseeing the management of 5,500 km of national roads. Its extensive responsibilities include management of the national road maintenance and renewal programme, major and minor road improvement projects, tolling operations, bridge inspection and rehabilitation, setting of standards, and safety measures through to tunnel operations. While reducing funds has meant that the main focus has been on maintenance of roads and bridges, some Exchequer-funded road improvement projects did go ahead, for example, the Ballaghaderreen bypass, which was completed last year, together with minor works projects, including important safety schemes. In addition, despite challenging financial circumstances, the Government committed itself to a PPP infrastructure stimulus programme in 2012 which is now coming to fruition. Two road PPP projects are under construction: the N11 Arklow to Rathnew project, which included the Newlands Cross flyover, and the N17-N18 Gort to Tuam project, which is a significant project consisting of 53 km of motorway and 4 km of dual carriageway. Two further projects are at an advanced stage: the N25 New Ross bypass and the M11 Gorey-to-Enniscorthy projects.
The Government is preparing a new capital plan and I will be making a strong case for additional funding for land transport. Due to financial constraints, the funding has decreased. However, a recent strategic review undertaken by my Department found that the existing levels of capital investment in transport infrastructure are insufficient to meet required standards and will lead to more costly renewal at a later stage. Historically, Ireland has invested on average approximately 1.1% of GDP in land transport. Between 1999 and 2011, the average level grew to 1.4% of GDP as significant enhancements were made, most notably, the construction of the motorway network and of the two existing Luas lines. By 2012, however, the average had reduced to 0.7% and investment levels have yet to recover. The recent strategic framework for investment in land transport report found that €1.3 billion annually is the minimum amount of Exchequer funding required. In 2015, total Exchequer investment in land transport will amount to approximately €1 billion - resulting in a funding gap of €300 million - merely to allow the physical assets relating to the transport network to continue to operate as they do, without any investment in additional capacity.
The public transport requirements for the greater Dublin area are under review. This includes a review of rail projects for the Fingal-north Dublin corridor and the updating of the business case for the DART underground project. When these reviews are completed, I will consider the options for addressing key public transport deficits in the greater Dublin area, having regard to the costs and benefits of each project and to available Exchequer funding as well as other possible sources of funds. I expect to complete this work by the middle of this year.
On the roads side, the priority for additional capital funding will be on maintenance and renewal of the national, regional and local road network. However, there will be targeted investment where additional capacity is required to address bottlenecks, improve access to major ports and airports, and address the needs of industry. It will also be linked to public transport investment where required to ensure that transfers between different modes of travel are as seamless as possible.
I now propose to outline the main provisions of the Bill. The Bill is divided into four Parts. Part 1 deals with technical matters such as the Short Title and commencement, definitions, savers and repeals.Part 2 provides for the dissolution of the Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, and the transfer of its functions, property, rights and liabilities to the National Roads Authority, NRA. Section 6 of Part 2 is the key section that covers the proposed arrangements for the dissolution of the RPA. Section 7 of Part 2 provides for the functions of the RPA to be transferred to the NRA. Section 8 is a standard provision to transfer land and any other property of the RPA to the NRA. Section 13 allows the Minister to specify by order any name other than NRA for use for operational or branding purposes for the new body to better reflect its new remit. The title "Transport Infrastructure Ireland" will be adopted as the new name for the NRA for operational purposes. For legal reasons, the statutory name of National Roads Authority is not being changed. Section 14 provides for the transfer of staff from the RPA to the NRA on the dissolution day, on no less favourable terms and conditions of service.
Part 3 deals with the functions of the National Roads Authority. Section 16 of Part 3 provides that the Minister may, on behalf of or for the benefit of road authorities, request the NRA to arrange for the procurement of goods or services with respect to regional and local roads. This is intended to facilitate road authorities by providing that goods or services may be procured at national level by one body, such as the NRA, when requested to do so by the Minister.
Part 4 provides for amendments to existing provisions in the Roads Acts. Section 20 of Part 4 inserts new sections 15B and 15C into the Roads Act 1993 to provide new powers for the Minister. The new section 15B gives a new power to the Minister to specify national standards for the design, construction or maintenance of public roads that must be complied with by anyone carrying out such works. It also empowers the Minister to require the NRA to amend any standards specified by it. Section 21 amends section 19 of the Roads Act 1993 to provide that any standards specified by the NRA relating to design, construction or maintenance works on national roads must be complied with by anyone carrying out such works, subject to the new section 15B(3), which allows the Minister to require the NRA to amend any such standards specified by it.
Section 22 provides that section 24 of the Roads Act 1993 is substituted by a new section that extends the power of the Minister to include the making of grants to the NRA in respect of its new functions under the Bill in regard to regional and local roads. Section 23 amends section 28 of the Roads Act 1993, which relates to the appointment of members of the authority. The purpose of this section is to expand on the areas of experience and competence that members of the board of the expanded NRA have. The list will now include "railway infrastructure", to reflect the wider remit of the new body. Section 24 inserts a new section 51A into the Roads Act 1993 to provide that road authorities and the NRA may engage in preplanning application consultations with An Bord Pleanála with respect to proposed road developments that require an environmental impact statement. Currently, there is no provision in either the Roads Acts or the Planning Acts for the NRA or road authorities to enter into pre-planning discussions with An Bord Pleanála on proposed road developments. This amendment is being introduced as it is considered desirable to allow for advance consultation with An Bord Pleanála on relevant projects.
Section 25 amends section 64 of the Roads Act 1993 to provide that a road undertaking may initiate court proceedings for the recovery of any unpaid toll as a simple contract debt as if the toll was founded on a contract made where the toll is being charged and collected or where a liability to pay the toll is incurred. The purpose of this provision is to clarify that a road undertaking may take proceedings in the jurisdiction where the offence of not paying the toll was committed. Section 26, by the substitution of a new section for section 82 of the Roads Act 1993, extends the powers of the Minister to allow him or her to request the NRA to make grants to road authorities or others with respect to regional or local roads. It also provides that the Minister may make payments to any person or body in regard to public roads. The Minister may also - under the new section 82A - request the NRA to administer the payment of grants to road authorities in respect of its functions with regard to regional and local roads on his or her behalf.
The merger will demonstrate the best and most efficient use of public resources consistent with the Government's public sector reform agenda and, in particular, its agency rationalisation programme. The new merged body will benefit from the sharing of technical and professional expertise developed over the years in the RPA and NRA in helping to create a new organisation which will be a leader in the planning, delivery and management of transport infrastructure in Ireland. Transport infrastructure Ireland will play a key role in maximising the contribution that the State's investment in transport can make to supporting our growing economy and meeting Ireland's longer-term economic, social and environmental objectives. I commend the Bill to the House.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome the Minister here today and wish him continued and responsible success with his ministerial portfolio. I vividly remember when the Luas project was started where I live in Dundrum, and the then Minister, the late Séamus Brennan, in 2004 launched the Green Line and then the Red Line. It has been a tremendous success. My husband was the chairman of the Railway Procurement Agency; he was brought in at a time when there had been much controversy and steered it without any deviation. He put a significant amount of time into restoring its credibility, as there had been controversies arising from the use of incorrect figures and so on.
In 2014, the then Minister, Deputy Varadkar, lauded the Luas project on its tenth anniversary. He stated:
Luas is ten years old and has been a phenomenal success. Thirty million passengers use Luas every year and it operates without a Government subsidy. The Luas cross-city extension should add another 10 million passengers per year and in future we can hopefully add other lines as well.We had trams restored to Dublin after an absence of 46 years, and it has been a phenomenal success. It is a source of great pride for everybody involved with the project because of its great success. Some people were concerned, none the less, about money being spent on such a project. It has also been a success for people in the vicinity, and the trams are packed from very early every morning. It is interesting that the passenger numbers dropped during the recession, but when they increased again it was a sign that the economy was improving. Everybody feels good when travelling on the tram because it saves all those cars from driving into the city. It is a peaceful and relaxing journey.
Ms Anne Graham, director of public transport services at the National Transport Authority, has stated: "Luas is an iconic symbol of our capital city of which we are all very proud; this pride will be further enhanced when the new Luas Cross City commences operations in 2017." The Minister said a new name, "the transport infrastructure of Ireland", had been given to the new amalgamated organisation but that the old name would stay for statutory purposes. We are not the best at efficiencies and all our inefficiencies in different parts of the economy are spelt out in the papers every day. In this context, it is very important that the cultures of the two different organisations are amalgamated because it is not easy. There was a big rush a few years ago to separate IDA, Enterprise Ireland and Forfás and now they are coming back together, which means time and money is wasted.
If the merger is not managed properly it will be bad. There are high standards in the Railway Procurement Agency but, as the Minister said, there will be IR and HR issues. When two State bodies are integrated into one new entity there are a number of challenges, particularly from the perspective of human resources management. The transfer of a commercial State body into the non-commercial sector is particularly challenging. Issues concerning terms and conditions of staff require sensitivity and careful consideration. I have a great regard for the National Roads Authority and we can see around the country what it has delivered.
I am sure most people in Ireland agree there is so much inefficiency all over the place. Everybody is now concerned about the lack of competence in different organisations, from the treatment of patients in the west of Ireland to the lack of home care and proper child care services, including for children with disabilities. There are women who are afraid of going into maternity hospitals to have a baby. We really must get our act together. As a business person I know what I am talking about.
Joining the two organisations together is not just a bureaucratic exercise. There are human beings involved and I know from personal experience about the passion in the Railway Procurement Agency because my husband worked on it 24/7 for €1 per week when Mary O'Rourke asked him to help on the legislation. He saw that it would take much of his time but he gave of it because it was a patriotic labour for him to put all his effort into getting it onto the right track by using his experience as managing director of the IDA and Enterprise Ireland.
I live beside the Luas and I use it regularly. It makes one feel good, like Dundrum town centre which I also live beside and where everybody feels good because it is so clean, tidy and efficient. We are always delighted with something we do well and if the country is doing well. The Minister has to keep an eye on this matter himself. It is not just a matter of one Government Department doing something to create efficiency. That is easy to do. This involves human beings continuing to give all they have in the shape of their brains and their passion. I believe the public sector is perfectly capable of having passion when it is managed correctly.
I welcome the Minister to the House to debate the Roads Bill 2014. I am delighted it has gone through the Dáil and I hope when it leaves this House it will be signed into law and the Minister will be able to implement it. The mission statements of the National Roads Authority and the Railway Procurement Agency both have the aim of providing transport efficiency. The aim of the Railway Procurement Agency is to secure the provision of or provide for such light railway and metro infrastructure as may be determined from time to time by the Minister. That of the National Roads Authority is to secure the provision of a safe and efficient network of national roads. The two agencies are doing basically the same thing so it is important that they are merged.
In 2011, when this Government came into power, we made a promise to the people that we would reform the public services and reduce the number of State agencies or quangos. The Minister has pointed out that when all these reforms are put in place there will be 180 fewer quangos or State agencies, which will save the State approximately €24 million. This Government has also overseen a reduction of 34,000 people in the public service since 2011, a 10% reduction in staff which also creates efficiencies. Private sector employment, however, is up by 95,000 so it shows that while this Government is making efficiencies and savings in the public service, it is still providing jobs in the private sector. The previous Government, especially in the time of Bertie Ahern, increased the size of the public sector by 73,000 employees, or 30%. They were able to brag about full employment but we now know where those people were being employed.
When it was being set up, we all said the National Roads Authority was another quango and I was one of the sceptics. However, if the National Roads Authority is a quango it is a good quango. It has, since its establishment, provided major infrastructure in this country, the biggest part of which is the motorway system from Dublin to our major cities. Even its latest projects such as the Newlands Cross flyover, which I use more than any other, was delivered ahead of time and under budget.
By an Irish company. Since it was set up, the National Roads Authority has helped to save this State money and deliver great efficiencies.
Why are we putting these two agencies together? It all comes from the McCarthy report of 2009 on public service numbers and expenditure, which pointed out that these two State agencies were responsible for delivering major transport infrastructure projects, some of them on a public-private partnership basis. It was clear there was a significant level of overlap in the type of service they delivered for the State and in the skills and expertise of the staff in capital project management, the procurement process and contract managing. The report stated that merging these bodies would create a single entity responsible for the procurement of all major network infrastructure in rail and national roads. In addition to pooling their expertise in areas like project delivery, archaeology and PPPs, the merger of these agencies should also yield savings in support areas such as finance and corporate services and the report reckoned a minimum saving of between €3 million and €4 million would be generated by a reduction of 30 in staffing levels for the new organisation. This is more of what this Government promised. The new agency will help further the progress we have made with motorways and other projects at a time when funding is low.
The Minister said it would will be called the " TII". Why do we have to retain the name of the National Roads Authority rather than use the new name?
This new body will help to guarantee the infrastructure of Ireland in the 21st century and into the 22nd century. The report said it was all about savings and efficiencies and the new organisation will benefit from combining technical expertise in the NRA and the RPA. I intended to ask about the timescale for the new agency but the Minister has already said he hopes to dissolve the RPA in mid-year to bring the new agency into being.
The new organisation will also deliver efficiencies in management and we will only have one CEO of the new body, rather than one in each. There will be only one board and associated support structures. I look forward to the passing of this Bill, which shows the commitment of this Government to reform of and efficiency in the public service. If Members will excuse the pun, it will either cement or tar the savings this Government has promised.Consider the summary of the recommendations from the McCarthy report. Four options are given. If there were no merger of the two bodies, there would be no benefit to the State. Recommendation 4 is for the full merger of the two bodies. In this regard, reference is made to a reduction in the Exchequer funding requirement, the creation of a world-class transport infrastructure procurement centre, maximising flexibility to meet funding and operational requirements, the possibility of exploiting opportunities relating to the body's expertise in a flexible way due to its commercial mandate, and the contribution to improved national competitiveness. This is why the two bodies are being merged.
I welcome the initiative. It has taken too long to do this but the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is responsible for transport and he has shown he is willing to make changes. I support the Bill.
As always, I welcome the Minister when he comes to the House for transport debates. I support the Bill he has put before us this afternoon to place responsibility for both rail and road infrastructure under the one body. Transport Infrastructure Ireland brings together the engineering expertise and, one hopes, the economics expertise of the bodies being merged. The two bodies compete for investment funds that we need to develop the country.
I support the Taoiseach and Minister in regard to the tendering of bus routes. I do not believe there is a threat to anybody's employment. In fact, experience shows that the opening up of bus routes results in the employment of more people. The Dublin–Galway route is a notable example in that there was an increase from one bus per day to approximately 60 per day. That means 59 more bus drivers. If the business can develop by diversity of provision, it will be the way to go forward. The PSO money is approximately €90 million. There cannot just be a block grant; there has to be competition for it. I see no reason the two large companies cannot actually win some of the contracts. Therefore, I hope there is no strike on 1 May.
I commend the Minister on not bowing to pressure from the Stock Exchange, in particular, to make quick decisions on the Aer Lingus case. This requires a major decision on how Ireland presents itself, particularly in respect of the north Atlantic. I hope the report, when it goes to the Cabinet, will include a number of options allowing all of us in this House to decide the best approach. I am glad the report has not been rushed. I strongly feel that retaining Aer Lingus is the best approach rather than having it as part of British Airways, or IAG.
Turning to the measures before us, I commend the Minister on what he has presented to us. I am sure the number of people offering to help the Minister spend the €3.4 million saved on administration has already increased tenfold. In a sense, that is what happens to Ministers.
Let me consider the infrastructure prospects. A proposal put to the former Minister of State responsible for local government, Deputy O'Dowd, implied that a road system with cars only would be virtually maintenance free, particularly if that system were designed to the standard of the Irish motorway system, which is designed to the highest international standard. Therefore, we must ask how we get the trucks using the system to cover their costs, as a good pricing system should do. There is very strong evidence from well-respected studies conducted in the United Kingdom over a number of decades suggesting the correct basis for the taxation of heavy goods vehicles is the laden weight per axle. However, for historical reasons we use the unladen weight of the vehicle. A large vehicle with many axles will impose fewer costs and a lesser burden of the kind the Minister mentioned. I refer to the €300 million that was short for maintenance. If studies give us evidence that certain trucks with a large number of axles that carry the same amount of goods as other trucks impose fewer infrastructural costs, which would lower the cost for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, why do we not have a taxation system that rewards people who buy vehicles with lots of axles? This was suggested to the former Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, and he said he would look into it. Perhaps the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, which has responsibility for the taxation of heavy goods vehicles, could attempt to secure the shift towards what I advocate. When people's purchasing plans and conduct do not impose a burden, or impose a lesser burden, on the Exchequer, it is in the interest of both the Exchequer and the transport company to reward the good conduct. The road and track cost studies are worth examining.
On Saturday last, I attended the funeral of Mr. John Carrick, the former county engineer in Kildare who designed the first motorway in the Republic, the Naas bypass. It was a long time ago. We did cost-benefit analyses of it. It was built by a company from Northern Ireland, Elliott's. At the time, such a project could be carried out by a county engineer. Responsibility has since been transferred to the NRA, and we now have a national system of motorways. I note the Minister has added the sections between Gort and Tuam, and this infrastructure will link up with the motorway to the west. That expands the network.
I am not so concerned when the Minister says we had a surge of investment historically and that it then fell back. There is no need to build the motorway system every single year, build a new harbour every second year or build a new airport every year. Therefore, while the rules of thumb are handy to have in deciding the optimum amount, we need a cost-benefit analysis to assess the projects. One goes through investment surges and there is no need to duplicate an investment once it has been made.
Safety is an important dimension. I am beginning to become concerned that the RSA has gone down an advertising route based on telling people to put their seat belts on and not to drink. I support this but I wonder whether we need something new. We could ask what measures we are taking to improve the safety of vehicles and enforcement. Are there roads that contribute to accidents? We have done very well to reduce the number of deaths on the roads from over 600. One hundred and sixty was the lowest annual number of deaths but the number is starting to increase again, unfortunately. Do we need to examine new approaches? Perhaps the new body might examine this. Does transport infrastructure improve safety? Is it making a contribution in this regard?
On safety, probably one of the luckiest days for transport safety in Ireland was the day when the Broadmeadow Estuary bridge in Malahide fell down. It is used by 90 trains per day. Happily, the driver saw what was happening and put on the alerts. We were so lucky that day. Have the rail safety lessons been learned? Is this an issue the new body the Minister is establishing might consider? The day in question must have been the luckiest for us in regard to safety.
With regard to unpaid tolls, the estimates from the M50 Liffey bridge are that approximately 10% of the vehicles are not registered. They do not pay tolls. Tolls are collected by means of recording electronically the registration numbers of the vehicles. If we have some way of collecting the lost revenue, which we need for the infrastructural projects, we must use it.
I was a bit taken aback by the number of unregistered vehicles recorded on Irish roads, using the M50 bridge as one of the recording points. A vehicle that is not taxed is, by definition, not insured. I support the Minister in taking measures to collect tolls and ensure motorists are using our roads legally.
Extending the Luas to Broombridge and connecting with the Sligo line, which the Minister mentioned, seems to be a very good idea. If we had extended the line to the airport even a small number of years ago, the track would have been built in open country. The longer we delay the project, the more expensive it will become because a substantial amount of the area will be built up. This is worth exploring.
The Minister referred to the updating of the business case for the DART underground project. To me, "business case" means advocacy. Analysis is much better. Since we have the port tunnel on the east side of the city and the M50, and since we are to have the new Luas line, it is possible to get to the airport remarkably quickly. Metro north does not seem to make sense and, therefore, the DART underground does not make sense. I welcome the Minister's initiative in reopening the line through the Phoenix Park between Connolly and Heuston stations. It will offer a service in Phibsborough and Cabra, where there is quite a lot of rail infrastructure.This opens up greater possibilities at lesser cost than the projects before us.
I welcome this Bill. The new functions for the National Roads Authority in relation to local roads are important and I look forward to discussing these further on Committee Stage.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I support the Bill. There is little one can contribute to this debate that has not been said already. Like Senator O'Neill I agree that the merger of two agencies which do similar jobs is a move in the right direction. I believe the NRA is doing a good job and will manage the merger well.
As is the norm in this House when we get a Minister in, we tend to deviate from the direct topic and raise a number of related issues. I have two particular issues which I would like to raise with the Minister, one of which I have raised with him before but on which he has not yet come back to me, namely, people aged over 70 who have never held a full driving licence. As the Minister is aware, people do not receive notification of expiry of their driving licences and, as such, they often forget to renew them. Currently, people aged over 70 who forget to renew their licence are required to undergo a theory test.
I know. Something needs to be done to assist these people. It is not the case that they will ever obtain a full licence if they have to undergo a theory test. I am sure most people in this House, including myself, would not pass a theory test. The only people who can pass them are 17 year olds who study for them. I would like if the Minister would consider an amnesty for these people and allow them to re-apply for a provisional licence, with notification on a three-year basis of the need for renewal of the licence.
The second issue I wish to raise with the Minister is that of insurance for young drivers. I have great sympathy for families who are trying to insure young drivers on provisional licences or who have recently passed their test and are required to display an N sign on their vehicle for two years. The cost of insurance for these drivers is approximately €1,400 per annum. Most families cannot afford that. In most cases, these drivers are college students.
Despite that they are away from home from Monday to Friday, often arriving home late on Friday and returning to college on Sunday, they are still required to be insured for 365 days a year at a cost of €1,400 when in reality they may only drive a car 80 days in a year. There is a need for some ministerial intervention in this regard. There are many other things that can be done to ensure that young drivers drive safely, including a limit on the number of hours they may drive and the setting of a time after which they may not drive and so on. We must do all that we can to bring about a reduction in the cost of insurance for young drivers. Many families cannot afford to pay high insurance costs and, in some cases, do not pay for it at all which means there are young drivers out on the roads without insurance, which is even more dangerous. I would welcome a response from the Minister on those two issues.
I welcome the Minister to the House and apologise in advance if I am not present to hear his response because I have to attend a committee meeting. Sinn Féin supports this legislation. Merger of the agencies concerned is a reasonable and sensible proposal. It is important we have joined-up transport infrastructure that works in harmony to provide a service not only for commuters but for businesses and the public. The proposed merger will combine the knowledge, expertise and experience of many qualified people working in both bodies concerned. It is a sensible and positive move which will benefit the development and delivery of infrastructure projects into the future. Obviously, the devil will be in the detail and the plans will need to be proceeded with carefully. Stakeholders should be consulted and there should be minimal disruption caused to workers and existing projects. That said, Sinn Féin supports this legislation.
I wish to raise two issues with the Minister arising out of his opening statement. The Minister mentioned the strategic review undertaken by the Department and stated that current levels of capital investment for transport infrastructure are insufficient to meet required standards and that this in itself could lead to more costly renewals in the future. Does the Minister believe that, given current financial projections in terms of the movement of the economy, these standards will be met into the future or is there a danger that build-up in this regard will increase such that it will not be possible for them to be met in the short to medium term? In the Minister's view, how long, owing to current levels of investment in transport infrastructure, will it take to deal with these renewals?
The Minister also stated that priority for additional capital funding will be on maintenance and renewal of the national, regional and local road network. A number of weeks ago I raised in this House with the Minister the local improvement schemes issue. I again stress the importance of this scheme and highlight how reduced funding has reduced, if not diminished, the capacity of county councils to use their own funding for the scheme. I hope that any plans that are being made for future investment and funding will include consultation with stakeholders such as county councils on how funding should be targeted and on how the Department and county councils can work together, not least to maintain and renew the national, regional and local network but, perhaps, to discuss how schemes such as the local improvement scheme can be enhanced and resourced in a real way. I know every Department, section and division has its pot out seeking more money but roads infrastructure is critical. It is difficult to promote road safety while some roads and lanes are not in ideal condition and councils have reduced roads funding spent before they get it.
Senator Barrett spoke about the tendering of bus routes, on which issue I, too, would like to comment briefly. Private companies will soon be able to bid for access to some of our public service obligation routes. It would be remiss of me not to mention the fear that there will be a drive to the bottom by some private companies, many of which could be larger multinational companies, thus undermining public transport companies on two levels. First, this could result in revenue being taken away from Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus. While it is not certain that Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus will not retain some of the routes put out to tender, new companies might pay their workers less or invest less in services as a means of achieving savings, which might not materialise. We do not want the State or those availing of these services to be ripped off. Second, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann could as a result of this proposal be forced to cut back on less profitable services in order to save many of the routes that will be subject to bidding. The fear is that rural routes in particular will be cut, thereby impacting on rural infrastructure and limiting the ability of people in the areas concerned to access urban centres.
As I said, Sinn Féin supports this legislation and the sensible proposal it provides for.
I, too, welcome the Minister to the House and compliment and congratulate him on the sure-footed manner in which he is handling his very wide brief. I share the views of Senator Barrett more than those of Senator Reilly in relation to the tendering for 10% of the bus routes. I would appeal to Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann to call off the strike and to continue engaging in meaningful discussions. A strike is not in anybody's interest. It will only discommode the public. The commitments and guarantees as outlined by the Minister on conditions of employment are significant and should be taken on board by the unions concerned.When I saw that the RPA was to be merged with the NRA, it brought memories flooding back of a major announcement by a previous Administration some years ago when there was to be a major decentralisation of Government Departments into rural Ireland. The RPA was to decentralise to Ballinasloe, and there was great excitement and joy in the area. I can only reflect on the fact that we could have had the two organisations decentralised to Ballinasloe, which would make sense geographically, given that it is in the centre of Ireland and at the heart of many of the infrastructure improvements that are happening throughout the country. Alas, it was not to be. I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward the Bill and on successfully steering through a merger that has been recommended for some years. As Senator O’Neill said, the McCarthy report of 2009 recommended that the two agencies be merged in light of the fact that they were delivering very significant infrastructure and that it would result in significant cost savings.
I hope the merger will be a template for how things can be done well. It appears that everything on the human resources side regarding the transfer to the merged premises has been sorted out well. The cost savings are significant and tangible, with reductions in administration costs, the number of people on boards and chief executives’ pay. The wider benefit is that it combines the technical expertise in the NRA and the RPA. It is important that we make such savings on an ongoing basis to ensure we have resources available for investment in the very significant infrastructural projects that are ongoing and that will hopefully be planned in future years. The Minister referred to the M17 and M18 Gort to Tuam project, which comprises 53 km of motorway and 4 km of dual carriageway. It is a very significant piece of infrastructure for the west and will have major economic benefits for the western seaboard, making access for business and personal use much easier.
I hope that before long, as we slowly edge towards a solution for our transport problems in Galway city, when the final solution is put in place, the investment that will be required for road and, I hope, light rail infrastructure will be forthcoming. While the outer bypass of Galway city is necessary, and hopefully a route will soon be agreed for it, Galway city’s traffic problems will never be fully solved by road infrastructure, and a light rail system must be very seriously considered. Today is a significant day in that we merge two bodies that play a very significant role in developing transport infrastructure, and I echo the Minister’s statement that TII "will play a key role in maximising the contribution that the State's investment in transport can make to supporting our growing economy and meeting Ireland's longer-term economic ... and environmental objectives". I wish the Minister continued success and I have no doubt that the benefits of the merger will be seen in years to come as we deliver the projects in a timely, efficient and cost-effective manner on all occasions.
On the face of it, this is a good Bill and makes much sense. The McCarthy report of 2009 recommended that the two bodies be merged, chiefly because of the overlap of services. Anybody observing the operation of the two bodies could see it. There is overlap in the work of the two bodies in procurement and the PPPs, and merging their expertise will be a step in the right direction. The envisaged saving of €300 million is very important. I do not know whether the Minister has had time yet to consider how the €300 million might be spent. The maintenance of the regional and local roads needs constant monitoring because their funding has decreased by 9%. Looking back at the bad old days, when those roads deteriorated they caused many difficulties. Travelling through some of those back roads, I see potholes beginning to emerge. This was the story in the old days. While I am not saying it relates to the 9% reduction, it is worthwhile to investigate it because we do not want this to happen. Although I am not saying potholes are widespread, some of the potholes I encountered were dangerous and deep. If there is any way of directing some of the €300 million towards that, it would be a step in the right direction.
The principle behind the merger makes much sense. Going back a long time before the last election, and arising from the McCarthy report, quangos were examined. Although many of them may have done good work in their time, much of their work became redundant. Often, those who have ownership of a quango do not want to let go of it. In the economic situation of the time, it was very difficult to make an argument that because they were in a position to do a particular job for a certain period of time they should be left there. We started to look in the right direction of how to maintain the quality of service while at the same time reducing the number of quangos, largely through mergers, and it seems to have worked out very well.
The Minister would be more up to speed regarding what has happened with staff as a result of some of the mergers over time, and it is a consideration in this merger. The Labour Relations Commission will be contacted about it. I suggest we keep our eye on the area. We must be careful with people's jobs but at the same time we must have value for money. Given that we have not yet christened the new body, it will be an important occasion. It will be good if it happens with a minimum of staff disruption. Generally, it is possible through voluntary redundancy and otherwise to achieve such a merger, and I am sure the Minister is on top of this. It should not be put on the long finger but should be part of what we are doing.
It makes great sense that the NRA are to have pre-planning discussions with An Bord Pleanála. I discussed this with somebody recently.Every applicant for planning permission should have the opportunity to engage in a more focused preplanning discussion with the planning authorities. Many people applied over the years to build one-off houses on family land. If the planning authorities were more open to discussion with a prospective applicant before the application had been made, many of the difficulties that arose subsequently could have been obviated at the time. I do not accept the argument that such an approach would diminish or dilute the planning structure. There may be cases where we have to be a little careful but if we want to focus on proper roads development, we should not wait until the application is submitted and goes through a process of appraisal and so on. If much of that work is done beforehand with An Bord Pleanála, it should be possible to submit an application which takes account of what the board requires. It would present a good opportunity to expedite planning permission.
Some Bills that come before us should have no political nuance whatsoever and this is one. Legislation should be introduced in the House more often on which we should not necessarily have to divide on political grounds. The public does not appreciate it when that happens and they will not forgive us too easily if we waste time on political posturing. That is why this is a good Bill and I am sure it will work well. If it saves €300 million, it is to be hoped the regional and local roads structure will be examined.
While planning is not covered by the legislation, perhaps the Minister will examine the possibility of legislating for a preplanning period because that would create more confidence in the planning structure. There is nothing worse than a person who has been refused planning permission saying it was granted for a house 100 yards away. Terrible planning applications have been granted in towns, and monstrosities stand out in them. Every time people pass them, they comment on how planning permission was ever granted for them. I wish the Minister well with the legislation.
I thank Senators Ó Murchú, Mullins, Barrett, Reilly, Kelly, O'Neill and White for their contributions, for the way they have approached what the Government and I are seeking to do, and for the observations they have made on the legislation. I will respond to the common themes of their contributions before turning to specific issues they raised.
I acknowledge the contribution Senator White's husband made as chairman of the Railway Procurement Agency and the work he did with the Industrial Development Authority. She acknowledge the success of the Luas. Approximately 30 million passengers are carried on light rail annually with the number increasing last year. We expect an additional 10 million passengers to be carried on the network when the Luas cross-city project is complete, not only because the new line will be provided but also because it will integrate with existing lines. which is important. That will present us with the opportunity to increase passenger numbers by almost one third. Works are taking place in Broombridge in my constituency and it is tremendous to see families stopping on the way to school to look at all the work taking place in an area through which rail lines used to pass. In many ways, we are going back to the future with these projects because we are recreating the transport infrastructure that was present in our city many decades ago. It is an exciting project, which is making good progress and I look forward to the opening of this line in 2017. I am particularly pleased that I was able to play a role in having the depot, which will be located adjacent to Broombridge station, named the Broombridge Hamilton station. Much of the equipment and carriages will be stored there. Sir Rowan Hamilton made a great mathematical breakthrough almost two hundred years ago at a bridge located near the depot and I look forward to us being able to commemorate that properly.
Senator White highlighted the value of public transport and pointed out that people feel good when they travel on the Luas. The reason for that is this is public transport done well. Another form of public transport that has been done well is that provided by our bus companies. Senators Barrett, Reilly and Mullins offered diverging views on this. Over recent days, I have commented publicly on the value I place on the role of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann and the CIE group in totality. My words alone might not be sufficient for many but if they are not, people should look at the track record of the decisions I have made recently in respect of that organisation. Prior to Christmas, I invested €101 million in the fleets of the CIE group to strengthen the company's financial position and in acknowledgement that this was needed by employees and the companies' passengers. I have been at pains to stress that following a process, which I acknowledge will cause worry, in the coming years we will have a bus market that is significantly bigger than it is now. Within that market, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann will do well and they are capable of doing even better. Many of my predecessors spoke about making the change I have proposed. We have reached this point and it has fallen to me to make it happen. The taxpayer is paying a huge amount to support public bus companies and the reason this change is being made is simply to ensure options are available to invest that money and make sure the best return is delivered on behalf of the taxpayer. Last year, these bus companies received €90 million in public service obligation funding.I aim to create an environment in which that funding can achieve even more for the taxpayer through a tendering process in which the public bus companies themselves will be competing.
Senator Reilly spoke about the fear that profitable routes might be, to use her phrase, cherry-picked by particular kinds of operators. That misses the point of what is going on. The routes being tendered out in this process are not commercial routes. We have commercial routes in our country, on which Bus Éireann and coach operators have been competing with each other every day for over 20 years. These are public service obligation routes, in which the taxpayer invests. We are not putting the market out to tender through this. We are putting out 10% of routes to achieve competitive tension. Senator Reilly also expressed her concern about the effect on working standards and living conditions, which I understand. However, we must remember this change is taking place inside a market that is already very highly regulated. Much of that regulation is economic in nature. I reiterate to the Seanad what I have already said publicly, most notably yesterday, namely, that I am committed to ensuring that the terms and conditions of employees who could be affected by this would be protected. We made this commitment through the Labour Relations Commission.
Senator White made the point that we need to come up with environments in which people are capable of delivering their best and in which efficiencies can be achieved. I strongly believe this change will deliver in this regard. Senator O'Neill posed a number of important questions in this regard. He noted the efficiency savings that are to be achieved and I acknowledge, as he did and as I did earlier, that it will be year three before we get to this point. That is because changes will have to be made to achieve the coherence we are seeking. That will cost money, but when those changes are made, I am confident that from year three onwards, savings will be delivered, which in turn can be returned to the taxpayer or used to deliver further services. While the efficiency savings do provide some of the rationale for doing this, Senator O'Neill said that if the NRA is a quango, it is a good quango. We are trying to get to a point where, in a country of our size, we have one organisation that has the tools, skills and expertise to manage particular kinds of infrastructure. That is what this project is about. Alongside that, it will give the people an organisation of sufficient scale for them to have opportunities to progress their own careers, develop their own skills and work on new projects and bigger things, which they might not have been able to do if these entities had stayed separate.
Senator Barrett touched on tendering. We have discussed the Aer Lingus and IAG matter before, so I will not go into it now, but he has commented on the many people who are encouraging me to hurry up. I will approach this matter carefully and spend the time required to ensure it is done right. That is what the House would expect me to do, not to mention the people of Ireland. The Senator made one point I agree with, namely, that we do not need to build new projects every year. I want to relate that to a point Senator Ó Murchú made and which Senators from all sides of the House have made to me in the Seanad and privately. I agree with his point and in the report I published on the Department's website yesterday on the strategic framework for investment in land transport, I made the point that we need to see the amount of funding available to land transport increase incrementally all the time. However, it is my contention that the main place that additional money needs to be spent is in maintaining what we have. My first priority in that regard is the local and regional road network the Senator has described. That local and regional road network constitutes approximately 93% of the roads in our country. I am very conscious from points that Senators have made and from doing my job across the breadth of our country that the parts of our transport infrastructure that are under the most pressure are our local and regional roads. When Senator Ó Murchú was framing his point around potholes, he spoke about the damage they can do. He is correct. Potholes and the deterioration of the surfaces of our local and regional roads provide a pressing challenge for this Department and for our local authorities. Over time, we need to respond to that challenge and invest in addressing it. Senator Barrett also made a point about the variety of projects out there. He said that we do not need advocacy, but rather analysis. I am replete with advocates and am glad to say I am also replete with analysts in my own Department and the National Transport Authority to rise to the point he has made. That is why, in respect of the transport option for the north side of the city, I ask the National Transport Authority to consider, on a like-for-like basis, what is the best way of responding to the transport challenge our city faces. While I am certain that when I make a recommendation, many people will still disagree, I would rather do that on the basis of analysis and conclusions that I will stand over than on the basis of either my personal views or the views of others.
Senator Kelly raised two points with me. I am sorry if I have not responded directly to him on those points, because he has raised them with me in the Seanad before. Regarding his request for an amnesty for the over-70s, I am sorry to disappoint him but amnesties are not the way to go in terms of addressing needs like this. We continue to have a pressing need to ensure the training is in place and the skills are in place among all those who hold driving licences, regardless of age. I would be concerned that any kind of amnesty would get around a very pressing need. Regarding insurance for young drivers, I take the Senator's point that it is very expensive for young drivers to get insurance for the first time. I want to see that as drivers gain experience on the roads, the insurance premiums they face reflect this level of experience. If they have not had any accidents and, if they have no, or few, penalty points, that should be reflected in the insurance premiums they face. I believe that happens in some cases, but I take the Senator's point about seeing if there is anything that could be looked at to encourage that to happen more. I accept that the cost of insurance is a growing concern for many people.
I have already addressed Senator Reilly's comments on my views on the tendering of bus services.With regard to her point on capital investment I have already touched on this.
I thank Senator Mullins for his points on tendering. We would have found ourselves in a different place if the Rail Procurement Agency had decentralised but it was not to be and will not happen now. It will be based on Parkgate Street. I am aware of the various points made by the Senator on what is happening and the discussion taking place on the transport options for Galway city. It is very much a matter for the local authorities in Galway to recommend a particular route. I hope that in the process of so doing it will recognise many of the concerns people have and I hope they will be alleviated. In terms of new light rail options, for the time being we will have our work cut out for us paying for the light rail options we have in Dublin and maintaining the hard rail network throughout the country. I suggest a transport priority we could deliver, which would make a big difference to many people, is making progress on the funding and quality of our local and regional roads which are of concern to many of the Senator's constituents and many local authority members throughout the country.
I have touched on the points made by Senator Ó Murchú on local and regional roads. I share his views on quangos. Sometimes I feel the word "quango", which I have used myself in the past, may be pejorative to those working in the agencies. These agencies were created to do work which was deemed valuable at the time by either the Government or society. Just because a quango or organisation is dissolved or integrated into another body it does not mean the work does not need to be done. It does need to be done, but by fewer people operating in smaller organisations.
The way our public servants have responded to do far more with less is to their credit. I heard Senator White touch on the levels of inefficiency we hear spoken about every day, which do exist as they do in the private sector; I have worked in both. We continue to face many challenges, which I have acknowledged and stated they exist, regarding work practices and the changes we need to make in how we deliver public services. I am in the middle of such an issue with regard to the tendering of bus routes. We must also acknowledge the huge work our public servants have done in responding to great challenges at a time when far less was available to them. The NRA and the RPA have played a role in this. The Labour Relations Commission is already playing a role in dealing with matters that are sensitive to employees in both companies.
Senator Ó Murchú indicated the savings this might lead to may be in the ballpark of €300 million; oh, but that they could be. We estimate they will be approximately €3 million to €4 million. I regretfully disappoint the Senator and I do so genuinely because I would be even happier than him if it were so. I may have got my words wrong or the Senator may have misunderstood me as I was speaking. I agree with him that as the savings are delivered and as more money becomes available, local and regional roads are very important candidates for it. While these savings of €3 million to €4 million form part of the rationale they are not all of it. The broader background to this is that for economy of our size and for transport infrastructure of the scale we have and which we are likely to have in future it is very appropriate that we have a single body, and that within this single body we look for further efficiencies and give opportunities to all staff to develop their skills and careers and have the opportunity to work on new projects, and by doing so deliver what will be contained in the title of the new body, which is transport infrastructure for Ireland.
I apologise for missing that question. Given the number of contracts in which the NRA is involved I believe it prudent that the statutory name of the organisation be maintained to ensure we continue to meet our legal obligations seamlessly.