Tuesday, 20 October 2015
I welcome the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe to the House. He is always welcome to this Chamber, seeing he was a by-product of this great Seanad.
Senator Mooney has four minutes.
I too welcome the Minister. This is the first time that two people with the name Paschal have been involved in a debate on different sides of the motion. That is a little bit of history.
In November 2013, Leitrim County Council submitted an application to the National Cycle Network, NCN local authority funding scheme 2014-16. I understand from Leitrim County Council that five projects were funded nationally but the Leitrim project was number six on the list and just lost out. The matter is a constant source of debate and dialogue in that part of the county. That application was a single application for the development of the greenway from Drumduff, County Leitrim on the Leitrim-Sligo border to Blacklion in County Cavan, a distance of 40 km, the application contained two clear options for funding one of two distinct phases. The first option was for a bound surface from Drumduff to Manorhamilton, a distance of 18 km at a then cost of €2.3 million and-or for a bound surface from Mahorhamilton to Blacklion, a distance of 22 km at a cost of €4.3 million. Leitrim County Council considered that its application had the potential to deliver considerable social, recreational and economic benefit and looked forward to the feedback from the Department on it. As I have said, the application was unsuccessful on that occasion.
I have raised this issue because the Government has indicated in recent weeks that it will provide extra funding for the development of greenways. The Taoiseach, as the Minister knows, was present in Moate for the official opening of a greenway in that part of the world. It was interesting that the chairman of Westmeath County Council, Councillor Paul Daly, referred to that piece of railway track being used in the movie "The First Great Train Robbery" starring Sean Connery. I remember seeing that film which I would recommend to Members. This is now part of a greenway that will stretch from Dublin to Galway.
The Minister will be very aware of how important tourism is to County Leitrim, which has a very low industrial manufacturing base, in particular the area around Manorhamilton to the Sligo border. The development of tourism attractions is crucial to the future economic wellbeing of the area. This can only happen with State aid, as there are insufficient resources within the county council and the local communities to develop the greenway - much and all as they have the will and the desire to develop it. Everybody is in favour of developing this disused railway track dating from the middle of the last century. This is not a new issue and I am sure it has been on the Minister's desk, from before the time he took over. I hope he will have some positive news for me.
I thank Senator Mooney for raising this issue. This is the first time we have dealt with each other on a matter like this. It is the first time we have had a Commencement matter to address. What we now need is for Paschal Sheehy to cover this item and then it will be a historic coming together of different Paschals across the country.
I agree with Senator Mooney that greenways are making a significant contribution to tourism development across the country and also to sustainable transport. I am reliably informed that the greenway the Taoiseach opened on Sunday was being actively used by local residents long before it was officially opened, such was the recognition of its use and value.We are all familiar with various greenways in place across the country that have the kind of economic effect described by the Senator. We have only to look at the work under way in Waterford and what it is doing in regard to greenway development. We are all familiar with the success of the greenway in Mayo and the effect it has had on many of the communities located along side it. The challenge we face in terms of greenways is twofold. The first is funding, an issue on which I have to respond as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, but the second - I am not saying it applies to this proposal - is that as we look at expanding the number of greenways in the future, we will have to work to ensure they are all of the quality required and that they are located in and traverse through areas that reflect the best practice of tourism. Fáilte Ireland has done much research on the development of greenways across Ireland and Europe. It is clear they need to be constructed in a certain way and traverse through communities and amenities in a particular way in order to generate the demand that will make these good investments by central Government and local authorities.
In regard to the particular greenway the Senator has raised, my Department is aware of the proposal. I acknowledge the quality of the work under way. In relation to how funding might be imminently drawn down for this project, I confirm it is my understanding that the local authority is putting together a very good proposal on how the greenway could access EU INTERREG funding. Given the way the greenway is being constructed, I believe it may well meet many of the criteria laid down for this funding stream. I recommend that this be considered at the first opportunity for two reasons - first, the call for applications for the funding programme will open on 4 December and, therefore, there is a window of opportunity for the greenway to access funding and second, this programme and the way it is constructed makes available a very high percentage of the total amount of the cost of the project. This particular funding stream has the ability to deliver up to 85% of the total cost which would be a massive contribution to the construction of this greenway were it to be successful. My Department and I will certainly be available to help in any way we can to support the application and ensure it is as effective and as comprehensive as possible. As this funding opportunity will be open soon and as it can offer a significant amount of funding, it offers the best opportunity for this project to get funding to allow it to move to construction in the future.
I have been made aware of what the Minister has outlined in regard to INTERREG V. The council is very much on top of this and as the Minister indicated, it is in the process of putting together an application. However, it begs the question that the Minister is dealing with a local authority with limited resources. There is a 15% shortfall in funding. In raising the issue, I did not want to muddy the waters by referring to the INTERREG issue as I wanted to get an indication of the Department's and the Minister's thinking on it, which is supported by Cavan County Council and Sligo County Council. Sligo County Council is making a separate application for its end of the project. This project was specifically about Leitrim but there is also the cross-Border element. I am unsure whether the Minister can give an indication at this point but in the event of Leitrim County Council getting funding and were it to require financial support to fulfil the other 15%, because I do not know from where that would come, would it be a matter for the Department to consider an application from Leitrim County Council? I thank the Minister for taking this matter and for outlining the importance he attaches to greenways in general and to this one in particular. I reiterate the Minister can appreciate the reason there is such universal support in County Leitrim for this proposal because it could prove to be a catalyst for the development of further incoming tourist numbers other than residents. This applies in particular in a region that as a former chairman of Fáilte Ireland north west, I am aware has the lowest level of visitors of all regions in Ireland because of its peripheral nature and other reasons. The Minister can understand why I perceive issues like this as being of great importance in the development of a quality tourism product.
Indeed. I am confident that were the local authority to go ahead with the project and were it to be successful in its application for INTERREG funding, it would be able to find from within its own resources the final 15%, if that was what was required. In advance of that, however, it might be more sensible for me to state I support the application the council intends to make for INTERREG funding and as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I very much recognise the value of this project. The Senator has already touched on its cross-Border element and I also point to the degree to which I understand it would mirror the Shannon-Erne Waterway for some parts of it at least. The local authority is doing good work at present in preparing an application and for the time being, it would be wise for everyone to concentrate their efforts on how to best support that application and to cross all those bridges in the future as to how other funding could be found, were that need to materialise.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter and agree wholeheartedly it is the kind of project that would make a great difference to allow more people to experience the beauty of County Leitrim.