Seanad debates

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Commencement Matters

Regional Road Network

10:30 am

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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Thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for putting this motion in the Commencement debate. I would be grateful to hear the Minister's response.

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Mooney for raising this matter. I acknowledge his continued interest in this issue and likewise that of my colleague, Senator Michael Comiskey, who has also raised the matter. I know they have an interest in everything that is going to happen to the cottage and everything around it in the run-up to our commemorative period for 1916. The matter has been raised with me by many members of Leitrim County Council at executive level as well as by elected members of the local authority.

The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads in Leitrim, such as the L6196, is the statutory responsibility of Leitrim County Council, in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from the council's resources and are supplemented by funding made available by the State. The selection and prioritisation of these works is, therefore, a matter for the council.

Ireland has a little less than 100,000 km of road in the network. The maintenance of the national, regional and local road networks is a substantial financial requirement for local authorities and the Exchequer. I will set out some context in respect of the challenges involved in meeting that need. In 2008 funding for our local, regional and national road network stood at €2.3 billion, while funding for the same road network for this year is approximately €760 million. Continual challenges arise because the available funds do not meet the amount of work that needs to be undertaken.

I announced the 2015 regional and local road allocations on 3 February this year. Leitrim County Council was allocated €6.6 million, including €3.3 million under the restoration improvement grant programme and €1.57 million under the discretionary grant. In addition - I am keen to emphasise this point - in July this year the council received an additional €546,000 as part of the Supplementary Estimate under my Department. The Supplementary Estimate will be going through the Oireachtas in the coming weeks. Additional money was made available to Leitrim County Council and it was up to the council to decide how it allocated funding. The position is that all available funding from my Department for this year has now been allocated. The original base funding was made available in the way I have described. Then, additional funding was made available at the start of the summer to allow local authorities to plan works they deem necessary across the balance of this year. Therefore, I will have no additional funding available for this year.

I will continue to look to secure the best possible allocation for local and regional roads with a view to next year, but it remains the case that it will be up to local authorities to decide how they wish to allocate funding. The road in question must be seen in that context as well as in the context of the funding that Fáilte Ireland has already made available to fund work which, I acknowledge, needs to be done at the cottage.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I am grateful to the Minister for his response. Naturally, I am disappointed. I was approaching the matter on the basis that I understand the council is not only seeking funding for the road to the Seán Mac Diarmada cottage, but that similar projects in other parts of the country require funding as well, specifically, Banna Strand, County Kerry. Perhaps the Minister has received representations on that matter too.

I took the view that in light of the imminent commemorations, a special allocation might be made by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport for the works. I am keen to put on the record that according to the area engineer, the cost of providing road maintenance, resurfacing and the provision of a lay-by in what is a narrow mountain road, as my colleague, Senator Comiskey, knows well, is not inordinate. Moreover, if the problem is not addressed, it will create traffic chaos since we expect an increase in tourist traffic as a result of the commemorations next year. According to the council, the cost is a modest €100,000. According to what those in the council have told me and others, the council simply does not have that money available given the priorities. The Minister has indicated that the considerable difference between the 2008 allocation and the current allocation would give the truth to that view.

Small local authorities like Leitrim County Council have a small rate base. Consequently, they rely more heavily than any other county on the allocation coming from Government.

As the Minister is aware, there has been an all-party non-party approach at Leitrim County Council repeatedly in recent years to try to get some money. I wish to put on record that approaches have been made to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which does not provide money for roads. The Office of Public Works spends public money on maintaining the cottage because it is a national monument. Leitrim County Council is allocating money having acquired land adjoining the cottage for a car park. That is badly needed because car parking in the immediate vicinity of the cottage, as Senator Comiskey will testify, is rather poor and somewhat limited. The council is making efforts in so far as it can.

I wish to put another question to the Minister. The Minister indicated that the allocation was made in February this year. Presumably, the Minister will be making announcements for the 2016 programme. When does he anticipate that he will make announcements on the allocation under the roads programme to local authorities such as Leitrim County Council?

Overall, I am grateful to the Minister. I know his heart is in the right place on this question. I am not in any way attempting to be political about it. This is a non-political issue. We are proud of the fact that Seán Mac Diarmada comes from our county. The people of Kiltyclogher have particular pride in the fact that he comes from their community. Collectively, the people of the county will acknowledge that in the context of the commemorations next year this is an attempt to make the road more accessible for what will be increased traffic on the road.

If a tour bus goes up that road in its present condition, it will be queueing for hours. I hope there will be some sort of accommodation and some improvements. Perhaps in the context of my question to the Minister there might be an opportunity for the council to allocate the money required. Again, I thank the Minister.

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Mooney for his remarks. Of course I acknowledge the importance of the renovation and restoration of the cottage as a heritage and tourism development. I understand entirely the interest and local pride that the communities in the county of Senators Mooney and Comiskey have in respect of the matter. That is one of the reasons Fáilte Ireland, which is an agency of my Department, made an allocation and contribution to the work that needs to be done on the cottage.I acknowledge the work done and planned by the local authority with regard to the car park.

In the context of the road itself and the timing of future allocations, in the coming weeks we will determine and confirm the allocation for each county for local and regional roads. This funding will be available to Leitrim County Council. As regards the cost of the road and as already stated, I made an additional €500,000 available to Leitrim County Council earlier this year - I made similar allocations available to every other local authority throughout the country - and I made clear to it that this funding could be spent in any way it saw fit. A decision was obviously made to invest the money elsewhere. I will continue to recognise the discretion the council has with regard to the funding we make available to it for next year. I hope progress can be made on the road but I am not currently in a position to state whether further funding will be available this year for this or other projects. The investment needed to complete what is required to allow people access to the cottage in order that they might see it will, for the time being, be a matter for the local authority to determine, either out of its own resources or out of the additional funding I will make available to it, as a matter of course, for local and regional roads in the coming weeks.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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As a general principle, is the Minister confident the Estimate for his Department will accommodate an increase in the national roads allocation next year?

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator is straying from the motion.

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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Work is being done at present. What has happened in recent times is that the largest allocation is made at the beginning of the year. This gives local authorities the ability to plan what they will do and, for various reasons, such as Supplementary Estimates or stimulus funding becoming available, additional money is made available on top of the base allocation. At present, I am reasonably confident the initial allocation I will make - in other words the plan for the year - will be roughly in line with the position which obtained a year ago. If further funding becomes available in the course of the year, it will fall to the next Government to decide where it might be allocated. This is what has happened in recent years.

Sitting suspended at 11.13 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.