Wednesday, 7 March 2018
Project Ireland 2040: Statements
I welcome this opportunity to say a few words on behalf of the Government on Project Ireland 2040, which is joint initiative with the national planning framework and the national development plan. There are a few thoughts I would like to share in advance of the Senators' contributions, and the officials in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform would have regard to those as well. I thank the House for the opportunity to make these opening remarks.
The construct of the national development plan, which is the expenditure element of Project Ireland 2040, comes from the foundations of a recovering economy. That facilitates our current position, where the capital envelope that we have available to us as a Government is of the order of €116 billion over ten years. It is important for those in the House and everybody else to put this in perspective. It is a short period in some ways but a long time in other ways, if we consider the effects that the economic crash had on the country, and it is a phenomenal achievement to be in a position to bring forward an investment package of anything of the order of €116 billion for the people of Ireland. It is the contribution, work and sacrifices of the people of Ireland that have resulted in the economic position we currently enjoy, led by the policies adopted over the past few years, many of which were criticised and opposed in this and the other House. We are where we are and we now have the money to invest in a variety of different projects.
The plan includes €91 billion of direct Exchequer-related funding and a further €25 billion from our semi-State companies, which will be empowered under the national development plan. They have signalled the projects already identified as priority areas across a range of sectors, including ports, airports and other elements.Some €75 billion is new funding. There are many new projects not identified nor referred to previously. As confirmed, investment will be among the highest in the European Union. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, have often referred to the lost decade Ireland endured over the last number of years. This is certainly something we are now playing catch-up with. However, we are lucky to be in a situation where we have the money and investment opportunity to do this.
The plan is based on costed and prudent projections of growth for 2% over the period 2022 to 2027. That is important bearing in mind, and we have said this both here and elsewhere, the shocks that could potentially be out there on the horizon for this economy and, as a result, for the people. The growth rates are based on projections the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance are happy to stand over.
In respect of how the national development plan was developed, and how it came to be where it is today, public consultation was formally started by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in March 2017. That public consultation included engagements at a political level and requests made in many of the Topical Issue matters debates, Commencement matters debates and parliamentary questions and by delegations from local authorities and so on. There was also extensive consultation on the national planning framework. That is the document on which the national development plan is predicated. It is the first time in the history of rolling out either a national development plan or a planning framework that we do not have one in isolation from the other and have both of them together. We now have the plan and the money to deliver on the projects we believe are important.
The different regions across the country are going to feel differently about how the plan is going to impact on them. The projects are going to be different. I want to refer to my own region and I am sure Senators will use the opportunity to reference their own areas as well. I will give an example of a region outside Dublin that often is referenced and how that may-----
-----benefit from capital investment. A decision has finally been taken in the mid-western region on existing and additional bed capacity in University Hospital Limerick. Limerick Institute of Technology, LIT, and the University of Limerick, UL, are being allowed to develop new facilities, such as engineering facilities in LIT. The Shannon Foynes Port Company, the only strategic port of national importance on the west coast, will be able to extend its capacity. Wide-bodied hangers are being constructed at Shannon Airport. New students will enter UL with additional sports facilities and student recreation areas. Anybody who has ever had reason to travel to Limerick, Tralee or Killarney will know the bottlenecks in Adare, Newcastle West and Abbeyfeale. The N21 is finally going to deal with them. There will also be improvements in other road infrastructure in the region. That is only one example of one region. There are other regions in the country, whether in the south, east or north west, where specific projects can also be identified.
The linkages needed on the Atlantic corridor are one of the key fundamental cornerstones of this development plan. That is why the Government committed to the completion of the N20 early in the lifetime of this plan. It has long been spoken about and there are Senators in this House from the southern region, including Cork, and from the west.
We know counterbalance is badly needed between Dublin and the west coast. The conurbation of Dublin can only be balanced if Galway, Limerick and Cork are brought closer together. We already have the motorway link from Limerick to Galway. Now we are in the situation where we are able to provide the funding and green light for planning to proceed on the M20 from Limerick to Cork. This will represent €900 million or thereabouts. There will be little change out of €1 billion. That is proof, if any was needed, of the Government's investment in a rural area in the mid-west and in the south.
Support for rural areas is an issue that has often been raised in the Seanad and in the other House. This plan includes specific targets and specific programmes for investment in a range of areas, including broadband, roads, tourism and in agriculture. By 2020, on the basis of the plan we have in situfor the connection to broadband, we will have 90% coverage of premises to high speed broadband. That is one of the key drivers and enablers for the development of the rural economy and I know there are many Senators here this evening from rural areas. I want to thank those Senators who have turned up to engage in this debate because I know the importance that they place on it. The plan will also allow other areas of the east to develop as counterbalances to Dublin itself.
I mentioned the risk factors that are there. This plan will be predicted on economic factors. I know Senators have debated on many occasions the issue of Brexit and the all-island economy. The Government, through the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister for Finance, has been very clear that in relation to Brexit the national development plan will allow for better quality infrastructure to mitigate against the effects. Previously, we have seen the Government's commitment to this, particularly in the north west and the Border region. Investment particularly relevant in the context of Brexit will include the areas of the integrated transport network, energy and communications and new resources for tourism development. I am a former Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport so I know how important the development of tourism is, particularly given the exposure to Brexit, and now that we have growing numbers of people working in that sector. It is close on 10% of the total number of people who work in Ireland, supporting communities and economies across the country.
I refer also to supporting Brexit-exposed firms to diversify into international markets. The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, is keen through her agencies, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, to drive that and I have seen that at first hand overseas. We also have for the first time a new disruptive technology fund. We are all becoming more aware of disruptive technologies in a very challenging environment for the economy and for exporters in particular, but also for the domestic economy. The fund will allow access to supports not there heretofore.
Recently, as Senators will be aware, there has been some dialogue and conversation in respect of the use and roll out of the public private partnership, PPP, model. The completion of the review into the PPPs will be published shortly. PPPs will continue to form a part of the delivery of key infrastructure. Over many years, we have seen that they have been an effective procurement option. I am the Minister of State with responsibility for procurement. Yes, there have been challenges. As a Government, we are committed to resolving those. However, we are also committed to driving the clear principles of value for money as well as project delivery.
The plan builds on previous reforms, including the public spending code and the establishment of the Office of Government Procurement. As I mentioned previously both here and in the other House, I have further ambition in respect of the Office of Government Procurement. Any Member of the Houses who has served on the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach or on the Committee of Public Accounts, any Member of the Dáil or anyone reading the Comptroller and Auditor General's report would see clearly that we have continuing issues in relation to public procurement and public governance. This is one of the areas into which the Office of Government Procurement is going to have to try to delve more and it is my intention, as Minister of State, to push that agenda. We are going to have many and competing demands in the area of procurement now that we have in excess of €116 billion to spend over ten years. We want to make sure we do it right. We want to make sure it is delivered to the areas to which it needs to be delivered and that we make sure we have proper project appraisal, delivery and management.Having come from the engineering section of a private sector company, I know that product and project delivery and schedule adherence is something to which the public service has to become more attuned. However, I know the public service is up for that through the Office of Government Procurement and through the public spending codes.
We also need to continue the implementation of the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund, IMF, assessment carried out in 2017. We need, in particular, to continue to drive the infrastructure project steering group that will be established in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. It is one thing having a plan but it is another making sure we continue the delivery. We will monitor that delivery. That will be done on a centralised basis through the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and also through other Departments drawing down funding, whether it is education, health, transport or whatever, or State agencies. We need to make sure monitor delivery and value for money from the centre. Ultimately, what is important here is that we deliver the projects but that we have regard to value for money in respect of the taxes that have been collected from the people which allow us to spend this money.There is a rural and urban element and the sum of €4 billion is split on a 2:1 basis. Taking the population of the country, it will be seen that the expenditure element is stacked in favour of rural areas, and rightly so. By rural I mean small towns and villages.
As Senators will know, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, is at a new Department. It is now up and running and is delivering on schemes that this House and the Lower House have constantly demanded. We now have a fund worth €1 billion. The Minister for Rural and Community Development and his officials are considering projects and methodologies for the expenditure of that money. I encourage the Senators to liaise directly with him because he is open to hearing ideas from all of us, in particular from rural areas, on how to stem the tide of people leaving towns and villages. Will shops be reopened in the future? I do not know. I come from a rural area and I know that we will have rural regeneration if one or two more families decide to live on every street in villages in the country. One of the areas that I have spoken to him about is rural dereliction and the possibility of providing direct or indirect supports for local authorities or property owners. The measure would address rural dereliction, make places more attractive to people and, as a result, services in the commercial and private worlds would follow. It is important to point out that there is a regeneration fund for urban development which can also be used for rural development.
All I wanted to do in this debate was to share with Senators my thoughts as Minister of State and, more importantly, hear what types of projects they would like to be delivered. In terms of everything that is committed by way of spending that is already guaranteed to be delivered to particular projects, there will be elements of discretion within individual Departments. Interestingly, over recent weeks, there has been some noise about the delivery and publication of the national development plan. However, I have yet to hear anybody say that he or she did not like a particular project. Everybody agrees with having a national development plan. Some people have suggested that had we followed those people's economic policies for the past five years, which consisted of telling the European Union to take its money and shove it in their you know where, we would have reached the position that we enjoy today, but that is not true. We would not have €116 billion to spend over ten years. I hope that the Seanad will do what it has always done any time that I have been here and engage constructively and proactively to see how things can be improved upon. If a Senator wants to say he or she does not like something, then please suggest an alternative project and what roads and hospital extensions should be removed from the plan. Everything in the plan has come by way of parliamentary input, public consultation and direct input by individual Departments. The plan has not been concocted on the basis of no need. The plan is based on very clear population growth projections supplied by the Central Statistics Office, CSO. It also has very clear and committed growth rates for our economic situation supplied by the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The documents are costed and balanced in terms of where we believe the greatest level of need will be from an infrastructural point of view.
The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has outlined the national planning framework. I am sure there will be opportunities in the House to consider the national planning framework from a planning point of view. From the point of view of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the capital envelope that we have available to us at the moment is one that is only available due to the sacrifices that were made by the people of Ireland, together with the economic policies that were pursued over the past six to seven years, in particular, and which have allowed us to balance our books, have a balanced budget and, more importantly, have the ability to invest in capital. The population of Ireland is growing and will increase by 500,000 more people. We will also have 300,000 more people at work. This year we will have the greatest number of people ever at work in Ireland. I hope we will reach full employment this year. We were told by all of the naysayers that full employment would never happen, that we would need a double bailout, that we should leave the euro, wind up the banks and tell everyone in Europe to go to hell on a donkey. If we had done that, where would we be now? We probably would be in an invidious position compared with some other countries that went into a bailout situation like us. They now look at Ireland with envy and wonder how we managed to have the largest capital envelope, based on the number of people who live here, of any EU or eurozone country. We have such success because the people of Ireland made sacrifices. The communities here that were starved of investment over the past ten years now need investment. The Taoiseach has often referred to that decade as the lost decade.
I am sure that the Acting Chairman and all of the Senators have digested the plan and will agree that the plan has content for the whole country. We want to see the country developed as a whole. We want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to rear a family, have a home and job in their local area, and provide that opportunity for themselves and future generations. That is what this plan and the national planning framework are about. I look forward to hearing suggestions and remarks from Senators. I commend the plan to the House and thank everyone for their forbearance.
I have eight minutes but the Minister of State spoke for 19 minutes. I will do my best to respond to him in the time allocated. My party has done it before and we will do it again. I made very constructive comments when he was here for statements on the mid-term review of the capital plan last year. Certainly, my purpose in this Chamber is to be constructive and helpful. It is fantastic news that €116 billion will be spent as part of the national development plan. Interestingly, in the statement provided by the Minister of State, there are nine bullet points under the heading "Investment in Limerick and the Southern Region." Perhaps there are so many bullet points due to him being the Minister of State. Perhaps the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, or his Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, would have read the exact same speech or maybe not. I am very fond of Limerick and I am very fond of many people in Limerick and Limerick city and county. I know people in Pallaskenry who vote for the Minister of State and will do it again, and probably on my recommendation. This is a national development plan and, therefore, we need to ensure that we consider it as a national development plan.
I recall one occasion where a certain Minister reminded me that Senators do not have constituencies and I replied that I had one where I live. I am a representative in the national Parliament, just like Senator Craughwell and most Senators. We are elected, thankfully, by the 31 local authorities in the country along with members of the outgoing Seanad and incoming Dáil. Senators are national politicians. Therefore, I am as interested in Buncrana in Donegal, New Ross in Wexford, Carlingford in Louth and Dingle in Kerry as I am in south Dublin. I am as interested in south Dublin as everywhere else. Today, we are discussing a national development plan that seems to revolve around the M20 motorway. I am concerned that the Minster of State, in his speech, has listed bullet points for Limerick and the southern region. When we discussed the mid-term review of the capital plan in the House, I was not only the only Senator from Dublin, I was the only Senator from Leinster out of a total number of 60 Senators. Every other contributor that was present was from Connacht, Ulster and Munster. I just wanted to put that fact on record.
I welcome the national development plan, as I am sure we all do. I was Chair of the Dublin Regional Authority when the national development plan was launched in 2007 and it was a fantastic project. To be fair, it was well endorsed and welcomed by the Opposition. Lots of the plan happened but some of it did not. We need to remember that we have a comprehensive Luas project in Dublin that we would like to expand. The project is certainly a lot bigger than it was 15 years ago. We now have quality bus corridors, QBCs, that did not exist 20 years ago. We have lots of very important strategic infrastructure. A national motorway programme has been built and at the time people said that the boom was blown. Let us face it, we have a motorway project that has given us motorways to Galway, Limerick, Waterford, Cork and Belfast, which is fantastic. Let us not say that every penny that was spent during the boom years never delivered.
I happen to be a chairperson of a secondary school, and I was a chairperson of a different secondary school during the boom years. I can confirm that lots of windows and laboratories were replaced and many schools were built. I can confirm that lots of improvements were made during NDPs in the past. National development plans are very important. We have to acknowledge that the difficulty with this plan, which is probably a good development in some ways for the Government, is the spin associated with it. For the past two or three weeks we have not been talking about the plan. We have had a chat about "Snowmageddon" and all the rest but we have moved the dialogue away from the actual content of the €113 billion, €115 billion or €116 billion plan; the figure has been moved around somewhat. The dialogue is all about the strategic communications unit, SCU, the spin and the advertorials, which is very unfortunate for Project Ireland 2040. We can forget about how good or bad it is for the Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran, the Fine Gael Party or the Minister, Deputy Naughten, who did not manage to make the cut in the Athlone advertorial or non-advertorial. The issue is that we have a national development plan that has been manipulated and massaged by central government. I am not blaming the Minister of State who is in the Chamber. I have no doubt he is a man of integrity and honesty who is doing his best for his area, but equally for national Government as much as for the people of rural Limerick. However, we have a project now that is mired in spin, the strategic communications unit, John Concannon and everything that goes with that. The difficulty now is that we have plans and projects that are being constantly re-announced. I have the height of respect for Senator Paddy Burke and Senator Colm Burke who are in the Chamber and will have to deliver a response on behalf of the Government, and more power to them. However, they have been put in a difficult and unfortunate position in that they have to stand up here and defend the spin machine I do not believe either of them or the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, created, but they are stuck with it.
The reality is that we have invested €116 billion in a project, €42 billion of which was announced in 2015. It does not tackle issues in the short and medium term. As somebody who lives on the expanded Luas line, the Acting Chairman, Senator Craughwell, will be aware that the Luas service is worse now than ever was the case. He or I cannot deny that. I spoke to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, about that in the finance committee and he said we had a thriving green line and that he was sure the red line was equally as good. We are stuck in a situation now where its performance is far below what it was previously.
The plans have failed to establish a new national infrastructure commission to take the politics out of these long-term issues. The local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, has not really worked. As raised by my party leader, the Government strategic communications unit has paid for advertising content that is not identified as such. It has been raised many times since the announcement of Project Ireland 2040. It is genuinely sad that we are here in the Seanad discussing that two or three weeks after the launch of the national development plan. I got this copy of the national development plan today, not yesterday, two weeks ago or three weeks ago. The hard copy arrived in my pigeon hole today, and I saw copies in many other Members' pigeon holes. I will not go back to look at the date it was launched and count the number of days between then and now but it is at least three weeks since it was launched.
I wish the national development plan well. We need balanced regional development. We need Dublin to be a thriving city region competing with other city regions across Europe and the world. The Minister of State has a hard job defending the plan. It is unfortunate for him that he has been sent here by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to defend it. I will support him and the Government in everything they are trying to do on behalf of Project Ireland, but the way it was launched and the way it has been addressed so far is unfortunate.
I welcome the Minister of State. In terms of what the previous speaker said, I got my copy of Project Ireland 2040 on the day it was announced. I had an interest in it so I went looking for it and it was available. I am delighted to have a second copy because I know many people were looking for copies. I am aware that councillors throughout the country were very keen and active in that regard, including the Minister of State in his party. I sent out approximately 900 copies to people by email because they were interested.
That is even better. They will have two copies each.
I take on board what Senator Horkan said. He is right, but I am not surprised that the Minster of State should come in here as a Limerick-based Deputy and promote his projects in Limerick. I acknowledge that and fair play to him. I would do the same.
Before I go into the depth of the plan and analyse it, I want to flag two issues close to my heart involving an area where I live in Dún Laoghaire, namely, Cherrywood and the LIHAF. We have a scheme to build 8,000 houses in Cherrywood and we were informed by the county manager and some staff at a briefing the other day that there was now a potential shortfall of €75 million to get this project going. Cherrywood is a strategic development zone with the potential to develop 8,000 homes and we are still not sure about the Minister's intentions regarding the LIHAF. It would be helpful if the Minister of State asked the Minister if he could make his views known and publicly indicate his commitments regarding the LIHAF and also on the question of affordability. What is the deal in terms of the delivery of affordable houses in Cherrywood?
Second, the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire is in bits, so to speak. Successive Governments promised that a new hospital would be built on the site. Some months ago the Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, came out to turn a sod for a new development of 120 beds, but that will not be an additional 120 beds. The plan is to build 120 beds in two or three wings and knock down the existing 120 beds. There will be no increased capacity. I have attended three official announcements of a new hospital for the National Rehabilitation Hospital in the past ten years but there will not be a new hospital. There will be a phase 1 and phase 2 of a development. We need to be clear as to whether this is phase 1, phase 2 or a case of double counting. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State could revert to me on that. We are talking about new beds and a new hospital. The Government is aware of the issue because I raise it every few weeks here in the Seanad. Twelve beds were closed on 1 January 2017 and despite numerous promises by numerous Ministers in this House to the effect that they will be reopened, we got confirmation the other day that six of them remain closed over a year later, with hundreds of patients waiting in acute beds to get into this hospital. The Minister of State invited us to comment on local issues and I wanted to raise that one.
I fully support the national development plan. It is a strong and positive move. It is great when all the plans are put in one cover and key objectives are set to deliver on them. My understanding of the journey of this national planning framework is that we will have compact growth and enhanced regional accessibility. We will strengthen rural economics in communities. They are key objectives of this plan. We will have sustainable mobility. A strong support for enterprise, innovation and skills is clearly set out in the plan. There will be high quality international connectivity. There will be enhanced amenity and heritage; there is a very good section on amenity and heritage. There will be a transition to a low carbon and climate resilient society, which is a topical and appropriate measure to include in a plan, and we will have sustainable management of our wastewater and other environmental resources. That is key. The plan further sets out the objective of access to quality child care, education and health services. Those strategic objectives are set out clearly in the plan and I could not argue with any of them. I would have liked to have seen more included but that is what is in the plan, and it is all very positive.
In terms of the strategic investments and priorities tied up with the plan, having studied it in great depth it is my understanding that we will have a housing and sustainable urban development, rural development and increased enterprise skills and innovative capacity - that has to be positive. There will be investment in culture, heritage and sports as part of the investment priorities tied up in the plan. Importantly, and we have seen it again in recent days, there will be major investment in the water infrastructure, which is critical for this country.The plan also covers the national roads network, environmental and sustainable public transport. There is a specific section dealing with airports and ports and other sections dealing with climate change and education, health and child care. That is exceptionally positive. The plan is ambitious, perhaps too ambitious. I do not like to use the words "too ambitious", as I like us to be ambitious. I also like what the Minister of State mentioned in his presentation about public private partnerships. We want to get projects over the line. I have met many people in politics who have an ideology about who is delivering the infrastructure and the houses. Clearly, we want houses delivered because we have a housing crisis. We need infrastructure if we are to grow our economy. We need to plan for the future, for the expansion of our people and our communities. The plan is positive.
A key aspect of the plan will be the way in which we as politicians across all parties can keep track of the Government in terms of its delivery. It is all very well to draw up a plan but the money, resources and required skills and expertise must be in place to deliver it. That is an important element. We as politicians, and through our membership of relevant committees such as the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, of which I am a member, will have to hold the Government to account. That will be the key message with respect to the plan. We will have to follow these projects and ensure they are delivered. This plan is a positive and brave move by the Government to commit its key objectives to paper as it did with Rebuilding Ireland. Many people have issues with Rebuilding Ireland but it is a plan. It has had slippages but at least we have a plan on which to focus. We can bring the Minister back in and talk about why projects we said we would do are not happening and why the targets that have been set down have not been achieved. Any plan gives us focus, it draws attention to a particular issue. I warmly welcome and support this plan. However, I believe we will all be back here asking in months to come how it is being rolled out and delivered. That is the key task with respect to this plan on which we will measure the Government.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, to the House and wish him, the Minister for Finance and the Government well with this plan. As Senator Boyhan said, the key point is that this plan should be delivered and timeframes should be set for projects and those timeframes should be met.
This plan has been in gestation for a considerable period. It started in October 2014. Various bodies and groups throughout the length and breadth of the country made a considerable input to the plan. It started in October 2014 with the publication of the national planning framework map. Preliminary stakeholder consultation events were held. Several inputs in terms of Oireachtas briefings were made. Nearly every facet of society in the country ranging from the Oireachtas to business to non-governmental organisations had a say in this plan. I spoke about this plan at our parliamentary party meetings on a number of occasions. The Taoiseach said that he hoped to have it launched before Christmas. We had a further discussion on it at our parliamentary party meeting in January and we secured the inclusion of additional provisions in it. It is a very good plan. For the first time during my time in politics, in nearly 40 years, we have a plan that is being funded. We have had several plans down the years but no funding was put in place for them. Timeframes are bing set and funding is being put in place for this plan for the next ten years, which I welcome.
I also like another aspect of this plan, namely, some of the key facts and figures that are given. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and the Taoiseach and I and the Acting Chairman, who is also a member of that committee, have the met the ESRI in Paris on a number of occasions. The ESRI is one of the best organisations that I have-----
Or the OECD. It is one of the best organisations with which we have had meetings. There is input into the plan in terms of figures that have been put forward by the OECD and the ERSI. The ERSI stated that it expects the population to grow by 1 million up to 2040 and that 660,000 additional jobs will be created. I like the way in which the Government has split up investment under the plan throughout not only the various cities but the rural areas right down to the local towns. As was pointed out by several previous speakers, the Minister, Deputy Ring, will have €2 billion to invest in towns with a population over 10,000 people and €1 billion for towns with a population under 10,000 people. That is a great idea as it means towns in my county such as Castlebar, Westport, Ballina and Ballyhaunis will get their fair share of the spoils when they are handed out.
A former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy announced a decentralisation programme in the early 2000s but no funding was put in place for it even he planned decentralisation programme to various towns throughout the country was a good plan but no funding was put in place for it. This plan should incorporate a certain degree of decentralisation and I hope that can happen. If a Department is decentralised to a town with a population of 10,000, 12,000 people or a greater number, its impact is probably better than the opening up of an industry in some cases. There is also the advantage of the availability of cheaper housing than is available in Dublin. There would be cheaper accommodation for the staff and for the various Departments and it also would free up office accommodation in the cities.
It is a good idea to rebalance the population in the country. Dublin and the east coast has been growing at an enormous rate. While the boom years brought some great benefits with the building of motorways from Dublin to Waterford, Dublin to Cork, Dublin to Limerick, Dublin to Galway and the operation of fast rail services from Cork, Galway and Limerick to Dublin. However, a rebalancing of the population has not taken place. This plan can help in that respect. The plan will also help the north west and the western region which did not see the same level of investment as other regions during the boom years. The roads from Mullingar to Westport, Mullingar to Sligo and from Sligo to Donegal need to be greatly improved greatly. This plan provides that the Westport to Turlough section of the N5 will be funded over the next two years. The road from Mullingar to Longford will be a motorway and the road from Longford to Sligo and from Longford to Ballaghadereen are all included in this plan.
The Technological Universities Bill, which is at the stage of almost being passed, will be a great addition to the regions in that we can say that we have a technological university in Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Donegal. When they seek to sell their ideas, seek investment and foreign students, they can say that they have the numbers and large complexes with university status, which is a great selling point.
The EU Finance Commissioner appeared before the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and the Taoiseach yesterday and he stated there was quite a considerable amount of funds in Europe that had not been drawn down by various countries although he did not mention Ireland.I ask the Minister of State to look into that because the Commissioner said that it was inefficient departments and inefficient governments that had not drawn down those funds. He mentioned a number of countries. He did not mention Ireland. Perhaps that was because he was in Ireland or perhaps it is not the case here. If it is the case, however, I would like the Minister of State to look at the issue and to investigate whether there are funds which this country has not drawn down.
I thank the Minister of State. As other speakers have said, we absolutely endorse the necessity for a national planning framework like this. I welcome some of the initiatives in it, particularly the Atlantic economic corridor. It has huge potential if the money is put into it. It is important that it is there and it is important that investment is targeted at it, especially around Knock airport where there is a strategic development zone. Senator Burke will know that. Investment needs to be made there urgently. That is what people are waiting to see.
I am concerned that much of what is cited in the plan and many of the projects involve cost-benefit analyses. Cost-benefit analyses certainly need to be carried out but the results of such analyses can be fixed. It depends on what variables are used. What also concerns me is that this plan is population driven. If one of the main factors in a cost-benefit analysis is population, many of the projects cited in the plan will fail. There needs to be clarity around the variables used in each of the cost-benefit analyses and there needs to be consultation with the local authorities and local communities in developing the criteria.
On the amounts made available through the plan, we have been advocating for capital investment for a long time. We know that it results in multiplier effects and that it is the only way forward. However, there is much more money which could be used for this plan and which would be needed. The Minister of State will know this. He talks about the capital envelope, the debt, the decisions that were made by Government and some crazy stuff about everybody telling Europe to go to hell. That does not serve anybody. However, we need to accept the reality of our national debt, which I think is the second highest in the world at €198 billion.
That costs each citizen in this State approximately €44,000. That is all money which could be used for capital investment and could have been used over the years. Servicing that debt costs between €6 billion and €7 billion every year. We are talking about €60 billion to €70 billion over these ten years which could be available to put vital infrastructure into areas where it is needed. If one looks at savings and money that we give away, we only have to look as far as section 110 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, the vulture funds and the tax loopholes available. There is no point in getting hysterical about it. It is absolutely a fact that we are letting billions of euro leave this country and that we are encouraging the likes of vulture funds to come in and to take these tax breaks. These come at the expense of people living in rural Ireland. That is the problem we have with much of this. We need to be heard and the Minister of State needs to listen to us.
I will comment on the way the plan was launched in the first place. The likes of us in rural Ireland thought it was absolutely ridiculous. All it was short of was dancing girls and some bells and whistles. It gave off the wrong image and overcooked the goose. It involved the strategic communications unit. I agree with the Taoiseach who is coming around to the idea of abolishing it. The use of public money in this regard has to be looked at by the Committee of Public Accounts. That is the only way forward. I worked in media buying and in advertising. I know the difference between an advertorial and an editorial, as do most people. This was put across as editorial. There is no way around it. The Minister of State has to face up to that.
There is also no point in passing the buck. When I was instructing media buying agencies and advertising agencies the buck stopped with me. So in this case it stops with the Minister. We need to get to the bottom of that and we need to see how taxpayers' money is being spent. The way in which the regional newspapers were used in this regard was also quite despicable. We all know that newspapers are quite vulnerable as it is. The promise that there is more to come does not fill us in rural Ireland with confidence when we see money being wasted like that.
Another aspect of it is that so much of the plan had been announced already. I now see that there are announcements of announcements. I nearly burst out laughing when I read in the newspaper during the week that we are expecting an announcement. We now are told when announcements are expected as well as being given the announcements themselves. To look at an example of what is cited in the plan we waited for 40 years for the Belmullet sewerage scheme. It is now nearly completed because of the work of the EPA and because of European directives saying that it was breaking down and so on. We certainly welcome the project but it was first to receive €13 million in funding which was then cut down to €6 million. It was vastly descaled. It has been put into the national development plan when it is already done. So much more of the plan is regurgitated announcements.
It is awfully important that this plan is put on a statutory basis. Will the Minister of State clarify the legal aspects and whether there will be a vote in the Dáil and the Seanad in order to put this plan on a statutory footing? I am delighted to see that the Minister, Deputy Michael Ring, was made a billionaire overnight. There will be huge expectations in rural Ireland, and in counties such as my own county of Mayo, that he will deliver. We have no doubt that the R312 connecting Erris to Castlebar, which we have waited almost 40 years for, will be delivered.
I will take the opportunity to talk about Tramore, Waterford and the south east. In that regard, there is a lot to like in the published plan with Waterford being recognised as the capital of the south east and as an urban centre with huge potential for job creation. The north quays strategic development zone regeneration project offers the prospect of a serious injection of new life into the city of Waterford, as well as the improvement of our public infrastructure and transport services and the harnessing of significant new green energy resources. I have full confidence in the CEO of our local authority, Michael Walsh, and his team to ensure that this development is carried out to the benefit of the people of Waterford, of the region and, in turn, of the nation.
I also want to particularly highlight the commitment to the linking up of the Waterford Greenway with Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, and the city centre. Members of the Green Party in Waterford have long advocated for this. I ask that the Minister of State go even further and deliver greater linkages with a blueway along the River Suir in Waterford, which passes Cheekpoint, Passage East, Dunmore East and then goes on the Tramore and the Copper Coast. We have a huge and great resource such as we see with the Great Western Greenway on the west coast. We have a great coastal environment in Ireland and the south east really has something to offer which would not only deliver for rural areas, but also provide great opportunities for tourism. We believe that such a connection would be a very positive development and would go some way to spreading the benefits of the Waterford Greenway to areas that have not enjoyed them so far.One other aspect of the plan is the status of Waterford Institute of Technology. The plan states that the objective is the development and expansion of the city's third level institution and integration with the city and region. Reference is also made to the proposals for the creation of a technological university. Where will that be located? Could it be located in Waterford city? With the infrastructural changes proposed in the project, it seems like common sense that Waterford and the extensive Waterford Institute of Technology campus would have primary consideration. The Minister of State might be aware that we have been working with the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, to seek to amend the proposal contained in the Technological Universities Bill as I believe as currently configured, the eligibility criteria for new universities is too lax and would constitute a dilution in standards for our university sector. I have been supported in this view by very many senior academics from existing universities who agree that the definition of research students as laid out in the Bill is entirely new and foreign. How we can offer up the new technological universities as serving a role as hubs of innovation and entrepreneurship for the regions if they are not to aim for higher standards than the current constituent parts? This is really important because there is no point in having a branding exercise with these technological universities. They must be of the highest standard.
The sustainable development goals, SDGs, are noted at the beginning of Project Ireland 2040. This is an important aspect of the framing of the project. The SDGs constitute a comprehensive vision not just for Irish society but also for Ireland's place on the global stage. The agreement includes clear targets and indicators against which we must measure our progress. I am disappointed that the SDGs are not mainstreamed throughout this document as they relate to almost every aspect of what is set out in Project Ireland 2040. It would involve using one framework along with the Project Ireland 2040 framework to provide synergy and add value to the document. I believe that one of the key ways we can ensure that Project Ireland 2040 is coherent with the broader aims of the SDGs is through the processes of public procurement. We must make full use of the scope that is available within European procurement laws to include environmental, social and health clauses in tenders and contracts and to promote the highest standards in labour law. I would ask the Minister of State to indicate his intentions regarding public procurement clauses and their use in the achievement of the broader aims of SDGs.
Marine spatial planning has received considerable consideration in Project Ireland 2040, which is to be welcomed. This is one area of the plan I was excited to see. It finally provides greater certainty for those engaged in harnessing our coastal natural resources in a sustainable manner. Marine spatial planning is an important approach to ensuring that such activities take place in a co-ordinated and careful manner, which allows for future generations to enjoy these opportunities and preserves the often delicate ecological balance of our coastal region. With that in mind, I met the Bantry Bay kelp forest campaign group at the gates of Leinster House today. They have been appealing to the Government against the decision for a potentially unsustainable mechanical harvesting of kelp seaweed that is scheduled to take place in Bantry Bay. No environmental impact statement has been carried out in respect of this project. This harvesting decision is partly as a result of our out-of-date, unfair and unsustainable foreshore licensing system, a system that has been decried in here and in the Dáil today. We see the cross-border damage done by legal and illegal trawling while small producers are excluded from the market by inflexible and unfair rules. I know that the Government has been talking about changes to the foreshore licensing system for many years now but I want to know what progress has been made on this front and how will it fit in with the plans for a full marine spatial plan for Ireland as a member of the EU. Trying to get a foreshore licence as a small business is next to impossible.
This is the eve of International Women's Day 2018. I hope that by the time this plan reaches fruition, we will see a 50% gender balance here in the Irish Parliament in both the Seanad and the Dáil.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for being here for this debate because it is very important. He outlined clearly the success he had in the projects that had been identified as important for Limerick and rightly so. Likewise, I make no apologies for fighting for the projects I think are important for my own area in Cork. There is much good news for Cork. It is not just about looking at Cork. It is about looking at the entire Munster region and the need to change the growth patterns and to make sure we do not continue with the expansion of Dublin and leave other areas behind. This is what the national development plan is doing. It is about making sure that areas like Limerick, Cork and Waterford develop and that the necessary infrastructure is put in place for them.
A number of key projects in Cork are included in this programme. In respect of the development of the Port of Cork, it is one of the best harbours in the world and its development is extremely important. It is fine having a harbour and a port facility through which we can export but we need a road infrastructure to get to it. Part of that infrastructure is the development of the new road from Tivoli to the port itself and the Dunkettle interchange. The Cork-Limerick road or, as the Minister of State would say, the Limerick-Cork road, is an important development as well. The other connection for which I fought very hard is the north link road in Cork city because there is no point in people travelling at 120 km/h from Limerick to Cork and then coming to a stop. There is also an important development in the north link road connecting the Cork-Limerick road to the Cork-Dublin road and connecting the roads servicing the port of Cork. They are all very important.
Over the past 30 years, the population of Munster has grown by over 250,000 people. The population of Cork city and county has gone from 410,000 to 542,000. We need to create the necessary hospital facilities. The provision of a new hospital for Cork is included in the development plan. I raised a Commencement matter this morning about the process for identifying a site for this new facility because it is one thing putting it into a plan. The next thing is delivering it. It should not be the case that once the plan is published, we just park it. We all have a part to play in making sure it is delivered. The three key words for me are plan, develop and deliver. This is extremely important for each of these projects. It is important that we also try to set targets for delivery in each of these projects. It has taken 25 years from the time we first talked about the national children's hospital to when we put in the foundations. I do not want this to happen with this project in Cork, which is one of the reasons I will continue to raise this issue until I know the work has started, the development can commence and the project is finally delivered.I suppose there are other issues in relation to Cork, including road infrastructure, hospital facilities and third level education. The new business school in Cork is an important development in a growing area. As many multinational companies are based in Cork, it is important for such educational supports to be available. I think we have hit all of the right points with regard to the delivery of this plan. We have the plan and now we need to develop it and deliver it. We need to set clear targets for that delivery over the next ten years.
I will make some general remarks rather than speaking about specific projects. I could speak about a number of particular projects in the west and the north west, but I will not do so because time is short. Other Senators have referred to the Government's strategic communications unit when speaking about last month's announcement. While that may be linked to the national planning framework, I do not propose to get into it tonight because it is a side issue.
I welcome the framework because it represents the way forward. It is a good initiative that deserves buy-in from Members of the Oireachtas of all political parties and none. When the national spatial strategy was announced in 2002, it was not accompanied by a capital plan. It was probably a mistake that after the spatial strategy was published, it took four years for the capital plan to come into place. Within two or three years of the capital investment being provided in 2006, public investment had reduced to 2.5% of this country's economic output. We are now back at 4% in accordance with the €116 billion that is proposed.
My concern with regard to the Government's announcement of a €116 billion plan is that every Minister and Deputy, particularly on the Government side, is trying to launch it, claim credit for it in some way and say that the money is available for these projects. I am not saying this as a political point because the same thing would happen if Fianna Fáil was in government. We are looking at it the wrong way around. The money announcement is one thing, but announcing money does not deliver the project on the ground and does not deliver value for money in these projects. I will explain what could happen here - I am not suggesting that it will - by reminding the House of what happened in recent decades. I refer, for example, to the national children's hospital project, to the construction of the Dublin Port tunnel or to various bypasses here and there. I have looked at the cost-benefit analyses that were carried out on some of those projects and they are shocking, to say the least. The development of the port tunnel was a disaster. At the moment, the children's hospital project is running over budget and the taxpayer will have to carry the cost burden. It will probably cost twice what it was originally going to cost.
I will explain my fears in this regard. In 2013, the then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform introduced new guidelines as part of the public spending code, under which capital projects must be analysed and evaluated in a certain way. I have read the national planning framework online. I got the copy today that Senator Horkan referred to. I am worried that there is no mention in the framework of the public spending code or of the need for value for money in the delivery of these projects. For example, it is proposed to spend €3 billion on the metro north project, which was publicised heavily when the announcement was made in Sligo on Friday, 16 February last. Neither the first nor the second cost-benefit analysis of the project showed that the benefits would outweigh the costs. I understand from media reports that a third cost-benefit analysis is being carried out. The objective of this third analysis must be to provide the results wanted by the Government in order to be able to deliver the project. I think we are going down a road that will not necessarily deliver value for the money the taxpayer is investing in these projects.
I would like draw the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, to a recent International Monetary Fund report on projects across the OECD. I have read some, but not all, of the report, which highlights this country and makes 27 recommendations on public investment in infrastructure in Ireland. The recommendations relate to planning, appraisal, evaluation, the public spending code, how projects are selected and how money is earmarked and spent. Will those recommendations be considered and used before any money is spent under this plan? I do not expect the Minister of State to give me an answer to that question tonight. I would like a detailed response to it in writing, perhaps from the senior Minister. It was a mistake not to give both Houses of the Oireachtas an opportunity to vote on the national planning framework. This was covered in a line of the legislation that was brought through the Houses to amend the Planning and Development Acts. We should have an opportunity not just to debate the framework, but to vote on it. We are going to support it anyway, but we should have an opportunity to vote on it as democrats.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, an Teachta O'Donovan. It was damaging for Fine Gael to go along with the best efforts of the Government's spin unit by engaging in self-promotion in an attempt to dupe the country and its people. I have no problem in saying that this unit, which is too slick for its own good, is paid for by the public. People are aware that the funding for the unit is taken from the public purse. I do not think anybody can deny that this is what has happened. The national development plan is full of many pre-announced worthwhile projects. The national children's hospital, in my area of Dublin South-Central, is an example of a worthwhile project that has been announced on several occasions.
I want to concentrate firstly on the section of the plan dealing with climate change and climate action, which is probably the most important priority issue of our time and one of the biggest threats to our future. We know the Government will have to pay heavy fines for missing our EU 2020 climate action commitments. Its apathy to climate change is having an impact on our health. In recent years, the World Health Organization, WHO, has strongly stated that everything that goes with climate deterioration, including pollution, displacement of people due to famines and wars and sea pollution, is having a significant impact on our health. According to the WHO, it is known that at least 15 million or 16 million people around the world die as a result of climate deterioration each year. This problem has the capacity to roll back 50 years of advances in public health. If we do not act to protect our climate, we could see the return of measles and plagues, etc. We need to get to grips with it.
I would like to focus on the simple idea of electric vehicles. The national development plan has set a target of 500,000 electric vehicles by 2030. We have just over 2,000 such vehicles at the moment. There are 1.9 million private cars on our roads. There are no specific proposals for how the 2030 target is to be achieved. There is uncertainty with regard to who is going to build and own the public charging infrastructure. The regulator has recommended that ESB Networks should no longer have this responsibility. The target I have mentioned has financial implications for consumers. How will they be assisted to make the switch?
The national development plan does not include any specific plans for establishing particular energy sources to replace fossil fuels. We have virtually been completely reliant on onshore wind for our renewable energy. It is vital that we establish a wide portfolio of renewable energy sources. The plan mentions some other sources, but it does not set out any specific details of how they will be established. Biogas, which is a sustainable form of gas produced from farm waste, is mentioned in the plan but no details are provided with regard to it.We need a detailed plan for how to increase our usage of environmentally friendly biogas. Sinn Féin has published a policy paper on this issue which I invite the Minister of State to flick through. I welcome reports that Bord na Móna will not proceed with the plan to build a €60 million biomass plant in the United States to develop wood chip to be burnt in Irish electricity power plants. To import biomass rather than growing it here makes no sense from an environmental or local jobs perspective. Although biomass by itself is not the solution to all of our energy needs, it can form part of a wide portfolio of energy sources.
The national development plan announced that the Government intends to fund energy research into solar energy or biogas. Those are well-established sources of power worldwide and we do not need to conduct research into them but, rather, to use them. It is disappointing that the hundreds of millions of euro we face in potential fines will stymie the development of the infrastructure to combat climate change and limit our resources.
I wish to stand up for Dublin. Most Senators have stood up for their own areas and I wish to stand up for the capital.
----- vibrancy and strength of Ireland going and to develop the urban areas outside of Dublin in a manner that is not solely housing-led but also jobs-led in order to allow towns and villages to be unique but have connectivity and be community-driven. I wish to address broadband in support of rural Ireland because Dublin has the luxury of broadband that seems to work.
All the best people have roots in County Mayo. I rise to support Project Ireland 2040. I welcome it as a blueprint whereby we can chart our way to 2040, meet the challenges of population growth and rebalance economic activity in the country, which will be key in terms of rebalancing population. By doing that and taking a holistic approach, rural Ireland and what it has to offer will be part of the solution. This document provides an opportunity through funding and initiatives for rural Ireland to progress.
As has been stated on several occasions, this is the first time that money to back up such a plan has been available. The last national spatial strategy was a disappointment for many towns such as Ballina and Castlebar. It did not deliver because there was no money to back it up and intervening political decisions meant its proposals never saw the light of day in some parts of the country, which contributed to the divide which now exists. However, there is now an opportunity to address that divide. The plan refers to and includes every region and all regions will benefit from it.
I am particularly pleased by the top-line items included for Mayo. There will be far more such projects but the highlight is Ireland West Airport Knock, which is an issue on which I have campaigned for several years. I am thrilled that, having met the Taoiseach on the issue, he is giving a commitment to Knock and that has been provided for in the national development plan. That is the first time it has been given such status and significance, notwithstanding the many years it has been in existence, because it operates as a trust and was created not by the State but, rather, by the people of Mayo and the diaspora. That has counted against it in terms of state aid rules but I hope its strategic importance has been underlined by its recognition in the plan and that that confirms the commitment of the Government to capital projects or development that will take place there, which I have no doubt will grow the airport and make it sustainable.
I wish to voice my concern at a radio interview given on Clare FM by Deputy Timmy Dooley, a Front Bench spokesperson for Fianna Fáil who was not too impressed with the inclusion of Ireland West Airport Knock in the national planning framework and the national development plan. He described it as a small, peripheral airport and did not seem to recognise its significance or that it has been operating very efficiently for the past number of years with minimal investment from the taxpayer compared to other national airports such as Shannon, which had a debt of €100 million written off and for which special initiatives are being undertaken to bring more industry and development to its surrounding area. I assure the Acting Chairman that this is not personal, but I wish to know the Fianna Fáil position on Knock airport as I am somewhat confused in that regard.
I ask Fianna Fáil to tell us as soon as possible where it stands on Ireland West Airport Knock because the views expressed in that interview seem contrary to the success of the airport.
There are many good things in the national development plan, such as roads and a sewerage scheme and including the scheme in Belmullet that was referenced and which has been allocated €10 million. I was a member of Mayo County Council for many years and that scheme was only put on a programme after Irish Water was established. It is now well under way and overdue.
There has been much commentary on how the national planning framework and the national development plan, Project Ireland 2040, have been communicated in terms of people not liking the messaging and so on. To me, that is a good sign because such people have little of substance about which they can criticise the plan. Through communicating the details of the plan, we are giving our commitment to deliver upon it. The people will always hold politicians to account and that is a cornerstone of our democracy.
I thank Senator Mulherin. Although I am in the Chair and, therefore, neutral, as one with two Mayo grandparents, I support all of her causes. We must adjourn the debate at 8.30 p.m. We may resume it on another day and the Minister may return to the House to respond. Senator McFadden has 51 seconds to give her contribution.
I may be a national Senator but I am from Athlone. I warmly welcome Project Ireland 2040, which is a great idea. We have long been batting for such an initiative. The pattern has been that we build houses, schools and hospitals after an area experiences population growth. Project Ireland 2040 is a plan for where people will live and work and how they will travel to work, which is to be welcomed. It is time for such planning to be undertaken. Successive Governments, many led by Fianna Fáil, did not plan for the future. Project Ireland 2040 is a good plan.
As all Members are aware, I long campaigned for the designation of Athlone as a regional centre and I am delighted that that has happened. We must ensure that we put money where our plans are and that we have plans.