Wednesday, 9 November 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
National Transport Authority
I raise this issue in order to ask how we, as parliamentarians, can engage with the National Transport Authority, NTA. The issue on from a public meeting I held in the Temperance Hall in Kinsale on Monday night last. We filled the hall and had a big debate about what is happening regarding public transport in Kinsale, the lack of a bus shelter on Clontarf Street in Cork, issues regarding the capacity of buses and safety at bus stops. These are major issues for the people of Kinsale and the surrounding hinterland who use the bus service. I have been trying to engage with the NTA for nine and a half months in order to ask its representatives to meet me. They refuse to do so. This is a Government-funded organisation and it is aloof. It does not want to engage with the public or with the public representatives. The NTA does what it wants, when it wants and has no regard for anyone. What happened in this case is that the NTA relocated a bus stop from the bus station in Cork city to the side of a road in a dangerous location and with no shelter. The bus drivers who operate the route turned up at the public meeting because they cannot stand over what is happening. I wrote to the NTA again last week and I was told it did not have the staff to meet me.
We have to decide what is happening with the State and how we can move things forward. As an organisation, the NTA has a fantastic budget and is involved in licensing routes and providing services. However, is does this in its own way. If it is not done that way, the authority will not engage. During the summer, the NTA tried to put a one-way system through the small village, Minane Bridge, from where I come. When it did not get its way, it just pulled out. We need to have a line of communication. I am aware that he is attending a Cabinet meeting, but I am disappointed that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is not here because he has due responsibility to the public who elected him and to the Parliament. He also has a responsibility with regard to the budget he puts in allocates to this organisation.
The NTA does not give a damn about us. Following my various correspondences with representatives of the NTA and in the aftermath of their refusal to meet me, I have been sent material from their liaison teams basically stating that there is nothing they can do and that the decision has been made. That is not democracy; that is not what it is all about. To think that, on a very wet and windy Monday night in Kinsale, we could fill a hall to discuss an issue like this shows the absolute outrage in the community. I ask the Minister of State what process is in place to allow us to meet representatives from the NTA. They do not want to meet me, the public or members of the council. They will inform us what they are going to do. This is a serious issue. We have set up a quango that is now out of control and doing what it wants, when it wants. As a result, there is no accountability. The Minister is accountable. He funds the NTA. If he is not going to pull it back and establish a line of communication, we will go nowhere. We need accountability and to know exactly what is happening. I ask the Minister of State to give me a response to the question as to how I can meet representatives of this aloof organisation.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I hear the frustrations he has quite rightly articulated in respect of his community and decisions that were taken.
Public consultation should be at the core of decision-making processes of all State agencies. There are a number of different ways in which the NTA meets with elected public representatives to discuss public transport projects. At a statutory level, section 41 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 requires the chairperson and chief executive of the NTA to account for the performance of the functions of the authority to a committee established by either House of the Oireachtas. This type of engagement with Oireachtas committees happens regularly. Just yesterday, the NTA appeared before the Joint Committee on Transport to discuss the service delivery issues being experienced across the public transport network in Dublin. In addition to this type of statutory engagement, representatives from the NTA regularly meet elected public representatives to discuss issues relating to publicly funded transport services and capital investment projects and various other matters under the authority's remit. Public representatives who wish to request a meeting with the NTA can contact the authority's Oireachtas liaison unit to request such a meeting. A meeting request will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and will depend on the availability of the relevant NTA staff to facilitate such a meeting.
As already mentioned, during these engagements with public representatives the NTA can discuss any issues relevant to their statutory functions. As the Senator will be aware, the NTA has an extensive remit and plays an integral role in the implementation of public transport initiatives nationally. The NTA has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public passenger transport services nationally by way of public transport service contracts and for the allocation of associated funding to the relevant transport operators. In its role as the public transport licensing agency, the NTA is responsible for administering funding support through the establishment of contracts between it and the relevant operators. In 2022, this amounted to €538 million in Exchequer funding for public service obligation and Local Link services provided by State operators and under contract by the NTA. More recently, €563 million has been secured as part of budget 2023 negotiations for the continued improvement of these services.
This year, the NTA has implemented a number of fare initiatives including the introduction of the young adult card and the 20% cost-of-living fare reduction on public service obligation services. As Senators will be aware, the Government has ambitious plans for public transport infrastructure nationwide. The programme for Government commits to a fundamental change in the nature of transport in Ireland and is supported by the national development plan, under which €35 billion has been allocated to maintain, enhance and improve transport infrastructure across the country over the next decade. The substantial investment in transport in recent years and the planned ramping up of major projects, such as BusConnects, in every city, Connecting Ireland in rural areas and DART+ and MetroLink means that the national public transport landscape will continue to transform for the better over the coming years.
The NTA is the approving authority for these major public transport projects. Funding for these and other rail and bus investment is allocated to the NTA by the Department of Transport and then provided to the relevant sponsoring authorities. I hope this provides the Senator with an update on the processes and procedures around the NTA. I also hope that his request will be responded to in due course and will result in a meeting with officials from the NTA.
There is a budget of €35 billion, and the officials from the NTA will not meet us. They will not respond to the email even after eight months. They say they do not have the staff or the budget to meet us. That is with a budget of €35 billion. This is a quango that is totally out of control. It has a process in place regarding how it responds to the Houses of the Oireachtas, but local councillors and communities and people on the ground cannot meet its representatives. They are doing laptop studies in Dublin on infrastructural projects in Cork and they will not meet anyone to discuss them. We have a major issue in the context of how this organisation was put together. We all understand that public transportation is the key going forward, but it is about taking people on the journey with us. The problem we have is the disconnect. The NTA does not care about communities because it does not engage with them. Eight months of asking for a meeting and I have got nothing other than the reply that it cannot afford it or cannot send a representative down to Cork. Maybe it is a Cork thing and the officials do not want to come down. Maybe they are based in Dublin and do not know where Cork is except for a spot on the map. Will the Minister of State go back to the Minister for Transport and request that he, after eight months of me failing to get a meeting with officials from the NTA, ask the organisation he is funding to meet us in Clontarf Street to discuss how it can stand over moving the bus stop that was there without any consultation.
I again thank the Senator for outlining the position in his community regarding the projects and the NTA. I will absolutely go back to the Minister. I always report back to senior Ministers when an issue comes up during engagements with Senators, especially when there are concerns in the context of State agencies liaising with public representatives. This is a very important issue. During my time on Westmeath County Council, we used to send a delegation twice yearly to the NTA to discuss projects within the county of that were of concern. There is potential for something like that to be set up in this instance. I will ask the Minister to get back to the Senator on the question of why his request for a meeting has not been responded to.