The Bill affords an opportunity to address some of the fundamental issues in transport and specifically, the role of CIE in that context. The Bill contains much ado about very little and misses the central and fundamental challenges in the transport area.
Deputy Taylor is right in saying there has been very little work done on transport policy. One of the things about the Bill which interested me, which the Minister proposes as a far-reaching measure, is that it appears to pre-empt the White Paper which we are told is on the way in regard to transport. I am not sure whether that says more about the White Paper than about the Bill orvice versa. What is clearly at issue in transport policy terms is that there is an absolute need for some mechanism to co-ordinate the various facets and elements which go into transport policy. To assess, analyse and propose a change in role and structure for CIE without that broader context makes for an artificial debate.
How can we rationally propose major changes in the structure of CIE if we have not already made decisions about transport policy as a whole? It may very well be that if we decide to have a co-ordinated transport policy — which most of us probably believe is essential — CIE's responsibilities in that respect might be fundamentally changed from those proposed or adverted to in this measure. The Bill underlines the essential weakness of dealing with CIE without covering transport policy generally. It is like dealing with part of the problem without making up one's mind about its scale or totality.
The Minister mentioned CIE's social role. I always felt it was very wrong of the House regularly to address the question of a commercial loss by CIE in the context of an organisation which was clearly intended to have predominantly a social responsibility. In many respects it is wrong to say that CIE make a financial loss unless their job is to be a commercial company exclusively. Any reading I have done on CIE does not indicate that. The fundamental point I wish to make is that this internal management restructuring of CIE is peripheral to the essential problem of transport policy. In a properly organised society it would not take up the time of the national parliament.
We should be dealing with the role CIE should have in terms of transport policy. This relates to the obvious need to co-ordinate public transport, rail and bus, private transport, car, freight, road development, regulation of road developments, investment in transport and infrastructure, taxi and hackney services, all the elements which make up transport policy and which have to be addressed. That to me is the question. Most of us would agree that at present it is not so much ships that pass in the night but that trains, buses and cars pass in the night and there is no co-ordination. In many cases the people concerned do not even speak to each other. It is as if they live in different worlds. There is, therefore, an urgent need to have a national transportation policy and an authority which will co-ordinate, in an efficient and cost effective resourceful manner, all those elements into one efficient dynamic unit which will serve the needs of the people. That is what we should be talking about but we are not, unfortunately, because this Bill misses the fundamental point. The Minister may say that that is not what this Bill is about but we have been promised for a long time that kind of fundamental reform.
To plan for CIE in isolation is artifical and to a large extent pointless. I do not know how the Minister can seriously say that his role with regard to CIE is in three aspects. First, that he has to get the subsidy right, that CIE must never again revert to the excesses of growth which characterised the seventies and that the correction process is well in hand but more has to be done: secondly, that the overall direction of the undertaking has to be got right and, thirdly, that service of the market has to be got right. What a limited and blinkered vision of what potentially could be the vanguard of a totally revamped transport policy and an organisation who could head up that type of development.
To give an example, lest anyone might think that one is theorising, on the lack of co-ordination we are speaking about, look at the present arrangements in relation to transport in Dublin city or in any other part of the country. The local authorities have their road plans. CIE run buses and they have their plans. The Garda Síochána enforce traffic regulations. I have often felt that is a marginal duty for them, that it should not weigh them down at all but should be given to somebody else. The Garda have their own independent existence. The taxi services and the private bus services all operate independently. Depending on what financing and planning CIE have they could affect, for example, the road plans but there is no co-ordination. Let us assume that CIE decided to invest heavily in city rail services, would that mean that medium and long term road plans by local authorities would be redundant? We do not know because nobody is bringing all these bits together. That is the first fundamental criticism I have to make of this Bill.
There is an urgent need to co-ordinate and regulate road and all forms of transport policy and this should be done under one corporate strategy, one clear policy developed in full consultation with all the interests involved and decided on by Government. That has not happened so far.
It is in that context that I want to make my second point. I would hope that a revamped and dynamic CIE could spearhead that operation. The general feeling in CIE about this Bill is one of fear. There is anxiety about its implications. Much of this has to do with the begrudging attitude which this House has expressed towards CIE and their employees. I do not know how CIE and their employees feel every year when they read about how much money the company lost. They have to provide essential services often in very difficult conditions and without appreciable public appreciation either among the populace generally or among their political leaders.
A new lease of life and a new sense of morale could be given to the company if they were given the responsibility, having been revamped and reorganised to cope with it, of spearheading that co-ordinated transport policy. I have no doubt that the workers in CIE would rise to such a challenge if they saw themselves as part of a plan and not as something which this House appears to tolerate and begrudge. The Minister says that the subsidy must never revert to the excesses of growth which characterised the seventies. That is the kind of school master approach which the employees of CIE have had to accept for years. Therefore, I do not wonder, having discussed this Bill, with the workers and unions, why they are afraid. They do not trust this House as regards their future. They feel unappreciated and that we are begrudging towards them. A national transportation policy spearheaded perhaps by CIE may provide some answers.
The third point I wish to make is that until such time as we have clearly assessed what CIE's social role is we will continue to have this artificial argument about commercial successVersus social policy. I recall asking on one occassion in this House that unemployed people be allowed travel free in off peak hours on the buses so that they could travel to interviews and search for jobs. That suggestion was rejected because of the fact there was no commercial advantage to CIE. Some would say that the suggestion sounded like good social policy sense. I do not see any such role of CIE defined either in the Bill or in the Minister's speech, though he refers to it in his speech. What kind of decision making process went into cutting off train services to rural parts of this country? That decision was made in a commercial context, because those services cost too much. What cost too much? Did it cost too much to provide that service or did it cost too much to continue to meet the social obligations we have towards the people of those areas? There is no basic philosophy within which those decisions are being made. I do not know how anyone can operate in that vacuum. I would see the social policy of CIE as being extremely important.
I would like to say also that in the context of a national transport policy, with the social basic philosophy of CIE having been defined, I see a major potential role for public participation and ownership. I simply fail to understand how people have this incredible view that because some group of people, perhaps pensioners with their savings or ordinary workers who might have managed to put aside a few pounds, who might want to buy into CIE or to help the company by investing in them reaping a reward in due course, financially and otherwise, are regarded somehow as enemies and ideological outcasts. What kind of nonsense is that?
There are those who might ask the fundamental question, what exactly the State is doing running trains and buses anyway. The reason is, as Deputy Taylor pointed out, that there are many areas which need these services but would not have them unless they were provided by a socially conscious national transportation body such as CIE. Unquestionably there is a role for involving public investment, people with entrepreneurial investment potential, people who simply want to be part of a State company and people who want to invest in the future of the country. Why should they be excluded on some type of incredible ideological grounds when the joke is that the alternative is precisely the same basic investment except that it has to come through the channel of the Exchequer. That is taxpayers' money with the expense and the cloak of bureaucracy tagged on. I cannot understand that mind-set. People who may make such suggestions are seen as fringe people interested in taking over the State or hostile to its interests but that is nonsensical.
My philosophy, and the philosophy of my party, is that the State is the guarantor of last resource, not the guarantor that rushes in immediately to strap things down, to tie things up and lock things in invariably and inevitably at major expense. The truth is that the State should justify its involvement in the transport area in the same way that it should justify its involvement in any other area of commercial, human or social activity before it gets involved. There is a role for the State in transport policy but that is not the same as saying that there is not a role for anybody else. Why should those who are presently operating legally and properly run privately owned buses not have a role to play in a transport policy? It might be possible to save public funds if we involved all the transport resources in the State in such a grand plan. Would that not mean that there would not have to be the same level of investment in comparable but competing services under the aegis of CIE? What else would it mean provided there was a proper marriage of the various interests?
I reject out of hand the philosophy that says there is no room for ordinary people in the way the State runs things. Once those pieces have been put into place, a national transport policy and authority with a clear social philosophy outlined for CIE to head up such an initiative, the next step should be discussions about management structures and systems. That is the logical order and that is when one gets down to restructuring CIE. In principle I cannot see anything objectionable about CIE being so internally organised as to be able to efficiently and properly manage itself towards the achievement of stated objectives.
I do not take the Minister's point in his speech when he said that he had considered various options of whether these proposals could have been introduced without legislation. The Minister said:
Another option considered was the re-organisation of CIE's responsibilities as an internal CIE matter without new legislation. It was rejected also because such a response was not considered sufficiently far reaching to give the results desired.
The Minister has access to data that I do not have but I am not convinced of his argument. The proposal before us is essentially a management re-organisation model. The fact that it has limited companies set up by law is interesting but secondary. Essentially this is a question of how CIE organise themselves. It could be that there should be a number of small companies, not three, and I do not think it is an issue of major importance in that context or in the context of what I have outlined as my party's approach to this area.
I do not think we should spend too long arguing over the internal management model of CIE. Transportation policy throughout the world has been delivered to the people of different countries along certain clear lines. There are certain management models and systems that can be put in place. They are not myriad in number but they are available to us. It is perfectly reasonable to refine, update and develop management models in order to deliver the service one wishes to provide. I have to admit to an unease about what I am sure was not intended but what comes across to me as a slightly gleeful suggestion by the Minister that there would be within this new structure a type of internal competition between various parts of the national transport service. The Minister stated:
There are also I believe arguments based on what is seen as a threat within CIE — the threat of competition between rail and road services. This seems to mean that there must be no competition, irrespective of cost to the taxpayer or service to the public, as between CIE's rail and provincial road services. I utterly regret that approach. There must be some competition to ensure that each new operational company will be kept on its toes... The board will guard against reckless or ruinous competition between the subsidiaries.
That does not ring true. I do not know how on the one hand we can have a co-ordinated national transport body in separate management units but yet welcome and, perhaps, even provoke or encourage, competition between them. That competition will, inevitably, lose sight of the total objective which is the provision of an efficient transport service to the people in terms of the short-term interests of the individual units. There will be overlapping, duplication and waste and, therefore, waste of taxpayers' money in that process. I do not see the point of that type of attitude to the proposed subsidiaries.
One has to address the question of staff morale. The Minister felt the Bill will deal with that but I cannot see how it will. The discussions I have had with people in CIE indicate that that is not the case. The Minister admits the need to improve staff morale but he said that the route chosen by the Government for delivering the objectives — he has had a number of main objectives — is to keep the deficit under control without major disruption to services or employment and, secondly, to improve morale and the working environment generally in CIE. The Minister is aware that there is great resistance to the proposal to set up three companies as opposed to two and the reasons are not irrational. One union says that the possibility of unrestricted competition with the railway by the provincial bus services is causing great concern. The degree of competition could yield strange results. The unions made the point that earlier transport legislation had as its main aim the integration of our national transport resources where practicable and where, for example, there would be shared common facilities such as stations, depots, offices and so on. Has that attitude changed? Are we going to have separate entities, people setting up their own empires, their own independent republics, and in the interests of competition, playing ducks and drakes with the public? I do not know if that is a legitimate fear. It is one that has to be addressed.
The question of staff morale is not dealt with by restructuring. It is dealt with by clarifying the national aims and objectives of the company, by putting in place the systems which allow them to be achieved and by doing that in the context of a dynamic transportation plan which is clearly right for the people, in which CIE have a major role and CIE's workers have their own individual roles in that respect. They are afraid of this Bill, perhaps unnecessarily, but what is important is their perception that this Bill is not so much about giving them a sense of renewed purpose, but threatening them and their livelihoods.
The Bill is peripheral to the extent that it deals with CIE in isolation, outside the context of the broader transport issue. I do not know if it pre-empts the White Paper which obviously should be the basis on which legislation should be founded. If it does, its timing does not seem very logical. I shall come back again to the need for some Government to address the question of the social role of CIE, the absolute need to co-ordinate policy and the various elements that go into transportation and, in that context, to fully utilise every available private and public transport resource. All of these have a legitimate claim to be part of a national transport policy and to be treated with respect, not in some cases as some kind of ideological leper. All offer an opportunity, if we have the wisdom to grasp the potential, to bring them together into some sort of co-ordinated focus.
The Minister talks about the board of the company vetting the plans of the company, monitoring their performance, assessing their competing demands for investments and funds. I wonder whether they will fall between two stools, between the internal management reorganisation that is desirable and important in any evolving company and particularly one this size, or whether they will be three totally separate entities. If that is the case, how will any board be able to keep them in harness; if there are ensuing conflicts, will the board have a job in deciding certain priorities and allocations? The Minister also said that more generally the board will be expected to foster the development of a more commercial approach across the spectrum of the activities within the overall CIE remit. I do not think anybody could disagree with that provided it is taken in the context of CIE being an organisation with a fundamental social obligation. I should like that spelled out more clearly than has been done to date. There is one reference in the Minister's speech which does not define it.
I also believe the Minister is fundamentally wrong when he says that the smaller units should be susceptible to more effective management in a manner which is not possible in the case of very large and diffuse organisations and should contribute greatly to industrial relations. CIE might be somewhat large by Irish terms but they are extremely small in terms of national transporation models, or even regional transportation models, all over the world. It is diffuse, but that is not the fault of CIE. It is because this House has never defined the job of CIE and because, by and large, we would prefer that it would go away. The perception of CIE on the part of the House is largely that of an organisation continually with their hand out. Size does not have any necessary direct bearing on an organisation being diffuse or having nebulous objectives. That is a matter of definition, of clarity, of transparency — not a matter of size.
I would appreciate it very much if the Minister, when summing up, would talk briefly about the White Paper on Transportation Policy. There are many features of transport policy in this country which are unique and unusual; of course, in Ireland we claim to be pretty unusual in most respects. If we look at the international comparison of road networks published in Irish Road Statistics by the Confederation of Irish Industry in 1985, we see that the length of road per 1,000 road vehicles is well over twice as long as that of other countries. Somebody one time explained that to me in terms of the famine, or the public works schemes of that time — that roads were built all over the place. The fact is, they are there.
There are transport needs crying out to be dealt with and I should like to see CIE being fundamentally involved in that. I should like to see CIE workers taking pride in their work again, buses not polluting the city streets as they do at present and staff happy in their tasks, being paid properly, being part of an organisation with a clear role, a clear dynamic, a clear sense of purpose and being in co-ordination with all other areas of the transport network and perhaps, in CIE's case, heading that initiative. However, we are not going to see that from this Bill. Perhaps the Minister may say that other legislation will deal with that in due course. I do not believe there will be any more transport legislation in the lifetime of this Dáil. This is the only chance we have to discuss this issue. In principle, the fears of the employees should be addressed, particularly their reasonable anxiety about competition between provincial bus and rail services. There they feel, with some rationale behind it, that there would be not just competition, which is not what they fear — they are not objecting to competition between Dublin city bus and rail — but that the test will be unequal and inevitably one will wither and possibly die. That would not be to the advantage either of the public or, in this case, the employees about whom they are quite right primarily concerned. That is a fear and it should be addressed.
I look forward in due course to the Minister perhaps taking up some of these points. In particular I want him to address my fundamental question, which is, how can one deal rationally and logically with a national transportation service and plan for its future when there is no transport policy, when there is not even a White Paper published at present in that respect? What will CIE's role be then, or is it possible that it might conceivably be changed again in the near future pursuant to the publication of a White Paper?