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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 4 May 1995

Vol. 452 No. 4

Adjournment Debate. - Cavan Regional and County Roads.

I thank you, Sir, for allowing me raise this matter on the Adjournment and the Minister for coming in to respond.

Serious road problems in County Cavan have been well documented but, unfortunately, no progress will be made in the county this year because of the inadequate funding provided by the Government. The reality is that the allocation to Cavan County Council for regional and county roads has been reduced substantially from the 1994 figure of £4.641 million to £4.085 million for 1995. The picture is much gloomier when one considers that, within this year's allocation, there is included INTERREG funding of £1.3 million. Excluding that INTERREG funding, the 1995 allocation, represents a decrease of almost 40 per cent on that provided in 1994. Yet, we were given continuous assurances that the INTERREG funding would be additional to the normal Exchequer allocation.

Therefore, it is totally unacceptable that the Minister should severely cut the allocation to the Border counties and thereafter offset those cuts, in part only, by INTERREG funding, originally designated as additional funding for Border counties. The purpose of the INTERREG programme is to provide additional resources for Border areas, not to substitute for national expenditure.

Road allocations by this Government indicate a total disregard for rural Ireland, particularly for the Border counties where there is an urgent need to upgrade the road network. Since the cessation of violence we have received numerous assurances from members of the Government, Government Departments and State agencies that funding designated for development in Border counties would be additional to the normal Exchequer contribution. It has been accepted, particularly since the cessation of violence in Northern Ireland, that a new urgency exists in regard to the need to remedy the serious infrastructural deficiencies in the Border region. The INTERREG II programme designated for that purpose is, in effect, being raided by the Government for other purposes.

No presentation of figures can disguise the fact that the national provision for non-national roads for 1995 represents a significant decrease on the 1994 allocation. When one considers that total Government expenditure increased by 8 per cent this year, it is evident that the interests and concerns of this Government do not stretch to rural Ireland. Government expenditure has increased substantially while the allocation for non-national roads, particularly in Border counties, decreased substantially. It is interesting to note that the Government decided to increase funding for non-national roads in the Dublin area only.

The Minister's predecessors in the Department of the Environment accepted that particular problems were experienced in Border counties, such as Cavan, and that they had a special case in regard to funding. There were increases in funding in recent years, progress was made on strengthening and improving the non-national road network in County Cavan and, with this Government being offered every opportunity to substantially increase the funding in the 1995 allocation, it was expected that further substantial and necessary progress would be made. The people had every reason to expect a substantial increase on the 1994 allocation in view of the healthy state of the public finances, the increase in public expenditure, the public commitments made by the Government and the European Union to a regeneration of the Border economy, the additional mileage of roads as a result of the reopening of cross-Border roads needing substantial repairs and the long spell of bad weather which adversely affected the conditions of roads.

In his reply to my parliamentary question last week, the Minister stated that the Government had sought a report. To my knowledge the local authorities — particularly Cavan County Council — have drawn up a substantial report on the condition of regional and county roads and the means and funding needed to bring them up to an acceptable standard, a standard to which the people are entitled. More reports are not needed, the urgent and essential requirement is more funding.

There is an unanswerable case for increased investment in regional and county roads. Such investment is vital from numerous points of view, such as the need to reduce costs for industry, tourism, agriculture and road users generally. It has been accepted nationally and at European Union level that the Border areas suffered immeasurably over the past 25 years due to the troubles in Ulster. To attract inward investment and tourists and to provide employment locally we need a decent and acceptable road network. Rural regeneration and development will not take place if the necessary funding for our rural road network is not provided. Rural decay will spread faster and more widely.

We must acknowledge the advanced state of the Border counties on the northern side in terms of infrastructure, roads and urban renewal. The greatest impediment to private investment in the southern Border counties is the total inadequacy of our roads and general infrastructure. The people of Cavan, Monaghan and other rural areas deserve proper access to their homes, farms and work places. They are paying taxes, are contributing significantly to the general economic wellbeing of the country and are entitled to have the serious road problems which beset their everyday life addressed.

I appeal to the Minister to provide substantial additional funding to Cavan County Council at the earliest possible date. The funding provided already will not enable the council to carry out the essential and much needed roadwork schemes in 1995. Every age group, from schoolgoing children to senior citizens, is harshly affected by the condition of our roads. I thank the Minister for coming into the House to respond and hope he will be able to give me good news this evening for the good people of County Cavan.

I am glad to have another opportunity to address the House on this important subject.

The funding which will be available from my Department in 1995 for non-national road maintenance and improvement in Cavan amounts to £4.085 million. This includes £2.2 million by way of discretionary grants, including £700,000 as a supplementary improvement grant. The latter grant is reserved for the purpose of making supplementary allocations to counties in which the condition of the roads is particularly poor and is only available to a limited number of areas. Cavan's share represents 14 per cent of the total amount available for such grants in 1995.

I have also allocated £585,000 to Cavan County Council by way of European Union co-financed specific improvement grants which relate to road projects which help to generate employment and local economic activity. Local authorities, including Cavan County Council, submit annually to my Department proposals for improvement works on non-national roads which can be considered for funding under this scheme.

Cavan County Council has received an indicative allocation of £1.3 million under the cross-Border element of the new EU INTERREG II programme which is targeted at the problems encountered by Border areas in promoting economic development due to distances from the main centres of economic activity. Relevant local authorities, including Cavan County Council, were invited on Tuesday last to nominate projects for consideration under this programme.

Overall grants of almost £103 million will be paid to local authorities this year for non-national roads. As the Deputy and his party are well aware, the resources provided in 1994 were significantly boosted by a once-off allocation from the receipts of the tax amnesty. It is disingenuous of Deputies opposite to comment as if that were not the case. When the Minister for Finance at the time — the present leader of Fianna Fáil — announced this provision in this budget speech he specifically stated it was being allocated on a once-off basis. At the same time he allocated £100 million to the Department of Health on a once-off basis to deal with problems in the health services. The Department of Health is not comparing its allocation this year to that £100 million. It was understood that figure for non national roads last year was once-off as was the case in respect of the tax amnesty receipts. When that is excluded from the equation one will note that this year's allocation is the best ever. That is the reality and we must be fair in endeavouring to bring our non-national roads up to an acceptable standard. It is a national challenge and should be met on the basis of co-operation and work and not on the basis of presenting an unfair and unreal picture.

The Minister is omitting the fact that Government expenditure increased by 8 per cent this year.

When this exceptional allocation is excluded, the overall 1995 figure, as I have indicated on a number of occasions recently, is up on the underlying figure for previous years. We cannot count once-off allocations as part of the norm. That is not the case in the health services or in any other Department which received a once-off allocation last year. The Department of the Environment received a once-off allocation last year to assist people in installing new windows in their houses. That will not recur and this was made explicit by the former Minister for Finance, Deputy Ahern, last year.

Furthermore, as part of a longer term strategy a report on county roads is being prepared for Government which will assess the overall state of the network and the cost implications of bringing it up to an acceptable standard. When this report, which is at final stage of preparation, is available to me, a coherent and integrated plan will be put in place to achieve the necessary improvements in standards over the next ten years. That will be a major challenge and I want the help and co-operation of all Deputies, local authorities and county engineers in tackling it.

No matter what form of assistance may be available to local authorities — Cavan included — it would not be sufficient to reach the needs of every area. Unfortunately, for someone in my position, it is necessary to balance all the competing demands and to make overall decisions in the interests of the greater public good and balanced development. Such decisions are not easy but they are, nevertheless, an inevitable part of any Minister's role if he is to act responsibly.

This is not in any way to play down the particular problems affecting Cavan. I am glad to have the opportunity to address those in so far as the non-national road network is concerned. I and my predecessors recognised the nature and extent of the needs arising in Cavan and practical recognition has been given to these problems by way of substantial additional grants being allocated to Cavan over and above the county's entitlement based purely on a pro rata mileage basis. This is appropriate and I will continue to do this within the limits of the resources available to me and the legitimate needs of other parts of the country.

An important point which I am considering in the context of the report is that one must not lose sight of the fact that non-national roads are the responsibility of the local authorities and that State grants are intended to supplement local expenditure, not to substitute for it. Local authorities have a significant role to play in this area. I am interested to note the disparity of contribution at local level between certain counties.

As the Deputy knows, this year's road grants have been determined and notified to local authorities. I assure him that the position of Cavan County Council received careful and full consideration. I am sure the House will agree that the situation which I have outlined represents a reasonable response to the road problems in Cavan while, at the same time, taking account of the very real needs elsewhere in the country. The future position will be addressed in the context of the report on county roads which I hope to finalise in the very near future.

Will there be additional funding this year?