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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 27 Jun 2002

Vol. 553 No. 7

Adjournment Debate. - Railway Procurement Agency.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this matter on the Adjournment. When the rainbow Government left office more than five years ago, the Luas light rail system for Dublin was at an advanced stage of planning. A similar light rail system in Montpelier, the planning of which commenced at the same time as Dublin, is already up and running. After four years, we have yet to see one mile of Luas track laid. The Government's continually revised targets on the operation of Luas have failed to materialise and all that we have seen to date is the ghost train on Merrion Street,

Following the enactment of the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act, 2001, the Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, now has responsibility for Luas. It is an independent statutory body with responsibility for procuring new metro and light rail infrastructure. The decision to appoint a banker as the chief executive officer of the agency and, as a consequence, as a member of the board contradicts the principle and thrust of section 20 of the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act, 2001. Under this section the then Department of Public Enterprise stipulated in the legislation for the first time the level of competence required for directors. The chief executive officer of the agency is to become a member of the board. The fact that the board, which is charged with the development of major infrastructural projects, is devoid of core engineering and public transport experience is a blatant contradiction of the principle of section 20 and raises a serious issue of major public interest.

The board of the RPA has selected an individual from a financial background to address the public-private partnership aspect of the remit of the new agency. I call on the Minister for Transport to make a comprehensive statement on the selection of a banker as the new chief executive officer of the RPA. The Minister must explain the rationale for selecting a banker as the chief executive officer of the agency. The selection appears to fly in the face of the criteria set for his appointment and laid down in the advertisement in The Financial Times of 6 March 2002 which stated the successful candidate would have an excellent track record in delivering major engineering projects in either the public or private sector and that knowledge and experience of passenger transport services would be an advantage. Following such an appointment there is no member on the board of the RPA with such technical experience. That is a blatant contradiction of the principle of the legislation establishing the agency.

A similar situation arose on the establishment of Railtrack in the United Kingdom where a board of persons with financial experience took control of the company. It was devoid of the core engineering experience required. We are all aware of the disaster which followed. The RPA is now taking a similar line which will sound the death knell for the development of rail transport in Ireland. There must be clarity and transparency surrounding such an influential appointment as the RPA has a major role to play in delivering the Luas and metro projects for the city of Dublin and in the development of rail services throughout the country.

While we are unaware of the individual and the experience he will bring to this new role, following the recent speculation it appears the new chief executive officer does not come from the type of technical background required to ensure these projects are delivered on time and within budget. The Minister for Transport must answer the following questions. Were the criteria outlined in the recruitment advertisement ignored? Was the stipulation in the legislation on the level of competence required for the directorate disregarded when appointing the chief executive officer? Will he stand over a board charged with the development of a major infrastructural project which is devoid of core engineering and public transport experience? It now appears the intention of the House was ignored when consideration was given by the board to the type of appointee required for this role.

The Railway Procurement Agency was established in December last year under the terms of the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act, 2001. It is an independent, commercial statutory State body. Its main function is to secure the provision of such light railway and metro railway infrastructure as may be determined from time to time by the Minister.

The agency has a hugely important role to play in the implementation of the Luas and Dublin metro projects. Responsibility for Luas trans ferred to the RPA from CIE at the start of this year. In addition, the agency is carrying out preparatory work for the implementation of the Dublin metro. This project represents the single biggest infrastructural project ever undertaken by the State.

Section 20(5) of the Act provides that the members of the agency, other than the chief executive, shall be appointed by the Minister. Section 23(2) of the Act provides that the chief executive shall be appointed by the agency. Accordingly, the Minister has no role in the matter of appointing the chief executive.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 4 September 2002.