I will call on the Deputies who tabled questions to the Minister for Transport in the order in which they submitted their questions to my office.
Private Notice Questions. - Rail Accidents.
asked the Minister for Transport the circumstances surrounding the derailment of a freight train on the Limerick-Waterford line; the implication this has for the line and rail freight; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
asked the Minister for Transport the circumstances surrounding the Cahir train derailment; the implications this will have in both the short and long-term on the transport of beet by rail; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
asked the Minister for Transport the circumstances surrounding the derailment of a cement train at Cahir, County Tipperary; the structural damage caused to the viaduct; the implications which this has for the future of the rail line; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
asked the Minister for Transport the inquiry which is planned into the derailment of a freight train near Cahir, County Tipperary, on 7 September 2003 and the consequent collapse of a section of the bridge known as the Cahir viaduct; the steps being taken to review safety procedures at such locations in view of the crash and the potential consequences had this been a passenger train; the implications for the future of the Waterford-Limerick Junction line; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
I propose to take all the questions together.
This morning Iarnród Éireann notified the chief railway inspecting officer of my Department of a railway incident involving a freight train, which occurred earlier this morning on the Limerick-Waterford rail line. Thankfully, I understand, no injuries were sustained.
I have been advised by Iarnród Éireann of the preliminary details of the incident. The incident occurred when the 3.35 a.m. Limerick to Waterford bulk cement train derailed as it passed over the River Suir viaduct outside Cahir. The train comprised two locomotives and 22 wagons. The locomotives and one wagon remained fully on the track, with a further nine wagons becoming derailed but remaining on the track bed. The remaining 12 wagons fell from the centre span of the viaduct and landed on the bank of the river or, in some cases, in the river itself. These wagons were extensively damaged. Part of the viaduct and a section of track between the viaduct and Cahir station were also extensively damaged.
The circumstances surrounding the derailment are currently being investigated by Iarnród Éireann's mechanical and infrastructure engineers to determine the cause of the accident.
Due to the level of damage sustained, the line has been closed and I understand that preliminary indications are that it may remain closed for some time. The extent of the damage is currently being assessed by Iarnród Éireann and this will allow the company to estimate the length of time needed to carry out the necessary repairs. Meanwhile, Iarnród Éireann is making every effort to assist in setting up alternative arrangements for its passengers and for its freight customers, including its beet and cement customers.
I have been advised that the Garda Síochána, the Civil Defence and officers from the Environmental Protection Agency, the local authority and the fisheries board have been in attendance at the site. The chief railway inspecting officer of my Department is in attendance and will meet Iarnród Éireann's chief engineer at the site.
The details I have given to the House are based on the initial information provided to me by Iarnród Éireann and the chief railway inspecting officer. I have asked for a more detailed report on the incident from the chief railway inspecting officer on his return. I have also asked Iarnród Éireann that I be provided with the findings of its investigation when it is completed.
I thank the Minister for his response at such short notice. Will the Minister give a commitment to the House that the Waterford-Limerick rail line will be reopened and that this morning's incident will not threaten the viability of beet or cement deliveries by rail? Has the Minister any indication of the implications this incident could have for other viaducts or for the use of cement bubble wagons?
I see no reason the line should not reopen as normal. The cause of the derailment is not known at this stage. When I receive those final details, I will be in a better position to answer the Deputy's question more fully. However, I see no reason the line cannot be restored to its previous condition. Although I will consider the matter, I cannot see the immediate implications for other viaducts. However, if the results of this investigation raise questions about standards at other viaducts, I will ensure that the railway inspecting officers take the necessary action.
I thank the Minister for replying to these questions which are very important to people in the south-east, particularly given the transportation of beet by rail from Wellingtonbridge to the Mallow beet plant. We are all trying to encourage road safety and we do not want to see additional lorries on the road transporting beet from Wellingtonbridge to Mallow, which is a long journey.
I have been in touch with the beet growers' association in Wexford which, in turn, has been in contact with Irish Rail. The beet growers have told me that it could be the end of this year or early in 2004 before the rail line is reopened. On two or three occasions, I have met the Minister, with other Deputies from Wexford, on deputations from the county to discuss the future of the Rosslare to Limerick railway line. I hope that the line will not be closed down as a result of today's incident. The importance of the line both for passenger and freight traffic has been explained to the Minister so I hope he will be able to get the line reopened as soon as possible. Have Irish Rail officials indicated a timescale for reopening the line? What will the cost of the repairs be and can work on the line begin before the investigation has been completed? The most important matter is the transportation of beet by rail because we do not want more lorries using the roads. I think the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, will back me up on this point.
Preliminary indications from Iarnród Éireann are that the line may be closed for some months. That is the most accurate information I can give the Deputy at this point. I agree with him that policy should be to get freight off the roads and on to the railways and, in that connection, I fully support use of our railways for beet and other freight transport. I understand the importance of this particular line for freight traffic. The best estimate I can provide, however, is that it will take some months to reopen the line. I will be able to give the House more accurate information when I receive the final report on the incident.
I understand that the Minister will have to wait some time for the report but can he provide an assurance on funding because I do not want to see any excuse being used to downgrade this railway line? Meetings have been held in an effort to keep the line open and in fairness to the Minister, he is committed to maintaining it. Will he provide the necessary funding for CIE? I saw the scene of the incident early this morning and it looked like something from a war. The Minister should make the necessary funding available for repair of the line. He should also ensure that no excuse is provided to close the line.
This accident could have been much more serious if a passenger train had been involved. We were lucky on this occasion. I would not allow Iarnród Éireann to link a particular event such as this to the future assessment of the need for a line. That is a separate issue, which I have to assess separately. There is one passenger service in each direction per day on that line. I told the delegation, to which the Deputy's colleague referred, that it is incumbent upon people to support the railway services. I see no reason such a rail service, effectively from Limerick to Waterford, should not be a good one, linking those two large areas of population.
What about the line to Rosslare?
It is incumbent on everybody involved to make sure the service is supported and to build it up.
The Minister has been somewhat disingenuous with his last comment, with all due respect. He knows well that Iarnród Éireann cannot build up that service without proper investment in it. Would he accept that the reason for today's very serious incident was because that line has been neglected over many years and that he and his predecessors have failed to provide the necessary investment to make it a fully functioning and safe line? The Minister knows as well as we do the type of approach that has been taken by Iarnród Éireann in recent times because it has been starved of funding. The company has said to us that it wants to get out of the freight business. The Minister has said today that he is fully supportive of rail freight. It is not enough just to pay lip service to it. He knows perfectly well that investment needs to be put in place to make rail freight possible. We need upgrading of the lines and we need to allow Iarnród Éireann the flexibility it needs to let that happen. Due to the financial pressures on the company at the moment it is keen to close lines.
The Minister has already been asked by Deputy Naughten to give a commitment on the future of this line. Many people living in the Munster area want to see the line developed. They realise the potential it has, even if the Minister does not. If he is serious about balanced regional development he must accept the argu ment that investment has to go into the infrastructure and development will follow after that. Let us take the pressure off Dublin and make a real commitment to developing rail links outside the capital. I want to ask the Minister to give a clear commitment that he will not use this incident as an excuse for closing down that line. I am asking him to put on the record that he is committed to maintaining, improving and upgrading that line into the future. I would also ask him to give a commitment that as soon as he receives the report of the rail inspector he will make it available to the House.
I do not believe I am the one that is being disingenuous. The Deputy is trying to suggest that the reason for the accident is because of lack of investment in the line. I do not believe the Deputy can come into Dáil Éireann and say that. There are inspectors investigating the accident. It may or may not have anything to do with the investment in the line. I want to say that straight away. If it turns out to be the case, fine, but I do not think the Deputy can state it as a fact. Accidents happen and it may or may not have had anything to do with investment.
The second thing is that I believe the Deputy decided not to listen to me. I said clearly that I would not allow Iarnród Éireann to use this accident as an excuse to interfere with the line. The future of the line is a separate issue completely.
Is the Minister committed to it?
Despite the fact that I said it, the Deputy asked that I should not use it as an excuse to close the line. I have no intention of closing any railway line. My approach to railway lines – I have said this many times – is to build them up and get more passengers for them. It would be silly for a country like this to go around closing railway lines in circumstances where the roads are clogged and the car population is growing dramatically. We need to make the railway lines work for us. Finally, with regard to investment, I would inform the Deputy that €400 million a year is going into railway investment and rail safety. In the past five years €1 billion has gone into rail safety.
What about the line?
That is up and down the country. I can get the details on particular lines for the Deputy, but I can assure her there has been enormous investment. Some 80% of the mainline track is now completely replaced. That is a very significant investment. All I can say about this particular line is this is an incident, an accident, that will be dealt with professionally by the inspectors. We will find the cause of it and we will learn lessons from that. The future of the line is a separate issue and I will not attempt – nor will I allow Iarnród Éireann – to link the two.
I would like to support my colleague, Deputy Kehoe, in his sentiments as regards the Rosslare-Limerick Junction line. As the Minister is aware we had a number of meetings earlier this year with Deputies and Senators from the south-east, from Wexford right through to Tipperary. He gave us an assurance at that time that no line would close – and in particular that that line would not close, despite the fact that Iarnród Éireann made several attempts over the years to close it. I would like to welcome the Minister's statement that there will be a distinction between today's accident and what Iarnród Éireann might want to do regarding the line, and that it will not be allowed to use the accident as an excuse.
As regards the beet industry which is very important to south Wexford and Wellington Bridge, could I ask the Minister how many farmers are geared up to put it on wagons and send it to Mallow? Could he ask Iarnród Éireann what alternative arrangements it is going to make with farmers? Obviously they are not in a position to haul the beet all the way to Mallow. Iarnród Éireann should be as helpful as it can to the farmers, in whatever way is possible. Finally, in many ways we are lucky that we are not dealing the more serious problem of fatalities, if a passenger train had been involved. I would welcome the Minister's statement of assurance that CIE will not use the incident as an excuse to close the line.
I would confirm for my colleague's benefit that Iarnród Éireann has advised me that it is making every effort to assist in making alternative arrangements for both its freight and passenger customers. I do not have details on what those arrangements are right now, but it has assured me and I will insist the company makes alternative arrangements for freight and passengers.
Everyone will accept that we need to investigate what happened and come to conclusions on that – and that the issue of the railway line is separate. It gives us a useful opportunity today to look into that issue. For me the interesting thing is to look at the facts of the line, particularly with regard to freight. I think that at this time of the year there are something like six freight trains a day, two cement trains and a more frequent Norfolk container line. We are looking at about nine freight trains a day on the line, given that the beet trains comprise about 30 wagons and the cement trains about 20. If this traffic was to be replaced on the road one is possibly looking at 200 additional juggernauts a day on the Wexford, Tipperary and other road networks. That would do huge damage and cause enormous difficulties in our towns – and present a huge safety issue. What struck me immediately was, as Deputy Browne has been saying, this is a line that Iarnród Éireann has been desperately trying to close down. There are nine trains a day without any effort being put into developing the service.
For a line to work, it has to cater for as many services as possible. There is a very large fixed cost in providing the line. It makes no sense, then, to run as few services as possible. The marginal cost in adding on additional services is much smaller. That begs the question as to what Iarnród Éireann was doing in the scheduling of its passenger freight services on this line. The Minister has said there is an obligation on the people of Clonmel, or Carrick-on-Suir or Waterford to use the service. How can they be expected to use the service when on occasions it would be quicker to cycle on certain sections? On occasion one is left waiting by Iarnród Éireann. It apparently sets its timing almost deliberately to discourage passenger use of the service. Ultimately the Minister is in charge. We had the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, earlier saying in regard to An Post that he was not in charge of details but was in charge of policy. Likewise, the Minister for Transport is in charge of overall rail policy in this State. Where we see a rail company in charge, treating a passenger rail like that, it is the Minister's responsibility to tell it that he is not satisfied. That is the rail service Percy French would have sung about, but it is not suitable for 21st century Ireland. The lesson from today is what the Minister will do to ensure the viability of this line, not only with regard to the particular viaduct or the possible repair of the line or whatever the circumstances of the accident, but overall, how he is to ensure continued service.
There are many more details that may emerge from this. We have an opportunity next week during questions to the Minister, and I intend to put a certain number. The real issue for the Minister is the fact that he makes policy and that he avails of the current opportunity – not with regard to the details of the accident or the day-to-day management of the particular line – to recognise that a substantial freight business is possible here and that the reason we do not have a passenger service on it is because of its deliberate mismanagement by the rail company.
Lastly, there were reported comments by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen and others, of particular concern to the Waterford area. I believe he expressed slight concern that if we pay too much attention to the rail line, it might possibly divert traffic from the new motorway planned for the Waterford area. Does the Minister agree with the assessment that we have a choice between rail and road services and because we are investing so much in the road service into Waterford, perhaps there is not such a case for the Waterford rail line? Does the Minister agree with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in that regard?
I have made it clear several times that I am a supporter of rail travel and 21st century travel in Ireland will require it. In the past we closed railway lines and regretted it. That infrastructure is critical for the future shape of modern Ireland. I am a strong supporter of freight on the lines. While I can take responsibility for policy issues, the company will have to take responsibility for individual day-to-day decisions under the general policy the Government lays down for it.
That line should be able to carry more freight, as should the rail network in general. The freight service in Iarnród Éireann is a heavy loss-maker. The company has frequently approached me with a view to reducing its involvement in certain aspects of freight and I have refused its requests and will continue to do so. I have also made it clear that if Iarnród Éireann cannot or will not successfully develop a strong freight business, we should consider giving it to another body and take on the trade union and other difficulties that may cause. If we decide to do that, I hope the House will support us.
The issue of this rail line has been raised with the Minister on a number of occasions. Everyone would agree that there has been underinvestment on the line. We will have to wait and see if that forms part of the cause of this particular rail accident. Is it not true that we are lucky this was not a huge tragedy? Had it been a passenger train rather than a freight train, there could have been a serious tragedy. Will the Minister give a firm commitment to the House that a lack of funds will not delay the repair of the viaduct? We need a response to that critical issue today.
Will funds be made available to upgrade the line from Limerick Junction to Waterford and Rosslare? As the Minister knows that line has huge potential simply as a freight line. In light of the EU announcement that it wants to develop a motorway of the sea from the Irish coast to the Iberian Peninsula, it is critical that that rail line be upgraded to provide exporters in the west and mid-west access to both Rosslare and Waterford ports, as we do not have the road structure at this point.
I understand that part of the track in the vicinity of the viaduct has been upgraded recently. Had Iarnród Éireann any plans to upgrade the viaduct? Will the Minister give the House any information that becomes available to him? When will Report Stage of the Railway Safety Bill be taken so that we can have a proper investigative measure to ensure that the company does not have to investigate itself after any future incidents?
On the last point, the railway inspecting officer is with the Department, not with the company.
However, as the Minister knows the railway inspecting officer has very limited powers. The company carries out the actual investigation.
That is true, which is why I hope the Railway Safety Bill will come back to the House in this session.
I hope so. We have been awaiting it for a long time.
I accept that we have to get on with that. Committee Stage was competed before the recess and I want to get back to it quickly.
Iarnród Éireann has funds at its disposal for repairing the viaduct. It has a substantial capital budget of hundreds of millions of euro.
There are no plans for that line.
I would expect the company to repair the viaduct.
Will the Minister give a commitment that funds will not be an issue?
This is a working line on which services run. If part of it is damaged, I expect Iarnród Éireann to repair it and carry out its normal business. Any assessments of the future of individual services or lines are totally separate and cannot be linked to these kinds of unfortunate incidents.
I certainly would not stand over a line that was not safe. I will review the report very closely to see what conclusions it draws about the line. If it turns out that aspects of the line are not safe, there will need to be substantial investment in them to make them safe. Funds for repairing the viaduct will be available from Iarnród Éireann to restore it.
Were there plans to upgrade the viaduct? The lines adjacent to it had been upgraded recently.
I am sure the Deputy saw the strategic rail review, which some months ago laid out a series of priorities starting with intercity rail services, followed by commuter transport into Dublin and Cork cities. Investment is being made there in the initial stages. The company will make decisions as to where to make whatever investment is required after that.
Work was taking place on the track. Was there any scheduled work on the viaduct?
I do not have that information, but can get it for the Deputy.
The Minister has said that money will be invested in repairing the line. Would the age of the rolling stock that carries beet and other freight have had any effect on the accident? This should be addressed in the report. Will the report be made available to the House as soon as it is finalised? Have there been any discussions between Iarnród Éireann and the Department about any alternative routes for freight – perhaps travelling via Kildare – or is road the only alternative being considered due to the cost of a longer rail journey?
I would not speculate as to whether the carriages might form part of the cause. I need to wait until I receive final details on the accident. I will make the report available to the House. Iarnród Éireann has advised me that it is making alternative arrangements for both freight and passenger customers. When I have details of those I will publish them.
Will the report be made available to the House when it comes out?
When the report is finished I will make it available to the House.
I am unclear about the terms of reference of the inquiry. This morning I spoke to some local people about the viaduct and the work that was recently carried out close to it. There was also an accident around the same area in the 1950s. Work was carried out at that time and that seems to be where the problem is. Work carried out many years earlier seems to be in considerably sounder condition. Will the report cover all those aspects? If the report established what was wrong with the tracks, will the Minister alert those affected by other parts of the line?
The Deputy is well informed. In 1952 Iarnród Éireann staff were killed at Cahir when a train went off the tracks. The chief inspecting officer is at the site and on his return he will give me fuller details than I now have. At that point I can decide on any possible legal investigation. Under the railways Acts, I can direct an inquiry to be made by a railway inspecting officer. I could take that decision if the details he gives me are not robust enough.
Has the Minister had any requests from Iarnród Éireann in recent years for funding for upgrading any part of that line? Has the company at any stage brought his attention to problems that may exist on the line? In respect of the action following today's incident, is he saying that the entire line is being closed or is it possible to keep portions of it operational? Given the Minister's responsibility for policy in respect of the railways, what is his policy for the future of the Limerick Junction-Rosslare line?
I am more enthusiastic about this line than Iarnród Éireann is. It is not seeking specific funds from me for this line.
It makes its plans to suit its budget. If the Minister does not give it the funding it is not going to do it.
It has to come to Government looking for a specific envelope of funding for the railway investment programme and it has not been beating down my door looking for funds for this particular line. I suspect it might have a different view to me on the future of that line and of lines generally.
Has the Minister been beating down Iarnród Éireann's door to do it?
The whole line will be closed from Limerick Junction for a number of months. My policy is that we work to keep the line open and we try to build up the business on it and build up freight.
Specifically how can the Minister do that?
We will do everything possible to make it a success.
There is nothing being done to make it a success.
We can start by reopening it.
Waterford Chamber of Commerce offered to market the line free of charge.
There is nothing to stop it. The chamber can do that tomorrow morning if it wishes.
We have to have service on that line.
There is one service a day. I will not tell the Deputy how many travel on that service per day.
That is a defining issue.
It is a joke. It is not encouraging people. The Minister would not use it. No one uses it.
The Minister said he was more enthusiastic than Iarnród Éireann about this line. We talked earlier about the DART service and people working overnight. Does the Minister get a sense of urgency from Iarnród Éireann about the repairs to this line? I note that he says it may be closed for some time but if there is no urgency on the part of Iarnród Éireann could we be talking about a long time and can the Minister can use his influence to try and speed up the repairs?
Does the Minister have any broad idea how much it will cost to repair the 12 damaged carriages? Is there any indication of the cost of repairs to the viaduct? Does he have any idea how long the inquiry will take? I was impressed to hear that the Minister is concerned to get the Railway Safety Bill through the House. What is causing the delay? If the Minister does not have time to answer that question now perhaps he could send me a letter about it.
As this incident happened at 3.50 a.m. this morning, it is only hours old. I do not have any sense that there is a lack of urgency in getting the viaduct repaired. I assume Iarnród Éireann will get on with that as quickly as it can. I do not have any estimate of costs. The Deputy's guess would be as good as mine at this stage. I have not asked the company about this because it is focusing on getting information about what happened. The Deputy can make a good guess himself as to what it would cost to repair the line, the carriages and the viaduct. It will be an expensive operation. When the inspector returns and gives me his report I will decide whether we need a formal inquiry under section 7 or whether the inspector's report covers enough to satisfy the House.
The Railway Safety Bill was delayed by the summer recess. It was on Committee Stage and I made a commitment to Deputy Shortall that I would bring it back to the House at some stage. The main reason for the delay was that there were several issues to do with the use of alcohol, the disciplinary measures available and other similar issues which we have yet to resolve. I have undertaken to talk to the trade unions about these. I am hopeful of making progress with that and getting the Bill back into the House quickly.
Our rail system is largely a radial system in and out of Dublin and this is one of the few lines that does not have its terminus in Dublin. Does the Minister agree that with the speed restrictions that already existed on the Limerick Junction-Rosslare line and the attempt earlier by Iarnród Éireann to stop the passenger and freight service, this line was not given priority and suffered from lack of investment? This morning's incident was an effect of that type of policy, for which the Minister has direct responsibility.
I am uncertain whether the train can go from Waterford to Cahir station. Clonmel is a major urban centre and it is important that a signal is given that links can be maintained between Clonmel and Waterford city. Can the Minister give some indication of the Government's policy on that and how Iarnród Éireann could be persuaded to maintain such a service? An indication that part of the line would be used would give hope in the short term that the full line can be restored for use.
I will raise with the company the question of leaving parts of the line open, which is a good idea if it can be brought about. I will do that tomorrow and see how practical that is. I do not want to give a public indication that the accident was in any way caused by the level of invest ment in the line. It would be premature to draw that conclusion.
I am amazed at the Minister's comment that the company is less enthusiastic about the line than he is yet it does not surprise me. It is an indictment of the company. The Minister is the person who sets policy on behalf of the Government and there is an onus on him to set down clear parameters for the provision of services and the maintenance of lines. Does he not agree that this line services three of the most important ports which are also the least utilised because there is no road infrastructure to service them? Does he not agree that it is crazy that the service coming from the west has to do the circuit of Ireland, up to Kildare and back down to Waterford because there is no access to that line?
Would he not agree that the fact that the Railway Safety Bill is not passed seriously limits the range and scope of the investigation that can take place, and the powers that he and the railway inspecting officer have in dealing with this? Can he give a commitment – which would be unusual but it should be done – that this investigation will be completed and delivered to his desk before the Christmas recess?
The Railway Safety Bill is important and it would be useful were we to have it available. I do not see why the railway inspector cannot get on and give us the cause of this accident as quickly as possible in order that we know exactly what we are dealing with here and precisely—
That was the principle of publishing the legislation in the first place because the railway inspector did not have power.
I have no reason to believe the absence of that power will in any way prevent the making of those inquiries. I have not yet ordered a formal inquiry under section 7. I will take that decision after I hear from the inspecting officer on his return. At that point we can decide if there is full co-operation from everybody involved. I have no reason to expect less than full co-operation from the company with regard to all relevant questions and documentation. However, I accept that the more modern, streamlined structure of the Railway Safety Bill is a better regime, to which we will move as soon as possible. The Deputy asked me to have this done before Christmas – I will make every effort to have the Bill brought forward as quickly as we can.
With regard to the Deputy's reference to my role, nobody in my job can start taking responsibility, on a mile by mile basis, for approximately 1,000 miles of railway. There is an independent State board established under statute by this House to manage the day-to-day operations.
The Minister has a responsibility.
Of course, I take responsibility for policy. However, when it comes down to whether trains can be stopped at particular stations and how much of the track can be kept open between certain towns after a derailment, a great deal of this is in the area of operations, which is a matter for the company to handle.
I do not dispute that. However, it is one of the most critical rail lines in the country. The Minister has stated it is his policy to develop rail freight services but not one cent has gone towards that line.
That is not true. The line has been open, freight has been carried and the company has been seeking to develop that business. Quite an effort has been made to further develop freight services on the line. When it is repaired and new rolling stock is put in place, I see no reason the company cannot continue that development.
There is no longer any timber being carried on the line.
A number of people have said this could have been a major tragedy. It was just a matter of luck that a freight train was involved, rather than a passenger train. Perhaps the nature of the incident has underlined the need for legislation in this area. The Railway Safety Bill dates back to 2001 and it was only this year that the Minister got around to dealing with it on Committee Stage, where there were major delays because of new sections which he sought to introduce, literally overnight.
The Deputy asked me to hold back on taking the Bill to the House.
The Minister should not try to change the facts.
The Bill could be dealt with in one day.
The Minister sought to introduce two major new sections to the Bill overnight. We asked him to allow time for debate in that regard but he was not prepared to do so. It was not until David Begg made contact with him and the Taoiseach that he pulled back. Let us be clear about the facts. The Minister tried to ram through two major sections which had huge implications for rail workers – manual rail workers, not for any of the management – about which we expressed serious concern.
According to what the Deputy said, it was David Begg who caused the delay, not I.
David Begg's intervention made the Minister see sense and stopped him from ramming the Bill through.
Who has responsibility for the Bill?
The Minister has that responsibility and the Bill has been stalled since last June.
Was it stalled by me or David Begg?
The Minister should stop trying to distort the facts. He tried to change the substance of the Bill—
Of course I did.
—without any notice or consultation. He tried to ram it through.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
We cannot discuss the Bill now.
The Minister only stopped after intervention by David Begg. However, that was four months ago.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
I ask the Deputy to put her supplementary question to the Minister.
What progress has been made on the Bill since?
Who stopped me in my tracks?
We are waiting for Report Stage. The Bill has been stalled for four months. It is now over two years old.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
I have already asked the Deputy to put her supplementary question to the Minister.
Will the Minister give a clear commitment to bring the Bill forward at an early stage? I was disappointed to hear him say he would try to bring it forward before the end of this session. That is not good enough. He would have been seriously exposed if there had been a major incident involving fatalities. I ask him to give a commitment that, as soon as possible within this session, he will arrange to have Report Stage taken in the House. I suggest he is really playing games when he speaks of being more committed to the future of this rail line than Iarnród Éireann. What has he done to show his commitment? He is the Minister with responsibility for setting policy and deciding how funding is allocated.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
I kept the line open.
The responsibility rests with the Minister. He should stop passing the buck to Iarnród Éireann.
I kept it open.
What has the Minister done to ensure its survival?
I took action to keep it open.
There is only one passenger train per day on the line. The Minister needs to be much more proactive in this regard.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
We must move on. We have already spent 46 minutes on this question.
The Minister portrays himself as a hardworking Minister with a commitment to the future of this rail line which, according to him, would be a success were it not for Iarnród Éireann. What exactly is he doing to ensure the future of the line?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
I call the Minister to make his final reply.
What funding has the Minister provided? What meetings did he have with Iarnród Éireann to tell it to prioritise the development?
I provided Iarnród Éireann with €400 million—
The Minister has not answered my question. He had ample opportunity to tell the House what, if anything, he had done to ensure the future of the line.
I have now had the Deputy's lecture five or six times. I am providing €400 million of taxpayers' money every year for a State company.
Not for the line in question.
Am I to go through all of the 1,000 miles of track, line by line?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
The Minister to continue without interruption.
First, I kept the line open. Second, I made €400 million per year available to Iarnród Éireann to invest in the rail system – a total of €1 billion on rail safety over five years. That is the purpose for which the company exists. It has a board which includes worker directors and is entirely independent of the Minister.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
We must conclude. Deputies should allow the Minister to reply.
If I were to get involved in dealing with the times at which individual trains run—
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
Order please. Deputy Shortall should allow the Minister to conclude.
Let me finish. Deputy Shortall asked what I did to keep the line open: I made it clear to the company that the line should remain open. That action on my part is an important contribution to the future of the line. I will not get involved in setting timetables for trains – that is a matter for the company which has good directors, including worker directors, who decide on matters such as the number of freight trains, the times at which trains should run, the number of passengers they should carry and the extent to which train services should be marketed. That is not my job.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
That concludes private notice questions. We now move on to the next business.