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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 13 Nov 2007

Vol. 641 No. 3

Local Government (Roads Functions) Bill 2007: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to open the debate in this House on the Local Government (Roads Functions) Bill 2007. On the formation of the Government in June 2007, the Taoiseach announced that responsibility for non-national roads and the national vehicle and driver file, NVDF, was to be transferred from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the Department of Transport. This Bill provides the necessary legislative framework to facilitate the transfer of responsibility for these functions from my Department to the Department of Transport.

Following the Taoiseach's announcement, my Department engaged with the Department of Transport and the Office of the Attorney General to work out the legal and practical arrangements for the transfer. Advice from the Attorney General's office was that the transfer of functions relating to both non-national roads and the NVDF required some minor amendment of the primary legislation in addition to the making of a transfer of functions order under the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1939.

The drafting of the necessary transfer of functions order is well advanced with the intention of making the order to coincide with enactment of the Bill. The Bill is technical in nature. In summary, it provides for amendment of the Local Government Act 1998 to allow for payments from the local government fund to the Minister for Transport in respect of, first, non-national roads and, second, the Minister's expenses in maintaining NVDF records, administering motor vehicle tax and issuing driver licences. The Bill also provides a statutory basis for the Minister for Transport to make regulations in respect of the NVDF functions being transferred to him. The Bill also vests in the Minister for Transport all ministerial consent provisions in respect of railway orders where the works involved are likely to affect public roads.

I wish to explain the necessity for the Bill to be enacted within a short time frame. The Department of Finance has notified a deadline of mid to late November for enactment of the Bill to allow that Department the time necessary to make budgetary adjustments consequent on the transfer of functions in the 2007 and 2008 Votes of my Department and the Department of Transport. The enactment of this Bill and the making of the transfer of functions order will allow spending provisions for non-national roads and the NVDF to be definitively transferred to the Vote of the Department of Transport. In this way, statutory responsibility for these expenditure provisions will transfer to the Department of Transport. In due course, expenditure Estimates to be presented to the House will reflect these changes. I thank Deputies for their co-operation in facilitating early consideration of this Bill.

Following the general election in 2002, most of the departmental administration and ministerial functions in the areas of roads, road traffic and road safety were transferred from the then Department of the Environment and Local Government to the then Department of Public Enterprise, now the Department of Transport. At that time, it was decided that functions relating to regional and local roads should remain with the Department of the Environment and Local Government. The primary reason for this was that State grants for non-national roads were mainly financed from the local government fund, which is administered by my Department. The Government has decided that overall responsibility for the non-national roads investment programme should be vested in the Minister with responsibility for overall transport development. There is no longer any rationale for having two separate Ministers and Departments with responsibility for different aspects of the public road network.

One of the primary purposes of this Bill is to facilitate the transfer of the non-national roads function to the Minister for Transport and also the payment of associated State grants by that Minister. In the matter of funding for the non-national roads investment programme, I assure the House there will be no negative impact as a result of the new arrangements. While responsibility for non-national roads is being transferred to the Department of Transport, the local government fund will continue to provide significant finance for these roads. This year alone, in addition to €87.5 million from the Exchequer, €520 million is being provided from the local government fund. This will be the benchmark for the future.

The NVDF is a database of national strategic importance which contains details of all the 2.4 million registered vehicles and 2.5 million licensed drivers in the country. The NVDF is the product of a major computerisation project which was completed in my Department in 2002. The system enables all vehicle and driving licence transaction processing to be updated in real time. The NVDF is critical to the management of the national motor tax and driver licence services, including the optimisation of these services for the motoring public. NVDF data now plays a key role in vehicle and driver regulation and in supporting the critical road safety agenda and it is in these contexts that the Government deemed it appropriate that the system and its support staff should transfer from my Department to the Department of Transport.

The primary purpose of section 1 is to amend the Local Government Act 1998 to allow for the payment of moneys from the local government fund to the Minister for Transport in respect of non-national roads and that Minister's expenses in maintaining NVDF records, administering motor vehicle tax and issuing driver licences. These expenses are currently being met from the fund and this will continue after the transfer of functions to the Minister for Transport. Section 1 also ensures that moneys received by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister for Transport in the context of the motor tax and NVDF functions continue to be paid into the local government fund.

Deputies will be aware of the important role the local government fund has played in the financing of local government since it was established in 1999. The fund is financed from a combination of an Exchequer contribution — €537 million in 2007 — and the full proceeds of motor taxation, projected at €944 million for this year. The general purpose grant allocation to local authorities from the fund for 2007 amounts to €948 million. This represents an increase of 8% over the record amount provided in 2006 and is an increase of some 180% over the 1997 allocation.

It is critically important that the improvements that have been brought about in the financing of local authorities, current and capital, are built upon. In this context, it is essential the local government fund, which has been pivotal in this success, is in no way compromised by the transfer of functions. I assure the House that this will be the case. As heretofore, motor tax and the Exchequer will continue to provide resources to the fund, which will continue to provide a robust, buoyant and dedicated source of funding for local authorities by way of general purpose grants and non-national roads grants.

Section 2 contains amendments to the Roads Act 1920 which are required to facilitate the transfer of responsibility for the NVDF to the Minister for Transport. Under current legislation, the power to make regulations for the control and regulation of the motor tax system, which includes change of vehicle ownership, is vested in the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government under the 1920 Act. Notifications of vehicle ownership changes are an essential part of the maintenance and updating of the national vehicle file. With the transfer of responsibility for the NVDF to the Minister for Transport, it is necessary also to transfer responsibility for making regulations in the area of vehicle ownership records and related matters. The purpose of section 2 is to amend the Roads Act 1920 accordingly. The opportunity is also taken in this section to update definitions in section 17 of the 1920 Act.

Arising from the transfer of functions in the area of non-national roads, I will no longer have a function in respect of public roads. Section 3 makes a minor amendment to the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001 to provide that ministerial consent to the granting of a railway order, where the works in question would affect non-national roads, is to be vested in the Minister for Transport as the responsible Minister.

I reiterate that this Bill is technical in nature and simply provides the necessary legislative framework to facilitate the transfer of the non-national roads and NVDF functions to the Minister for Transport. The actual transfer of functions will be effected by a transfer order to be made by the Government. Drafting of the necessary transfer of functions order is well advanced and the transfer order will be made to coincide with enactment of this Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

I do not agree with the Minister that the Bill is technical in nature. It transfers a considerable amount of financial autonomy from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to another Minister. In view of the size of the local government fund and the NVDF responsibilities, the Minister is effectively giving these away under an agreement made in the programme for Government that the non-national roads budget, consisting of the local government fund and Exchequer grants, will now be the responsibility of the Department of Transport. This does not give me great confidence about the implementation of the road works programme in view of the fact that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, will be in charge of it. The Bill is certainly more technical than it looks. The recent mess made by the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, in the area of provisional licences and the road safety programme does not inspire confidence in his ability to clear up the enormous number of anomalies in the NVDF system. Thus, I regard this as much more than a technical Bill.

In view of the amount of money he is giving away to another Department, I am disappointed that the Minister did not take the opportunity in his contribution to say a few words about local government. It was a missed opportunity, although that is a political cliché, to enact meaningful legislation which devolves functions to local government rather than discuss one item before the House which the Minister regards as technical in the context of non-national roads. The Bill gives us an opportunity to talk about how local government works at present. It says something about the Government's direction on devolution that these road network functions are being transferred to a Department that administers the budget of the NRA. It was a mistake for the Green Party and for the Minister to allow this happen. I do not accept that the National Roads Authority will be as sympathetic to the pleadings of local government as is the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. When the National Roads Authority is not accountable to this House in terms of even asking a parliamentary question about funding for various road projects, it shows how frustrating it will be, not only for Members of Parliament but for members of local authorities, trying to get straight answers to straight questions on a regular basis from the Department of Transport. There has been a tradition, not without good reason, that the local councillors in city and urban areas, or in county councils around the country, are able to write to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to ask that various water, sewerage or roads projects be undertaken. These were the main infrastructural projects that were at the heart of local communities. The substantial amount of money the Minister has decided to hive off from local government to the Department of Transport will make such representations all the more difficult. In the absence of reform of the accountability system that is required from the Department of Transport, through the NRA, to this House and to local authorities, I have reservations about this.

Both of the measures should have been implemented at the same time, if we were to get some meaningful input with parliamentarians and councillors having an opportunity to raise important roads issues. For example, the former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, could meet the regional authority in the south east two years ago and make announcements about additional moneys being made available for designing important regional routes which come under the remit of the Local Government Fund as well as in the context of non-national roads. That sort of engagement with the local authority system, albeit on a regional basis, was vital to ensure that local councillors were able to make the necessary improvements to the network, at regional and local levels that were important for business, for tourism and for the day to day journeys of people to and from their places of work.

There has been much talk and many reports on local government over the years but there has been very little reform. We started in a meaningful way with the Barrington report in 1991, in which various structures were proposed to organise the local government system. Some of those proposals were implemented but they related mainly to geographical arrangements, such as splitting Dublin into three county areas and keeping Dublin City, and setting up the city structures with more meaningful boundaries. There followed the "Better Local Government" system, which was brought before us by the former Minister, Deputy Howlin, and subsequently implemented by the former Minister, Deputy Dempsey. This involved setting up a system of local government that would give community groups much more meaningful input into activities at local level.

There is no point in having those structures when we are effectively taking away from the Department a funding mechanism for non-national and regional roads and giving it to another Department. The direct line of communication is now cut off. Notwithstanding the pressures the Minister is under from the Department of Finance to have this put through for budgetary and estimate reasons, I ask the Minister to tell us on the conclusion of Second Stage or on Committee Stage whether there will be reform of the National Roads Authority in terms of how it engages with parliamentarians and councils and whether we will have access to its staff as regards their additional, as well as existing, funding for national routes, and the principles which will govern them. Local Government has stood the test of time. It is more than 100 years old. It is the form of government nearest to the citizen. I have reservations about giving away that amount of money to another Department from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

The Minister made a statement over the weekend that he would increase motor vehicle taxation in the context of the budgetary framework on the basis that it would be good for the environment. He suggested it would be based on the engine capacity of the vehicle rather than on emissions of the vehicle. If he is interested in environment issues, as I know he is, I would have thought that he would have taken the opportunity to speak about a form of taxation in the context of reforming the VRT system to ensure that people are penalised for higher emissions rather than for higher engine capacity. That is a form of indirect taxation. The Minister is taking the opportunity to gather in more money for the Exchequer when there is a declining amount of income, and here he will give it to the Department of Transport.

Not all of it.

He has given it away. In one fell swoop he is speaking about passing on the Local Government Fund through the transfer of functions from his Department to the Department of Transport. The motor tax system is the best means by which he will gather in the money under that fund to fund local government. Therefore, he will have no function in the spending of the money even though he has put his neck on the line over the weekend stating that he will charge more for the benefit of the Local Government Fund by increasing by an average of 10% the amount of taxation that will come in for engines with a capacity over 1.6 litres.

I did not mention it.

Obviously, his spindoctors mentioned it. He was reported as saying that in any case. I will be guided by what he has to say in terms of emissions.

I did not mention any engine size but Deputy Hogan can believe whatever he reads.

I will be glad to get the clarification in due course. I understand he must get an early hit on the budgetary framework and that was such an effort. Obviously, I suppose his press officers were busy.

The principles that should guide local government are important. I believe strongly in the principle of subsidiarity and what the Minister is doing here is not in the best interests of subsidiarity in terms of local government. There is no reform in terms of the transfer of functions referred to in this Bill and an opportunity should have been taken to include greater devolution of function.

Wherever a public service is provided to a defined catchment area there should be a representative body elected by the people to act as the governing body for that expenditure. The citizens, through their elected representatives, should control and fund the services locally that are provided for them, and the people, through an adequately funded and functioning local government system, should be sovereign. The Minister is seeking in this Bill to take away a significant portion of that funding.

Many quangos established some years ago to draw down local government funding through the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund are no longer required. Partnership and other groups that were established to draw down that funding are not accountable to the local government system. All of the funding drawn down by a community, an area based partnership, a Leader programme or any such programme should be accounted for in the local government system and I would ask the Minister to look at those functions in the context of whatever review of local government he will undertake in the future. When he is giving away so much money, he is obviously not in any hurry with such a review. Certainly, he should consider that all of the opportunities of groups and organisations to draw down funding in a geographical catchment area should be accounted for, through the local government system and the elected representatives, to the people. That is the principle he should adopt.

The Minister may recall the devolution commission set up in 1996 that considered various functions that could be transferred to the local government system. Nothing has happened since then. This is typical of the usual lip service we hear about introducing more devolution to local government but where the Minister of the day does not walk the walk in terms of that policy. I refer to the administration of various tourism and educational facilities, proper planning and development for health and educational services and industrial development. All of these areas should be devolved more at a local level.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle will remember the county development boards were set up for the purpose of co-ordinating funding from various State agencies and Departments. However well the theory sounded, it was never put into practice in the local government system. We are long enough around to know FÁS will not transfer part of its budget to a local authority for the purpose of implementing a community employment programme. We also know the rural assistance budget of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, will not be transferred for the purpose of allowing a local authority to implement a programme that will assist rural communities to develop community activities. Likewise, while the school building programme is co-ordinated at national level by the Department of Education and Science, there will not be any input by local authorities in regard to site provision. The town of Callan, County Kilkenny, is seeking a health centre but the HSE will not transfer any of its functions to the local authority to ensure it has the appropriate site location to provide this essential medical facility for the community. If we are serious about proper and accountable local government, these are the types of measures that should be examined in terms of devolving to local authorities some of the remits that are currently the responsibility of a variety of Departments.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is seeking to transfer an amount of money from his Department to another Department without a "yea" or "nay". This is a capitulation by the Green Party to its Fianna Fáil colleagues in terms of local government funding. It is a disgrace to give that money to a Minister like Deputy Dempsey, who has demonstrated so much incompetence in his time in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. He compounded this by his efforts in the Department of Transport where he could not even get a road safety strategy right. It is politically irresponsible of the Minister, Deputy Gormley, to even contemplate giving anything to his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, notwithstanding the personal friendship he may have developed with him.

The transfer of funds might appear to be a necessary technical matter to comply with a discussion that took place some months ago in a smoke-filled room in which the programme for Government was concocted.

Smoking was not allowed.

The rooms were filled with smoke in terms of the discussions that took place on this measure. In effect, the Minister is transferring a funding source from the Department. This shows political naivety and weakness. The Minister will not be able to implement some of the key measures required in the area of local government policy that require finance to back them up. One cannot implement much change in local government without the money to do it. Perhaps the Minister, Deputy Gormley, will let us know whether he has in mind the imposition of additional charges or other sources of funding for local government in the future. Given the proposed transfer of funding to the Department of Transport, he certainly will not have access to a vital source of funding.

I look forward to hearing what the Minister will say regarding future accessibility of local government to the National Roads Authority. Has this issue been discussed and thought through? Is there reference in the small print to the Government's policy position on this matter? I hope the Minister will return to the House at the earliest opportunity, not with an innocuous technical Bill like the proposed transfer of functions to the Department of Transport, but with a meaningful package of measures for local government reform.

I wish to share time with Deputy Tuffy.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

It is always a strange day when one witnesses the transfer of powers from one Department to another. One must always ask what is the rationale underpinning the change. The obvious reason for such a move is the creation of greater efficiency, reductions in cost or a benefit in terms of a better standard of service to citizens and local authorities. In most cases, the change is for the better. However, what we have seen recently, especially in the provisional drivers debacle, is a case of good ideas that are poorly implemented and delivered.

I have several concerns with the proposal in hand, not so much in what it sets out to achieve but in how it will be rolled out. Take the example of roads in my constituency of Cork South-Central, which reflects other constituencies around the country. Housing estate after housing estate has been built on non-national roads and, in many cases, boreens. This practice has been going on for decades. When people come out of housing estates that have been built in the past 18 months to three years, they drive on new roads that may have been taken in charge by the local authority that will accommodate cars on both sides yet when they exit the estate they are on a boreen. I hope the Bill will create some movement in this regard. In 2009 the local area plans and county and city development plans will be examined on the basis of commercial, residential and community development.

The question is whether moving this responsibility to the Department of Transport will create a more efficient planning model or further exacerbate the disjointed planning we have had to date, namely, the building of housing estates on country laneways. Quality bus corridors and park and ride facilities do not fit into this type of planning. The Department of Transport appears to be growing by the day, and problems are increasing by the day in terms of the provisional licences and the Shannon debacles. Does it need additional areas to come under its remit to be mismanaged? It is unfortunate the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, is not present as the transfer of funding is a matter for his Department and he should be present to answer questions.

What is the status of the transfer of the proceeds from the collection of motor vehicle tax from local authorities to the Minister for Transport? Likewise, what is the position regarding the collection of fees for driving licences which has been carried out by local authorities? Will the Minister for Transport take responsibility for the planning of what have become suburban roadways because housing estates have been built along them? Where do they fit into the greater scheme of things? It is necessary to clarify whether these roadways will be considered to be in suburban areas or if they will be classed as non-national roads. Where will the responsibility lie in regard to the expenditure of funds for the maintenance of these roads? Will local authorities who had responsibility for the planning of these roads, and who had accounted for them in their budgets, have to look for sanction from the Department of Transport? Who will set the priority and be responsible for the planning and layout of roads? I refer in particular to county and city development plans that are coming up for appraisal.

In recent years we have witnessed significant congestion resulting from poor planning with regard to road services. I remember when Transport 21 was announced; it was about 6.10 p.m. on a Monday. This may not be the most appropriate thing to say but occasionally I fall asleep during the "Six-one" news. Perhaps we all do that, although I should not say that as a public representative. I was not sure whether I had woken up or was having a nightmare when I saw the then Minister, Deputy Martin Cullen, talking about €36 billion.

It was a nightmare.

Something like that would frighten the life out of anyone. The Minister, Deputy Cullen, who had the e-voting debacle under his belt along with another, was being awarded €36 billion of lolly. What happened to that money and where does this plan fit in to Transport 21, or catch 21 as it is turning out to be? In my part of the country the Cork commuter rail service to Midleton has been pushed back to 2009. The flyovers at the Sarsfield Road and Bishopstown roundabouts appear to have disappeared off the map. The local authorities have been given permission to survey the area but there does not appear to be any level of joined up thinking. If one was building a house in the manner in which we do road development here we would get a loan from the credit union for the back door, get another loan some weeks later for some blocks and another one later on for cement. There does not appear to be any overall project management plan, and the Kinsale Road roundabout is a case in point. That project worked successfully but it is now hampered because the continuation projects are not in place. Where is the joined up thinking in this transfer of functions for road works to the Department of Transport?

On another matter, the park and ride issue requires local authorities and Bus Éireann to work out plans. Does that now become an issue for the Department of Transport also? I am not sure whether this transfer of functions should be viewed as a capitulation by the Minister's Department but an empire appears to be growing in the Department of Transport which is worrying and undermines to some extent the idea of subsidiarity and local government.

The purpose of the Bill, to which the Labour Party will table some minor amendments on Committee Stage, is something that affects people on a day to day basis. When people who work hard all week come out at 7 o'clock in the morning to face a day's work and drop their children to school or child care, they need some sort of infrastructural development around their community. They do not want to travel on boreens and roadways that are out of date, so to speak. Improvement in these roadways has not been delivered to date. The Transport 21 concept now appears to be pie in the sky.

I hope that as a result of this Bill, and I am not sure if it will happen, the National Roads Authority, the Minister for Transport, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and local authorities will operate in a joined up fashion in terms of developments and that the roadways in those developments will add to the quality of people's lives. If that is to be an objective of the Bill, the Minister will have the support of the Labour Party but at this stage there are many doubts undermining it which we will address when we examine the Bill in detail.

I want to raise a number of issues with the Minister about the rationale for this legislation. There are implications for the transferring of this function to the Department of Transport but can the Department of Transport deal with these additional responsibilities? The Department of Transport has become a vast empire. A number of issues that have arisen there, for example, the disastrous privatisation of Aer Lingus and the implications for Shannon Airport and the whole region; the learner drivers fiasco; and the apparent inability of the Department to deliver on most of the Transport 21 projects. With all that taking place, will the Department be capable of delivering any additional projects and functions on time and within budget?

There is a history of transfer of functions into and out of the Department of Transport which has not been successful and would not inspire confidence in the ability of the Minister and his Department to successfully realise these additional functions. For example, during the previous Dáil, responsibility for ports and marine transport was transferred from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to the Department of Transport yet it appeared to fall into a black hole, so to speak, in that Department where it was not given adequate attention or resources. Will that happen to the roads functions now being transferred?

Deputy Lynch expressed concerns about the type of accountability that will arise regarding the building of these roads. Who will be accountable if there are problems with them? The Minister might clarify that because he did not refer to it in his contribution. Where will the accountability arise if there are legal actions regarding issues that arise out of the maintenance or building of these roads in future? Who will be the defendant in such actions? Will the Minister clarify that?

The Minister mentioned funding of roads building with the new transfer function and said that this year, in addition to the €87.5 million, there would be money from the local government fund. He went on to say that this will be the benchmark going forward. Are the Green Party Members getting into corporate speak now, which is difficult to decipher? I want the use of the term "going forward" to be banned and the Minister should start with that.

I might implement that policy.

Put it in the dustbin and not the recycling bin.

What does "this will be the benchmark going forward" mean? Does it mean there will be €87.5 million in the budget this year in addition to whatever would take into account the adjustment for the new economic situation? Will that €87.5 million from the Exchequer plus the local government funding be in the budget this year? I would like the Minister to clarify that.

A few weeks ago there was a lengthy debate on road safety where a number of Deputies from throughout the country described in detail the dangerous nature of many of our non-national roads, especially in the west and north-west. When the issue was raised the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, gave a commitment during that debate to drastically increase road safety measures but if there is not, at the very least, matched funding in this year's budget for building of non-national roads, that would go against the Minister's commitment, which would be unacceptable. I would like the Minister to clarify the position.

It should be pointed out that there are no provisions under Transport 21 for the maintenance and upgrading of non-national primary roads. With the transfer of functions will that be given priority in terms of our traffic and transport commitments?

Throughout the country motorists can drive along a major inter-urban route which has been upgraded to a very high standard but when they come on to a non-national road they are often faced with poorly maintained and dangerous stretches of road on which they must complete their journey. Will the Minster give that issue priority with the transfer of the functions to the Department of Transport?

On the national vehicle and driver file, there were disturbing reports in the media recently about the impact of uninsured drivers on road deaths and road safety. Recently, The Irish Times reported that 1,351 vehicles recorded as written off on the national vehicle and driver file were back on Irish roads. Has the Department of Transport-led investigation into this matter been concluded and what recommendations were made?

What plans are there to reform the NVDF to take recent events into account? Is the Minister considering the Motor Insurance Bureau's recommendation that the Road Safety Authority take charge of the file? The automobile authority has called on the Government to introduce a new non-national driver file to maintain a record of penalty points for those producing foreign licences following motoring offences in Ireland. Is the Government considering this type of reform?

I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this important business. We should welcome the publication of the Local Government (Roads Functions) Bill 2007, the main feature of which is to provide for necessary legislative amendments of a technical nature to facilitate the transfer of non-national roads and the NVDF to the remit of the Minister for Transport. The Bill is required to give effect to the Taoiseach's announcement on the formation of the Government in June, which seems a long time ago, that responsibility for non-national roads and the NVDF was to be transferred from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

My colleagues have referred to the transfer of responsibilities and devolution. Due to my background, I am always keen to support devolution. In 1994 when the Leas-Cheann Comhairle was in government, the Taoiseach of the day, Mr. John Bruton, appointed me as a member of the devolution commission. It surprised me, but I was pleased to make a contribution to the commission's work.

Even John Bruton made mistakes.

Even Homer nods.

He told me that I was a good choice and I made a strong contribution, as one would expect.

That was the approximate time at which Deputy Naughten's party wanted me to run for it. I must have been doing something right.

We have seen sense.

It is important to make these points. While not being critical of the Minister, there is work to be done in terms of devolution of responsibility to local authorities. The debate about too much authority and power being vested in county managers will continue for some time.

I am glad that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, is present. I applaud the work he has done since the formation of the Government and I wish him well in his role. I look forward to welcoming the Minister to Tallaght this week. Whether he will drive or cycle on Friday night, he will discover that——

Could I take the Luas?

I was going to mention it and the Minister is welcome to use it. Thank God for it. The Minister has been to Tallaght, but he will see on Friday that it is a different place from the one to which I moved years ago. It is a vibrant city in everything but name. The Minister has opinions on whether Tallaght should be a city, but he and I must agree to disagree on that fundamental point during the coming years.

Tallaght is the third largest population centre in the country. We have facilities and services in Tallaght to be expected in a major town, but I have listed them in other debates. Anyone who visits Tallaght knows it to be vibrant. While we have good roads and infrastructure and the Luas, there are gaps——

And a fine hospital.

I did not want to embarrass the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Recently, I told him that many Ministers for Health of all persuasions played roles while I campaigned for Tallaght Hospital over many years. Many stones were left sticking out of different parts of the hospital site, but the only stone to survive is the one bearing the name Brendan Howlin. It is an interesting piece of Tallaght history. I do not need to tell the Minister how proud I am.

Solid as a rock.

I am happy to impart these historical facts about Tallaght. It is a great place.

I am sure that, during the course of the debate, the Deputy will mention the Bill.

I will get to it. My preamble relates to it because it is important to stress the progress made in many communities.

Deputies will mention their constituencies during the debate. They will refer to good elements, but they will also refer to challenges. Deputy Ciarán Lynch referred to boreens. While there are not many boreens in Tallaght, there are quite a few poor roads. At a time when significant progress is being made in terms of national roads, as seen by Deputies while driving around the country, there are gaps in terms of non-national roads. There is much work to be done, a point I hope the Minister will make before he passes this file to his colleague in the Department of Transport. I expect many colleagues to make this point during the debate.

I could bring the Minister around Tallaght, Firhouse, Templeogue or Greenhills. When people, even those in new communities, get up in the morning and drive to school, to the shops or about their business — sometimes, I walk to the Luas, but I drive when the weather is inclement — they face poor roads. I could bring the Minister to as many potholes in my major urban area as a Deputy could bring him to in Roscommon, Thurles, Tipperary or Cork.

Cork South-Central.

It is important that we understand the challenge. If we are making progress with the national roads, there is a strong case to be made for the Department to consider a five year or ten year framework in which local authorities, particularly South Dublin County Council, could know that they will get a certain amount of money to allow them to deal with the non-national roads challenge in an effective way. This challenge includes sorting out the roads and footpaths. Last night during my constituency work in Springfield where I live, I met an 87 year old man who had fallen on a footpath. It was installed approximately 30 years ago and is in poor condition.

It is fair to make such points because major roads have been paid much attention. While driving up the Newry road for the first time in a long while to attend the recent SDLP conference, I marvelled at the progress made. However, one can find poor roads and boreens in every constituency.

In the context of the forthcoming budget, people may state that the economy is tightening, but there has been unprecedented wealth. While local authorities have been well funded, there will always be room for more. We need to deal with the issues people want us to address in our agendas. It is true that there are non-national roads in south Dublin and Tallaght that must be dealt with quickly. It is not a matter of patchwork, which is being carried out and of which every Deputy can give examples. A more fundamental approach should be taken to this problem. County managers and councillors should know on a five year or ten year basis what amounts will be made available to get work done.

I do not want to be too parochial, but I get around my constituency as much as anyone does. One wonders what the professionals are doing. I could bring someone to Firhouse where a great deal of work has been done at the Old Mill on the Old Bawn Road and elsewhere. With all of the public money expended on that road, why will it not be turned into a larger carriageway and why will there not be further scope to get rid of traffic? Everyone who must use his or her car, whether early in the morning or late at night, knows of difficulties to be addressed. There are side issues, such as the question of why people drive their children to school 100 yards away, which occurs in every constituency.

Like other Deputies, I will not be afraid to mention the recent issues concerning driver testing. People spoke about it while I went about my business in recent weeks. In reporting this debate to the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, Deputy Gormley should mention that it is an issue and people are talking about it. In every community learner drivers face up to the new challenges, wonder how they will get their tests and how effective the system will be, and it is fair to make the point. I do not say it should be easy for people to pass their tests, but they should be able to get a test. I come from a generation in which one was able to get a test easily. I did not pass the first time and that is okay. At least one was not waiting forever for a test. There are still problems with how testing is organised. In a recent Dáil debate I said a friend of mine who lives near Bray applied for a test and was sent to Naas. That makes no sense and I do not understand how professionals can make those kinds of decisions. It is fair that I mention it. Where there are difficulties with these systems we should not be afraid to say so.

I do not know whether the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will allow me to speak about the Luas extension.

Deputy O'Connor has talked about everything else.

I have kept to the point. I listen carefully to the Opposition spokespersons and I follow their example on what one can include in the debate.

"Roads functions" is a broad subject for a debate.

The Minister for Transport is a busy man.

There is no doubt about that. Busy is not the word.

He will be a busy man looking at this agenda.

He has a testing job.

He has. I want to put pressure on him to ensure everything is done to deliver the Luas extension through the west Tallaght estates to Saggart as quickly as possible. It is relevant in discussing a Bill such as this that we be allowed to say that.

Passing reference.

I am not afraid to stand up for my community. There is sometimes a myth that Government backbenchers are afraid to challenge Ministers. This is not true.

It is the Deputy's vote that counts.

I was always happy to make the point, and I will continue to do so. Before the general election somebody told me I would make a good Opposition spokesperson. However I did not want to join the Opposition because I would have to complain about everything. I am happy to represent my community in a constructive way and try to achieve for it.

The Bill provides for an amendment of the Local Government Act 1998 to allow for payments from the local government fund to the Minister for Transport in respect of non-national roads and Minister's expenses in maintaining the NVDF records, administering motor vehicle tax and issuing driver licences. These expenses are being met from the fund and the legislation provides for the administration of these expenses following the transfer of functions. The Bill provides a statutory basis for the Minister for Transport to make regulations on the NVDF functions being transferred to him. The Bill vests in the Minister for Transport all ministerial consent provisions in respect of railway orders where the works involved are likely to affect public roads.

Earlier I mentioned the non-national roads issue. Following the 2002 general election most of the Department administration and ministerial functions on roads, road traffic and road safety were transferred from the then Department of the Environment and Local Government to the then Department of Public Enterprise, now the Department of Transport. There is no longer any rationale for having two Ministers and Departments dealing with aspects of the public road network. The Government decided responsibility for the non-national road investment programme should be vested in the Minister for Transport, and the Bill provides for the administration of these expenses following the transfer of functions. It provides for a statutory basis for the Minister for Transport to make regulations on the NVDF functions being transferred to him. The Bill vests in the Minister for Transport all ministerial consent provisions in respect of railway orders where the works are likely to affect public roads.

I am not afraid to say that I have the same problems and frustrations as many Deputies in dealing with agencies where functions of the Department, particularly the Department of Transport have been hived off.

The Deputy and his colleagues set up the quangos.

I did not set them up and we must deal with the existing systems. It frustrates me when I table Dáil questions and the Ceann Comhairle's office has to tell us the Minister does not have responsibility in these matters. A process must be found to deal with our concerns and issues. There have recently been issues on road development, road safety and driver testing on which it was legitimate for all of us to ask questions and try to achieve what we want because people are talking to us about it. It seems a long time since these systems were established and while some of them work, there are gaps. I share the same frustrations on trying to get information as other Members on both sides of the House. There are Ministers who try to help us and get the information to us, but sometimes it is difficult. We could talk about the HSE all day, but I do not want the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to throw me out. It comes into this discussion, but I will let it pass.

The Minister said the NVDF is a database of national strategic importance. It contains details of all 2.4 million registered vehicles and 2.5 million licensed drivers in Ireland. It is the product of a major computerisation project which was completed by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in 2002. The system enables all vehicle and driving licence transaction processing to be updated in real time. It is critical to the management of the national motor tax and driving licence services including the optimisation of these services to the motoring public.

I come from a different Dublin in a different generation when there was hardly a car on the street. I remember the horses on the street and the trams before the tracks were pulled up. Now everybody has a car. When I first moved to Tallaght hardly anybody had a car, and I did not have one. Now every house has three or four cars and that adds to the challenge. Anybody who tries to drive in the morning or evening knows the difficulties this entails.

The data in the NVDF plays a key role in vehicle and driver regulation and supporting the critical road safety agenda. In this context the Government deemed it appropriate that the system and its support staff transfer from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the Department of Transport. This Bill is necessary to give effect to the transfer of functions relating to non-national roads and the NVDF to the Department of Transport. The Government will make a transfer order to coincide with the enactment of the Bill. I am glad this Bill is being supported on the Government benches, and if I have listened carefully to most of the speeches from the Opposition there is a measure of support there and that is fair.

Deputy O'Connor was not listening carefully.

In any debate we are entitled to make the points we want to make and I look forward to all of us doing that. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his courtesy in allowing me to mention some of the matters I raised. I am looking forward to further debate and I will certainly be listening to colleagues from all sides. I look forward to seeing the Minister in Tallaght on Friday.

I wish to stick specifically to the Bill and deal with the provisions for the national vehicle and driver file. Data on penalty points is held on the driver file and, as it currently operates, this file is fundamentally flawed. A quarter of all drivers who qualified for penalty points could not receive them as they do not hold an Irish driving licence. We are allowing 25% of drivers who are breaching the law to get away scot free. All over the country we see lunatics overtaking on continuous white lines and travelling at the speed of light, yet many of their registration plates are Northern Irish, British or continental European. These people can come in to the jurisdiction and give two fingers to the Garda Síochána and to Irish road traffic legislation, as we have not been prepared to address the issue.

This Government has been in office for ten years and we have had ten years of road safety strategies. It promised in its original strategy that it would address this issue, but nothing has happened since. This has led to a litany of road traffic accidents, yet we are not prepared to do anything about it. This place has turned into a talking shop. The Minister for Transport will come before this House and say that we are discussing the issue with the Northern Ireland authorities, the British authorities and at EU level. These discussions have gone on for ten years, but nothing has happened to address the problem. People are getting away with breaking the law thanks to the system that is there at the moment, yet we continue to ignore it and brush it under the carpet.

This also applies to motor insurance. There are currently 100,000 vehicles on Irish roads without any insurance. Up to end of September 2007, 6,539 people had received penalty points for driving uninsured. Given that a quarter of drivers on our roads are exempt from the laws of this country as we cannot attach penalty points to their licences, many of these uninsured will get away scot free. The failure of 100,000 people to insure their vehicles costs the rest of us an additional €45 per annum, but we could address a quarter of them if penalty points were attached to drivers from outside this jurisdiction and if there was an up to date national vehicle and driver file.

This is not the only road safety issue in which promises have been ignored. In their contributions, the Minister and Deputy O'Connor made the point that the national vehicle and driver file is critical to support the road safety agenda in this country. It should be updated and modernised, and we should be able to deal with foreign drivers in this jurisdiction.

There is also a problem with people using driving licences as a form of identification for other breaches of the law. A five year old could forge our driving licences. I could get a forged Irish driving licence in the morning for €10. It is farcical to think that there is any security involved in it. All drivers are now required by law to carry their licences, a piece of paper that crumples easily. In 2003, the then Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, promised us that a credit card sized driving licence would be in place by 2004. The Minister said at the time that he was determined to have it in place by then. When I contacted the Road Safety Authority on this issue last week, I was told that the new directive means that it is not required to be in place until 2013, and that it is the objective to have it in place by 2012. We were promised this in 2004, but we will have to wait eight years before it is in place. In the meantime, that form of identification is an insult to anybody's intelligence. It is being blatantly flouted and those people on false licences cannot be given penalty points. The whole system is a farce.

Law abiding citizens in this country can be one or two miles per hour over the speed limit at the edge of a town, yet they receive penalty points from a garda taking the soft option. The people who give two fingers to the law do not receive points, which is something we cannot continue to ignore.

I would like to make a final point about the notification of change of ownership and vehicles that have been written off. More than 1,000 vehicles in the State have been written off, but are put back on the road. This cannot be ignored and is causing huge road safety problems.

I would like to support Deputy Hogan's stance on this Bill. In seeking to rush it through the Houses, the Government is once again shelving responsibility and enforcing the "Dublin knows best" mentality at the expense of the autonomy of local authorities. The main purpose of the Local Government (Roads Functions) Bill 2007 is to make legislative changes that are required to enable the transfer of responsibility for non-national roads and the national vehicle and driver file to the Department of Transport. One could of course point out that it is rare for this Government to take responsibility for anything. It is interesting though that the Minister is finally embracing transparency and admitting that his Department has made a total mess of roads infrastructure, especially on our rural roads.

I am all in favour of the recent spate of U-turns by this lame-duck Government and even sympathetic to the Minister's need for therapeutic confusion, but at the end of the day, local authorities are not pawns in a political game of expediency, with responsibility being shifted from one Department to another to the detriment of local autonomy. According to figures in the Government's pre-budget outlook, local authorities are facing a cut of more than 13% in funding for non-national roads, the routes which constitute 94% of the overall road network and carry 60% of all traffic. Pre-budget figures show that the budget for non-national roads will fall from €87.5 million this year to €53.8 million next year.

We are being told that the urgency of rushing through this legislation is to facilitate the Department of Finance in the necessary budgetary adjustments. Does this herald a divide and conquer approach, with cutbacks slipping in by default? Funding of €253,771 promised for Longford's rural roads was slashed in post-election cutbacks while €11,892 was taken from funding for Westmeath roads.

The Minister, hastening to appear accountable, will claim this is the responsibility of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs as the moneys are allocated under the local improvement scheme as part of the CLÁR programme. I do not care which way the Minister spins it or manipulates change to his advantage. The bottom line is that our roads, in particular non-national roads, are a disgrace. Rural communities are suffering economic deprivation due to the state of our roads. Communities are being isolated by a lack of necessary infrastructure and many roads are in a deplorable condition.

I have made numerous representations for the upgrading of non-national roads in the Longford-Westmeath area, many of which are in a prehistoric condition. Continual representations to the Department have still not brought the upgrading of the roads in the midlands, essential to the region's economic growth. Gateway and hub towns have been created in isolation with no real effort to develop links between them.

The Bill provides for the transfer of the national vehicle and driver file, NVDF, to the Department of Transport. This is to be welcomed as there has been a lack of engagement by NVDF staff under the watch of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. While any plan to deal with the inadequacies in the NVDF is a step in the right direction, the Road Safety Authority recommended a new agency be established to rectify the problems. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business recommended the creation of a motor vehicle agency as a partial solution to the problem of uninsured drivers.

The European Commission's motor insurance directives require the State to develop an accurate central insurance database on every vehicle in the State. This project, known as the information centre, is deficient due to problems with the NVDF. The Irish Insurance Federation has brought difficulties with the database to the attention of the Department, recommending responsibility for it be given to the Road Safety Authority.

The Garda does not have access to an accurate central database of insurance information, essential to the maintenance of roadside checkpoints. Uninsured drivers kill up to 20 people each year and leave a further 2,000 seriously injured according to the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland. There is evidence that a large number of owners of foreign-registered vehicles retain their domestic registration, renewing insurance in their home country. Foreign insurers refuse to pay claims on the grounds that the driver is resident in Ireland and provided incorrect residency information.

I am tired of telling the House that rushed legislation is bad legislation. Once again we are at the mercy of the Government's inefficiency and pressurised to copperfasten its expedient legislation. Local authorities are the bedrock of local democracy. As a former general secretary of the Local Authority Members Association, I know well the issues of concern to all local authorities. The whims of central Government cannot be allowed to impact adversely on the autonomy of local authorities. I will not support this Bill and will vote against it.

When I noticed the Local Government (Roads Functions) Bill on this week's schedule, I was looking forward to learning of major proposals for the future of the road network. However, when I read the technical aspects of the Bill, I was disappointed.

What is the future of the local improvement and the community involvement scheme? While these important schemes have had a large impact on many communities, their single largest problem is in securing adequate funding. When I served on south Tipperary's local authority, each year when agreeing the council's budget, our main concern was the lack of funding for roads projects. We were forced to wait each year for the Minister to announce how much would be available. The powers-that-be in any Department in Dublin do not understand the impact of the local improvement scheme on rural communities. With the forthcoming budget, will the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government make more funding available for these wonderful schemes?

As a Member I am always frustrated with replies to parliamentary questions from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. As a Member representing a rural constituency, I note that every week a matter is raised about the condition of local roads. As traffic volumes increase, it is becoming an important issue. I do not understand why a simple reply to parliamentary questions on road projects and improvements cannot be had. How the Department of Social and Family Affairs deals with parliamentary questions is an example to behold and which every other Department must follow.

I question the wisdom and logic of transferring certain powers from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the Department of Transport as proposed in the Bill. I am concerned this will not be good for road users. People are frustrated because they are paying a large amount in road tax. Those living in rural Ireland see a large amount of tax being paid in keeping a car on the road, from when one buys a vehicle to motor tax to the petrol pump.

Recently there was debate on putting extra taxes on jeeps and SUVs because they are supposed to be fuel-guzzlers. The Minister, Deputy John Gormley, promotes this view. He should be very careful as many of these vehicles are necessary to those who are hard-pressed in rural Ireland. Before the Minister jumps to make such a decision he should tread carefully and think of the people on low incomes whose way of life has changed drastically but who need those vehicles.

Not for the first time I have the pleasure of following my constituency colleague, Deputy Tom Hayes, and while I do not agree with everything he said I agree with much of it.

This is primarily a Bill about the organisation of Government business. There is no perfect rational way of organising sections of Departments, however they are divided there will be anomalies. In 2002 a rationale was put forward for allocating national roads to the Department of Transport and other roads to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and LocalGovernment because local authorities have much to do with local and regional roads. They are also involved in the national roads programme, if not to the same extent as the National Roads Authority. I accept and support the idea that one Minister be responsible for all roads because some important roads, not classified as national roads might otherwise be the responsibility of a separate Minister. Departments are shaped and reshaped partly to reflect the wishes and attributes of Ministers. I am not entirely surprised to find that the Minister of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who is also the leader of the Green Party, is divesting himself of responsibility for roads. At best roads have a neutral, and at worst a negative, connotation for someone with an environmental, ecological outlook.

Those who live in Dublin or who, like all of us here, spend a great deal of time speeding a considerable distance down national roads, may not appreciate that people in rural constituencies primarily use local and regional roads and maybe some bit of national road close to their homes. For most of their working lives they may never go near a dual carriageway or a motorway. If one conducted a survey of the numbers using the different roads one would find that 85% of traffic, or more, is on non-national roads. These roads are important but of variable quality, some are good, while others connecting important towns leave much to be desired. The same applies to small roads, some of which are dangerous and twisting with ditches that are falling in. An announcement on the local improvements scheme is imminent and it will contain good news for west and south-west Tipperary to which I look forward.

At a meeting that I attended last night someone made the point about speed limits that there is an 80 km/h limit on good regional roads and on every other sort of local and rural road even those of poor quality. One may take the view that the Government or public authority should not have to legislate for everything or one can impute common sense to people. I had to travel up the mountains today, to pay my respects to a former councillor who lost her husband yesterday, and realise that 60 km/h is fast on some of those roads.

Too little attention is paid to the road drainage these days compared with a generation ago. Farmers do not seem to maintain their drains as they used to do, when perhaps they had more time. There may have been more personnel in local authorities who were more attentive to this work. When a rainy season begins, which may be fairly soon after the two and a half months of dry weather we have been experiencing, flooding and potholes occur rapidly. The Government and local authorities should pay more attention to improving drainage, possibly by including it in farm schemes, which would benefit farmers and their communities.

Given the volume of fast traffic nowadays there is a case to be made for extending pavements some way out of towns and villages. The only surprise is that there are not more accidents involving pedestrians. Street lighting helps where there is a cluster of houses.

According to the newspapers the construction industry faces a steep decline in house building. I hope that the budget and the Estimates will provide substantial funding for the national roads programme and for local and regional roads. While we all understand the importance of the national roads to the national economy and for important centres, hubs and gateways and so on we must not lose sight of the fact that local roads, all the way down to the boreen, are important to the people who live near them.

I wish that road signs were improved. Some counties place an L sign at the end of every road, however small or minor. I discovered when a road scheme was mooted for the Tipperary bypass and part of it crossed a road close to my home that the minor road I use is a four-digit L route.

It would be helpful if this was extended to help people identify where they are going when they leave an area. Road signs could be improved and some important towns are separated by hills. The road signs between Nenagh and Tipperary are appalling and the opportunities for strangers and visitors to lose their way are infinite.

The previous speaker made a point on road tax which, like most taxes, is not a dedicated tax. On the whole, dedicated taxes are not an efficient way to run a budget; those who use our roads not only contribute to the upkeep of roads and investment in transport but also help fund our schools and hospitals. As a driver who pays his fair share of road tax, and every other tax on petrol, diesel and so, on I do not object to this. The Exchequer needs money to pay for public services and, on the whole, those who use roads are not the worst off in society — especially not those who drive large jeeps and four by fours. Deputy Hayes made a touching case for people in expensive jeeps who are deprived and for whom these vehicles are essential but I do not accept this.

We must get a little serious on carbon emissions and sometimes a little discouragement can work wonders. Take the plastic bag tax, for example. Will anyone, even a person on social welfare, be bankrupted by paying 20c for a plastic bag? Of course not, but the impact is psychological. We all waste far more than 20c on a variety of things but the psychology in this case works. A little fiscal discouragement of gas guzzlers and a lot of discouragement of the kinds of vehicles that race at high speed around our streets and country roads at night, performing figures of eight and doughnuts, and better enforcement of speeding laws would do us all a service.

I broadly welcome this Bill and believe it gives this House an opportunity to focus on the importance of local roads.

Regarding the issue of safety, our school buses travel on some quite poor roads that may be quite hazardous. A survey this morning suggests our children have more freedom in some ways but I feel they have less freedom in other ways. Not many parents would be happy to see their children under ten years of age go on 30 mile bicycle rides around the countryside, the way they once could, when the only hazard might be a dog that could bite one's ankle. The emphasis in the survey was on security and this issue is evident in parents' concerns about the safety of their children. They have every right to be concerned, not least regarding road safety. In the past 24 hours a lorry drove up on a pavement and I was nearly knocked down by a car speeding into a parking position on a pavement. We must examine the safety dimension.

We justified a rail safety programme that took in less used railways and perhaps it is time for a road safety programme that sees investment in road infrastructure in addition to the measures for which the Road Safety Authority, under Gay Byrne, is responsible. We must remember that speed limits, alcohol testing, driving tests and so on represent only one side of the equation. Accidents happen more frequently at certain locations and this is likely to be for physical reasons. Attention must be paid to the improvement and maintenance of hazardous sections of road, even if it requires the straightening of bends or ensuring that hedges are properly cut and that the sides of roads do not slope too precipitously.

A great deal of work needs to be done in this area. I welcome the Minister to the House and stress to him that roads that are not national roads are also very important.

I wish to share time with Deputies Clune and Crawford.

I welcome the Minister to the House and concur with my colleagues on this side of the House in their scepticism. We are handing part of a Department to the Department of Transport, run by the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and this does not instil confidence regarding competence and future direction.

An array of experiences in the recent past also informs my personal scepticism. The Department of Transport has formulated great plans on paper, but, similar to Chelsea Football Club, on the field it is a different story and we need only look to Transport 21 for evidence of this. Even when Deputy Martin Cullen was Minister for Transport and I was a Member of the Seanad I asked parliamentary questions through my colleague, Deputy Dinny McGinley, regarding consultations with our colleagues across the Border seeking to bring about joined up thinking and joint strategies. This drew a blank because the harsh reality is Transport 21 is built on foundations of sand and does not go into the long-term strategic thinking needed for our roads.

There are regular announcements made regarding non-regional roads in the Border areas. Prior to the recent general election the Taoiseach flew to Letterkenny in a helicopter to announce that there will be a motorway from Dublin to Derry. That was a beautiful announcement when his party faced losing two of three seats in Donegal north-east and unfortunately it worked because Fianna Fáil held on to two of those seats. Fortunately I squeezed in.

The Deputy did well.

I struggled through and this incident exemplifies the approach to joined up thinking. We are discussing non-regional roads but sharp focus is necessary when considering towns and villages such as St. Johnston, Muff and Carrigans. These rural areas suffered considerably, both economically and socially, during the 30 years of the Troubles. These are the forgotten areas that have not featured in mainstream thinking in regard to infrastructural development. We politicians tend to focus on the grandiose announcements regarding motorways and dual carriageways. I hope the Minister will look after these Border roads within the new framework. Their condition is an absolute disgrace. The EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation and its successor, PEACE II, have filled a vacuum in funding in the past ten years. In terms of long-term strategic thinking, however, we cannot expect local authorities to meet the maintenance costs involved. We must adopt a strategic approach to developing these routes.

Consideration must be given to the provision of railway services in the region. Donegal County Council presented a document to the strategic committee in recent days putting forward the case for opening up a former railway route to St. Johnston from Letterkenny and though Strabane. I am disappointed that the Minister is being sidetracked from transport issues. He is generally subjected to a barrage of criticism, but I had faith in him in this regard. It was galling to hear a spokesperson for Iarnród Éireann saying on RTE Radio 1, with reference to the Sligo-Dublin route, that the number of rail passengers is continually increasing. This is something we must tap into in terms of long-term strategy.

Other types of infrastructural projects also require funding. I put a question to the Minister for Transport as to whether there will be a funding mechanism for the continuance of the ferry route from Magilligan to Greencastle in north Inishowen. The response was that the Department has no responsibility in this regard. This points once again to the lack of joined up thinking in respect of public service provision. The north west is a peripheral area and the lack of railway infrastructure means we must rely entirely on the transportation of goods by road.

There is much talk of centralised decision-making, and we must look at that as an opportunity. The National Roads Authority receives funding for the improvement and maintenance of national primary and secondary roads. However, there has been an absolute deficit in terms of broader vision. The NRA must give up the notion that a particular road project is a stand-alone one simply because it happens to be a national primary or secondary road. Linkages can be created. Some of the finest regional roads can be as good as, if not better than, some national secondary roads.

I call for a broadening of thinking in terms of the strategic linkage between our national primary and secondary routes, on the one hand, and our non-national and regional roads, on the other. I am sceptical about the purpose of this legislation.

As a member of the roads committee of Cork City Council since 1999, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. The Bill transfers an important element of the Minister's remit to the Department of Transport. Many speakers have expressed their scepticism about this initiative in view of the difficulty we encounter in obtaining information from the NRA. As Deputy McHugh observed, the national roads for which the NRA is responsible have a serious impact locally. Many people use the local sections on a daily basis in travelling to and from work or school.

The condition of roads has been high on the agenda of my local authority since I became a councillor in 1999. There are many kilometres of roads throughout the State in an unsatisfactory condition. Many of the previous speakers represent more rural areas than my own. The area I represent straddles parts of both Cork city and county, and I have seen a vast difference between the condition of the roads in both areas. Money has been invested in developing roads in the city, an investment that was long overdue. However, areas on the periphery of the city, including Grange, Rochestown and Togher, do not enjoy the funding to which they are entitled. I hope the Minister will review the request for a boundary extension to Cork city's local authority area.

How would people living in the county feel about that?

The Minister should ask people in the area how they might be better served. Cork city has a low population and, in selling itself abroad, needs to improve its population base. It is a discussion for another day and a debate that is ongoing in the area. In terms of roads and services, people would be better served in coming under the remit of Cork City Council. Cork County Council is responsible for an area stretching from Allihies to the border with Waterford. In such a vast region, the areas on the periphery of the city suffer. It is probably the same in Limerick and Dublin.

The status of the quay walls in Cork city has varied from national to non-national. Meanwhile, the walls are crumbling into the river. As a result, the marina, which is a wonderful amenity, is subsiding. The quay walls have featured on Cork City Council's roads programme for as long as I have been there but the funding is never available. Nobody wants to spend up to €15 million on a project that will not improve the appearance and condition of roads in the area. The walls have historical and heritage value for the city but will be expensive to repair. Nobody is taking responsibility and the funding programme continues to be put forward every year. We received funding for a consultant's report and that report was produced, but no funding is forthcoming to undertake the necessary work. Perhaps this project should be extracted from the city council's roads programme and included elsewhere. I do not know whether it is any longer a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or if it should be deferred to the Department of Transport.

The area I represent includes several large housing estates, some of which are in poor condition. There is a huge demand for traffic calming measures. Speed ramps are evident in many suburban areas in Dublin, some of them attractive and others not. Local authorities can introduce a speed limit of 30 km/h in a designated area, but this must be done in conjunction with some form of traffic calming. As someone who is active locally, this has emerged as the most important issue for residents in recent years. As we have progressed with resurfacing footpaths and improving public lighting, speeding motorists has become of primary concern.

I am sure the provision of facilities for pedestrians is something close to the Minister's heart. In most housing estates and other large suburban settlements, pedestrians, both old and young, do not have priority, even though it is their own neighbourhood. The car is king. We need to step back from that and recognise that people are living in these areas who wish to walk, cycle and push buggies. Elderly people want to feel comfortable in the area. We do not have enough pedestrian crossings and footpaths in many areas are not wide enough. Speed limits are also unsuitable. On the whole, there is not enough emphasis on safety for pedestrians and giving them priority, which I would like to see make a return.

We have seen some green routes coming through the city and county area. They accommodate buses but also provide safety for pedestrians and encourage people to cycle or walk. We have seen they are very effective. Will the Acting Chairman indicate how much time I have left in my slot before I adjourn the debate?

The Deputy has two minutes left in her slot and there are a further six minutes left for Deputy Crawford.

There are eight minutes in total in the slot. We will return tomorrow.

Debate adjourned.