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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 15 Nov 2007

Vol. 641 No. 5

Transport 21: Statements (Resumed).

I am pleased to resume my contribution on Transport 21. Yesterday I began by speaking on public transport, particularly rail services, and I will continue with this theme, particularly bus transport and the improvements we are making on bus service provision. I welcome the roll-out of green routes throughout the country, particularly in my constituency, Cork South-Central. These green routes often allow local authorities funding for work they might not otherwise be able to do, such as road improvement, footpaths, bus lay-bys and pedestrian crossings. The Department of Transport has allocated €2.4 million for phase 1 of the Carrigaline to Cork city green route, which is at the statutory planning stage. I welcome that investment because it provides an important public transport link between growing satellite towns and Cork city.

I hope we see a further roll-out of green routes throughout Cork in the coming years. I would particularly like a green route from the expanding town of Passage West into Cork city. Perhaps that will be considered as part of the review of the Cork area strategic plan. Last April Bus Éireann unveiled its new strategic development plan in Cork, which details a range of improvements to bus services serving the city and county. Bus Éireann is due to receive 32 new buses in Cork under Transport 21 by the end of this year. Those new buses will have a real impact on people's quality of life. A new No. 16 bus route on the Cork city service will serve Douglas and Rochestown. Large developments, such as Mount Oval in Rochestown where over 800 units have been built, have no bus link, but this will change as a result of the introduction of new buses and the new route next February. This is a good example of the progress being made under Transport 21.

In his contribution last night, Deputy Michael O'Kennedy raised the issue of park and ride facilities. One of the first tasks of the Joint Committee on Transport, of which I am a member, will be to bring the various county managers into the committee to speak about park and ride. An example of its success is the Black Ash park and ride in Cork, which was set up by Cork City Council. It operates from Monday to Saturday between 7.30 a.m. and 7.30 p.m. It serves the city centre every 15 minutes off peak and every ten minutes at peak times. It provides 940 parking spaces and it costs only €5 per day, including the bus fare. That is an example of effective management at local authority level, working with the various Departments to ensure the introduction of new services.

I commend the Minister and the NRA for the investment in the upgrade of the Cork to Dublin inter-urban route to motorway status by 2010. Real progress is being made, including the Rathcormac to Fermoy bypass, the Mitchelstown relief road, the Cashel bypass and the Monasterevin bypass. Many of these projects have been completed on time and within budget, and I commend the Minister and the NRA for that.

I would like to see further progress on a number of projects in my area, especially the N28 Cork to Ringaskiddy road scheme. It is currently at route selection stage with the NRA. We are awaiting the announcement of the final route and the publication of compulsory purchase orders. It involves a new dual carriageway from Cork city to Ringaskiddy, which is a length of 13 km, and is a particularly important project in view of the huge industrial development in Ringaskiddy and the lower harbour area in the last few years. The IDA still has a land bank of around 300 acres, so there will be further major industrial development in the years to come. The Port of Cork is advancing its plans to relocate downstream to the lower harbour area. If that proposal is to be considered, a dual carriageway standard road is essential.

I know the NRA is focusing on the inter-urban routes until 2010, but I would like to see progress on the flyover projects at the Sarsfield Road and Bandon Road roundabouts on the N25 south ring road. The Kinsale road interchange, was has been completed, has made an enormous difference to members of the public using the N25, but there are serious bottlenecks on those other roundabouts. I hope we will be in a position to advance the new interchanges as soon as possible. The Jack Lynch tunnel has been an enormous success in the past few years, but the capacity of the tunnel should be reviewed. Significant congestion issues and tailbacks occur there on a daily basis, so we should have a review to see if further infrastructural projects are required.

The private sector can also play a role. A private company in my area has made a proposal to set up a new commuter ferry service into the city, using the natural asset of the lower harbour area in Cork. That proposal is about to enter the public domain and I welcome initiatives like that.

In conclusion, I would like to see continued investment in public transport, with new buses and extra green routes for expanding suburbs in Cork city. The feasibility study for the light rail system in Cork should be up and running as soon as possible. We also need progress on the N28, the interchanges on the N25, and continued progress on the inter-urban route from Cork to Dublin.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I have a series of questions on projects across the Border and in the north west. Prior to the general election, a serious commitment was made by the Government to a motorway from Dublin to Derry and on to Letterkenny. Commitments like these were all the rage prior to the general election. The Taoiseach arrived in a helicopter a week before the election to announce that a motorway from Dublin to Derry would be built in the lifetime of the next Government. The Minister's colleague, Deputy Mary Coughlan, spoke about the possibility of a motorway or a dual carriageway right up to the north west. I am somewhat disappointed that the only cross-Border project to which the Minister's statement refers is the M1 from Dublin to Belfast. There is no mention of Derry, Letterkenny and a motorway from Dublin. This week I put down a question to the Minister on proposals for the M2 from Emyvale to Dublin, but the Ceann Comhairle ruled it out of order and said it was a matter for the NRA.

Rather than being critical for the sake of it, I would like to be as constructive as possible. I would like to ask the Minister questions on co-operation and communication between him and his colleagues across the Border. There is much talk about cross-Border co-operation and initiatives, but I cannot get access to any documentation or communiques between the Department of Transport and its counterpart across the Border. Therefore, I am highly critical of the work that has not taken place and of the opportunity being lost currently. There is collective goodwill on both sides of the Border, across the local authorities and at official level within Departments. The Minister needs to up the heat by mapping out some kind of plan. Currently, he is only giving verbal commitments, which are pie in the sky. There is no tangible evidence to convince me or my electorate that we will see a dual carriageway or motorway from Dublin to Derry.

There is a very proactive, forward looking road design office in County Donegal, which has a lot of plans ready. One plan is for the Strabane to Manorcunningham roundabout, which is ready and awaiting funding. These projects will be realised if the commitment is there.

The railway debate has come up quite often in Donegal these days, especially in light of an increase in rail usage. A spokesperson for Iarnród Éireann was talking on Radio 1 last Monday morning on the passenger increase from Dublin to Sligo. A Cork Deputy also mentioned the increase in train transportation earlier today. What plans are in place to roll-out a railway infrastructure in the north west? There is no momentum behind a roll-out of railway infrastructure from Derry to Letterkenny. In the week before the general election the Taoiseach promised a motorway between Dublin and Derry. Why are we not forward thinking in planning a railway infrastructure plan along with such a motorway? Such joined up thinking was not alluded to before the general election.

While I was critical of the Local Government (Roads Function) Bill, I am confident it is a sign of a broader vision in not just looking at national primary routes. We have an excellent regional infrastructure of primary and secondary roads that should be linked up. Stand-alone projects are not needed and the Department needs to have joined up thinking. Will the Department tap into the collective goodwill among officials in the NRA and local authorities?

While we can debate the need for dual carriageways and motorways, this week I received correspondence from a tourism provider on the Inishowen peninsula on the lack of road signage there. It is an issue affecting many areas to which the Department must give serious consideration.

On today's Order of Business I tried to raise the commissioning of a report from Deloitte & Touche in 2002 on Coastguard stations. Before the Minister for Transport leaves the Chamber, will he answer some questions on it? The then Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, endorsed the report's recommendation to maintain the Valentia and Malin Head stations as the two major centres for the Coastguard.

This has nothing to do with Transport 21.

It relates to the Minister's brief. I appreciate him staying in the Chamber up until now because he is probably in a rush elsewhere to announce the opening of a new road in the Pale.

He is not going to Donegal anyway.

I have opened many a water and sewerage scheme in Inishowen.

I accept that.

In 2006 another review was undertaken to which I do not have access. Have the original recommendations been changed? The 2002 report cost the State €145,000 but its recommendations were changed in 2006. Is the Minister in a position to make the review available to me if I put down a parliamentary question?

The Deputy can table a question and see.

Changing the recommendations would fly in the face of the decentralisation programme.

Ministers do not follow blindly consultants' recommendations.

There are 18 jobs at Malin Head Coastguard station. Does the new report recommend it should be downgraded to a staff complement of two or three?

No one will lose his or her job there.

None of the 18 will lose his or her job?

Can I assure the 18 existing staff members that they will not lose their jobs?

That is correct.

What about the recommendation to increase the staff number to 30?

No one will lose his or her job. Circumstances have changed.

Deputy McHugh, it is not Question Time.

He can put a question down.

I will and I appreciate the Minister's indulgence.

I wish he was around for me.

At least I can assure those at Malin Head Coastguard station that they will not lose their jobs. Decentralisation is the key, not centralisation.

A Member from Cork referred to the provision of ferries there. Donegal has ferry services in Rathmullen, Buncrana, McGilligan and Greencastle but there is no State provision for funding for these effective and necessary transport modes. It is important these are tied in with an overall transport strategy.

Transport 21 is the capital investment framework agreed by the Government for the development of the transport infrastructure between 2006 and 2015. It provides for investment in national roads, public transport and regional airports and involves a total expenditure of €34 billion. This investment framework will address the twin challenges of past investment backlogs and continuing growth in transport demand. The projects and programmes that make up Transport 21 will aim to increase accessibility, ensure sustainability, expand capacity, increase use and enhance quality.

Increasing accessibility is about making it easier for everyone to get to and from work, school, college, shopping, business and social activities. It is also about making it easier for industry and business to access raw materials, workers and, most important, markets. Ensuring sustainability recognises a modern transport system must be sustainable from an economic, social and environmental perspective.

Expanding capacity has two important dimensions — existing capacity deficiencies which arise from past underinvestment and appropriate provision for future growth. Increasing the use of public transport is linked to improving the quality of the service. As seen in recent times, as a service improves, more people will use public transport.

Transport 21 is a key enabler in bringing the transport network to a standard fit for a modern and dynamic economy like ours. The opening of recent bypasses at Gorey, Charlestown and Castleblayney reflects the progress made with the road network programme. There is effectively a motorway-dual carriageway standard road from the Border to Kilbeggan and to Portlaoise.

Phase 1 of the M50 upgrade is on target to be opened next year. It will give much deserved relief to commuters on the N4 and the N7. The opening of the Kilcock-Kinnegad motorway in December 2005, aside from reducing travel times on the N4, also opened up areas such as Johnstownbridge, Broadford and Carbury to the road network, giving increased access to services.

The enhanced road network ensures bus operators can benefit from reduced travel times and incur less costs. Construction work on the interurban network, from Dublin to Cork, to Limerick, to Galway and to Waterford is well advanced and on target for completion in 2010.

Our public transport infrastructure is playing catch-up due to years of underinvestment. However, in recent years significant improvements have been made in the level of services, particularly in rail. As a regular user of both the Maynooth and Sallins train services, I have seen this progress. New rail stations at Maynooth and Louisa Bridge in Leixlip have been opened. Extra parking at Leixlip Louisa Bridge, Hazelhatch-Celbridge and Sallins has been provided. Improved frequencies of trains reflect an improved service which has lead to increased passenger numbers.

Under Transport 21, there will be further improvement on the Kildare line. The Kildare route project is a major capital investment, designed to increase the frequency of commuter and other services along the key Kildare to Heuston corridor and to allow more commuters use rail services every day. The Kildare route project will allow Iarnród Éireann to deliver commuter and regional services at peak times including double service frequency from Hazelhatch to Dublin, serving all stations, and double service frequency between Dublin and Sallins, Newbridge and Kildare. Existing train services are fully subscribed and capacity for growth is restricted. New trackwork and signalling is designed to provide increased operational flexibility to run more frequent services. The new Docklands railway station opened in March facilitates increased capacity on the Maynooth line and, under Transport 21, further improvements are planned.

Under Transport 21, bus passenger capacity in the greater Dublin area will increase by 60% by 2015. Transport 21 provides for an increased bus service, with the recent approval for Dublin Bus to phase in an additional 100 buses and 150 to Bus Éireann's fleet. In recent months, I have met with both Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann and am impressed with the plans they have in place under Transport 21. Bus Éireann plans to provide several key services for commuters in north Kildare. Some proposed routes, such as Naas to Dublin Airport, Naas to Tallaght and an orbital route servicing Naas to Clane and Kilcock will enhance the public transport service for the area. Many residents in Naas, Kill and Johnstown work in the Tallaght, Park West area or need to visit Tallaght Hospital and will support this service. The orbital route linking Naas, Clane and Kilcock with Blessington and Trim is an ideal way to link towns by public transport that could not be served by rail. Bus Éireann's other proposed route from Edenderry to Dublin via Carbury and Johnstownbridge, if accepted by the Department of Transport, will give many commuters who live in north-west Kildare a service to Dublin. This proposed route would not have been a viable option, if the road network had not been recently improved.

While significant progress is being made in public transport, there are certain gaps in the service. We need enhanced car parking facilities at train stations such as Maynooth, Leixlip Confey and Kilcock. Iarnród Éireann's plans to increase capacity at Maynooth and Kilcock in 2008 are far short of what is required. We need as part of area action plans and or tax incentives to encourage the development of increased car parking facilities so that people can drive to their local rail stations and park their cars safely. Commuters will pay an appropriate fee for such facilities, similar to the one at Leixlip Louisa Bridge or the Sallins park and ride. I recently met with OK Transport which is working on providing a feeder bus, on a trial basis, to relieve the car parking problems at Maynooth. Feeder buses, apart from facilitating access to the rail stations, also contribute to building communities in the commuter belt. We have limited feeder buses to Hazelhatch from Celbridge and to Sallins from Naas. I encourage all policy-makers, from the Department of Transport to the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to local authorities and Iarnród Éireann to put in place further incentives for feeder buses.

Transport 21 will help to achieve the dual aims of retrofitting the infrastructure to match the dramatic rise in the numbers commuting and meeting future growth needs for public transport. The proposed €34 billion expenditure to 2015 is a substantial investment by the taxpayers of this country in their transport network. As convener of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport I commend the Minister on the progress to date and look forward to working with all members of the committee and the stakeholders in the transport policy area to ensure that we maximise the benefits of Transport 21.

I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on this important topic. I have seen few changes in the road between my constituency and Dublin over the five years that I have been travelling it regularly. According to the Transport 21 website, the plan is to develop ". . .the capital investment framework through which the transport system in Ireland will be developed, over the period 2006 to 2015. This framework will address the twin challenges of past investment backlogs and continuing growth in transport demand". There is a significant backlog in infrastructure in our small country, for example, we do not have a large railway network catering for every town so our road network is important. I commute weekly between Clare and Dublin and one would expect to find a dual carriageway at least from Limerick to Dublin by now. The National Roads Authority, NRA, is widening the road at the Nenagh bypass to make it a dual carriageway. If this had been a few years ago when the Nenagh bypass was opened taxpayers' money would have been saved. Now bridges must be expanded. The only motorway on that road is from Portlaoise to Dublin, which is a short distance.

Most car accidents happen on national secondary or regional routes. Although motorways and dual carriageways are safer we have not invested in our roads in the past 20 or 25 years as we should have to keep pace with the increasing number of vehicles. A few years ago I was in Portugal with the Ceann Comhairle where we met Mr. Barroso, who was then Prime Minister and is now President of the European Commission. He said that Portugal invested heavily in roads, rather than other projects, in the 1970s and 1980s, which has paid off.

Roads are important for attracting industry to the regions, creating sustainable development and to keep people living in an area. Poor roads will not encourage people to live in rural areas, they will instead move to urban areas. That is part of the problem we face in County Clare. There is a dual carriageway from Barefield to Limerick but the Ennis bypass which should have opened in 2004 is not yet completely open. I welcome that it is partly open and has eased gridlock in the town. The dual carriageway was opened last January yet two critical link roads, which are important to the town, have not been opened at Clareabbey in Clarecastle and on the Quin road. A link road should have been built on the Tulla road but that is not part of the plan.

We should have a broad vision when building roads and look to the future. The transport sector is the fastest growing contributor to our national rate of greenhouse gas emissions. A few years ago there was only one car per house, now most households have two or three cars. Our infrastructure has unfortunately not kept pace with that development. We all know how slow travel is now between towns. A few years ago I could travel in ten minutes from my house to Ennis, now it takes 15 to 20 minutes because of the gridlock.

If we are to take cars off the road it is important to improve public transport. According to the 2002 census 62% of people use the car to get to work compared with 45% in 1986. The number of people driving their cars to work has increased by 50% in that period. This is a worrying trend and if public transport was available commuters would use it.

The reopened Ennis to Limerick railway line has been a success. It was closed in the 1960s, briefly reopened in the 1970s and since then it has been upgraded. Trains on the line are full in the mornings and evenings, there are seven commuter services per day and the reopening has been an overnight success.

I raised the subject of the western rail corridor with the Minister for Transport in many adjournment debates and he made a commitment last year that the Ennis to Athenry section would be opened in April 2008. It is unlikely that the Government will achieve this, yet this is only part of the western rail corridor and I understand that about two miles of rail has been laid at Craughwell in Galway at this stage. A great deal of hard work will have to be done if this section is to be opened by April 2008. I welcome the fact that the section is scheduled to open in 2008 but I think it will be 2009 when it happens. At that point there will be a railway network linking Limerick, Ennis and Galway, three major urban areas and two large cities. This will facilitate many people, not only morning commuters but third level students in both cities.

I also welcome the fact that a railway station is to be built at Sixmilebridge in County Clare, which will help commuters in what is now a large urban area that has seen a great deal of development. I would have liked to have seen more work done on the Shannon spur but I do not think that will happen in the near future. The Limerick tunnel, which is supposed to open in 2010, has also seen delays.

There is an airport in Shannon and we need good roads to attract industry and visitors. Dublin Airport is clogged with traffic and difficult to access; by comparison Shannon Airport is convenient. If the road network was opened up as far as Mayo and Donegal Shannon would have a huge catchment area, would see significant growth and would not experience the problems that it currently experiences..

Unfortunately, this Government has abandoned regional development. Very little of the money set aside for Transport 21 will go towards rural Ireland, somewhere around 1% or 2% of its budget or €30 million. I could say far more on Transport 21 but my time is up. I welcome the fact that Bus Éireann is to run a service in Ennis. I urge the Minister to facilitate that company in gaining a licence to allow it provide the service.

On 13 December 1978, Charles Haughey, the then Minister for Health, in a debate on Ireland joining the European monetary system, put his finger on the factor that had contributed to our low level of economic achievement, compared to other European countries. He said "that factor is the level, the appropriateness and the suitability of our infrastructure". He helped establish the network of regional airports, his colleague and successor, Albert Reynolds, modernised the telecommunications system and they both negotiated the European funding that enabled Ireland to embark on other basic infrastructural improvement programmes.

It is to the great credit of the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, and his colleagues that from the late 1990s they have used the opportunities and financial freedom created by the Celtic tiger economy to adopt an extremely ambitious programme involving the modernisation of our entire transport system, including the creation of inter-urban highways and a massive increase in the capacity of our public transport system. At a time when critics in the Opposition and media endlessly craw-thump about relatively minor failed projects we should celebrate the lasting contribution the Taoiseach, the Government, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey and the former Minister for Transport, Deputy Martin Cullen have made to the welfare of this country in progressing and implementing Transport 21. This initiative saves not only time and money for people and businesses but opens up a whole range of new possibilities and greatly improves road safety. The investment is well advanced but there is much more to come.

Roads to motorway or dual carriageway standard are spreading across the country. The road to the Border, the M1, is already complete and is a showcase. In 1982, when I was the Taoiseach's adviser on Northern Ireland, the late Cardinal Ó Fiaich said to me "if you want to reunite Ireland, do something about the Dublin-Belfast road". Great progress has also been made on the Dublin-Cork road, the Dublin-Galway road, and the N11 down the east coast to Wexford.

The Dublin-Cork road goes through the heart of south Tipperary and in the past month the Cashel-Cahir section has been completed in tandem with the N24 Cahir bypass, where congestion could cause delays of up to 20 minutes. Sticking to the speed limit, the bypass takes just four minutes, leaving one well beyond Cahir on the Clonmel road, whereas going through the town, even at times when there is little traffic, takes eight minutes. It is perhaps no accident that, in anticipation of these improvements, Cahir is the fastest growing town in south Tipperary, with the population up by more than 20% since the last census and with both Cahir and Cashel becoming very attractive for investment and tourism. The second stage of the Cahir-Mitchelstown road will be complete by this time next year as progress has been exceptionally fast. I hope the Minister will open it.

It is vital that, once complete, this work is complemented by improvement of the N24 connecting the two gateway cities of Limerick and Waterford. The Tipperary bypass is an absolute priority as it is the only town left on the route where the N24 passes through the main street and the number of heavy lorries make it as congested as Ennis and Gorey were before their bypasses were completed. The whole length of the N24 needs to be upgraded. The Clonmel bypass, which has a series of roundabouts on it, keeps traffic out of the town centre but, increasingly, acts only as an inner relief road. Given the disappointing and regrettable news today of 140 employees being let go at Bulmers, which is on the N24, maintaining the competitiveness of Clonmel, which has many thriving industries, requires an outer bypass. In Carrick-on-Suir the N24 skirts around the main street but there is no proper bypass. Beyond the two by one highway outside Carrick-on-Suir, into Waterford, the part of the road close to Waterford is of poor quality. I sometimes travel from Carrick-on-Suir up the east coast and I welcome the improvements on the N30 between New Ross and Enniscorthy. I look forward to the second bridge at New Ross and I am sure the Leas-Cheann Comhairle feels likewise.

Money has been allocated to upgrade the plans for the N24 and I welcome the decision of the National Roads Authority, NRA, to bring the Tipperary bypass up to dual carriageway standard. There have been meetings of both Tipperary Town Council and South Tipperary County Council to urge the acceleration of the Tipperary bypass between Pallasgreen in County Limerick and Bansha. It would be great if the contracted firms and teams working on the Cahir-Mitchelstown road could move across to the N24 when the N8 upgrade is complete.

I use public transport most days of the week. I take the bus, Luas and DART when I am in Dublin and regularly use mainline to and from Limerick Junction, though I have to use the car in those circumstances. When it is practical and convenient, I prefer to travel by public transport. When I was on the negotiating team leading up to the Good Friday Agreement, my preference for the train, because it allows more productive use of time, was a standing joke with the rest of the delegation and, on one occasion, the source of a serious reprimand by the Garda Commissioner.

In contrast to the lingering death sentence pronounced in the 1984 Fine Gael-Labour economic plan, Building on Reality, that there would be no more investment in railways, Fianna Fáil established the Arrow rail service, modernised the Enterprise service between Dublin and Belfast and built the highly successful Luas system, which will undoubtedly become one of the principal workhorses of city public transport. Its schedule is regular, predictable and reliable.

A rail connection to Dublin Airport, given its projected passenger growth, is vital and should not be further delayed. There is some opposition from people such as the chairman of Ryanair, who have rubbished the prospect of a rail link. Such detractors should consider where Stansted Airport would be without a rail connection. New trains are in service on the Dublin-Cork route, with nine each way from Limerick Junction to Dublin and 18 from Thurles. However, I regret the withdrawal of the meal service except at breakfast.

There is a serious problem in terms of car parking facilities both in Dublin and elsewhere. For example, at the Sandyford and Stillorgan Luas stops and at Thurles and Limerick Junction, the carparks fill up relatively early in the morning. This requires urgent attention as it will slow the growth of public transport and require people to make or complete their journeys by road.

I welcome the improvements to passenger services on the Tipperary local rail lines threatened with closure only some years ago. Commuting needs must be taken into account in development plans for cities such as Limerick, Waterford and Cork as well as in respect of long-distance journeys. I am pleased the Cork-Midleton railway is at last being developed, having been recommended in a Deloitte & Touche study 30 years ago. Luas systems — not merely lookalikes — should be considered for Cork and Waterford. The existing rail lines around Limerick should be exploited. I am a great supporter of the western rail corridor and look forward to being able to travel from Tipperary to Galway by rail. It would be a great way to get to the races given that there is a bus service from Eyre Square.

The tent will be full.

The first leg to Ennis is a great success.

People appreciate and recognise the huge progress being made. I welcome the commitment of the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance to infrastructural investment even in leaner economic and financial times.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. The points I will make are not personal to the excellent Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe.

I listened carefully as Deputy Mansergh spoke about a rail link from Tipperary to Galway and the races at Ballybrit. I could see Deputy Finian McGrath's interest was sparked because he expects to be in the tent next year. It will be a narrower and longer tent.

It is a homage to our great equine industry.

There will be soft drinks for the late arrivals.

I cannot understand the shrieks of indignation from Government backbenchers that the Opposition should have the neck to raise questions about the validity of some of the proposals in Transport 21. Opposition Members are entitled to raise these concerns and we are correct to do so. This is the Government that gave us the tunnel that could not keep water out, the swimming pool that could not keep water in and the roof that could not stay on the building. It is the same Administration that oversaw an entire range of developments that did not stand up to challenge. The €34 billion or €38 billion that is about to be spent on transport is a critical infrastructural undertaking. We are, without exception or reservation, entitled to discuss, contest and challenge what is proposed. The suggestion from the universal scriptwriter on the other side of the House, however, is that the Opposition should remain silent.

The underlying problem is that the Government is suffering from post-election trauma. It is a serious condition.

I thought that was an affliction of the Opposition.

It happened after the 2002 general election, in which instance it was severe and lasted for almost two years. This particular outbreak of the same disease may require a period of isolation in a quiet area with no questions asked. The Government backbenchers are not well.

There is a unanimous proclamation of support for public transport. Why, then, is adequate car parking not available at railway stations? If the purpose of the exercise is to reduce the traffic chaos on the roads, why is the alternative not made viable? In my constituency, Maynooth railway station had an average daily throughput of commuters of 5,500 last year but only 160 parking spaces. The train service has since been enhanced and some 7,000 passengers now pass through the station on a daily basis. Why was there no insight in terms of providing adequate parking facilities? Iarnród Éireann previously owned ten acres of land adjacent to the station but they were sold for development purpose. This is typical of the absurd situations that have arisen throughout the State.

There are ten parking spaces at the railway station in Kilcock, which is adjacent to Maynooth and is a smaller town. Anybody from the hinterland attempting to access the rail commuter network must find some way to walk, run or swim to the railway station. The town is completely blocked off, nothing moves and nobody can park anywhere. It is absolute necessity to introduce car parking facilities as an urgent priority.

Several constituents have asked me recently whether it is possible to travel directly from Celbridge, which is on the southern Dublin-Kildare rail route, to Leixlip, which is on the western route. I wrote a long letter of inquiry to Dublin Bus in this regard and received a polite and understanding response which informed me that, unfortunately, there was no proposal to extend a feeder bus service from Celbridge to Leixlip. The letter writer informed me that some 1,800 passengers use Leixlip station per day and that 300 parking places have recently been provided. He also pointed out that there is a bus service that goes to Lucan on one side and to Maynooth on the other and that the people concerned might consider travelling two miles in one direction and then going back the other way. What type of logic is this? A person in a hurry to get to work in the morning will not begin the journey by travelling in the opposite direction for two miles. I have replied to this letter with suggestions as to what might be done.

The development of the transport system and the associated alleviation of traffic chaos must be based on two elements. These are an increase in the frequency of services and an increase in capacity by, for example, providing additional carriages on trains. This proposal is usually met with the response that, for safety purposes, platforms cannot be extended. However, this can be handled by, for example, sealing the doors at both ends. We can no longer afford merely to talk about taking action.

Another issue relates to parking, which I have already mentioned. It is not rocket science to decide whether a feeder bus service will be provided to a car park or train facilities, or whether adequate car parking will be provided. It should be simple to bring about the two options but the awful issue of cost keeps cropping up. If we are serious about doing the job, we surely have to be prepared to spend money.

That is the reason people have been raising questions about whether it is wise to spend money on particular projects. Did we not discuss the Red Cow roundabout for some time, marvelling at the amount of money which could be spent on it, how long it could go on and where it would end? People on the other side of the House then complain that we raise questions about expenditure.

It is a simple matter; a survey is not required to decide whether car parking is provided or, in its absence, a feeder bus service that will deliver people to services. If people are to use a feeder bus service, they should not be brought via 25 sets of traffic lights, in which case they may not use it all.

Some of the speakers last night, including Deputy Kennedy, were very indignant that the Opposition would raise questions about expenditure, more or less wondering what we were worrying about and indicating the Government is in control. Has the Government demonstrated signs of being in control? Did we not see in another element of the transport issue in recent weeks that people with provisional driving licences were all going to be put off the road over one weekend? This happened when one element of Government ran off the road. When the Minister decided in a panic after the weekend to pull the handbrake, he went off in a different direction.

I am unsure what this indicates. There is a more important issue we would do well to remember now. It is not so long ago that the Government assured this House on the privatisation of Aer Lingus and said everything in the garden would be rosy. After we returned from the summer recess, the Heathrow slots from Shannon were gone. Does anybody really expect us to believe anything from the Government any more? The slots disappeared overnight.

We were then told it was the job of the board to ensure the company made a profit. I would have thought it was the job of the board to ensure some kind of service would be provided as well. Profit could have been a factor but not necessarily a priority. If anybody wants to make a profit to that extent, it would be simpler and easier to join a merchant bank.

I am sure the Minister of State will convey these issues to his colleagues, as he is probably as disappointed with them as I am. Unless transport policy and its implementation are more structured, decisive and visionary in future, we will have much hard thinking to do before Transport 21 comes to a halt.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak in this very important transport debate. I am glad to see Deputy Bernard Durkan has not lost many of his speaking skills over the summer period.

I had plenty of inspiration.

I reassure him that I do not do tents. When I go on holidays I prefer to rent a house or a mobile home.

Fair play to the Deputy.

This transport debate is very important and relevant, particularly given events in recent days. It is also relevant because of the congestion in our cities and towns, the road safety matters of speeding and deaths and the recent issue regarding provisional licences. In my constituency, it is relevant because of the debate surrounding the Dublin Port tunnel.

It is important we acknowledge that major improvements have been made in the roads infrastructure of the country. Any objective assessment indicates there has been a significant improvement in the quality of some of our roads in the past nine or ten years. All Deputies should acknowledge this reality when they can see roads like the M1 and construction of new roads between Dublin and Galway. We are moving in the right direction as infrastructure is put in place. We should acknowledge the major improvements in our road and transport infrastructure before we make critiques and go into the details of the debate.

This is an important matter in the context of the broader society and economy in this country. Quality transport services and roads are a major investment in the economy and assist everybody as well as dealing with matters such as road safety and congestion. If we are to develop the economy a quality transport system and road network must be in place.

I hope the aims of Transport 21 will be delivered in the ten-year timeframe. The €34 billion budget is significant expenditure, funding a large number of projects. It is a major investment on which I wish the Minister well. Much work has been done recently and more must be done but we must move forward. It is important all Members of the Oireachtas keep an eye on the large budget of €34 billion to ensure value for money and accountability.

We must also set targets for ourselves, and we need the public on our side of the debate. In dealing with transport, we have to consider economic issues, health and safety and, in recent years, we have had to take on board environmental issues. It is important to accept these as part of the broader debate when we consider the €34 billion budget.

There should be less spin from many politicians and more real debate. It is very important the people involved in these projects exercise common sense with regard to budgets, planning and management systems. They should not con or mislead people affected by these massive road project investments. I say this because of my experience with the construction of the Dublin Port tunnel in my constituency. The residents of Fairview, Marino, Santry and Drumcondra had major concerns about the tunnel and I was involved in the negotiations on behalf of the residents when I was a city councillor in 1999. I made my submissions and supported all the residents in Dublin North-Central on the matter. At the time we were concerned about potential damage to homes, although we were told at the time it would not happen. The residents were proved correct and as of today we have 354 damaged homes in Dublin North-Central arising from the construction of the Dublin Port tunnel.

I accept that compensatory cheques are being paid out to some of these owners but in the beginning, the residents were told by some of the people involved in these projects that nothing was going to happen and the people had an alarmist attitude. The reality is cheques have been paid out over the past few weeks. It is important we accept such circumstances.

The Dublin Port tunnel project was more than €250 million over its budget. I argue, as somebody elected by voters in Dublin North-Central, that we must have accountability and ensure that when we manage these big projects, the rights of local residents are protected. We have a duty as Oireachtas Members to ensure the money is spent wisely.

Currently, in my constituency we have 119 outstanding claims arising from construction of the Dublin Port tunnel. I would like to see residents, who have suffered hassle and hardship, being allowed to get on with their lives. The city manager should be a little more proactive in resolving the last 119 claims relating to cracks, damage to people's roofs, plumbing and glazing problems.

There are 256 serious cracks, 40 minor cracks, damage to windows and damage to roofs, plumbing and glazing. There are 22 other complaints. There is a total of 334 complaints and the debate is not over. People regularly come to my office with new claims. I urge those dealing with the Dublin Port tunnel to resolve this issue. It is important these families are looked after.

The quality of the road surface is important. There have been major improvements on the Malahide Road and the reaction has been positive. When the improvements are finished, residents of my constituency and other motorists who have been complaining about the damage to their cars and the safety issue will be satisfied.

Kilmore Road, off the Malahide Road, is the site of the Stardust. I welcome this morning's announcement of an independent examination of the Stardust Victims Committee's case for the re-opening of the inquiry into the Stardust fire. The site is a constant reminder of the terrible tragedy. I raised this issue in my agreement with the Taoiseach. A sum of €200,000 has been paid to the families. The inquiry will start today. I pay tribute to Antoinette Keegan and all the families for their diligent work on this issue.

It is essential that we look at rail and DART services. Rail is a safer and more environmentally friendly option for many commuters. Harmonstown Station, Killester Station and Clontarf Station are all in Dublin North Central. As part of the €34 billion investment in public transport, I would like improvements to be made to the services for these stations. We must address overcrowding on the DART in the mornings because it is a public safety issue. The commuters I meet who use the service as it passes through Killester, Harmonstown and Clontarf always mention this issue. The development of transport services must include an examination of peak time travel on the DART. There has been investment in the service in recent years but we must continue with it. In pushing for improved services in transport, we must develop rail services. They fit in with environmental policy and the debate on climate change. We must look at examples of good practice, such as the Luas.

Many provisional licence holders got a bad press recently. Figures indicate that less than 12% of provisional licence holders were involved in an accident in the past six years. Many people who have been labelled as irresponsible drivers in recent weeks have a better safety record than many of us with full licences. Our young people are getting it in the neck even though they are very careful.

I commend the fact that €34 billion is being put into transport infrastructure and I urge all Deputies to keep an eye on the budget so accountability and transparency are top of the agenda.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the second anniversary of Transport 21. I would like to be in a position to agree with the Minister's positive assessment, and that of Government Members such as Deputy Finian McGrath, on the progress of Transport 21. However, there has been significant delay to 11 major projects in the plan, highlighting once again the mess Fianna Fáil has made of major projects and the clear result of uncosted, unrealistic plans.

A mere 24 months ago, Fianna Fáil announced Transport 21 with no cost-benefit analysis, no detailed costings and a completely unrealistic timetable. It was little more than a political con job, the result of which is delays to a third of the projects. These delays will inevitably lead to a rise in costs which, in turn, will lead to further delays and even to some projects being abandoned. Fine Gael pointed out that the forecast completion timetable for Transport 21 was unrealistic from the beginning. The simplest project to date serves as an example, the joining of the red and green Luas lines: this project still has no commencement date.

The Minister's uncosted and unrealistic plans for transport have a clear result, the suffering of commuters on a daily basis. It now seems that Fianna Fáil was more concerned with delivering itself back into Government than delivering commuters to their destination on time. Deputy Damien English has consistently called on the Minister for Transport to facilitate the early opening of the Navan rail link to help the thousands of commuters in Meath and to remove thousands of cars from Dublin's streets. Our roads are already congested but the Minister is more interested in getting tolls from commuters than developing proper transport infrastructure.

The Government is not serious about reforming transport in Ireland away from the car and towards sustainable public transport links, such as the rail link to Navan. The Government's commitment to re-opening that link looks increasingly shaky. One would think that with the Minister for Transport being from the constituency, he would push the project. The hard-pressed commuter, however, is suffering as a result of Government inaction.

The previous Minister, Deputy Martin Cullen, saw his roads plan go over budget by a staggering €12 billion and fall four years behind schedule. It was supposed to finish last year. How, therefore, can we trust Fianna Fáil on transport? The cost of the roads programme in the last national development plan rocketed from €5.6 billion to more than €18 billion and it is still not finished. It will not be completed until 2010. Then along came Transport 21, which was made up of many press releases and a few maps. Transport 21 has no costings or target dates to allow the Fianna Fáil-led Government to be held to account. It is no surprise it was met with widespread indifference when it was launched two years ago.

The previous Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, presided over the Dublin port tunnel, which came in €500 million over budget, at €752 million. The tunnel, however, has brought little relief to the rest of the city and added to congestion on the M50. The M50 has cost more than €1 billion and taken more than 20 years to build, without including the welcome and necessary upgrade work currently under way.

In the past ten years Dublin has ground to a halt. The average speed in Dublin city has fallen to 14 km/h, slower than the old horse and cart. Traffic congestion costs the city €650 million each year. Nearly 60% of people in the greater Dublin area rely on the car to get to work because there is often no public transport alternative. Only 15% of commuters use the bus, with fewer than 9% using the trains. Why were the extra buses that were proposed not delivered? What happened to integrated ticketing which has cost €13 million so far with nothing to show for it?

Fine Gael in Government would move immediately to provide 200 extra buses while opening the Dublin bus market to competition. The public service obligation would be available to public and private service operators to ensure loss making routes were maintained. New bus services and bus timetables would be devised to feed buses into the metro and Luas services. Moreover, new housing estates would be covered, orbital routes would be operated and non-stop services from the commuter belt would be provided.

The Dublin transport authority Bill is sitting on the Minister for Transport's desk. However, it was finalised last April, which is not good enough. Fine Gael in government would set up the Dublin transport authority immediately as it is essential to better traffic management. The absence of a single strong and co-ordinated body to drive forward projects is largely responsible for the appalling state of Dublin traffic. The Dublin transport authority would launch an integrated public transport system within Dublin. It would deliver metro and Luas lines and would synchronise them with bus services. It would help identify and purchase park and ride sites throughout the city on the outskirts of the M50. These would feed into local buses and to non-stop bus routes on a central corridor into the city centre, as well as dedicated bus routes that would reduce some of the predicted daily traffic congestion on the M50.

Fine Gael also would recruit and train motorcycle-based civilian road traffic officers to support the work of the Garda traffic corps. We would make the M50 work. Thus far, the deal to buy out the M50 toll has brought no relief to motorists. All the revenues accrued must be put immediately into early upgrades of the M50. In addition, there must be a move towards electronic tolling and immediate agreement to buy out and raise the toll barrier.

My constituency of Dublin North-East lacks seriously a proper public service. No bus service is available for the people of Clonshaugh, who class themselves as the forgotten people. In addition, a promise was made in the past to provide a Luas service that would pass through Coolock to service the north side of Dublin. However, this has been abandoned. Moreover, the new DART station at Clongriffin was meant to open after 1,000 people had moved into the area. At present, more than 2,000 new residents live there without a DART station and these people have no option but to bring their car to work. I was advised recently that the DART station will not open in Clongriffin until 2009, which is completely unacceptable.

I live in hope that the Government will learn from all the projects that have overrun in terms of time and budget. I refer in particular to those projects in recent years that have cost taxpayers millions of euro. In addition, the Government should establish immediately the Dublin transport authority, which will help get the city moving and will be to the betterment of the people of Dublin.

I also welcome the Minister of State to the House and welcome this timely debate on Transport 21 that enables Members to reflect on this ambitious plan and agenda as almost two years have elapsed since the programme was set out. I would welcome an opportunity to conduct a regular debate on Transport 21. Because its timeframe is fairly long, it is important to review its progress on an ongoing basis and to review its priorities because priorities undoubtedly change over time.

Transport 21 is the capital investment framework agreed by the Government for the development of the transport infrastructure between 2006 and 2015. The projects and programmes that make up Transport 21 aim to increase accessibility, ensure sustainability and expand capacity, as well as increase the use and enhance the quality of the service. In this context, it is important to consider some of those points. I refer in particular to the goals of increasing accessibility and ensuring sustainability. Undoubtedly, while Transport 21 did not consider specifically the issue of slot access to airports, particularly in respect of international hubs, it referred to investment in regional airports. It is important to consider these matters on foot of Aer Lingus's decisions to remove itself from the Shannon-Heathrow service.

When redefining its priorities, the Government must take cognisance of this issue and work towards dealing with it. Access to key markets is vital and a major crisis has arisen in the Shannon and mid-west region as a result of Aer Lingus's decision to withdraw its service. I spoke in the House on the issue previously. Several different reports have been considered and much of the reasoning behind this decision has been examined. While it is clear the Government was limited in what it could do, this does not mean that a policy should not be set out to resolve the issue in the context of Transport 21. I do not wish to be overly parochial and such a policy should not simply deal with Shannon. Issues have been raised regarding the use of slots in an international way, particularly as it would relate to Cork and Dublin. A policy framework should be developed. It might entail challenging the manner in which slots are managed from the perspective of European competition as there is much debate in Europe on this subject. Alternatively, it could focus on attempts by the Government to find another way to ensure direct connectivity to such centres, which are vital to sustainability and capacity expansion.

I argue this should pertain to retaining capacity and trying to hold on to existing accessibility rather than increasing it. This is a clear reason for the necessity of Members to reflect. An air link from Shannon to Heathrow is just as important as a bridge over, or a tunnel under, the River Shannon. From this perspective, the Government must find a solution and it will not be acceptable to state that this issue is outside its control or that this is a decision of Aer Lingus. While it is clear that was the case, we must now build a policy framework that takes account of that decision and accepts the constraints as they are while clearly proposing a solution towards the slot access issue. In recent weeks, Members will have observed a great increase in the value of slots. In particular, the advent of the open skies policy and consequent access to many more destinations in the United States provides an avenue for airlines to spend greater amounts of money on the basis that they will be carrying a considerably greater number of passengers.

I will turn to a different subject. Overall, Transport 21 provides for investment in national roads, public transport and regional airports, involving a total expenditure of €34 billion. This is an enormous sum of money and an audit trail must be maintained in this regard. One of the main factors influencing the prioritisation of projects under Transport 21 was the national development plan and the need to support the Government's national spatial strategy. Considerable progress has been made in County Clare and the mid-west region, notwithstanding my earlier point. In particular, I welcome developments regarding the Ennis bypass. Obviously, more work must be carried out on some of the feeder routes to the Tulla road and into Clarecastle. The idea of providing direct connections to the Quin road should also be considered. This is of vital importance.

I welcome the manner in which Transport 21 sets about identifying the priorities in the spatial strategy. I refer to linking Limerick and Galway with a dual carriageway and bypassing Ennis and the various villages and towns along the way. Obviously this process is under way as the Gort to Crusheen bypass is at tender stage while the Gort to Oranmore section is at planning stage. In the long term, this will provide a foundation and basis for the improvement and development of the economic corridor that connects the two cities, which was clearly set out in the priorities of the spatial strategy.

The Minister also should consider the provision of funding for remedial works on local roads that have been affected during the construction stage of the major roads. I refer to routes in the Clare region such as Crusheen to Clooney and Knocknamanagh to Doora, where roads that had become rat-runs during the construction phase of these major roads are now in an extremely poor state. The local authorities do not have the funds to deal with this issue and special allocations should be made, whether through the NRA or some other body, to take cognisance of the damage done to such local roads during construction of the new primary routes.

I also urge the Minister to examine, particularly in County Clare, the N68, which connects Ennis to Kilrush, the N85, which connects Ennis to Enistymon, and other national secondary roads. I refer in particular to the coastal road, the N67. The aforementioned three sections of road require significant investment and it is unacceptable that the people of west Clare should be obliged to travel on sections of the N68 that are highly dangerous and are certainly inferior to what would be expected given the volume of road traffic. I seriously urge the Minister to deal with this matter. It may be easier to so do on foot of the legislation that is finding its way through the House on transferring responsibility for such roads from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the Department of Transport. A more encompassing and holistic approach can be put forward by the Government in respect of funding the entire road network and infrastructure.

It is also important to provide funding rapidly for the Killaloe bypass and the Shannon bridge project, which is a huge priority for the east Clare area. I urge the Minister to make sure that adequate funding is made available as the project progresses through the planning stage. It will have a particular impact in terms of retaining factories such as Finsa and promoting tourism around Lough Derg, which is vitally important to the region. It is also important to sustain activity through the airport and ensure that people continue to live and work in a rural environment. For this reason investment in roads is very useful. We have also invested heavily in rail and bus services in the region. In particular, approximately €900,000 has been spent on the redesign of Ennis bus station, which opened in April. Those provisions contribute to the bus service in and around Ennis, which is extremely welcome.

I also recognise the achievement of the rural transport initiative under Transport 21. The initiative in Clare has been very successful and I welcome its continued funding by the Government. Clare Accessible Transport provides an excellent service to people in rural parts of County Clare and with continued funding it is now examining the possibility of widening the service to other parts of the county. This is important, particularly for elderly people in isolated areas who do not have their own transport. Frankly, it would not be feasible to put in place the type of public transport infrastructure that exists in our large towns and cities. Considering the relatively small amount of money that is spent on the rural transport initiative, it generates a very good return in terms of value for money and in providing services for the elderly, the young and people with disabilities. I welcome this development.

It would be wrong not to recognise the huge investment that will culminate in the reopening of the western rail corridor. Work on the first phase, the section from Ennis to Athenry, commenced in June and is due to be completed by December 2008. Rail services will operate between Limerick and Galway and a commuter service will be introduced from Athenry to Galway. Subsequent phases will see the line reopen as far as Claremorris. An important aspect of this is that Sixmilebridge Station, which is due to open as part of the project, will provide direct access to Shannon Airport via a feeder bus service. This will have a significant impact on the airport and the industrial base in the area. It is also important that the Minister consider the possibility of reopening Crusheen Station. In light of its central location and the county council's development policy, which aims to create a more developed residential zone, the reopening of Crusheen Station would benefit many people by allowing them to commute much more efficiently to Galway, Ennis or Limerick. I urge the Minister to consider this.

When I consider transport and the Government's plans in that area, I am struck by the many similarities with the health service. This is particularly the case for the Local Government (Roads Functions) Bill, which seeks to centralise authority by taking it from councils and bringing it to the centre, where, just as happened with the HSE, it will become less transparent and even less accountable.

I will start by quoting the Taoiseach, who said at the launch of Transport 21 in November 2005, "Our ambition and plan is clear and substantial — we will build a world-class transport system for the 21st century and we will do it on time and on budget". "On time and on budget" became the Government's catchphrase. However, we will have a look to see how things are going two years on. Let us look at the original completion dates for some major projects. These include the upgrading of services on the Dublin-Cork rail route, with an intended completion date of 2006, the Portlaoise train depot, the delivery and introduction of 120 Intercity railway carriages, the M1 motorway and the M50 upgrade, which were all due for completion in 2007, and the joining of the Tallaght and Sandyford Luas lines in Dublin city centre, the opening of the new Dublin city centre railway station, the Limerick southern ring road, the Waterford city bypass, and the Galway-Athenry commuter rail service, with completion dates of 2008 and 2009. The list goes on.

Further projects include the metro west, the Cherrywood Luas extension, the Dublin-Galway inter-urban motorway, the metro west phase 2 from Clondalkin, although we do not yet have a metro west phase 1, the metro north, which is particularly interesting and to which I will return later, the completion of the interconnector and the extension of railway electrification to Balbriggan, which of course would be of huge value to the people of Dublin North.

Today the joining up of Dublin's two Luas lines remains a mirage and there is no operable date. This reflects the Government's thinking, which is not joined up. The 2008 deadlines for the Luas extensions to the Docklands and Citywest and the Cork-Midleton commuter rail service will not be met. The M3 motorway and the Navan rail link are now due for completion in 2010, not 2008. The completion date for the Limerick southern ring road has been moved from 2009 to 2010, as has that of the Waterford city bypass. All phases of the expensive metro project have seen their completion dates extended. Phase 1 of the M50 upgrade was due to be complete this year, but it has been pushed back to late 2008. It was announced last Friday that an integrated ticketing system for the capital was to be pushed back another three years and that €13 million of the €50 million budget has already been spent, with no system in sight. What can we say? There are integrated ticketing systems all over Europe. What science is involved in this? I cannot understand the delay.

The Government initially costed the Transport 21 investment programme at €34 billion. We must bear in mind the recent information that our Tánaiste and Minister for Finance has transformed a €1.8 billion surplus into a €800 million deficit. That is a three-card trick that results in a loss of €2.6 million. Some people would say it was a monumental mess, while others would say it was the result of a cowardly cover-up coming up to the election. Critically, the Government nearly always refuses to provide detailed costings on projects as it claims that the release of such sensitive commercial information is anti-competitive. However, we do know that the cost of the roads programme under the last national development plan went from €5.6 billion to €12 billion, and it still is not finished.

The cost of Dublin's M50 motorway, which was completed in June 2005 after 17 years of construction, increased almost ninefold from the first phase to the last. The first phase, on which construction began in 1988, cost €6.8 million per kilometre to complete. In contrast, the final phase has cost €60 million per kilometre. Already, as thousands of motorists suffer in the car park that is the M50 due to current roadworks, we are informed that we will be back in the same position in another ten years, with just one extra lane. Again, there has been no forward planning. We desperately need to budget for and build an outer orbital route north of Balbriggan. We need this even if the proposed Bremore port does not go ahead, but if it does, Balbriggan faces disaster. The people of Balbriggan must already cope with poor infrastructure in terms of schools, policing and transport, with no electrification of the train, not enough car spaces and a bus service that is very good on the north side of the town, as it brings people to the train station, but does not operate on the south side. This does not make sense. I cannot understand why a proper system has not been put in place as it has been proven to work.

The initial cost of the Dublin Port tunnel was €535 million and it came in some €200 million over budget. Now, although the people of Swords paid dearly for it, the Xpresso 41 bus route from Swords cannot use it. It is prevented from going through the tunnel. The building of 17 km of metro north line was put at €4.58 billion in 2004. With construction inflation and additional expenditure, the cost would now be well over €5 billion. The price tag for the city's first metro line makes it by far the most expensive infrastructure project in the history of the State, at least three times more costly than the M50, which cost €1.6 billion apart from upgrade works, and six times more expensive than either the two Luas lines or the Dublin Port tunnel. In Madrid the Metro was completed in a fraction of the time and all for the cost of €1.2 billion.

The metro north project is one I hold dear to my heart. It is a worthy project and is badly needed by Dublin North. It was promised by this Government before the 2002 election and again before the 2007 election, but it does not seem to be any nearer than before. At least we have a proposed route, but that may also change. The people of Swords and Dublin North only see more houses going up and longer traffic jams during their daily commute. Dublin North badly needs the metro due to its explosive growth, with Swords the fastest growing town in Europe and Balbriggan not far behind it. We need transport to get people to and from work.

The current lack of Dart services in Balbriggan is causing serious hardship to commuters. Trains are full when they reach Balbriggan so people must stand all the way from Balbriggan into town. People — pregnant women and others — are fainting due to standing room only and of course the problem gets worse as the train moves through Skerries and on to Rush, Lusk and Donabate.

There are DART stations at Malahide and at Portmarnock but these, like all the other stations, do not have sufficient car parking and Nipper buses to bring people to the trains. There is no co-ordination between the current bus service and train times. Therefore, people either are late for the train or when they get off the train from work tired in the evenings the bus has just left. I have called for Nipper buses to be put in place which would tour the villages and towns. In the smaller villages, they could be in the square to bring people to the train on time and in comfort. That would have three benefits. It would increase the use of public transport, reduce the number of cars on the roads and take pressure off the limited spaces in the car parks.

After its troubled start the Government recently announced it was in the process of hiring communications consultants to operate a communications programme for transport projects. This sounds familiar. Once again, instead of delivering service, all they want to do is spend money on spin. The similarities between this and the current Health Service Executive are becoming more worrying. In both instances there are Ministers who did not know what was going on in the Departments, in both instances letters were not received and in both instances we are rapidly facing a mess, although the crisis in the health services is currently far greater than the crisis in transport.

I have not even mentioned the impact on the environment caused by all these cars sitting in traffic jams. There are bus corridors lying empty which we pay millions of euro to maintain and we have not supplied the promised extra buses. Some 200 buses were promised to Dublin Bus and it has not got them.

Even now, before the metro begins, there is no connectivity planned for the metro to join with the northern rail line and provide a complete service.

There was a call in the past for a six-lane motorway coming from the Lissenhall interchange so that we can accommodate the explosion in activity that will take place with the placement there of the enormous distribution centres of both Tesco and Dunnes Stores. We need to reinstate the greater Dublin transport authority, as proposed by the late Deputy Jim Mitchell, which would play a co-ordinated role in all of this.

The Local Government (Roads Functions) Bill 2007 seeks to centralise further the authority over roads. We on this side of the House oppose it because it further undermines democracy and, like the invention of the HSE, could lead to a further lack of transparency and less accountability.

I am delighted to get the opportunity to make a statement on Transport 21. I thank Deputy Reilly for his comments on the Taoiseach and, in particular, for quoting him. I am sure that if the Taoiseach had stated anything other than what he had stated at that time, Deputy Reilly would have been on his feet as well. It was ironic that Deputy Reilly went on to spend approximately three minutes listing some of the projects currently underway as part of Transport 21. Sometimes as I sit here I feel there is a mass delusion occurring on the Opposition side. Most of us travel by car to get here and I am sure those opposite use many of the fine new roads which have been opened over the past number of years and which are currently under construction. Transport 21 is well on its way.

Ireland has undergone unprecedented economic growth over the past 15 years. Our population has greatly expanded and our workforce has increased to record levels. However, for much of that time our infrastructure lagged behind this economic growth. This was due to under investment in our infrastructure in the past as well as the fact that the scale of our growth was completely unpredicted.

The huge economic growth placed even further pressure on our infrastructure. Car ownership per 1,000 grew by 55% between 1991 and 2004. In that same time the total amount of cars on our roads rose by over 80%. In 2002, 62% of people used a private car to get to work compared to 45% in 1986. In the same period the amount of people travelling to work by car doubled, while the amount of people travelling to work using public transport increased by 28%. In the seven year period from 1996 to 2003, the amount of freight travelling through our ports increased by 36% — Rosslare Europort in my constituency was one of the beneficiaries of this growth in freight levels.

This huge expansion in transport had not been matched by a similar increase in infrastructure over the same period and a new strategy was needed to account for both the previous under investment in transport infrastructure as well as to give appropriate provision for future growth needs due to the continuing expansion of our economy.

Transport 21 was introduced as the Government's response to this need to develop a long-term strategy for investment in transport infrastructure. Transport 21 is the most significant transport investment programme in the history of the State and it is transforming our roads and public transport system. Generations to come will still see the benefits of the investments made under Transport 21.

One of the key aims of Transport 21 was to ensure that transportation played a central role in ensuring Ireland underwent balanced regional development. A large part of the population and economic growth that Ireland witnessed over the decade prior to the adoption of Transport 21 was centred on large urban areas and their surrounding hinterlands. This placed even further pressures on our transport infrastructure as it significantly increased commuting areas. Towns such as Gorey in County Wexford became part of the Dublin commuter belt and the amount of time people spent travelling to work increased dramatically. Transport 21 is a key part of the national spatial strategy's vision for balanced regional development over the coming decades. The end results of the plan and the national spatial strategy will be that people from counties such as Wexford will have new opportunities and far greater choice in terms of where they live and work.

I am particularly glad that accessibility was a key aim of Transport 21. Up to recent times, people with disabilities were virtually excluded from public transport. The significant investment in public transport under Transport 21 is particularly focussed on addressing issues of access to public transport for people with disabilities and to meeting the Department of Transport's requirements under the Disability Act 2005. While we still have some significant way to go to make public transport in Ireland fully accessible for people with disabilities, as someone with a disability I can state that the improvements in access to public transport since the launch of the plan are welcome and are an important step in the right direction.

The largest portion of the investments being made under Transport 21 are for improvements in our road infrastructure with approximately €18 billion being invested in roads from 2006 to 2015. Already this investment in roads is having a significant effect on people's lives. The Gorey bypass, which opened this summer, has reduced the travelling time from Wexford to Dublin by up to three quarters of an hour. Some 10,000 cars have been taken out of the streets of Gorey and from the villages of Inch and Clough each day. These villages are now safer places to live and Gorey town centre will undergo a revival because of the progress being made in implementing Transport 21 locally.

When the Taoiseach and the then Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, launched Transport 21 a number of years ago, they said they wanted to see the road projects earmarked under Transport 21 come in on time and on budget. At the time, public infrastructure projects seemed to operate with ever changing deadlines and calling for projects as ambitious as those outlined in Transport 21 to be completed on time would have seemed impossible. However, many of the recent roads completed under the plan have not only come in on time but ahead of schedule. The Gorey bypass in County Wexford, which I mentioned previously, opened this summer under budget and four months ahead of schedule. The recently opened bypasses of Dundalk and Ennis both opened four months ahead of schedule. Most impressive of all was the Kilcock/Kinnegad bypass which opened ten months ahead of schedule. Results like these show that the targets set out in Transport 21 for transforming our road network will be achieved and that rather than being aspirational, Transport 21 is a strategy which will be fully implemented by this Government. Other success stories include the Dublin Port tunnel, a magnificent piece of engineering despite all the criticism, and the Luas which is a victim of its own success.

County Wexford will greatly benefit from the transformation of its road network as set out in Transport 21. Already, Gorey has seen itself change from one of the worst traffic blackspots in the country to a town that can be driven through in minutes. The next major road project to commence in Wexford will be the New Ross bypass. New Ross also suffers from significant traffic delays and hold-ups of over an hour to enter the town are not uncommon. The New Ross bypass, as outlined in Transport 21, will transform the town as much as Gorey has changed since the summer. Gridlock entering the town will be a thing of the past and traffic will be taken from the streets. New Ross will, once again, become a pleasant and relaxing place in which to live, work and shop. The New Ross bypass took a significant step forward a month ago when the compulsory purchase orders for the acquisition of land were served. Again, this took place within the timeframe set out.

I urge the Minister for Transport and the National Roads Authority to ensure that all other steps in the construction of the New Ross bypass also take place on time and that the bypass opens to the public in 2012 as originally planned.

When the roads element of Transport 21 is completed, Wexford will have a road network suitable for the 21st century. The N11 will be part of Euroroute EO1 linking the ports of Rosslare and Larne. However, if the Atlantic road corridor were extended from Waterford to Rosslare, we would then be part of a corridor stretching over almost the entire island, starting in Letterkenny and covering all the major areas of the south and continuing up the east coast to Larne. I hope that if any review of Transport 21 is undertaken, the Minister for Transport will see the sense of continuing the Atlantic road corridor to Rosslare and linking up with Euroroute EO1.

As well as roads, public transport will also see its largest ever investment under Transport 21. A total of €16 billion is being invested in public transport and regional airports from 2006 to 2015. Public transport is often seen as an urban issue but Transport 21 has recognised the need for public transportation to be established in rural areas. The rural transport initiative has the potential to transform the social structure of many rural communities. Two rural transport initiatives have already been established in Wexford, the rural road runner and west coast Wexford rural transport initiative and both are operating successfully. At a time when social isolation in rural areas has never been higher, developments such as the rural transport initiative provides new lifelines to isolated and vulnerable people in rural communities.

Transport 21 will see a record €441 million investment in rail services over a ten-year period. A total of 217 new rail carriages are being brought into service in the three-year period from 2006 to 2008. Throughout the country, tracks are being replaced and signals upgraded on the rail network. Ireland will go from having the oldest rail stock in Europe to the most modern. Wexford will also see the benefit of this investment in rail services. Brand new intercity carriages are being placed on the Dublin to Rosslare rail line and the frequency of services to Wexford is being increased.

I am a member of South East On Track, and we are working with our colleagues in the south east region to prevent any further downgrading of rail infrastructure in the south east and looking at the potential for the re-opening of old railway lines such as the New Ross to Waterford line.

A total of €86 million has been approved under Transport 21 for investment in Ireland's regional airports, including Waterford Regional Airport. This airport is a key part of the economic infrastructure of the entire south east region and the further development of Waterford Regional Airport, as outlined in Transport 21, is vital to attract industry and employment to surrounding counties such as Wexford.

Transport 21 is the most far reaching and ambitious investment in transport that has ever been seen in Ireland. It takes a holistic approach to transport infrastructure and recognises that a modern infrastructure is vital to ensure balanced regional development throughout the country. Counties such as Wexford are already seeing the benefits that Transport 21 brings, not only in terms of economic development but in terms of improving the quality of peoples' lives.

I compliment the Minister for Transport and his predecessor for ensuring that Transport 21 is implemented fully and on its original timescale. Ireland will be a radically different country when the proposals set out in Transport 21 are fully implemented. I look forward to being part of a Government I know will deliver on this plan.

Tá áthas orm cúpla focal a rá ar an ábhar seo. I listened with interest to the previous speakers refer to projects that have come in on time and under budget. That is great if that is the case in their constituencies. All of us will be slightly parochial in terms of the application or non-application, as the case may be, of Transport 21 in our constituencies. I wish to deal briefly with a major infrastructural difficulty in my constituency of Cork North-West, namely, the Macroom town bypass.

Deputy Creed must not have been working hard enough.

Both previous speakers referred to the greater Dublin area. Deputy Connick will forgive me for including the Wexford commuter belt in the greater Dublin area. The real problem is that a Pale mentality is evident from this Government and the previous Government. If one lives in the far flung corners of the country, such as in my constituency of Cork North-West, or any constituency along the western seaboard, it is obvious we are not really getting our fair share of the cake.

People refer continuously to regional development and the national spatial strategy. The reality is that what the Government is trying to do now is to put a pint into a half pint pot in terms of retrofitting infrastructural projects to remedy the ills of bad planning and the failure to have proper regional development. The problem is that the east has been over-developed at the expense of the regions, especially the west and the south west.

The Government has placed great emphasis on the major inter-urban routes, namely, Dublin to Cork, Dublin to Galway, Dublin to Belfast and Dublin to Wexford. In reality, what the major inter-urban routes are doing is facilitating a continuous growth of Dublin which is sucking the lifeblood from the regions. If we were serious about regional development and the national spatial strategy, we would build a road from Donegal to west Kerry. This would create a real counterbalance to the current over-development in the east of the country. That over-development affects quality of life. As John Healy the Mayo man once said, there is a place called Stop and we have reached it in terms of the level of development on the east coast. There is a direct correlation between quality of life and continued development on the east coast. The flip side of that coin is that pressures arise due to under-development and lack of investment in infrastructure in the other regions, and as a consequence, their failure to develop a counter-attraction in terms of development of the greater Dublin area.

I attended a delegation this morning from Macroom Town Council to the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, about the Macroom town bypass. Deputy Connick referred to projects coming in under budget and ahead of time. In a document published by the NRA, it was stated that construction on the Macroom town bypass was due to commence in 2004. This morning the Minister told us it would not start until after 2010. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Ryan, will know the area to which I refer as he has a particular connection to Macroom.

Prior to the general election we were told the compulsory purchase orders for land acquisition would be published imminently, yet deadlines have come and gone. There is a real difficulty in the town. Children are put in danger every day as schools are located on the side of the national primary route. Likewise, elderly people take their lives in their hands when they attempt to cross the road. Those who are familiar with Macroom will be aware it is a long town and it is really suffering for the want of a bypass. It is a gateway to development in Killarney, Kerry and Tralee.

If we were serious about regional development and the national spatial strategy we would stand back from the major inter-urban routes and carry out a cost-benefit analysis on the building of a road from Cashel to Urlingford where I have never seen a traffic jam. Perhaps a cost-benefit analysis would justify proceeding with the Macroom bypass to continue the investment on the N22 from the Ballincollig bypass onwards to Killarney. That is what should be done.

We need to look at black spots. We do not need to jump in blindly and state in Transport 21 that the major inter-urban routes are to be the priority, regardless of what is happening in any other place in the country. The major inter-urban routes are sucking the lifeblood out of the regions. They are facilitating the pull of Dublin because one can get to Dublin faster from Galway, Cork, Belfast and Wexford. That is not what proper regional development is about. If we were really committed to this notion we would facilitate infrastructural investment such as new roads and rail connections on the west coast from Donegal to Kerry to make it an attractive place to live and work and for companies to locate and provide investment and jobs.

Transport 21 is a wish list. It is important we continue to prioritise capital investment in infrastructure. There is no shortage of projects. We should do cost-benefit analyses and not plough on blindly with the major inter-urban routes at the expense of regions where development is being delayed and obstructed. This is a sacred cow that needs to be slain. I hope the Government will re-think the issue. I reached the conclusion some time ago that there is a Pale mentality. The real problem is that most of the infrastructural investment is taking place in Dublin and is facilitating access to the greater Dublin region.

I appreciated the candour of the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, this morning, but it is cold comfort to the people who are trying to live and do business in Macroom. On any day of the week, it can take upwards of an hour to get through the town. That is a shocking impediment to doing business. It is also a quality of life and a safety issue for the elderly, children and everyone else because of the volume of heavy traffic that often has no business going through the town.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to make these comments. I am sure my contribution will not be much different from other Deputies' parochial take on Transport 21 but we believe we have been short-changed. It is not delivering for those of us in the regions. We must re-prioritise and examine black spots and if they are to be addressed at the expense of the major inter-urban routes, that should be done and we should not apologise for that.