Priority Questions.

Road Safety.

Fergus O'Dowd


1 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Transport when he expects to lower the legal blood-alcohol level for drivers, as has been recommended; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18001/08]

The Road Safety Strategy 2007-2012, approved by the Government in October 2007, identifies the need to legislate for and introduce a reduction in the legal blood-alcohol content, BAC, for drivers but does not specify what that level should be. In determining what the BAC limit should be reduced to the advice of the Road Safety Authority, RSA, was sought. The RSA's recommendations have been received and the Government, in noting the contents of the authority's report at last week's Cabinet meeting, agreed that the RSA's report be published and taken into account in preparing new road traffic legislation this year.

The issue of lowering the BAC limits will now move into the work underway to prepare for the text of a Road Traffic Bill, which also includes the issue of appropriate penalties for drink driving and other road traffic offences. I hope to bring the heads of the Bill to the Government later this summer.

I wish the Minister well as he resumes his duties.

Will the Acting Chairman welcome us also?

Indeed I do.

Does the Minister accept the recommendations and will they be implemented in full? This applies particularly to the reduction of the blood-alcohol content limit to 20 milligrams for drivers of buses, taxis and commercial vehicles as this is very important. Does the Minister, like me, receive representations from the vintners' federation and associations around Ireland? Everybody accepts that the blood-alcohol content limit must be reduced, as is recommended in the report, but does the Minister feel we should reduce vehicle registration tax, VRT, to make it attractive to publicans to provide transport for customers to and from the pub? I understand the Road Safety Authority would not be against providing special training for such drivers. Another view is that a special public service vehicle, PSV, licence could be issued to such publicans to help get people home, particularly in rural areas. This is an issue that has been brought to my attention and could be dealt with while simultaneously reducing the blood-alcohol content limit to the recommended level.

The Government has accepted the road safety strategy and this means the blood-alcohol content limit will be reduced. I brought the report to Cabinet last week to inform the Government of the recommendations and to allow me to publish it as I received it from the RSA. The Government has made no decision on whether it will accept the recommendations on the blood-alcohol content limits. I was instructed to draft a Bill and bring it forward. Discussion is to take place in the context of a Bill where not only will the suggested reduction in the blood-alcohol limit be brought forward but also penalties for breaches of the limit.

Suggestions made by vintners and others on VRT reductions are matters for the Minister for Finance in the context of a budget. The question of special PSV licences has not been brought to my attention but we are trying to create safer roads so any special arrangements that are to be made should be consistent with our general attitude towards safety. We aim to ensure that people of good repute and character get PSV licences. There are many issues in this area, like those mentioned, that should be discussed. I have no doubt that over the coming months, particularly in the context of the Bill and this report, there will be further discussions before a final decision is made.

Perhaps I did not hear the Minister clearly. Did he say the recommendations on reductions have not been accepted?

No decision has been made on the recommendations, other than to publish the report and for me to draft legislation on the basis of it. A decision will then be made by the Government on the basis of the completed legislation.

The key point is that the Government has not agreed to accept the recommended reduction in the blood-alcohol content limit. Is that the current position?

The Government has neither accepted nor rejected the recommendations.

Basically the Minister is waffling on this issue, as usual.

I am just answering the Deputy's question.

The Minister answered my question and waffled away. The fact is——

I will not give the Deputy the opportunity to twist this. The recommendations have been noted by the Government.

The Government has not accepted the recommendations. I am entitled to speak. The Government is not biting the bullet on this issue. We in Fine Gael accept that the Road Safety Authority's recommended reduction in the blood-alcohol content limit must be implemented. The Minister is on record as saying he would accept the recommendation but now he says the Government has neither accepted nor rejected it.

In the context of reducing penalties, there is legislation that allows the Minister to have reduced penalties for people with lower than 100 milligrams in blood-alcohol content but above 80 milligrams. The Minister has refused to introduce such a reduced penalty with a fixed fine and a ban of three months from driving, without the need for a court appearance. He is not facing the issue and is bound to pressure groups. He is not doing his job and is not making roads safer.

The Deputy seeks a softer penalty regime for people with a blood-alcohol content of between 80 milligrams and 100 milligrams, despite the fact——

This is in the Minister's legislation. It is a penalty that he included.

I know it is in the legislation but I did not bring it in.

The Minister voted for it.

That section of the Bill has not commenced.

It was passed by the Oireachtas.

The Deputy sought a fair chance to speak. It has not commenced because I do not believe that it is the best way to proceed at the moment. It could give a signal that we are going soft on drink driving involving people with a blood-alcohol content of between 80 milligrams and 100 milligrams. The Deputy's proposal that we introduce this measure would convey the impression that we are going soft and I do not want to do that.

On a point of order, the Government of which the Minister was a member passed the legislation.

It has not commenced.

The Minister has refused to commence it but the former Taoiseach is on record as saying he wants reduced penalties. This is a reduced penalty the Minister could introduce but he has not done so.

Talk about waffling. Does the Deputy want reduced penalties or increased penalties?

Traffic Management.

Thomas P. Broughan


2 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Transport the preparations being undertaken by his Department in terms of managing traffic and potential major disruption to citizens and businesses in Dublin due to the prospective big dig in Dublin city for metro north, the Dublin interconnector and Luas extensions; his views on the appointment of one individual with responsibility across the relevant agencies and bodies to manage and minimise the potential disruption to the city or if he will discharge this function; if the new Dublin Transport Authority will be the lead body in managing this project; if there has been a detailed risk assessment of the project ; if it will be completed by Easter 2016; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17361/08]

A number of major infrastructure projects, planned under Transport 21 for the period to 2015, will have a major impact on Dublin city centre. These include metro north, the rail interconnector and the cross-city and Lucan Luas lines. There will also be other major construction activity during the same period, including the renewal of water and electricity services and a number of large private developments.

To facilitate the implementation of these Transport 21 projects, the Dublin city manager has set up and is chairing a Dublin Transport 21 implementation group consisting of the chief executives of the principal implementing agencies and representatives of my Department, the Garda Síochána, Dublin Chamber of Commerce and the Dublin City Business Association. Among the functions of that group is the preparation of a traffic management plan for the city centre during the construction of the Transport 21 projects. This plan will make provision for alternative traffic routes and for improved public transport priority measures while taking account of the concerns of various interests, in particular the business community. All agencies participating in the formulation of the plan are aware of the importance of maintaining access to the centre of Dublin and of retaining its competitive edge.

In support of the initiative by Dublin City Council, I recently convened a meeting on 6 March of the principal implementing agencies, An Garda Síochána and business representatives, to reassure maximum information was interchanged between the stakeholders. The meeting was also to identify the principal concerns of the business community and consider how best to support the necessary traffic planning for the construction phase. This will be the first in a regular series of meetings to review progress.

The steps outlined constitute an effective approach to the traffic management issues likely to arise from the major investment projects in Dublin city centre. I am also satisfied that Dublin City Council should continue to lead on the development and implementation of this plan, pending the establishment of the Dublin transport authority on a statutory basis. In particular, I welcome the personal commitment of the Dublin city manager to this important work.

The Dublin Transport Authority Bill 2008 is on Committee Stage in the Seanad. Section 64 proposes to give the Dublin transport authority specific statutory responsibility for preparing a strategic traffic management plan for the greater Dublin area which will set out the measures to be taken by the authority to optimise the movements of persons, goods and vehicles. In particular it will set out action to be taken to minimise the impact of construction work for transport infrastructure and other utilities. The Bill also proposes to give the authority wide funding and directive powers with surface transport in the greater Dublin area which will enable it to ensure effective action is taken in this area.

Is the Minister saying the Dublin City Manager, Mr. John Tierney, will be responsible for this mega-project, the largest construction project in Dublin city centre since the rebuilding after the 1916 Rising? Has the Minister completed a detailed risk assessment of the big dig? Has he received a cost benefit analysis on its impact on city centre business?

Last week the distinguished journalist, Mr. Frank McDonald pointed out the proposed central metro station will destroy St. Stephen's Green. Even after the four years of construction and 8,000 truckloads of soil are removed, a quarter of the green will be covered with escape shafts for the station. What will be the impact of the proposed metro stations at the O'Connell monument and at the Parnell monument on O'Connell Street? Will it be a case of tens of thousands of trucks moving soil up and down O'Connell Street and the quays? Many of those who are interested in being involved in this construction project have taken it for granted that the monuments — Dan O'Connell and his angels and Parnell, our lost leader — will have to be moved for several years. I would not mind if the Spire goes and we do not see it again. O'Connell Street and all its adjoining streets will be a major construction site for five years.

This is a monumental task and the largest one ever overseen by the Minister for Transport. When Minister for the Environment and Local Government he oversaw the Limerick city drainage project which lost the State €90 million. This only concerns the metro. When the interconnector is constructed there will be additional construction work at Christchurch and Pearse Station.

I welcome the Minister's reappointment yesterday.

He should have been fired.

However, is he capable of managing the largest infrastructure project in Dublin's history? Dubs, like myself, know and are told very little about the project. The Minister has spent millions of euro on a stupid advertising campaign for Transport 21. Dublin city will be torn apart by transport development and yet the Minister does not tell us how it will happen.

I inform the public and I get attacked by the Deputy. I have an Opposition spokesperson who is meant to know all Transport 21 and is supposed to mark me in the House and yet he knows nothing about it. I do not know how he is winning. Deputy Broughan should come over to the Department of Transport and we will give him a thorough briefing on it.

I know more about the big dig than the Minister.

My mother says you cannot make an omelette without breaking some eggs. I have never said anything other than there will be disruption in Dublin city for the massive changes and improvements to the public transport network. It does not matter how well it is managed, there will be restrictions and disruption. I will not be directing traffic or such other. There are agencies available to do this. My job is to provide the funds, the strategic direction and ensure value for money.

Concerning the article by the journalist referred to by Deputy Broughan, he used a sketch that is out of date. There will be some alterations to St. Stephen's Green. The construction of the other stations will cause some disruption. The object of the construction of two new bridges over the River Liffey is to minimise disruption. It is not helpful to talk about devastation in Dublin city centre.

We are worried considering the Minister's track record.

The information campaign will highlight that Dublin city centre will be open for business while construction takes place.

Another €3 million wasted.

Disruption will be kept to a minimum but cannot be eliminated.

Last Monday, Deputy Fahey did a PR runner, probably hoping to be in the Cabinet, on traffic management. When will the Minister announce a detailed traffic management plan for the big dig?

Deputy Fahey was even using the royal "we".

Dublin City Council will have a traffic management plan available before the end of the year. Work is ongoing on the plan and I have had briefings on it.

Public Transport.

Fergus O'Dowd


3 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Transport the reforms he has planned for public bus transport in the greater Dublin area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18002/08]

The programme for Government contains a commitment to expedite the establishment of a Dublin transport authority, which will have the necessary powers to ensure the delivery of the integrated public transport system envisioned under Transport 21. The Dublin Transport Authority Bill is on Committee Stage in the Seanad. The Bill sets out the mechanisms for the award of contracts for subvention in line with the new regime introduced under the new EU regulation on public service obligations in the transport sector, which will become mandatory from next year.

The programme for Government also includes a commitment to improving bus services under Transport 21 by reforming the bus licensing provisions of the Road Transport Act 1932, to facilitate the optimum provision of services by providing a level playing field for all market participants, both public and private.

Proposals for a new bus licensing regime will follow in subsequent legislative proposals to be contained in a public transport regulation Bill. It is too early to be precise on the detail of the proposals except to confirm that the new Bill will deal with the replacement of the Road Transport Act 1932 and the provisions of the Transport Act 1958 relating to the provision of bus services by the State bus companies. The new bus licensing regime will be designed in a manner consistent with the new EU regulation. It is envisaged that the new licensing structure will apply in respect of all commercial bus services, including those provided by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, and that the power to grant licences in the greater Dublin area will be given to the Dublin transport authority. The new Bill will encompass provisions relating to the subvented bus market outside the greater Dublin area that are consistent with the EU PSO regulation.

While it is not possible at this time to indicate precisely when the legislative proposals on regulatory reform of the bus market will be published, applications for new bus licences and notifications from State bus operators will continue to be processed under the provisions of the Road Transport Act 1932, as amended, and the notification system with reference to the Transport Act 1958, as appropriate.

The Minister is a prisoner of Bus Éireann and the unions. This was highlighted by his refusal to accept an amendment to the Dublin Transport Authority Bill moved by Senator Donohoe in the Seanad to introduce competition in the bus market. A supposed core policy of the Progressive Democrats is to increase competition in the bus market, but its Members voted against the amendment. Half an hour ago, the Minister failed to do his job, namely, to deliver on the promises to introduce competition made by his predecessors, the current Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Cullen, and Deputy Brennan.

"Competition" is not just a word. It means new choices and routes for new communities, but the Minister has refused them. This situation will continue until he reforms the Act. While he stated that he does not know when he will reform it, he will never do so despite this golden opportunity to do it. Will he reconsider his opinions on Fine Gael's amendment to introduce competition in Dublin and amend the DTA Bill immediately?

The Deputy is incorrect in so far as introducing competition, new choices and new routes are concerned. The private sector can apply at any stage for a licence——

If the operators can get a licence.

——to operate on any new route. Licences are being processed weekly. The Deputy's mistake is in respect of non-commercial subvented services. The commercial sector will not become involved in them because its members want to make a profit.

That is not true.

It is not true to state that we are not introducing competition. The DTA Bill will leave the 1932 and 1958 Acts in place so that anyone, including Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, can operate a commercial route in this city.

I accept a point made by the Deputy, one that I have also made, that is, the 1932 Act must be reformed, amended and streamlined. My priority is to pass the DTA Bill through the House with the co-operation of all Deputies, immediately after which I intend to reform the 1932 Act. Subsequently, we will have a good public transport system and good competition on commercial routes.

The Minister is a prisoner of the unions and Bus Éireann. Everyone entitled to compete for a route should be entitled to the PSO. That the PSO is a subsidy does not mean that private enterprises would not be prepared to accept it or a lesser subsidy than Bus Éireann's.

However, it is not just a question of Bus Éireann and the unions, which is the Minister's point. Rather, it is a matter of consumers, new choices and new communities. There are no new options. Is it not the case that the Minister could amend the DTA Bill to do away with the licensing process? Morton's Circle Line is lauded as one of the city's best bus service providers, but it is breaking the law because it does not have a licence. The Minister stated that it should not break the law, but should it cease operating? A better alternative would be for the Minister to table amendments to the Bill to allow further competition.

Irrespective of how out of date a law is, I do not, and no Deputy should, condone any breach of it.

The Minister should change the law.

That is what we will do in respect of——

The Government will not do it.

The Minister should be allowed to complete his contribution.

The Government will never do it.

If the Deputy does not want to listen to my answer, there is no point in me speaking.

Marine Accidents.

Fergus O'Dowd


4 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Transport if the recommendations of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board into the grounding and flooding of an Emerald Star cruiser on Lough Derg on 1 July 2006 have been acted on; if a marine notice has been issued; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18003/08]

Recently, my Department received the report of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, MCIB, referred to by the Deputy. The report relates to an incident on the Shannon system involving a recreational cruiser. The MCIB report makes a number of recommendations in respect of boat rental companies and inland waterways, including the review of the navigation buoyage system. In the overall context of delivering improved maritime safety, these recommendations will be considered by my Department in consultation with, as appropriate, Waterways Ireland, which has responsibility for navigable inland waterways in the North and the South, including the Shannon. The matter of issuing a marine notice will form part of this review.

This incident occurred in July 2006. A recommendation stems from the fact that Emerald Star did not do as it was legally obliged to, namely, to report the incident to the relevant authorities. The Minister stated that the maritime safety directive will issue, but why has it not already issued? The MCIB has called for it and has also recommended that Emerald Star review its procedures. I am thankful that no one died in the incident, but Emerald Star did not ask the boat's crew to disembark and inspect the boat fully as it should have done. Subsequently, the boat took on water.

A number of boat rental companies provide mobile telephones to the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who rent pleasure cruisers weekly. What is the Minister's opinion on VHF equipment, the usage of which on the boats in question has been recommended because it is safer and more effective and efficient than using mobile telephones?

While I do not want to go into too much detail concerning the incident in question, the MCIB report recommended that all boat rental companies should report every incident to the relevant authorities and that the Department should issue a marine notice to that effect. Other recommendations related to Emerald Star specifically and called for it to review its procedures in such circumstances. Pursuant to a recommendation for Waterways Ireland and the Coast Guard to establish a buoyage system, a meeting has been arranged. All of the report's recommendations, including that in respect of VHF radio equipment, are the subject of ongoing discussions with the relevant authorities. The Coast Guard and maritime administration intend to arrange a meeting with Waterways Ireland to discuss the recommendations. Waterways Ireland has indicated that it is open to reviewing the buoyage system on the Shannon.

Issuing the marine notice is under consideration by the Coast Guard and maritime administration, which was involved in promoting a safety awareness campaign as part of the ongoing safety programme prior to the recommendations. Among other elements, this involves a series of radio and on-line safety awareness advertisements and publicity campaigns. In recent years, a number of measures focusing on life jackets, enforcing licensing requirements, increased safety awareness and so on have been introduced. On 24 May 2006, a code of practice for the safe operation of recreational craft was launched. There has been an amount of activity as regards this sector and, while all of the recommendations have not yet been implemented, they will be considered and discussed.

I welcome the progress. The buoys on the Shannon are red and black, whereas the equivalent colours internationally are red and green. The latter are also the colours used in the North. It is much easier to notice red and green than red and black. Will that be a fundamental part of the rethinking? It would be much safer and, according to the board, a black barrel may not have been noticed by the foreigners driving this vessel. We will not have safety until we adhere to the international standards.

I will bring the Deputy's concerns to the attention of the board.

I am glad we dealt with that question without incident.

Road Safety.

Shane McEntee


5 Deputy Shane McEntee asked the Minister for Transport his views on whether all aspects of the road safety strategy will be completed within the timeframe; if he has been asked for additional resources to complete the strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18004/08]

The Road Safety Strategy 2007-2012 outlines 126 actions and focuses on delivery and outcomes with built-in targets and accountability. The measures contained in the strategy are based on international best practice and have the endorsement and commitment of all of the stakeholders involved. One of the actions in the strategy is for the RSA to report to me in the second quarter of each year on the implementation of the 126 actions in the strategy, all of which identify the agency responsible for implementation and the target implementation dates.

I expect to receive the first report during the second quarter of this year and will bring it to the Cabinet sub-committee, which I chair, because it is important that the implementation of the strategy is co-ordinated at the highest level. The RSA has already confirmed to me that all actions in the strategy identified for completion in 2007 have been completed in full and I expect the authority to notify me of any specific actions that have not been implemented within the deadlines.

Work has begun on other actions in the strategy which have a longer timeframe for completion, such as the introduction of the lower blood-alcohol level for drivers. The resources for implementation of the strategy are matters for the individual agencies involved. As regards my area of responsibility, I have arranged to provide additional resources for both the Road Safety Authority and the Medical Bureau of Road Safety.

I thank the Acting Chairman for allowing me to speak.

The Deputy is very welcome.

I hope all is well in Tallaght.

I congratulate the Minister on staying where he is. It is nice to have a Minister from my county and I suppose that one of the main reasons he remained in his position was to open the M3. I hope he invites us all to that, unlike the Battle of the Boyne commemoration, in respect of which all our councillors were left sitting at home.

I will specifically address road safety. Last month was only the third in the past 100 months in which the number of deaths were kept below 20. One has to congratulate everybody responsible for that, whether it be the Garda, the Road Safety Authority or the Minister. In the past 100 months, deaths have been kept below 25 in only 20 months. We should encourage people to listen to road safety advice. Some people might not agree but I thought the Garda Síochána was out in force last weekend. I was stopped three or four times, which is welcome in terms of raising awareness.

Certain people may not want us to discuss blood-alcohol levels but our young people do not want us to drink and drive, nor will they do so themselves. We cannot afford to be weak on this issue. There are many reasons for the decline of rural life so we should not simply listen to those who oppose drink driving limits. The time has come to consider removing VRT on vehicles used to supply social activities for young and old, such as visits to the rural pub. While visiting Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday, I spoke to Dublin people who avail of these transport opportunities. More evident than the price of drink in some pubs or the reduction in blood-alcohol limits, the destruction of rural life stems from people buying drink and drugs for little or nothing and then being killed on the roads.

The Deputy has one minute remaining so he might ask a question.

Perhaps the Acting Chairman will grant me a further 30 seconds.

If I do so, the Minister will have no time to reply.

For €60, three people can get drunk, and take drugs and then they drive cars. Last week, the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, spoke about introducing measures to curb the boy racers who are putting people at risk in the middle of the night. Will the Minister for Transport consider three measures to add to the RSA's strategy, namely, giving the Garda full authority to pursue those who abuse the rules of the road, removing VRT in respect of publicans and people who provide services for social inclusion and funding on a national basis the position of county road safety officer? Our county has appointed a road safety officer but no funds have been made available. We cannot merely create these positions as a public relations exercise.

I join the Deputy in congratulating all the stakeholders involved in the road safety strategy, including the Garda, the Road Safety Authority, officials of my Department and the many drivers who pay heed to the messages we are putting out. It was gratifying to see the number of road deaths reduced below 20 during this month and last month, after a less than great start to the year. There were 15 more deaths in the first two months of this year than during the same period last year. I thank the Deputy for raising the issue.

As I noted previously, VRT is a matter for the Minister for Finance but I will bring it to his attention. Rural transport schemes have been introduced in some areas and, while they may not be specifically intended to bring people home from the pub after closing hours, they provide flexible services. County Meath has a number of flexi-buses which provide useful services.

In regard to the increasing prevalence of drink and drugs, I agree with the Deputy that young people are more responsible than our generation. The issue will continue to be targeted.

I am aware that boy racers can be a significant nuisance and a danger in parts of the country. When I visited Australia recently, I met officials from that country's police and road transport authorities. Victoria introduced so-called "hoon" laws, named after the colloquial term in Australia for boy racers. I do not know if we would be able to impose the penalties imposed there, which range from a fine and confiscation of the car for 24 hours, regardless of who owns the car, on first offence, to confiscation for a period of three months on a second offence to permanent confiscation on a third offence.

We would support the Minister on that.

A proposal was being discussed — I am unsure how seriously — to confiscate and crush the car before the eyes of the offender in the event of a fourth offence. I do not think we need to go to that extreme, but the problem needs to be addressed.

I remind Members the rules of the House provide that progress at Question Time should be by way of supplementary question rather than statement or debate. We must abide by this.