Other Questions.

State Airports.

James Reilly


6 Deputy James Reilly asked the Minister for Transport if he has been consulted on the recent proposal of the Dublin Airport Authority in its recently announced expansion plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17532/08]

Liz McManus


46 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Transport if he has been kept fully informed by the Dublin Airport Authority and if he has reviewed plans by the DAA to develop a new €4 billion business park, Dublin Airport City; if he has had contact with the Department of Finance in terms of investment in this project being made partly through the National Pensions Reserve Fund; the indicative completion date for Dublin Airport City; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17323/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 46 together.

I have been briefed by the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, on the Dublin Airport City business park project, which was launched by the DAA on 25 April 2008. As explained by the DAA at the launch of the project, a source of funding for the project has yet to be agreed. I understand phase I of the development may be completed by 2015 with the full project being realised by around 2033. I welcome a project that has the potential to take advantage of a substantial land bank at the airport and which would generate substantial benefits for the economy.

As to the National Pensions Reserve Fund, this was established in 2001 with the objective of meeting as much as possible of the cost to the Exchequer of social welfare pensions and public service pensions to be paid from 2025 until at least 2055. The fund is controlled and managed by the National Pensions Reserve Fund Commission. The commission has discretionary authority to determine the fund's investment strategy in accordance with the fund's statutory investment policy of securing the optimal total financial return, provided the level of risk to the moneys held or invested is acceptable to the commission. It is independent in its decisions in that regard.

Infrastructure forms part of the fund's strategic asset allocation and the commission is keen to invest in Ireland as part of its overall infrastructure programme. As I have stated, the independence of the commission in making those decisions is enshrined in law.

I welcome the proposals but does the Minister not believe the airport authority has enough to do? As it indicates in its mission statement, it is an airport management company whose principal activities include airport management operation and domestic and international development. Does the Minister believe it should stick to that role?

While welcoming and supporting the proposals, perhaps Enterprise Ireland, Fingal County Council or others should deal with this issue. Does the Minister agree it is time for the authority to address the issues of congestion and capacity at Dublin Airport?

I welcome the fine new places to be built. I received a phone call yesterday from a pensioner who had to remove his shoes going through security. As there was no chair available, he found it extremely difficult to take his shoes off. These are simple issues the authority could be addressing and is not. The big plans are very welcome and I support them but somebody else should be dealing with them.

I welcome the proposal. We have had, to some extent, informal development around the airport region and it is interesting to attempt to structure this through the DAA. Was this proposal part of the business plan put to the Minister by the Dublin Airport Authority with regard to plans for the three airports?

The Minister mentioned the National Pensions Reserve Fund but has he had any discussions with the new Taoiseach and former Minister for Finance, or with the new Minister for Finance, on the possibility of funding through this area? Will the Minister be particularly concerned about airport charges? My colleague has mentioned concerns people have with regard to parking and the massive escalation of charges. Is there not a suspicion in many airport users and passengers that they will, in effect, end up paying the DAA the seed capital for this massive project?

The Minister mentioned the indicative completion date for phase I but what is the timeframe for the whole project?

The first phase is proposed for completion in 2015, with the overall aim to have the project completed by 2033 at the latest. On the basis of what I have been told, I have no concern that airport charges would be bumped up to pay for this. This is quite a separate project and would be managed as such. Funding for the project will be independent of all the capital investment projects they have at the moment. That is one issue I would insist upon and it is important there is no cross-subsidisation. Perhaps the Deputy was speaking more about a cross-charge in voicing a fear that airport passengers would be paying for this.

I have had no discussions at all with the former Minister for Finance, the current Taoiseach, on how we might use the pension funds because, as I indicated in my reply, that is a matter for the National Pensions Reserve Fund itself. It does not discuss the matter with us or take direction. It is independent and the law was always specifically provided that it would operate that way precisely because interference was not wanted in case of investment decisions being made on a political rather than financial basis. I support that.

With regard to Deputy O'Dowd's points, I absolutely agree the DAA should, as an airport authority, concentrate on its job, do it very well and look after its customers. In fairness, with increased numbers causing difficult circumstances currently, and particularly over the last number of years before pier D opened, it has done a reasonable job. I have stated this directly to its representatives and in this House. However, there is no doubt it has been difficult for customers.

I agree with the Deputy and one issue I would be particularly focused on is ensuring the DAA does not take its eye off the ball.

It must consider very carefully what is happening but do the job it is meant to. It has a €2 billion development in terminal 2, the runway etc., and that is to improve the airport for all its customers, both passengers and airlines. It must concentrate on that project.

The proposed project is fantastic and will have significant value, not just for the immediate area but for the economy as a whole. The authority is to be commended for its foresight. It has land available and it is lucky enough in that it is one of the few airports in Europe which has land that can be used for this kind of purpose. Many airports are totally hindered because of congestion and an inability to expand.

To give a context to the project, it will cost €4 billion and I hope it will generate approximately 30,000 high quality jobs. That is not a project which can be just tagged on, with the same people managing the airport and working on the project. Much project management expertise must be brought it.

It must be entirely separate.

That is the type of issue I will look at.

I am glad we agree on something. Perhaps another point we would agree on is that the authority would address some other issues. I mentioned a pensioner earlier and his plight is a critical issue for elderly people. There is also a question of people coming off flights operated for Ryanair, for example, and walking across the apron in front of the terminal, which can be very dangerous. Concern has been expressed that elderly or confused people — I do not say that in a derogatory sense — could be affected by strange-looking vehicles coming at them sometimes. It is not good or safe enough and the authority should get its act together.

When the chief executive, Declan Collier, was in before the Oireachtas transport committee, he indicated the ten-year €2 billion programme referred to by the Minister would leave the DAA with an overhang debt of possibly €1.2 billion. The Minister has indicated the new project will be totally ring-fenced. Would he clearly agree this must be the case, given there will still be such an overhang debt?

The Minister is clearly ploughing ahead with the separation of the three national airports. When will that happen and has there been an absolutely final decision on Cork and Shannon vis-à-vis Dublin?

We have not made the decision because, as the Deputy knows, the board in Cork accepted the Cassells recommendations. Due to the fact that those recommendations are different from the original business plan, that plan was resubmitted to the Dublin Airport Authority. The latter will then submit the revised plan to me and the Minister for Finance. We have already agreed, in principle, that we are moving ahead but it will not be until that point that we will actually begin doing so. When that happens, a particular process must be undergone.

Commitments were given in respect of local consultations and those at a national level with ICTU. I have made a proposal to the unions regarding the form the process of consultations might take. That process will go ahead. As stated previously — I have no reason to change my view in this regard — provided the business plans are acceptable, it should take nine to 12 months before the three airports are fully separated.

Road Network.

Sean Sherlock


7 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Transport if he will report on his recent approval for a new tranche of public private partnerships for the National Roads Authority’s national road maintenance and building programmes; the amount the new round of PPPs will cost; if his Department has carried out a value for money review of the previous PPPs and taken into account the views of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts; the reason he has chosen to fund this programme through a new PPP scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17336/08]

As the Deputy is aware, as Minister for Transport I am responsible for overall policy and funding issues relating to the national roads programme element of Transport 21. However, the detailed planning, design and implementation of individual road improvement projects, including those carried out by way of public private partnerships, PPPs, is a matter for the National Roads Authority, NRA, under the Roads Act 1993. This includes the carrying out of cost-benefit analyses for such projects.

Earlier this year, the Government reviewed the financing arrangements for Transport 21. As a result, it is now proposed that a number of national road projects, involving a capital expenditure of the order of €1 billion, should be undertaken as unitary payment or non-tolled PPPs. There will be a corresponding reduction of the order of €1 billion in Exchequer funding for the national roads programme. The result is that overall funding for the programme, at approximately €18.6 billion, will remain unchanged.

The NRA has carried out some initial work to identify a number of projects that could be carried out as unitary payment PPPs. Significant further analysis remains to be done to definitively determine the full details of such projects. It is expected that the PPP process will ensure that the projects chosen will be delivered at an earlier stage than would otherwise have been the case.

The NRA carries out exhaustive financial, legal and technical evaluations of the PPP mechanism for national road contracts. It possesses full value for money and tender evaluation reports for all schemes for which PPP contracts have been awarded. The NRA is fully committed to facilitating, in as far as is practicable, a thorough examination of the PPP process in order to allow a full value for money assessment to be carried out in regard to national road PPP projects. I am satisfied that these arrangements are adequate to facilitate parliamentary oversight of PPPs.

I met Mr. Barry, the chief executive of the NRA, a few months ago. At that stage, the Minister was refusing to approve any further PPPs. Why has he changed his mind? I welcome the fact that he is proceeding with a unitary payment system rather than with a concession, which would inevitably have resulted in the imposition of tolls.

Media reports indicate that two sections of the N20, the N11 Gorey to Enniscorthy route and the N17, Galway to Claremorris route, which are all extremely important, all require work. Are there any other proposals in respect of this particular tranche of PPPs?

Why do PPPs not come under the remit of the centre of excellence of the National Development Finance Agency? Why is the NRA allowed to proceed with PPPs on its own? International opinion is beginning to be extremely critical of PPPs, particularly in the context that borrowings by a private company will usually be that bit more expensive than those relating to the State sector. In addition, the private sector can obtain massive rates of return. One need only consider the ongoing debacle with the M50 and the €600 million the Minister will pay out in the coming years in respect of a project that originally cost approximately £20 million. Is it not time to engage in a fundamental evaluation of PPPs? Perhaps it should again be the case that we will not proceed with PPPs unless an important value for money result can be obtained.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, appeared to make some ambitious proposals regarding the cost of land. The latter has often accounted for 25% of the cost of PPP projects rolled out by the NRA. Is an in-depth evaluation of PPPs being carried out? Is such an evaluation not the correct way to proceed?

An in-depth analysis is carried out in respect of every PPP that is proposed in order to discover whether the best value for money will be obtained. I do not have an ideological hang-up about these things.

Nor do I have such a hang-up. I am referring to the people's money. Why pay more money for something that could be done at much less expense?

If the Deputy will allow me to finish——

On a point of information, this is nothing to do with ideology. I am glad the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, did not become Minister for Finance yesterday.

The Deputy should allow the Minister to reply.

If the Deputy is stating that the Labour Party does not have an ideological hang-up in respect of PPPs, it is news to me.

We are discussing finance.

I listened to members of that party condemn the fact that we were able to build six schools through the mechanism of PPPs. When one refers to the cost of PPPs——

We are discussing the roads.

Even if it is necessary to spend a little bit more on a PPP, when one balances out the cost over the lifetime of the project, one will see that good value for money is obtained. When the project has been completed, a road will be in place which would not otherwise have been constructed if one was obliged to wait until the money became available. If we had not put in place the PPP project, only many of the roads built in recent years would not be in place because we would not have had the money to proceed with their construction.

PPPs are used to generate finance. The reason the roads to which the Deputy refers are being considered in the context of PPPs is in order to release funding for use on public transport projects. I am sure he would have no difficulty with that. It is why I wanted to move in this direction. The roads to which the Deputy refers — two projects on the N20, Cork to Limerick route, the N17, Galway to Claremorris route, and the N11, Gorey to Enniscorthy route incorporating the New Ross bypass — are under consideration in this regard because they are deemed to be most suitable.

The reason tolls will not apply is because it is the considered view of the NRA, based on its experience, that any of the roads it would be reasonable to toll and to obtain a return on are already being tolled. The NRA has not identified any other road projects which should be the subject of tolls. The taxpayer will pay for the projects to which the Deputy refers on a unitary payment basis.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, will be addressing the cost of land in a designated lands Bill.

Light Rail Project.

Paul Connaughton


8 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Transport if he has had discussions with the Railway Procurement Agency regarding the planning failure to properly link up the Dublin Docklands Luas and rail stations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17471/08]

I do not accept that there has been a planning failure as suggested by the Deputy. Transport 21 will provide for five additional interchanges for passengers on the Maynooth and west Dublin suburban rail line to which the Deputy's question refers. These interchange points will be with metro west at Porterstown, the cross-city Luas line at Liffey Junction, metro north at Drumcondra, the Tallaght Luas line at Spencer Dock and the DART interconnector at Pearse Station.

I understand that the majority of suburban rail services from Maynooth and west Dublin actually serve Connolly Station rather than the new Docklands Station. There is already a Luas stop at Connolly, which serves passengers wishing to transfer from the Maynooth line to Luas. The Docklands Luas extension will include a stop at Spencer Dock. This will be situated approximately 350 metres from Iarnród Éireann's existing station at Docklands and close to the proposed location for a new station for the DART interconnector.

The railway order which provided planning permission for the Docklands Luas extension was granted in 2006 and established the route and stop locations on the line. Construction of the extension is already well under way and is due to be completed next year. Any change in the route would require a new railway order application, preceded by preparatory planning and design and public consultation. This would substantially delay completion of the project and significantly increase costs and it is not justified on transport planning grounds.

My colleague, Deputy Varadkar, raised this issue with the Minister separately in a parliamentary question. The point he made is that the Government could have provided a valuable terminus in the Docklands by providing a Luas stop at Docklands train station. This would have provided a direct Luas link from Docklands station to Connolly station, O'Connell Street, Heuston Station and Tallaght, but the proposed Docklands Luas stop is 350 m away from the rail station. The Minister should revisit this issue.

The Deputy will be aware that the Luas line was subject to much consultation. I was accused of delaying it and of not meeting a target date for it — the Deputy will remember attacking me for that at one stage.

The reason it did not meet its completion date was that extensive consultation took place, which moved this line further out than was originally intended. The railway order was obtained for this, which, unfortunately, moves it 350 m from Docklands station. However, there are plenty of opportunities for people to connect. The interconnector will come into this particular Luas site. It is as close as we can go. It does not impede good transport planning.

Joined-up thinking means joined-up travelling, and the Minister is not providing it at this location.

It is important to get to Tallaght and everywhere else in the country, in particular when one is at the national conference centre. Has the Minister had discussions with the developers of the conference centre with regard to further public transport initiatives? When will we have railway orders or immediate movement on the interconnector and what is the timeframe for it?

With regard to the first part of the question, I have a map that I can use. There is plenty of opportunity for interconnection from any of these stations and from the conference centre. There will be, even from Navan, in which I take a great interest——

I am satisfied that there will be a proper degree of interconnection in this regard. I have not had talks with the proposed developers of Spencer Dock. I would imagine that in the context of the development of that site the developers may be interested in ensuring there are very good public transport links and transport links generally. If they want to talk to us in that context, we will be delighted to do so. If they are willing to make the finance available, I am sure we will be able to facilitate them.

What about the interconnector?

I will not say something in the House and then be accused of being misleading. Subject to correction, in regard to the interconnector Iarnród Éireann is assembling its experts on various aspects, including the PPP. While I do not want the Deputy to hold me to this, the railway order is supposed to go in early next year.

Freight Transport.

Paul Kehoe


9 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Transport if he will introduce incentives to encourage freight transport by targeting bottlenecks in the road network as recommended by the recently published freight transport report for the island of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17506/08]

Dinny McGinley


21 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Transport if he will introduce incentives to encourage freight transport by involving hauliers in transport planning as recommended by the recently published freight transport report for the island of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17515/08]

Joe McHugh


23 Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Transport if he will introduce incentives to encourage freight transport by using the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council to apply for EU funding through the Marco Polo II — Motorways of the Sea programmes, as recommended by the recently published freight transport report for the island of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17516/08]

Charles Flanagan


31 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Transport his views on the recently published freight transport report for the island of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17496/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 21, 23 and 31 together.

My Department has recently received a report from Inter-trade Ireland, in association with the Joint Business Council, which addresses key issues and makes recommendations in terms of freight transport, both within and beyond the island of Ireland. The report is a very comprehensive and substantial document. The efficient movement of goods is recognised by my Department to be of crucial importance to the Irish economy and our competitiveness.

My Department is considering the recommendations in the report. Key recommendations relate to improving the forecasting of future capacity requirements, improving access to ports and airports, addressing urban congestion, making progress on improving key road corridors and making use of European funded programmes. In this regard, the all-island dimension to the issues raised is well recognised, as are the possibilities that may present through the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council.

Pending completion of my Department's analysis of the report, it is too early to respond in any detail to its recommendations. Nonetheless, I very much welcome the report which will help inform policy development in my Department on the road freight sector.

I agree it is an important report containing some excellent recommendations. One simple recommendation it makes is in regard to night-time construction of motorways. It refers specifically to construction work on road widening, particularly on the M50. We need to change our ways. On many occasions roads which are being improved are left abandoned, with nobody working on them in the evenings or on Saturdays or Sundays. The work only starts when people must get to and from work. We need a sea change with regard to how we operate. Will the Minister, in conjunction with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, drive forward this agenda in whatever capacity or with whatever powers he can?

The third recommendation refers to getting lorries in and out of ports, and specifically to access to Drogheda port, the Cork road system around the Jack Lynch tunnel and the Dublin outer orbital route, which would take pressure off Dublin and improve communications between Drogheda, Navan, Kildare and elsewhere.

As the Deputy states, it is an important report that puts forward many recommendations and ideas, which we are examining. On the questions it raises, I am aware of all the points the Deputy highlights from the report in regard to port access at Drogheda, the road system in Cork and the Dublin outer orbital route. The Deputy will be aware that the National Roads Authority is examining the outer orbital route and assessing the possibility of advancing it, at least to design stage, as quickly as possible. It is not included in Transport 21.

With regard to port access, this report will be taken in conjunction with the official report on ports policy that was published some years ago. This is a useful addition to that report. We will carefully note its contents and respond in due course.

Reference is made in the report to the national traffic information system that operates in the midlands of the UK. Is this something we could replicate? While the local authorities do their best, should we have some type of national system, particularly for road freight?

There is a recommendation regarding the Leinster orbital route which will run from Drogheda, through Navan in the Minister's heartland and, we hope, on towards Arklow and Gorey. What stage is that project at in terms of finance and preparation?

As he is set to continue in charge of the Department, does the Minister intend to take any initiative on rail freight, given that we have such an appalling performance in international and EU terms? Much more could be done in this regard. Will the Minister take some initiative, even a fiscal one, in next year's budget?

Rail freight is an issue that has raised its head in recent years and we are considering it in the context of the sustainable travel and transport action plan. To be honest with the Deputy, I had a number of discussions with Iarnród Éireann on the matter. It made efforts some years ago to increase the level of rail freight but these efforts were not successful. It is not a convenient way of carrying much of the freight in Ireland. However, with the price of petrol and diesel reaching $120 per barrel, the position might change.

Freight transport by rail is not quite as simple as it is on the Continent, where one can send freight by rail over very long distances and through various countries. The problem in Ireland is that it is not sufficiently convenient or economical to transport freight by rail, with the exception of freight that comes in vast quantities. I hope this will change and if I can do anything to promote rail freight under the sustainable travel and transport plan, I will be delighted to do so.

The outer orbital route or Leinster orbital route is under consideration but is not included in Transport 21. No funding has been arranged for it. It will obviously form part of the review of Transport 21 in 2010 and 2011. The national tracking system is worthwhile. The NRA is doing some work on it in respect of real-time information.

Deputy O'Dowd referred to roadworks and road widening at night. I accept that nobody wants that in built-up residential areas but it should be the norm elsewhere. I have said before in the House that I do not approve of restrictions to planning permissions to the effect that people can only work for six or seven hours in the middle of the day. We must get real about such matters.

Decentralisation Programme.

Kieran O'Donnell


10 Deputy Kieran O’Donnell asked the Minister for Transport the position regarding the decentralisation programme of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17525/08]

Work was completed in respect of the decentralisation of both departmental and Road Safety Authority staff in July 2007. The decentralisation of 50 staff to Loughrea was among the priority moves in the Government's programme. Decentralisation to Ballina of an additional 62 Road Safety Authority posts — which were not part of the original Government decision — was also achieved.

My Department met the Decentralisation Implementation Group on 15 April 2008. Representatives from each of the agencies under the Department's aegis were also in attendance. Discussions took place on how best to progress decentralisation to Drogheda, as well as the various issues facing the agencies and their decentralisation programmes. The transfer of at least 37 posts to Drogheda is being actively considered by my Department. The immediate priority is to finalise a suitable location and the construction of a premises. This work is being undertaken by the Office of Public Works.

The decentralisation of the National Roads Authority and Railway Safety Commission to Ballinasloe, of Bus Éireann to Mitchelstown, and of the Irish Aviation Authority to Shannon was not originally identified as a priority. However, progress is now being made on this element of the programme.

The issue that arises in Drogheda concerns the 37 jobs, which are welcome. There was a proposal on the Department's website to move the Maritime Safety Directorate and elements of the coastguard to Drogheda. This could involve up to 200 jobs. What is the status of the report on this matter?

The move to Drogheda is still under consideration. Originally we were only supposed to locate 37 staff there. An internal Department report suggested, for reasons of organisational efficiency, that we should move the Maritime Safety Directorate to Drogheda. It is still under consideration and is tied in with the question of the marine rescue co-ordination centres in Malin and Valentia.

When will a final decision be made?

I am awaiting receipt of the report and I will make a decision as quickly as possible thereafter.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.