Dublin Transport Authority Bill 2008 [Seanad] : Second Stage (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Noel Ahern, on Wednesday, 21 May 2008:
That the Bill be now read a Second Time.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
Dáil Éireann declines to give the Bill a Second Reading due to the severe lack of democratic accountability procedures inherent in the Bill in respect of the operation of the proposed Dublin Transport Authority.
—(Deputy Fergus O'Dowd.)

I wish to share time with Deputy Stanton.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

If he does not turn up in time, I will continue.

He will be here.

Most Deputies could talk for hours on transport. I listened with great interest to Deputy Brady's speech. He covered many of the areas we all wish to cover. The matter is dear to all our hearts as traffic and traffic management is a major problem.

The first issue I wish to deal with was touched on by Deputy Brady. I hope the Dublin transport authority will have a role in local authority area plans and traffic plans in other counties. In many cases local area plans involve building new roads, key link roads and cycle lanes, but as they are subject to development, developers are being asked to construct them in addition to houses. I do not have a problem with that, but when a developer decides not to rush a development the key road or other aspect of infrastructure is also delayed. Given the slowdown in housing construction we must find a way to ensure those key pieces of infrastructure such as cycle lanes, link roads or parts of bypasses around towns, for example, around Navan in my constituency or Trim where the Minister is from, will not be delayed if construction projects do not proceed. It should be possible for local authorities to develop those projects and to charge the developer at a later stage. We cannot wait three or four years for key infrastructure while a developer decides to develop a project. There is nothing wrong with the way the previous zoning system worked but we have a problem now as infrastructural projects could be delayed. I presume the Dublin transport authority can do that job but perhaps that is not the case. It is important that the issue is not ignored because it could lead to serious problems. I assume the problem is not just confined to County Meath.

I welcome the setting up of the new authority. I have been involved with the Dublin Transportation Office, which has been subsumed into the new authority, in recent months. I have attended some meetings and workshops about its strategy for future planning. The debates there have been impressive and good ideas have been discussed. Issues other than traffic have been addressed including those relating to quality of life — not being stuck in traffic — the green city and what we want to be known for in Dublin and the greater Dublin region. Areas other than transport that were discussed include the provision of jobs and parks. I welcome the broad thinking that has emerged from the DTO. Transport plans are not just about transport, they are about where transport brings one, and what one wants to do in terms of work, play, voluntary work and community involvement among other things. Transport is a key link in all of that. I welcome the talks and look forward to those issues becoming part of the new authority's plan once power has been handed over to it.

I am concerned the House will lose some accountability once the authority is in place. I approve of authorities being set up when they are needed — not like many agencies — but it is wrong that we will not have daily accountability. The authority will have to get the approval of the Minister for a six-yearly interim plan and a 12-year plan but that is not the same as daily accountability. We can all agree on the big projects and where we want to go but daily accountability is required to get things done. When Ministers have to answer parliamentary questions, they answer them. That is accountability. We know from the Ceann Comhairle's office and Ministers' offices that half of the questions submitted do not get answered for various reasons but that is a matter for another day. We will not have daily accountability if the authority is not answerable by means of parliamentary questions and through the Minister to this House. It is a shame we will lose that. We have a chance to get this right for once and it is a pity to throw the chance away.

It is suggested in the Bill that there will be a 12 to 20 year strategy plan. That is not long enough. The failure of the past ten to 15 years is due to a lack planning. The authority we are setting up today is years late, especially in terms of the land use study. It is a great idea but is years too late. We need to plan ahead not just for 12 years or 20 years but for 15 years, 25 years and 30 years. In order to properly fund projects they should be spread over a longer period of time. On the other hand, six-year integrated plans are too long. We should have two-year or three-year plans. Having a six-year plan is an acceptance that it should take six years to provide certain infrastructural projects when it should not. We have been told the extension of the railway line from Dunboyne to Navan could take six years. That is not acceptable. It should not take six years. Other countries can complete similar projects in one or two years. We cannot allow six years to become the normal term for an interim plan. We should insist that the plans are for two years or three years. We need much faster results. We want the authority to be able to take direct action and to achieve results. It must be set out in the legislation that we expect more from the authority than just to have nice ideas and to talk about issues.

The Bill states the authority will carry out transport assessment plans for all planning applications. That is not rocket science and it should have been done long before now. We discussed that in my first years as a councillor, yet it did not happen. Many of the ideas coming through in the Bill have been discussed by Deputies and councillors and the average person for many years. It is a pity it has taken so long to incorporate those ideas in the Bill and bring it to the House. I accept we are discussing the Bill and that is progress but I hope when the authority is set up that matters will move more quickly. I accept the DTO has done a lot of work, which means the authority should be able to hit the ground running. It will have to do that because there is a great deal of work to be done.

The Minister is to allocate money to the authority. I am not convinced on that point. I fear we will potentially have another Health Service Executive or National Roads Authority. In some ways those bodies are good but in other ways they are not. Perhaps the Minister should hold on to the money and allocate it for projects when the authority makes a case to him for funding. I agree with the provision of a rolling budget for administration but not for big projects. I do not like the way Ministers want to hand over responsibility for so many areas. Accountability is at the root of the issue. I can guarantee the Minister will still be seen cutting the ribbon when the projects are completed but if they do not work the Minister will not be there. We are picking and choosing what we want to do. That will suit the Opposition as we do not intend to be here all the time. We hope to get over to the other side of the House at some stage.

In about another month.

Politicians need to take more responsibility not less. The public expects us to take on more decision making and to take responsibility, not to give it away. What is needed is an authority to help with day to day implementation and getting projects completed, and to give good advice. We are being deluded that the HSE is a separate authority when it is not. The Health Act 2006 that set up the HSE clearly stated that its job was to implement Government policy and that the CEO of the HSE could not question Government policy. The con job in recent years is that the HSE sets policy when that is not the case — the Minister sets it. In this case we are handing over all responsibility for transport in the greater Dublin area and I have concerns about that. I do not say the HSE has worked either.

We are told that branding will be left to the transport authority. Deputy O'Dowd has asked questions about the millions of euro being spent on Transport 21 plans and advertisements. I saw one of the advertisements last night and it is nice to look at. It made me feel good but we do not need to spend €3 million or €4 million on that. We could use the money to fix some of the problems.

The public does not need to be convinced about good ideas. If something is good there is no need to advertise it. I hope we will not spend a fortune on branding the new authority and spending more money on advertising to change it every couple of years. If we are to have branding I suggest we let schools come up with ideas and involve young people in the process. That would save us money and get young people involved in politics and let them see how things happen.

It is suggested two county managers will be involved in the authority. I am not convinced that will work. The county manager of each county or a nominated individual from each county should be on the board of the authority. That would ensure each county is fully clued in to what is going on and what are the plans. It would also obviate the need to have further meetings when those concerned are involved at every stage of the decision making process. The authority is not just for Dublin, it includes all the counties in the greater Dublin region. Bad planning has resulted in many areas in the region missing out. They have suffered due to bad planning and a lack of an integrated approach in terms of transport planning.

One of the first tasks of the new authority should be to review the spatial strategy. That spatial strategy completely ignored the greater Dublin region, which was a mistake. Likewise the Government's decentralisation plan did not take into account the greater Dublin region. We should be using those outer counties of Louth, Meath, Wicklow, Kildare and so on as a springboard from the capital city to the other areas. In addition to gateways and hubs, we need another level to link them together. That should be the middle linking city to the other regions. We missed that opportunity. The national spatial strategy, which is rarely discussed here, hardly mentions the greater Dublin region, which is a pity. While this is a transport authority, it will do much more than that. It needs to get involved in that aspect to ensure money gets allocated in future.

I hope this authority will bring about many simple changes as well as big changes. Simple things like integrated ticketing should have been introduced a long time ago. I say it is simple because we are handing the power over to the authority as if it will be simple, but it is not. There will be big problems from the unions. I believe the Minister is looking forward to getting rid of this problem and handing it over to the authority. I ask the unions to show some responsibility and commitment to public service on this issue. We need to have proper integrated systems of ticketing, traffic control and moving of traffic between trains and buses and so on. They are not in competition with each other. All their jobs are safe. Let us get it together and make it work for the sake of the country.

I hope we will be able to learn from other European cities that seem to get it right. Regardless of how busy those cities are, there is a sense of tranquillity about them. In this city and around us in the greater Dublin region it is always stress and panic as a result of traffic problems. The authority will have a big job. It can be simply done if it brings in some simple measures along the way, for example changing traffic lights at night-time. It is not all rocket science and big projects. Many little ideas can be implemented, but I will not go through them now because I hope we will get the chance to do so on Committee Stage. There are many small things an authority like this can do if it is given the real power to do it.

I thank Deputy English for allowing me to share time to speak on this Bill. Public transport is crucial at this point in our development as a society. We have a considerable amount to do to catch up regarding public transport. Other European capital cities have very mature public transport systems that work, run on time, are clean and move many people quickly and safely from one point to another, which is what people want. It is a good idea to integrate these functions under one authority so that everyone is working together.

One of the issues we on this side of the House have with this authority and other quangos that have been established is that there does not seem to be accountability as Deputy English mentioned. When the then Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, established the Railway Procurement Agency she said it would be accountable here through parliamentary questions, but that did not happen. The issue of accountability in the democratic process is very important. When Deputies try to raise issues in the House, we find we cannot do so for various reasons. I hope the Dublin transport authority will be run in a better way than Irish Rail.

As we speak, all trains from Cork to Dublin have been cancelled. Thousands of commuters have been left stranded without notice, including people with hospital appointments, people visiting other people, people on business and myself — I need to go home this evening. There is a lightening strike in Iarnród Éireann today and all the trains to and from Cork are stopped. This has been festering for some time. The industrial relations between some of the workers and management in the company are not good. I have been told that it has been brought to a head because a train driver this morning was asked to move a train from one location to another. He contended it was not part of his job, but management claimed it was and decided to take him off the payroll. His colleagues have now decided not to work until he is reinstated.

I am concerned about the thousands of commuters who are left stranded in Cork, Dublin and in between. As the Ceann Comhairle knows, I tried to raise this as a special motion under Standing Order 21 as I believed it was an urgent issue that arose at midday. However, I was refused permission to do so by the Ceann Comhairle's office. Thousands of our citizens will be stranded for the night. There is a big concert in Dublin and accommodation is at a premium. This is a matter that should be debated here with the Minister. Ultimately the Minister should be responsible for these issues, but obviously he is not. He washes his hands of it by claiming it is an industrial relations matter for Iarnród Éireann and nothing to do with him. That is not good enough. The Minister should be here this evening to debate the issue and tell us what has happened to lead to this situation and what he intends to do about it.

I take the opportunity to call on all sides to get together and resolve this matter quickly. I do not want it going on over the weekend and getting worse as people get entrenched. I am told drivers are sitting in Kent Station in Cork as we speak. I hope some movement is occurring. It is not possible to raise an urgent matter like this in the Parliament. Perhaps the Ceann Comhairle will advise us what an urgent matter is. What can be raised here? We talk about the relevance of Dáil Éireann. Thousands of people would like this matter to be debated here this evening and we cannot do so. Apart from that, the industrial relations problems between workers and management that have led to this strike should have been anticipated some time ago and dealt with. It cannot be that difficult. I know Ministers and Ministers of State do not really mind because they have State cars with drivers. They look out through tinted glass at the world as it goes by, but the ordinary person in the street does not have that luxury and must travel by train.

We are now establishing a Dublin transport authority and let us hope the same will not happen to that authority. Let us hope we can have accountability through here if public money is involved so that we can raise issues with Ministers if something happens suddenly that will inconvenience hundreds or thousands of our citizens. People ask how relevant is the Dáil. It is no wonder people are switching off politics when we cannot raise an issue like this. I have managed to come in and speak on the debate on the Dublin Transport Authority Bill and, strictly speaking, I am stretching beyond what I should in making this example. However, it is the only opportunity I have to do so. If another Bill was being taken this evening I probably could not do that. However, the matter relates to transport.

If the Minister is listening somewhere I ask him to take notice of what is happening in Iarnród Éireann and try to resolve the strike straightaway to ensure that commuters are not stranded overnight. What is a person who is in Heuston Station this evening after having a hospital appointment to do if no accommodation is available in Dublin? How will such people get home? It would take seven or eight hours on a bus, if enough buses are available. The trains are always full. In fairness to Iarnród Éireann, the Department and anyone else involved, the train service between Cork and Dublin has improved enormously. Trains run on the hour every hour and the trains are of a very high standard. They still take longer to travel than they used to ten years ago, but that is another issue.

The problem is that this should not be happening and the industrial relations machinery of the State should have kicked in to ensure it did not arise. Bringing this to a head, if that is the tactic management is using, is not good enough. The workers downing tools and inconveniencing thousands of commuters without notice is not good enough either. There is wrong on both sides. I ask that action be taken straightaway to sort this out.

I hope the Dublin transport authority will work. It is badly needed. We were told years ago that we would have integrated ticketing, but that has not happened. Perhaps it will happen in the next decade. Public transport is vital. It is important that it is fast, efficient, safe and timely, without the disruption that is occurring as we speak on the train route between Cork and Dublin.

Debate adjourned.