Other Questions.

Light Rail Projects.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

53 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Transport his views on whether the international credit crunch will have a negative effect on the roll out of metro north; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21160/09]

John O'Mahony

Question:

87 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Transport if any of the consortia seeking to bid for metro north have approached him to seek aid securing long term finance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21225/09]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 53 and 87 together.

Good progress continues to be made on the metro north project. The oral hearing before An Bord Pleanála on the railway order application for the project commenced on 1 April. In addition, the procurement process is being advanced. Four bidding groups submitted the first round of tenders for the public private partnership contract to the Railway Procurement Agency at the end of February last. These continue to be evaluated by the RPA.

The credit crunch and resultant lack of liquidity in funding markets has affected all forms of bank lending. PPPs, which rely on bank lending, not unexpectedly, have not been immune to these developments. The lack of liquidity in global financial markets is affecting PPPs internationally. It is widely acknowledged that funding of PPP deals is costing more and taking longer to agree than had been the case in the past. There is also greater competition amongst projects internationally for the limited bank lending resources available. The European Investment Bank has become a very important source of finance for PPP projects and is supporting many projects throughout the EU.

Metro north is being procured as a PPP and, therefore, faces the same challenges as other PPPs in securing funding. However, the metro north contract is not due to be finalised until 2010 which allows time for the global funding markets to achieve greater stability. The RPA, the agency responsible for delivering the project, is also in discussions with the European Investment Bank in regard to the project.

The RPA remains of the view that the procurement and funding can be successfully concluded. This is based on the ongoing active participation by the international consortia in the PPP tender process and recent trends which indicate a continuing easing in the global financial markets. This easing is anticipated to continue further in 2010, when metro north is due to reach financial close.

I have no function in regard to the procurement of this project. I have not been approached by any of the bidding consortia to seek aid securing long-term finance.

We all agree it is very important that metro north proceeds. Members of the Opposition have been approached by the different consortia in regard to the issues which have arisen. I have no preference for any one nor have I any interest in it but the point has been made to us that some consortia cannot raise the funds to tender for this project while others can do so.

The Minister referred to the European Investment Bank. The key point is that we ensure whoever gets this project gives value for money. If one of the companies bidding cannot put the financial package together out of its own resources and if it cannot get the money from the European Investment Bank or other sources, it places it at a competitive disadvantage. I appreciate what the Minister said about not having been approached on this issue but what else, if anything, can be done to create a level playing field?

I do not believe anything can be done, in particular by Government, in the middle of a procurement process.

I am not talking about that.

I know the Deputy is trying to be helpful in this regard and I am not trying to be smart about it. However, I do not believe anything can be done in the middle of a tendering process. One of the criteria which must be used by the RPA in deciding on the preferred bidder will be whether or not it is financially able to support the project. The RPA and others would be in a position to talk to the European Investment Bank and to ascertain what might or might not be available because they are responsible for the tender. I am sure that facility is also available to the consortia. However, I do not believe we can become directly involved or give any kind of preferential treatment. Those who bid must be in a position to put the finances in place because it is one of the criteria.

I agree with the Minister on this. A prerequisite for the four groups, which I understand are at the first tender stage, is that they are in a financial position to meet the Government's requirements in regard to the private sector financing. Does the Minister agree there is a sort of nervousness, to put it mildly, among some of the tenderers in regard to the general financial position facing the Government, the evolution of the National Asset Management Agency and the fact the Government might have considerable financial burdens which could impact on this? There is certainly a sense of nervousness there.

Like Deputy O'Dowd, I believe the best proposal, or the best man or woman, should win. That is the best way for a competition to be run. Does the Minister agree there is a nervousness in regard to his commitment?

How much money will be spent in 2009 on bringing forward the proposal? At the beginning of the year, the Minister's officials told me approximately €80 million or €90 million would be spent. I understand the tenderers are spending up to €50 million. What is the Departments' commitment in this financial year?

I cannot answer the Deputy's last question off the top of my head. If he will accept a broad figure, it could be in the region of €30 million to €40 million but I will not be held to that. If he wants, I can ascertain the figure.

The sense of nervousness which might be felt by the tenderers has nothing to do with the National Asset Management Agency or Government finances, rather it relates to their ability to raise finance for the project on the international money markets. That is where they may be making approaches to different people to try to see what assistance and help they can get.

There has been a considerable amount of commentary since the project was first mooted. It is at oral hearing stage at present. The oral hearing has been adjourned in order that further information may be looked at in depth and so on. I presume that will delay the decision. Not as much will need to be spent this year as we anticipated. However, that is a function of the planning system and that is why I do not like to make predictions about when a project will finish until it has gone through the planning system.

I will make the point I made earlier but perhaps in a better way. I appreciate nobody can intervene in this process but if there are two competitive tenderers and the cheaper of the two does not have the same access to finance it would have had if the financial crisis had not occurred, it would be reasonable to try to ensure, through the RPA or otherwise, that every effort is made to make finance available from international sources without political involvement, interference or whatever. If it would be cheaper for the taxpayer in the long run to do that, it should be done.

When does the Minister expect the four tenders to be reduced to two and when will the preferred bidder emerge? Does he have a timeframe in that regard?

Regarding preparations for the project, when did he last meet the Dublin city manager, Mr. John Tierney, whom I understand is directing all the preparations for central Dublin in the city centre region and when does he expect the bus gate to be up and running?

I understand the city council has now decided the bus gate will operate from July. That decision was made about a week or ten days ago, two days after I met the city manager, the Dublin City Business Association, Dublin Chamber of Commerce, the CIE companies, the RPA and the Garda Síochána — in the stakeholders' group I meet on a quarterly basis, to keep myself updated on what is happening and the issues that are arising.

On the other point made by Deputy O'Dowd, it is the responsibility of the consortiums, if they have worries or fears about being able to finance their bids, to do the business themselves in relation to this matter. I emphasise, however, by way of being helpful, that in recent days the M25 road widening scheme, a major PPP, similar to the metro north in the UK, was successfully funded with the support of the EIB. This would indicate that matters are loosening up somewhat on that particular front and that should provide some hope and comfort to those who might be bidding.

Road Traffic Offences.

Shane McEntee

Question:

54 Deputy Shane McEntee asked the Minister for Transport the progress made to date in relation to resolving the issue of the application of penalty points to drivers from the UK and Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21200/09]

The issue of cross-Border enforcement for road traffic offences has proved to be a difficult one over the years. Given the variety and complexity of the legal systems in different states, the development of a common approach, whether bilaterally between two states or at an EU level, has always proved extremely difficult. The key issue is how to enforce penalties outside the jurisdiction, that is, when non-resident drivers have returned home.

The mutual recognition of penalty points between ourselves and the United Kingdom is being pursued under the auspices of the British-Irish Council, BIC, and for which Northern Ireland has the lead role.

As separate penalty point systems operate not only in the two jurisdictions on this island, but also between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, this is a much more complex legal and administrative issue than the mutual recognition of driver disqualifications, work on which is nearing completion. Mutual recognition of penalty points will require the passage of primary legislation in both jurisdictions in due course. A feasibility study on areas of possible co-operation in this area was commissioned by the UK Department for Transport, with our agreement and that of our Northern Ireland colleagues. The consultants' final report was published on the UK Department for Transport's website last summer and the next step is to develop a joint programme to achieve mutual recognition of penalty points between the three jurisdictions.

Our commitment to this was reaffirmed at the recent meeting of the North-South Transport Council in April, but all recognise that it is a complex and long-term issue. It is also my view that experience on the operation of mutual recognition of driver disqualifications, which is currently being finalised, will be invaluable in addressing the penalty point project.

As someone who travels on the M1 at least once or twice every week, I can also be assured, as I am sure the Minister can also, that the car or vehicle behind speeding aggressively and dangerously will have a Northern Ireland registration. People's lives are put at risk every day because of drivers from the North coming down here and driving in the most dangerous fashion. They have no fear because no penalty will be imposed on them. I am aware that the same is true of drivers from the South in Northern Ireland — I want to be very clear on that point.

In the absence of this primary legislation and the complications that exist, I believe that, if possible, the Minister should meet with his justice counterparts, North and South, to sort this out and see whether the gardaí need extra powers to stop and seize these cars. These drivers thumb their noses and just continue to get away with it. They flash everyone out of the way while travelling at speeds of up to 160 kph every day. Will the Minister agree that in the interim this needs to be dealt with effectively by taking such vehicles into custody, if necessary?

The Deputy has balanced the issue well, because apparently it is a problem for Northern Ireland as well regarding Republic of Ireland cars in the North. However, the number of Northern registered cars here being driven by Republic of Ireland drivers appears to be increasing by the day. I accept what the Deputy is saying in relation to this matter. I met with Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick, MP, my UK counterpart, about 12 months ago and we discussed this issue. We agreed between ourselves, the Republic, Northern Ireland and Great Britain, that the UK will take the lead on this aspect of road safety. We met with the officials and emphasised that progress must be made in this regard. However, it was made pretty clear to us that this project could take three to four years, since they had gone into it in some detail in their feasibility study. In that context, I believe that giving extra powers here in relation to drivers on both sides of the Border, and thereby mutually allowing the authorities to stop and seize cars until substantial fines are paid, is something that we should, perhaps, discuss in the context of the road traffic Bill.

I would welcome that very much. That is what we need.

When will we actually see the famous road traffic Bill, because we have been talking about it in terms of penalty points and many other problems to do with the administration of driving for the past two or three years and addressing the Minister about this for the past year or so? Were any of the 140,000 foreign drivers mentioned by the Minister followed up? Is there a way that any of them can be followed up? As regards the other 55,000, what exactly is their position and why are they able to dodge points? We all know people who have had a significant number of points imposed and finally changed their driving behaviour, so that there is no question that the mechanism is effective if we could get it right.

Obviously, this is a major gap in Irish law and Mr. Conor Faughnan of the AA has asked why some type of non-national driver file cannot be created to have some record of these drivers so that they can be pursued. In 2006, I recall that our sister party, the SDLP, was in Dublin and Ms Margaret Ritchie, MLA, Minister for Social Development, made a presentation to an Oireachtas committee attended by my colleague, Deputy Róisín Shortall, on this matter. Here we are three years later; we are still talking and meanwhile the collision casualties are rising. We should act urgently.

My understanding is that all 146,000 are recorded, but not on the vehicle driver file——

They are in a limbo file, which is going nowhere.

They are actually recorded, in the event that they come to the attention of the Garda again. This comes back to Deputy O'Dowd's point to the effect that if they are persistent offenders, we should have a means of ensuring that this behaviour does not continue. This is well worthwhile pursuing.

I cannot give the Deputy details about the other 50,000 because it is a matter for the Courts Service and the Garda to follow up once the courts have made their decisions, as appropriate. I am not too sure but if I can find out for the Deputy, I will do so.

It may have to do with invalid licences.

Some of it may relate to no licences, or perhaps invalid ones.

Departmental Agencies.

Joe Carey

Question:

55 Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Transport the reasoning behind the cutting of the advertising budget for the Road Safety Authority; if there was an attempt to measure the way such a move would affect road safety; if there are other advertising budgets that could be cut to restore road advertising budgets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21157/09]

Fatalities on our roads have fallen in recent years and the number of fatalities in 2008, at 279, was the lowest since records began. We are well on target to meet the overall strategy objective of reducing road deaths to no greater than 60 fatalities per 1 million of population by the end of 2012, which equates to 252 deaths per year.

While road safety advertising campaigns are particularly effective in keeping the road safety message to the fore, difficult Exchequer funding decisions have had to be made this year. The advertising budget of the Road Safety Authority, RSA, has been reduced from €3.4 million to €900,000 for 2009 as a result of cuts in advertising budgets which were imposed this year across all Departments and agencies. This is in the context of €32.8 million of Exchequer funding which is still being provided to the RSA for 2009. The RSA will continue to implement its programme of road safety awareness, education and research, with a budget of €4 million for the current year.

These remain important elements of the authority's statutory functions and are key to getting the road safety message to all road users — pedestrians, cyclists, car and commercial vehicle drivers — and to changing road user behaviour. Road safety remains a key priority and this commitment is underpinned by the road safety strategy 2007-2012. The latter has set the framework for reducing deaths and injuries on our roads through a series of 126 actions, each with a responsible agency and target date.

I understand the Deputy's concerns in respect of reduced Exchequer funding for the RSA. As stated, however, these are difficult times and difficult decisions have been made. Road safety in Ireland has benefited immensely from the involvement and drive of the RSA since its establishment in late 2006. I anticipate that the authority will continue to maximise the road safety agenda, even in the context of limited resources.

We all accept that the number of road deaths last year dropped significantly. However, we are off target now and this has given rise to deep concern. As stated in respect of an earlier question, funding for regional and local roads has been reduced by €150 million. Due to the fact that overtime has been cut back, there is serious concern that there are not as many members of the Garda traffic corps patrolling our roads on Friday and Saturday nights as ought to be the case. Does the Minister agree the funding for the road safety campaign should have been ring-fenced? This publicity campaign does more than provide information, it actually saves lives.

There is a great deal of Government expenditure which could be reduced. However, there should not be any cutbacks in respect of road safety and saving lives. I ask the Minister to re-enter discussions with the RSA to identify cuts elsewhere in order that the authority might continue with its campaigns, which are effective and which help to save lives. We are heading into a dangerous period when more people will die as a result of the cutbacks in the number of gardaí, in Garda overtime and in the amount available for road surface dressing.

As the Deputy is aware, the question of Garda overtime is one for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I would be surprised if the dedicated traffic corps, which has 1,200 members and which was established following a commitment given in the programme for Government, was operating on the basis of overtime. I am not sure——

With respect, overtime comes into operation at night, particularly as they are obliged to go out at weekends. That overtime is being cut back.

That is a matter for a different Minister.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will not answer questions on this matter.

That is a matter for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It will not be dealt with now.

With regard to the other matter to which the Deputy referred, he will be aware that quite a hullabaloo was kicked up in respect of advertising, PR, etc., in the middle of last year. The Department of Finance decided that the funding in this regard should be cut. Every Department and agency was obliged to make cuts and the RSA, the work of which is specifically focused on advertising, was no different in this regard. I accept the Deputy's point that there is a need for me to discuss this matter with the RSA. I will do so in order to discover whether it might be possible to identify savings that might be made elsewhere in its budget. I will then try to convince the Department of Finance to allow the authority to spend the money saved on its road safety campaigns.

Advertising is essential for the RSA, particularly in the context of encouraging people to drive slowly and with care. The Minister, Deputy O'Dowd and I attended a presentation made by Mr. Gay Byrne, Mr. Noel Brett and their staff in respect of some extremely effective, if horrific, advertisements which made the point with regard to speeding. Cutting the budget of the RSA in this manner is reprehensible.

Since the turn of the century, almost 3,000 people have died on our roads. That is a shocking statistic. In 50, 80 or 100 years' time, people will look back and ask why we put up with such a high level of fatalities. The situation is crazy. Most citizens would agree that 90% to 95% of road accidents and fatalities result from speeding.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle hit upon the nub of the problem we often have in invigilating the Department of Transport when he indicated that Garda overtime is a matter for another Minister. Deputy Dempsey is the Minister for Transport. During the lifetime of this Government and its predecessors, promises have been continually made with regard to the roll-out of speed cameras. Information provided by Deputy Deenihan and others throughout the country indicates that the programme of rolling out speed cameras has been discontinued as a result of Government cutbacks. The 1,200-member traffic corps and the network of speed cameras are essential if we are to end the culture of speeding. It is shocking that almost 3,000 people have died on our roads since the turn of the millennium.

I agree with the Deputy that one death on our roads is one death too many. His figure of approximately 3,000 deaths on the roads since the turn of the millennium is reasonably accurate. However, if we had not taken the actions that we did take, the death toll would, on the basis of the figures for 1999 and 2000, have been 4,000. I agree with the Deputy that it is hugely important to maintain our focus on road safety, on saving lives, etc. While some 3,000 lives have been lost, some 1,000 have been saved. In addition, countless numbers of others who might have been injured were not hurt. That is an extremely important point.

The roll-out of speed cameras is a matter for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. However, I assure the Deputy that work on rolling out these cameras is ongoing and has not been abandoned.

Is the Minister in a position to indicate a date for the completion of the network?

Official Engagements.

Kieran O'Donnell

Question:

56 Deputy Kieran O’Donnell asked the Minister for Transport the outcome of his discussions with Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick, MP, UK Under Secretary of State for Transport, on 21 May 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21213/09]

I had a most constructive meeting with the UK Under Secretary of State for Transport on 21 May 2009. We discussed the delivery and development of the aids to navigation services in the UK and Ireland. We both appreciate the valuable work carried out by the service in both countries but stressed that we were anxious that optimum, cost-effective use should be made of the resources available in maintaining safe navigation in UK and Irish waters.

The Commissioners for Irish Lights, CIL, are funded by light dues which are paid into the general lighthouse fund for Great Britain and Ireland, together with a grant from the Irish Exchequer which is paid under an agreed formula. On the basis of a recent study, we agreed to alter the formula for apportioning Irish costs on a North-South basis. The existing 30-70 balance is to be replaced by a 15-85 apportionment, with effect from the current financial year, 2009-10, to be paid, as per the agreement, during the year 2010-11.

We also agreed on the need for an overall assessment of the provision of the integrated aids to navigation service to all regions in the UK and Ireland. An evaluation that will consider all aspects of delivery — including options for continuing increases in efficiency, potential improvements in structure and the overall arrangements for financing — is to be undertaken. My Department is continuing to engage with the Department of Transport UK in thisregard.

As a result of these discussions, will Ireland be obliged to fund the service to a greater degree? Will it mean a reduction in the safety issues in the operation of these lighthouses?

The intention is that we will fund the extra service, not that we will cut back on any services.

How much will that be?

Off the top of my head, the change made will amount to an extra €2.5 million of Exchequer funding. I will check that for Deputy O'Dowd.

Airport Development Projects.

Lucinda Creighton

Question:

57 Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Minister for Transport if he has communicated concerns to the Dublin Airport Authority over delayed or cancelled aviation infrastructure projects in view of deteriorating finances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21169/09]

The Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, operates under a clear commercial mandate and its capital investment programme is entirely funded from its own internal resources with no Exchequer funding involved. Accordingly, decisions on the delay or cancellation of aviation projects fall within the responsibility of the management and board of the DAA. Following the announcement of its annual results for 2008, which saw a drop in group profit of 28% from 2007, the DAA has been reviewing all aspects of its business, with a particular focus on costs, including capital development and operational expenditure.

The DAA is well advanced in delivering a €1.28 billion investment programme to upgrade terminal and airfield facilities including Terminal 2. The DAA has reduced its investment plans at Dublin Airport for the 2010-14 period by about 50% to less than €400 million to take account of the current economic downturn. A number of major projects, including the planned new second runway and additional aircraft parking areas, will be deferred. These projects will be reactivated when appropriate circumstances dictate and these decisions should be made on the basis of the DAA's commercial assessment.

Tá mé sásta leis an bhfreagra sin.

The cutback in 400 jobs at the DAA is of great interest to the workforce there. Despite the aviation downturn, people ask why this was necessary. Does the Minister have views on this? He recently appointed a new head of the Dublin Airport Authority. Did he give any guidelines or lay down directives on management of the DAA over the coming years under the administration of the new chairman?

Any proposed cut in jobs, whether in a semi-State body or in the private sector, is of concern. I do not interfere directly in the day to day operation of the DAA. All aspects of the aviation industry are suffering greatly. There are some small signs of recovery but in the current economic circumstances the company has a duty and a responsibility to live within its means and that is what it proposes to do in discussion with the trade unions.

In respect of cost, now is the best and most effective time to undertake these infrastructure projects. Will the Minister communicate with the DAA to ensure it will prioritise whatever projects it can? These must be built anyway because the infrastructure will be needed when the economic cycle changes and the Irish and world economies recover.

The DAA and I are conscious of what Deputy O'Dowd said. The DAA will advance planning for all projects and bring them as close to shovel-ready as possible before making a decision on whether the projects can go ahead and take advantage of any upturn.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.