Priority Questions

State Airports

Billy Kelleher

Question:

1Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the routes operated by Dublin Bus at the end f 2010 and the routes operated by Dublin Bus as of 1 February 2012; the number of routes merged within the Dublin Bus operational area between these dates; his assessment of the service provided by the company for the subvention it currently receives from the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8579/12]

The Deputy's question relates to the publication of the Booz report on the future ownership and operation of Cork and Shannon airports. As I have advised the Deputy previously, the report contains commercially sensitive information, much of which was provided on a confidential basis. For this reason, it will not be possible to publish the report in full. However, I intend to publish a redacted version of the report before the end of the month, once I am satisfied that the confidential information is protected. Since the Deputy last raised the matter in the House, I have brought the Booz report to the Government for the information of my Cabinet colleagues. I have also commenced a process of engaging in detail with relevant stakeholders. When that process has been completed, I will bring proposals to the Government on the future of Cork and Shannon airports.

I thank the Minister for clarifying that he intends to publish a version of the report by the end of the month. I welcome that. As I have expressed to the Minister in the past, the report is causing great consternation and concern among workers and tourism interests in the Shannon region. They are deeply concerned that the report has not been published almost 12 months after the Government came to office on the back of expectations that it would introduce important measures to assist Shannon Airport and the wider region which would increase the number of routes at the airport and consequently boost passenger numbers. Expectations in the region were raised by statements and comments made by the Fine Gael Party and its partner in government. I am disappointed it is taking so long to publish the Booz report. I am also concerned by some of the leaks emanating from the Government or individuals who are familiar with the contents of the report. It is clear that some external interests are seeking to privatise, part-privatise or franchise in some manner the activities at the airport. Any such moves would fly in the face of the necessity to retain in State control not only the airport's infrastructure but also its operations, management, facilities and assets. I hope the Department will be able to live up to the stated intention to publish the report by the end of the month and it will not be necessary to have a further discussion on it in Question Time. I look forward to a debate in the Dáil or the Committee on the Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht following its publication.

While I appreciate it has been almost 12 months since the Government assumed office, as the Deputy will be aware, Shannon Airport has been in limbo since 2008 when a decision was made to defer taking a decision. The period of limbo commenced in 2008 and I intend to end uncertainty about the airport this year.

I appreciate that tourism and employee interests in the region are concerned about Shannon Airport. I have visited the region twice and will do so again in the next few months. I met representatives of trade unions and business and tourism interests and while there is legitimate concern, there is also great ambition and excitement about the opportunities that could be provided as part of a new approach to Shannon Airport. I have been highly impressed by the engagement I have had with interests in the region and the realism they have shown in accepting that things cannot continue as they are. The airport is losing passengers and is in something of a decline. Thestatus quo is not working and substantive change is needed in the way the airport operates.

Road Network

Dessie Ellis

Question:

2Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the progress of the A5 Dublin to Derry road. [8606/12]

The Deputy's question relates to the A5 roads project. In 2006 the Government gave a commitment to co-fund the construction of the A5 through Northern Ireland to Derry, thus improving access to Letterkenny and north County Donegal. Until the end of 2011, funding of £19 million was paid by the Government towards the planning of the project. A further £3 million was paid in February 2012 towards the completion of the public inquiry on the project.

At the North-South Ministerial Council plenary meeting on 18 November 2011, Ministers noted that the provision of further funding by the Irish Government for the A5 road was being deferred but that the Government will provide £25 million per annum in 2015 and 2016 towards the project.  It should be noted that this is the most significant commitment the current Government has made to any non-public private partnership roads project in the country. It was also noted that a new funding and implementation plan for the project would be prepared for agreement at the next North-South Ministerial Council transport meeting with endorsement at the next North-South Ministerial Council plenary meeting.

The Minister for Regional Development, Mr. Danny Kennedy, MLA, has announced that following a re-evaluation of the Northern Ireland roads programme, funding has been secured for two significant elements of the A5 dual carriageway project, between Derry and Strabane and Omagh and Ballygawley. This is very welcome as it will improve journey times between north County Donegal and the greater Dublin area.  It is anticipated, subject to the outcome of the public inquiry on the project, that both sections could commence construction later this year. This announcement will be reflected in the revised implementation.

As the Minister is aware, the A5 upgrade is a vital infrastructural project which will link Dublin with Derry. Once completed, the main cities of the country will be linked up. It is disappointing to note funding will be provided in 2015. My Northern colleagues, including Pat Doherty, MP, have fought tooth and nail to secure funding for the project in the North. Why is it necessary to wait until 2015 before making funding available? County Donegal and the north-west region in general have been isolated for far too long and do not have the infrastructure they need. Counties Derry, Donegal, Monaghan and Tyrone are the worst road traffic accident blackspots in the country. The number of lives that would be saved if the A5 road infrastructure were in place is another factor that should be taken into account. I am disappointed by the Minister's decision as this commitment is a part of an agreement between two sovereign governments, namely, the St. Andrews Agreement. I ask him to review the funding schedule and allocate more money towards the A5 road project. The timeframe envisaged by the Minister is too long, especially in light of the commitment made by our Northern counterparts.

The A5 road project is not part of the St. Andrews Agreement but one that arose from the agreement.

It was negotiated.

We have made a commitment to provide €25 million in 2015 and 2016 and that money will be provided. We will review the position if the economic and budgetary circumstances dramatically change before 2015. That is the only context in which we could review the recently published capital investment plan. Things are different in Northern Ireland which has access to very large transfers from the UK taxpayer which it does not have to repay, unlike the money we are borrowing from the EU and IMF. If we had a united Ireland, which Sinn Féin strongly advocates, as does my party, we would not be able to build the A5 and would have to cancel the project announced yesterday by the Minister for Regional Development, Danny Kennedy, MLA, because we would not have access to the UK taxpayer to pay for our roads.

While I understand that funding is tight, the A5 project is of vital importance to the north west. It is the lifeblood of the region and will provide significant benefits, including attracting industry and creating employment both directly on the road project and in ancillary areas. The House discussed the Government's Action Plan on Jobs earlier. The A5 project would create direct and indirect jobs and it is important it should proceed.

I agree that upgrading the A5 is important and beneficial, not only for Derry but also for north County Donegal. I am pleased, therefore, that with the help of the British sovereign and taxpayers, the Minister for Regional Development in Northern Ireland, Danny Kennedy, MLA, is able to proceed with construction of sections of the road. Unfortunately, owing to the financial position in which we find ourselves, we cannot complete the sections of road in this jurisdiction just yet. However, we will make contributions from 2015 onwards.

A little more consistency from Sinn Féin on this matter would be helpful. When the Government cut €750 million from the capital budget Sinn Féin heavily criticised its decision and suggested all the money saved should be invested in water and none of it in roads. The €7 billion stimulus plan produced by Sinn Féin some months ago, funding for which was to be provided by the National Pensions Reserve Fund and European Investment Bank, did not propose to invest anything in roads. If one examines the detail of Sinn Féin policy, it is to oppose road construction in the Republic and advocate it in Northern Ireland. Consistency from the party in the North and South, not only on transport but also on school cuts, welfare, property charges and just about everything else, would be interesting.

Public Transport

Joan Collins

Question:

3Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport in view of the distribution of €23 million from the Smarter travel fund to Limerick, Dungarvan and Westport, if he will report on the way the decision was made to award funding to these areas; and the criteria the short-listed proposals, including Drimnagh, Dublin, would need to meet to achieve this funding and is there more funds earmarked for Smarter Travel in the future. [8927/12]

The smarter travel areas selected for funding were drawn from a recommended and ranked selection made by an independent panel formed to provide recommendations on the smarter travel areas competition. The panel comprised representatives of my Department, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and an independent expert in sustainable travel. The adjudication process involved site visits, assessment of the bid documents submitted from each of the 11 short-listed bid areas and an interview with each delivery team.

The criteria for selection, made available to all authorities in advance, were projected outcomes and impacts of the proposals, for example, percentage of modal shift from the car; project design and infrastructure; information and behavioural change campaigns; and delivery and implementation plans. A guidance document was also made available with further information as to requirements provided under each of these headings.

At the competition launch, the intended programme expenditure was €50 million over five years, but in the current economic climate, this has been reduced to €23 million. Given the current fiscal situation, only a small number could be funded. In the case of Galway, for example, although it was ranked second funding was not awarded because the scale of the bid and the reduction of the programme's budget would have precluded investment in any other areas. However, I hope the disappointed authorities will not be deterred from building on the ambitions which they developed for their areas and which they may be able to progress over time, outside the competition.

I understand the Drimnagh bid received widespread endorsement from local community groups, residents' associations and local businesses. In this regard, and based on the input of the local Government Deputies, I have asked the National Transport Authority to take a positive look at elements of the Drimnagh bid because it has such strong community support.

The smarter travel areas programme has a budget of €23 million over five years. The total smarter travel investment funding available to the national sustainable travel office in my Department is €65 million over five years. The NTA also has a significant budget for sustainable transport improvements in the greater Dublin area and the regional cities to 2016, providing opportunities for authorities to fund smarter travel investment. I understand the NTA will make available funding in excess of €20 million in 2012 for sustainable transport investment in the GDA.

The Minister of State is right to say there was a great deal of support and community activity around the bid for smarter travel. People in Drimnagh and in the other areas were led to believe the competition list had been reduced first to 11, then to four, two of which were in Dublin, Drimnagh and either Sandyford or Sandymount - I cannot remember which - and two outside Dublin. When the announcement was made that the smarter travel bids had gone to three areas outside Dublin a question was raised. One bid went to Westport in County Mayo, a well-known area of the Taoiseach-----

I am sorry, but that is my area.

Let there be no doubt.

Another went to Limerick, where the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, is based and there was Dungarvan which is-----

Can we have a question, Deputy?

-----the ground of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, and others. There is a question mark. The communities asked me to raise this matter in the Dáil. Will the Minister of State give a breakdown of the bids from each area and on what they were based? He mentioned that the Galway bid concerned a project that was too big and would have cost too much money given that the money had to be divided among three areas. I ask for a breakdown that would give some accountability and transparency and eliminate some of the questions raised in respect of how the money was distributed. We would be interested to see that money coming to us because the area really worked hard to make its bid.

I thank the Deputy. The information she requested is available from the Department and I would be happy to provide it to her. The competition was delivered with independent assessment and was run in a very fair manner. The assessments were based on what was put forward by each local authority. Given the economic circumstances there was a restricted budget of only €23 million.

I am aware of the two applications to which the Deputy referred. The authorities concerned were very disappointed. I have had correspondence with various people in that regard across a wide political spectrum and beyond. What we have told people is that in regard to some of the funding the National Transport Authority has over the coming five years for Dublin city, it would look at the elements of the two bids they found most progressive and would try to ensure they were progressed.

In the instance of Drimnagh, the NTA has already provided an allocation of €150,000 to develop and deliver specific elements of its smarter travel bid. The precise elements to be supported under this grant will be worked out in conjunction with Dublin City Council. However, these are likely to include certain junctional configuration as well as other works that support pedestrian and cycle areas in the vicinity.

We understood this €50 million was to come from the EU, not from our own finances. However, the Minister of State stated that was the reason for the reduction to €23 million. We would very much welcome this in Drimnagh where many parts, including the junctions, roads and pathways, need to be upgraded significantly. It would give tremendous support to the people of Drimnagh who, as the Minister of State knows, have endured a great deal of bad media coverage. That was one of the reasons the community was so keen to get money and recognition of what it has been trying to do in the past while. Perhaps we can work more closely with the NTA and the Minister of State in order to get more money into the community. That would be appreciated.

Timmy Dooley

Question:

4Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the number of subscriptions that have been recorded for the new Leap card since its introduction; the number faults or operational complaints lodged with its operator since that date; if he has received any reports regarding consumer reactions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8951/12]

The responsibility to develop, procure, implement, operate and maintain the integrated ticketing system in the greater Dublin area became the function of the National Transport Authority with effect from 30 September 2010, in accordance with section 58 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008.

I am informed by the NTA that the Leapcard scheme has got off to a strong start and is proving popular with increasing numbers of passengers.  There are 57,000 cards in circulation and cardholders are regularly topping up their cards in payzone locations and online.  More than €2 million has been received to date and, a first announcement, in excess of 900,000 journeys have been taken using Leapcards since the launch on 12 December 2011. The current average is 35,000 trips per day.

The Leapcard call centre had received complaints from fewer than 0.4% of cardholders, or approximately 200 formal complaints, by the end of January. All of these have been followed up by the scheme's operator with the complainants. The NTA has not conducted surveys of customer reactions as yet but the authority has advised me that over the coming months it will carry out research in conjunction with transport operators to assess customer reactions.

The overwhelming response from customers has been positive and although there are some teething issues which are being addressed the volume of sales and usage has exceeded expectations for this stage in the launch period. Over the course of 2012 there will be a progressive increase in functionality and expansion to additional operators.

My understanding is there has been a considerable number of complaints. The Minister of State will be aware of various media reports, both in print and on radio. As I understand it, many of the comments have mentioned an archaic and slow system. Many of the complaints relate to the online top-up system and fare issues. In spite of promises of an integrated system passengers are annoyed they cannot top up at railway stations as Iarnród Éireann does not provide a top-up facility. Although the cards can be topped up at the Luas ticket machines railway passengers must find a vendor in the proximity of train stations. That is not acceptable. In addition, a slow system does not allow online credit to be uploaded automatically and it can take in the region of 48 hours for credit to be ready for collection. This means some commuters must plan two days in advance. That is not adequate.

My concern is there seems to have been a desire on the part of the Government to launch the product notwithstanding the delays that were there - much of them rightly to ensure many of the issues that arise now would have been tweaked and resolved. There was a desire, of both Department and Government, to rush to the market to achieve certain milestones within a set number of days in power. As a result damage has been done to the viability of the project and this has annoyed a good number of commuters.

I look forward to the Minister of State giving an assurance to the House that the NTA, which I take it he identifies as the body responsible, will deal with this. Many of the photographs at the launch of the card did not include the chief executive of the NTA, but the Minister of State, and rightly so - we should take and accept political responsibility.

We are running out of time.

When there is bad news one must come out front too, as I know the Minister of State will. I hope he will put in place an effective methodology to capture the concerns of commuters and try to ensure these issues are resolved in everybody's interest as quickly as possible.

I thank the Deputy for that enlightening contribution which was humorous at times. Maybe the first thing Deputy Dooley should do is ring his former colleague, Noel Dempsey, to ask how it took this length of time and why it took someone in this Government to bring it to fruition. It is a bit rich for Deputy Dooley to complain that the card was launched by this Government when it had to take control of the situation and deliver it on behalf of the people in the greater Dublin area. We stand over the fact that it has been a great success.

The technology is very strong and among the best in the world. What has been missed by the media is that launches of similar cards were an iterative process. A number of launches are required, including in the case of London, and it can take between 11 and 17 launches because of the number of products that must be stabilised. This is a matter for the National Transport Authority, which will add different products and services over the coming months. In the second quarter of this year, we expect it to extend to more operators in the private area. Card sales and top-ups will be possible from Iarnród Éireann vending machines. Luas and Iarnród Éireann vending will be enabled for web collection and there will be an auto top-up facility for all operators, whereby direct debits can be made from bank details. A huge number of enhancements can be made and by the end of year everyone will see the value of the Leap Card, which is a fantastic facility for those commuting around Dublin. The volume of complaints has been very low. Deputy Dooley has been listening to various media complaints but the percentage of people happy with it is phenomenal. It is a great achievement to have in the city and I stand over the way it was launched. By the end of the year, that enhancements will show this to be a quality product.

It is often said that one humorous comment borrows another and the Minister of State is being humorous in his continued presentation that when he came into office, from base principles he created the Leap Card and all the proprietary software and pulled it together in a few months. The Minister of State has rushed this to the market in order to give himself a clap on the back.

This is Question Time, Deputy Dooley should ask questions.

Does the Minister of State accept that he rushed this in order to get a PR lift? It has backfired on him and much of the work was done when he came into office. He sought to bring it to the market a couple of weeks ahead of time and he is now suffering embarrassment and hiding behind the bluster that does not sit well with him.

The Minister of State can defend himself very quickly.

He does not need any help in that regard.

Perhaps it is because Deputy Dooley is a Clare man, but maybe he should use the Leap Card more often. I do not know if he has one. This Government came into office and had to take control of the situation and deliver it for the people of Dublin. That is what we have done and what we will continue to do because Fianna Fáil was incapable of doing so.

Question No. 5, in the name of Deputy Sandra McLellan, will be taken by Deputy Dessie Ellis with my permission.

That is fine, even though it is not in the rules.

It is in the rules, I have the authority to have the questions in advance.

I nearly got thrown out of the Dáil once for that. It was a previous Ceann Comhairle, not the current one, but I have no problem with it even though I never forgot it.

Deputy Ring must have been briefing Deputy McNamara.

Sports Capital Programme

Sandra McLellan

Question:

5Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the date in early 2012 on which a new round of sports capital programme will be launched; the amount of funding available for same; the way local sporting organisations should apply for such funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9130/12]

I recently announced that I will be advertising two new rounds of the sports capital programme between now and 2016. I am currently making the necessary arrangements with a view to launching the first round in the coming weeks. The advertisement of the new round and the amount to be allocated will be decided in consultation with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The programme for Government specifies that sports funding should prioritise projects that further greater participation in sport on a local and national level. This will be the central focus of the new rounds of the programme.

The programme aims to foster an integrated and planned approach to developing sports and physical recreation facilities throughout the country. The programme assists the development of high quality, safe, well-designed and sustainable facilities in appropriate locations and the provision of appropriate equipment to help maximise participation in sport and physical recreation. The programme prioritises the needs of disadvantaged areas in the provision of sports facilities and encourages the multi-purpose use of local, regional and national sports facilities by clubs, community organisations and national governing bodies of sport. Qualifying organisations such as voluntary and community organisations, national governing bodies of sport, VECs, local authorities and, in some circumstances, schools will be able to apply in writing or online using a form that will be made available when the programme is launched.

The sports capital programme has been the lifeblood for many communities, including Dublin North-West. A huge number of projects have transformed areas throughout the country. In this era, with cutbacks and with clubs struggling with different problems, the sports capital programme was never more needed. The programme will be rolled out up to 2016. Do we know how much will be available each year? When will these funds be available? Clubs are looking for essential repairs and new facilities. One of the problems in the past was the complexity of the forms to be filled. Can this be examined? People used to get others to fill out the forms and it was a problem for different communities. I hope we see what money is available in the programme shortly. Does the Minister of State stand by his commitment that money guaranteed to sports capital projects will be paid to the different clubs?

The good news is that the scheme will happen. I am in discussion with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and I have written to him officially and I expect a response in the next few days. The scheme will be up and running in the next three weeks and we will announce the amount of funding for it.

Regarding funding for projects already grant-aided, I will give Deputy Ellis a commitment that the €24 million allocated to the programme this year is available to any project that draws down funding. Once everything is in order, funding for the project will be paid and there has never been a problem with that. In the past, a number of sports organisations ran into difficulty with planning and legal problems. Any project within the rules and regulations will be paid. Over the next number of weeks, we will announce the programme and people will know the amount of funding in place. The application forms will be online and people will also have the opportunity to fill out the forms in written form. The good news is that scheme will open and that we will have a second round between now and 2015. We have not had the scheme since 2008. Along with every other Deputy in this House, people are onto me every day because many organisations want to upgrade facilities or purchase new facilities. I hope we can deal with as many as possible. There will be criteria for the fund and people have the opportunity to make applications.

In the past this became a political football with Ministers in different areas-----

He will not change that.

-----and accusations that certain areas fared better because a Minister lived in the area. Can the Minister assure us that this will not happen? It is very unfair if people hear that one area is being looked after better than another area. There needs to be an even playing field.

Every application will be assessed and all will be treated equally. If I had the full kitty from the Department of Finance, I could allocate money to everyone in the country. Decisions must be made and the funding we will announce will not be the same amount as was available in the past. People can make their applications and I have full confidence in the ability of my Department officials to go through the applications and administer them fairly and equally. I have no doubt it will be done fairly.