Other Questions

Road Network

Barry Cowen


6Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the current status of the Limerick northern relief road; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8572/12]

The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is a statutory function of each road authority, in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on such roads are a matter for the relevant local authority to be funded from its own resources supplemented by State road grants.

The Limerick northern distributor road involves two phases. The first is the Coonagh-Knockalisheen road. This phase is part of the Limerick regeneration plan and has progressed to the stage whereby An Bord Pleanála has approved the project. Limerick City Council has been allocated €2 million this year to advance the project.

The second phase would involve an extension of the road to tie in with the R445. This element of the scheme was proposed by the local authority concerned, Clare County Council, and is supported by Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council. This second phase is currently at route selection stage and I understand the preferred route corridor has been out for public consultation. This public consultation period  has been extended until 12 March during which members of the public will be able to make submissions to Clare County Council. I encourage members of the public to make their views known through this process.

This project is part of a long-term plan for economic development for Limerick city and its environs within County Clare. It is important to complete the route selection stage of the project in order to preserve a route corridor in the relevant local authority plans. This will enable the council to progress this project in the future. However, I should state it is unlikely the scheme will progress any further than route selection for some time.

I remind Deputies of the rules on Other Questions. There are two minutes for the Minister's initial reply and four minutes overall for supplementary questions, with the limit of one minute per supplementary question.

I welcome the Minister's clarity on this issue. Phase 2 of the Limerick northern distributor road is causing considerable concern in my constituency and that of Limerick East. There seems to be a groundswell of opposition to the continuation of the project. I understand there was a march at the weekend. People in Deputy O'Donnell's constituency of Limerick East have strong objections.

There is concern in my constituency from people who will be impacted negatively, particularly members of the farming community. They are concerned because they cannot plan for the future. The Government is not in a position to identify whether the road will proceed. Lands will be sterilised, effectively making them valueless. This is putting farmers in the difficult position of not being able to plan for the future development of their farms.

I ask the Minister to consult Oireachtas Members from the region to try to resolve this matter. If we continue to progress along the preferred route that is now emerging it will impact on the lives and families of far too many people. I ask the Minister to begin a review process at his earliest convenience.

This is an issue of major concern to local people. There are two elements. There is a need for person-to-person consultation between Clare County Council, which is the lead authority, and those living on the route involved in steering groups. I ask the Minister to do what he can to ensure consultation takes place, in terms of meeting steering groups and providing details on the constraints involved. People in Parteen and Lisnagry are concerned.

The purpose of route selection is to allow people to prepare for the future. A route is identified and land is set aside for construction in order that the road can be built in due course. It is not and should not be my role to plan regional roads from No. 44 Kildare Street. It is the role of local authorities, in this case Clare County Council. A planning process is in place. I expect the county council to listen to the views of people in local areas and engage with them actively and constructively to determine the best route which can satisfy everyone. I will not become the first Minister in the history of the State to select routes for regional roads. It is something that has to be dealt with locally. It is my strong view that consultation should take place with people affected by the local authorities and the officials concerned.

The Minister would not be the first in the history of the State to enter into dialogue with interested parties to understand their concerns. The project involves Government money allocated by the Minister which will be used to develop the road. People would like to have an understanding of the importance of the project from the Minister's perspective and when or if the road will be completed. It would be useful to have a dialogue with the Minister and interest groups in the region.

I do not have a difficulty with receiving a delegation from the region but I will be telling it exactly what I told the Deputy, namely that there are legal and planning processes. The authority is Clare County Council and it will select the route. Eventually the matter will go to An Bord Pleanála. At no point will the selection of the route or whether the road has planning permission be my decision.

I welcome the Minister's comments that constructive dialogue should take place between the local authority, Clare County Council and people living on the route. I welcome that we can have a meeting with the Minister. The views of the people living in the area should be made loud and clear.

Olympic Games

Brian Stanley


7Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the efforts he has made with the relevant agencies to maximise the tourism potential for Ireland of the London Olympics; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8596/12]

The tourism agencies are represented on the London 2012 co-ordinating group which I chair and which is looking at opportunities for Ireland from the proximity of this year's Olympic and Paralympic Games in London. Tourism Ireland has been rolling out a busy programme of promotional activity to target a wide range of potential visitors around the world in the run-up to and during the 2012 games. The programme includes working with a number of the official agencies and official sponsors of the games to bring incentive and corporate meetings to Ireland during the games. The 2012 games have recently featured on the Tourism Ireland media room website in order to attract accredited and non-accredited media to Ireland before, during and after the London games.

In order to secure additional business for Ireland, both as a result of displacement and additional long-haul opportunities, Tourism Ireland is working closely with tour operators in overseas tourism markets. The visa waiver scheme presents additional opportunities which are being explored in emerging markets. The organisation is also working with official games tour operators in a number of markets to assist them in offering package extensions to Ireland.

Tourism Ireland in London is working on an extensive consumer marketing campaign to target displaced Londoners and those wanting to escape the games. The organisation is also targeting opportunities to capture displaced conferences. There is a specific opportunity around golf as this will be introduced as an Olympic sport in 2016 and Ireland is currently the home of major champions. A campaign around this theme is currently being developed.

I am glad to hear the Minister of State is proactively dealing with this matter with Tourism Ireland. It is very important because there is huge potential. Ireland is only a plane ride from London. We should be in a position to offer facilities, such as hotels, hostels and other accommodation.

The Minister of State mentioned the aquatic centre might be available for certain activities, such as training purposes, in the lead up to and during the Olympics. He mentioned the Olympic torch would be carried to Ireland and London, and we would have a ceremony to celebrate that. I do not know whether that has advanced further. It would be great to see people lining the streets and greeting the torch bearers. It will be a magnificent event.

The Olympic torch is a matter for the Olympic Council of Ireland. There have been some announcements about what is happening in Dublin. Enterprise Ireland has informed me there are €200 million to €500 million worth of projects from Irish companies, such as building the stadium in London. Sometimes we forget about that. The media looks at the negativity about what is happening and who is coming to the country. Tourism Ireland is doing an excellent job, it is working very hard and the visa situation will help us. We are trying to get both the accredited and non-accredited media to come here and we are trying to get people coming to Britain to travel on to Ireland. We have a wonderful opportunity as well with so many people displaced from London and others who would usually go to London who might instead come to Ireland. We are working on a number of festivals and cultural events that will be announced in the next few weeks to encourage as many people as possible to come to Ireland.

The Deputy is right about the National Aquatic Centre. We have already had the British and Hungarian water-polo teams, the USA synchronised swimming team and the British Paralympic swimming team visiting. Where the facilities exist, they have been used. The previous Government gave people the impression we have wonderful facilities. The facilities we have are being used. We do not have other facilities to bring teams in but where we have them, they are being used.

I congratulate the Minister of State on his work in this area and emphasise the importance of focusing on golf, given that it is going to be an Olympic sport in 2016. We can gain a huge amount from that. The displacement of Londoners and the needs of those attending conferences at the time offer us an opportunity too, given the new convention centre and what we can offer those who would normally have gone to London but might now come to Dublin instead.

Deputy Murphy is right; golf is very important. That is why Tourism Ireland will promote Ireland as a golfing capital. We should build on the records of the world champions we have produced. For a small country, the number of internationally renowned golfers we have is a credit to the country. There is no doubt that with golf being included in the 2016 Olympics, it will be a very important sport for Ireland. We have the courses available at reasonable prices. If people want to go to top or middle ranking courses, they are available here. We must get out now and sell those courses and make sure we can get people into the country to see these facilities.

Public Transport

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin


8Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the work being undertaken to ensure that any fare increases in public transport companies will not hurt those on low incomes. [8613/12]

As the Deputy will be aware, public transport fares are a matter for the CIE operating companies in conjunction with the National Transport Authority which is responsibility for regulating the maximum fare on public service routes.  I am aware that the NTA approved a range of fare increases in respect of the CIE companies, which took effect last month.  It is, however, important to point out that significant savings can be made by passengers who choose to avail of the integrated ticket, the Leap card.

Notwithstanding the NTA's statutory responsibilities, the Government recognises the need for the CIE companies to respond to the challenge of reduced PSO subvention funding, reduced fares income arising from reductions in passenger numbers and increased costs, such as fuel costs, which are outside their control. As a general principle, efficiencies in operational costs should, in the first instance, be examined over fare increases and service reductions. I have stated this in the letters of mandate I issued to each of the four CIE company chairpersons appointed in 2011. In the current environment, however, there must be a recognition that, unfortunately, fare increases will be inevitable if costs cannot be reduced sufficiently to maintain a reasonable level of service provision.

While a recovery in passenger numbers could increase company revenues, all concerned in my Department and the NTA must focus on identifying key public transport priorities in our cities and throughout the country. In turn, the PSO public transport service providers will have to achieve greater efficiency and cost effectiveness in the years ahead based on a realistic assessment of the scope and level of contracted services.

It is disappointing that in recent months there has been a series of price increases of 6% to 15% across all forms of public transport. I hope we can put pressure on the NTA, Dublin Bus and other companies to stop these increases. The Minister should ensure as far as possible that we do not have further increases. It is evident from the traffic on the road that there has been an increase in car traffic because of the cutbacks in public transport, which have affected many areas. In my areas the bus services have been devastated, with the number 19 route completely removed. That has affected those with a disability, the old and others, and we cannot allow that to continue. We have the least subsidised public transport system in Europe and we must stop this from happening again. We have pushed for people to use public transport for years but this goes completely against that.

I have sympathy for what the Deputy is saying but I do not see any evidence of increased traffic volumes. Perhaps if that is the case, it is a sign of a recovering economy. I do not necessarily think that increasing traffic volumes would be such a bad thing. The numbers using public transport are down slightly on last year but not by as much as they went down in 2010. The situation is difficult. Often public transport is used by those who cannot afford a car or car parking and for that reason no one wants to see fare increases imposed, but the situation is difficult, notwithstanding the subvention, which must be reduced in coming years. Fuel prices are also increasing, which has an impact on the companies. The Government is trying to limit the fare increases to the bare minimum and limit service reductions as much as possible, but that means a much stronger focus on the cost base of the company in the next few years.

Tourism Industry

Éamon Ó Cuív


9Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the reasons no Irish stand was on display at the recent Belgian tourism conference; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8595/12]

Tourism Ireland is responsible for the overseas promotion of Ireland as a tourist destination. Decisions on participation in individual commercial events and other day-to-day decisions are operational matters for the agency itself and the Minister has no role, function or responsibility in them.  As the matter raised is entirely a matter for Tourism Ireland, I have referred the Deputy's questions to the agency for direct reply.  If he has not received a response from them in ten working days, he should inform my private office.

It is my view that a Minister should not have a role in such day-to-day decisions.  Such decisions are best made by the staff on the ground with the relevant expertise within the body itself, having regard to the overall priorities set out in Tourism Ireland's business plan.

The Minister and his Government has made a lot of the importance of tourism in the economic recovery. The jobs initiative last year identified the tourism sector as being of key importance and, as such, the Minister would be well aware of the raid on private pension funds to the tune of €470 million to support that initiative.

The Government has spent a lot of time spinning the line that it is rebuilding Ireland's reputation abroad when it was not damaged in the first place. There was, however, an opportunity to take some practical steps, such as having stands at tourism conferences. It was unusual, therefore, that there was no Tourism Ireland stand at the Belgian holiday fare, which is one of the biggest each year and which promotes about 7,000 holiday destinations. More than 100,000 people attended the exhibition and it can reach in excess of 1 million holiday makers. I do not want to criticise the people who work for Tourism Ireland, because they do an excellent job, but they must focus on the right priorities and the Minister bears some responsibility in this regard, particularly when he has highlighted tourism.

As part of the jobs initiative and the raid on the private pension funds to the tune of €470 million, a number of subheads were identified for where that money would be spent, both on PRSI and VAT, and it was mentioned that we would get rid of the travel tax, which was to bring in substantial funds. Why has that additional funding from the pension funds not been spent on the lifting of the travel tax to support the Minister's initiatives that he has identified as being key to economic recovery?

Funding from the travel tax was used in the latter half of the year. While it was intended that the travel tax would be abolished, it was not possible to come to an adequate agreement with the airlines, so some of that money was reinvested in a winter tourism promotion scheme and an access promotion in conjunction with airlines. In total, €9 million in money from the travel tax and from industry was invested in tourism promotion in the winter of last year for that reason. The Deputy should know that the country's reputation was badly damaged. One of the things that the hard work, both of the Government and our people, has achieved in the last year is to rebuild our reputation internationally. Those of us who travel abroad to represent the country understand and appreciate the extent to which Ireland's reputation has improved in the past year. One can see that in everything people say to us, as well as the fact that bond yields are falling and confidence in the country is recovering. When we are abroad we always have to remind people that Irish citizens have suffered a lot of pain in order to help restore that reputation. Therefore we will continue to need more solidarity from our European partners.

As regards the stand in particular, Tourism Ireland is represented at all big tourism fairs in Birmingham, London, Berlin, Frankfurt and other locations attended by myself and the Minister of State, Deputy Ring. It is not my role to tell Tourism Ireland which stands it should have or where they should be located. On this occasion, Tourism Ireland decided not to have a stand at that particular show.

It seems to me the only reason they would not have been there was that they did not have adequate funds. While the Minister has identified an area where he has spent money from the travel tax, what did he do with the additional revenues raised by the raid on the pension fund, which he targeted for use in the absence of the travel tax? He had an additional €30 million last year, while this year it was going to be €90 million, and €105 million next year. There is a chart which identifies the breakdown of the usage of the €470 million taken from private pension funds. Some of it went to support the Minister's PRSI initiative, while some of it supported VAT reduction. Part of it was earmarked to support the loss of revenue to the State as a result of the abolition of the air travel tax, which never happened. Therefore the Minister has additional money; it may not have been provided to him but it was set aside. Perhaps it has been put into the general Exchequer returns and hidden in that black hole. However, I would like to identify whether it is there for the Minister. If so, he could get his hands on it and we would not be in a situation where Ireland was not represented at such an important event in Brussels.

That question is probably more relevant to the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform than to me. The vast majority of the cost of the jobs initiative was the VAT reduction, which has been very successful, and the reduction in employers' PRSI for those on modest incomes. In the forthcoming revised Estimates volume, there is provision for an increase in funding for Fáilte Ireland to prepare for the gathering this year. There is some additional money there. When it comes to the travel tax, the door is still open to discussions. We do not necessarily have to settle for 5 million additional passengers for no airport charges at all. If a realistic offer is put on the table from the airlines to increase capacity in return for abolishing the travel tax, and nothing else, that offer is still there. That was reiterated by the Minister for Finance during his Budget Statement.

Aer Lingus

10. Deputy Willie O’Dea asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views that Aer Lingus is a strategic asset; his further views that the Heathrow slots are a strategic asset; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8567/12]

The question refers to Aer Lingus and whether it is a strategic asset, as well as my views on the Heathrow Airport slots. Aer Lingus is a PLC, a public limited company, and the Government only holds a 25% equity stake in the company. Consequently, Aer Lingus as a company cannot be considered to be a State asset. The minority stake is, however, an asset but is not considered to be a strategic one. The Government does not control the company, nor does it appoint the chairman or a majority of the board members.

Historically, much connectivity was provided to Ireland via Heathrow airport because routes from Ireland to Heathrow were among the earliest to be developed.  However, many other options are now available.

The importance of the Government's minority stake in Aer Lingus has also changed over time and market developments, including the dissolution of the employee share ownership trust, ESOT, have had an impact. The Government stake is not sufficient to block either the sale or lease of a Heathrow slot by Aer Lingus to another body.

The McCarthy report recommended that the Government dispose of its shareholding in Aer Lingus "as soon as is opportune". No decision has yet been taken by Government in this regard.

I am amazed by the Minister's response. I am truly taken aback that he does not see the important connectivity between this country and the United Kingdom as being of strategic interest. I accept that Aer Lingus is now a private company but I certainly do not accept that the portion owned by the State is not of strategic importance. Neither do I accept that the slots at Heathrow are not of strategic benefit to this State because they most certainly are.

I am sorry Deputy, but you have a time limit.

I might remind the Minister that during the last Dáil's term, his party made life difficult for me and others in the mid-west region when Aer Lingus took a business decision to remove the Shannon-Heathrow connection, which was of major importance. A lot of people worked to ensure that that route was reinstated. If, however, the Minister is now suggesting that there is no strategic importance in retaining the Heathrow slots, which facilitate access both from Dublin and Shannon, it is a massive U-turn on the part of the Government and will be of significant interest to many people.

With respect, the Deputy is now trying to change the question, but I have answered the question he asked. When Aer Lingus pulled the services from Shannon, the 25% shareholding was not sufficient for the then Government to change that decision. Therefore the holding of that 25% stake was not strategic because the Government of the day could not do anything to change the decision. The Deputy is now indirectly asking whether the 25% stake allows us to prevent Aer Lingus from disposing of those slots at Heathrow or leasing them to another airline. I am telling him that it does not.

Aer Lingus can lease or sell the Heathrow slots if it wants to, regardless of the Government's minority shareholding. Leasing the slots to another airline, which is normal practice in the aviation industry, does not require a special resolution and therefore the State's shareholding is not sufficient to prevent it. Because of the dissolution of the ESOT, the Government no longer has a blocking minority to block the sale of those slots. In many ways, however, the sale is irrelevant because they could be leased anyway regardless of a special resolution. That is probably something that was not understood or anticipated by the previous Government at the time of privatisation.

I accept that having only a minority shareholding in Aer Lingus affects the Government's ability to maintain the air link with Britain as a strategic State-owned asset. It is difficult not to see, however, how in an island nation transport links to our nearest neighbour cannot be described as a strategic asset. Can the Minister say what in his area is considered a strategic asset? I wonder whether our ports and harbours are considered to be strategic assets.

We are not straying from the question.

Are they up for consideration in terms of possible sale after the recommendations of the McCarthy report and the troika?

I was always opposed to the sale of Aer Lingus and the way in which it was sold off. We have a 25% stake but I do not accept that the Government has no influence. The Minister is playing with words given the way the question was put.

A question please.

Does the Minister agree with selling off the Heathrow slots? It has also been said that the Dusseldorf slots could be sold off to fund the pension deficit. Will the Minister comment on that because there is a substantial amount of money involved?

That is a separate question.

It is part of it and I think it is very relevant.

This is about Heathrow.

Aer Lingus is a brand name of which we are all proud. It has represented this country for many years.

The Minister might be aware that he has the capacity to appoint two or three people to the board of Aer Lingus. My understanding is that, in the past, the Government gave a particular mandate to those directors as regards strategic decisions by the board, requiring them to take into account the notion of regional development. While I accept it is not possible to encumber board members on their appointment - they must put the company's interests to the fore - it is very much part of their remit to ensure that decisions are taken by the board in a manner that examines the strategic interests and needs of the country. I recall that a decision was taken by the board that any decisions similar to those on Shannon or any with an impact on strategic connectivity would have to be made by it rather than management. The Minister might recall that, on that occasion, the Government said a decision taken at management level could not be overridden by the board, and that the Government had no means of forcing this to happen other than through the bringing about of an emergency general meeting. It was not clear how the latter would pan out.

The Minister has the capacity to influence the usage or trade in key strategic slots. It should be exercised through board appointments.

The question relates to assets. To have an asset, one must own it. The Government does not own Aer Lingus or the slots and, therefore, the company cannot be considered to be a strategic asset. Of course, links between Ireland and Britain, and specifically between Dublin and Heathrow, are of strategic importance, but they are not strategic assets. One does not have to own something for it to be important. The sea link between Rosslare and the United Kingdom is of strategic importance but the Government does not own it. It is possible, therefore, to have something of strategic importance without actually owning it.

Board members can have some influence on decisions but Aer Lingus is a public limited company. Therefore, their primary responsibility must be to the company's fiduciary interests and not to the person who appoints them. It is important to bear in mind that not only is Aer Lingus not selling slots, it has actually leased additional ones from BMI to enable it to increase its capacity. That is where the market is. It is not about selling slots but about leasing new ones.

On Düsseldorf airport, Deputy Ellis is probably referring to the minority stake that the DAA holds at that airport rather than the Düsseldorf slots. I read a story inThe Sunday Business Post, which I am sure Deputy Ellis also read, which suggested that SIPTU or its representatives were interested in selling that asset to recapitalise the pension fund. I do not know if it is accurate. I welcome the support of the largest trade union in this State for selling non-strategic State assets, but there may be a better way of using the money to the benefit of the public than by replenishing a pension fund.

Sports Capital Programme

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


11Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the date in early 2012 on which a new round of the 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. [8600/12]

Denis Naughten


29Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the steps he is taking to re-establish a sports capital programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8620/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 29 together.

I have already replied on this matter. 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.

Does Deputy Ellis wish to comment?

I will allow another Deputy to contribute.

Is there money outstanding under the previous round of the sports capital programme? If so, how much?

In 2011, there was €55.5 million outstanding. In 2008, this figure was €191 million. We have made great progress on the basis that a number of clubs and organisations are not drawing down funding simply because it would be very difficult in the current climate to obtain matching funding for their projects, which were conceived at the time of the Celtic tiger and were, therefore, expensive. We are pleased with the outstanding figure. The new round will be open in the next few weeks.

Taxi Regulations

Mary Lou McDonald


12Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport when he hopes to have legislation related to reform of the taxi industry before the Houses of the Oireachtas. [8609/12]

Dessie Ellis


17Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the communications he has had with the Gardaí in relation to criminality in the taxi industry and any other work he has undertaken on this matter. [8610/12]

Martin Ferris


26Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport if he has met with the Department of Justice and other relevant figures to discuss the need for vetting processes to incorporate as much information from overseas in relation to the background of a person seeking clearance. [8611/12]

Thomas P. Broughan


56Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the actions he proposes to take on foot of the recent publication of the Taxi Review Group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8624/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12, 17, 26 and 56 together.

The Government-endorsed taxi regulation review report published last month contains 46 separate actions aimed at improving standards, administration and enforcement within the taxi sector. The broad aim of the report is to increase consumer confidence in the sector and to remove rogue elements therein. We also want to ensure that legitimate and professional taxi operators and drivers can be rewarded fairly by operating under a regulatory regime that is adequately enforced.

The National Transport Authority, NTA, is the lead agency with responsibility for the implementation of the review recommendations. The NTA will make progress reports quarterly to the Taxi Advisory Committee established under the 2003 Act and in its annual report.

Section 3.5 of the report provides an overview of enforcement and compliance matters and refers to a number of legislative changes that will be necessary to strengthen enforcement. Among the issues mentioned is amendment of section 36 of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 by way of new legislation to be enacted in 2012 that will provide for mandatory disqualification of persons convicted of serious criminal offences from operating in the industry. In addition, the commencement of section 35 of the 2003 Act will allow for a strengthened sanctions regime for suspension or revocation of licences. Improvements regarding on-street compliance will be assisted by enabling the Garda to prosecute in respect of 12 fixed-charge penalty offences through enhanced collaboration between it and the NTA.

As necessary, complementary secondary legislation will be made by the NTA under section 34 of the 2003 Act to clarify the sanctions regime for licence holders. The potential for suspension of a licence subject to certain criteria of breaches of regulations will be examined.

The approach to enforcement and compliance, as outlined in the report, reflects an intensive examination of the area by the review group, which included representatives from the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána. Vetting of taxi licence applicants, including those who were resident overseas, will continue to remain the responsibility of An Garda Síochána. The proposed mandatory disqualification provisions will enable corresponding offences committed in other jurisdictions to form part of that disqualification process. Regarding the matter of individuals from overseas, it is envisaged that section 36 of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 will be amended so as it will apply to people with convictions in other jurisdictions.

I agree this review is long overdue. I read the document and found much of it to be very good, and I disagreed with other aspects. When will we be debating this in the Dáil? Legislative change will be required. There are items in regard to the nine-year rule that I believed we had put to bed. These must be all debated. The Joint Committee on the Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht has not yet debated the document. This needs to be done so the Dáil can debate it. Then we can consider what legislation is required.

I ask that the rules on convictions not apply to those encompassed by the Good Friday Agreement. I mentioned this before but the Minister caught me off guard. Will the Minister of State indicate when this matter will be debated in the Dáil and by the committee?

I understand it will be before the committee in the next two weeks. It may even be next Wednesday. The Taoiseach has already committed to having a debate in the House following a question. There will be time provided for this. I take on board what the Deputy is saying on many of the issues. I welcome the debates in both fora because they are necessary.

I have heard many comments on various aspects of the report from people of many political allegiances and none. The report has been broadly welcomed. Considerable implementation work is required. I accept that and the NTA will be primarily responsible in that regard. I will work very closely with it. I took on the chairing of the relevant committee myself and, as such, am happy that the recommendations are the fairest ones that will bring the industry up to the standard required by consumers and taxi drivers. It is a matter of ensuring a safe environment for both drivers and consumers.

I want to make the industry one in which one can make a fair living. That was a core principle that I drove home throughout this process. I look forward to debating the intricacies of all the recommendations.

I know these are only recommendations and need to be debated. I do not agree with all of them and I doubt most people will either. Will this review be made available to the different taxi representative groups in advance of any debate so they can have an input which can feed back to myself and others? It is important we get a feel from them regarding these recommendations.

The report is publicly available. Many of the taxi representatives have digested it already, judging from the significant volume of representations coming into the Department.

I do not know if any other Minister has met with the taxi groups as often as I have. I brought four different people from the taxi industry on to the review group. I have had and will continue to have dialogue with them. They made submissions to the review which were all taken on board when drawing up the recommendations.

They also made comments afterwards about the review. Within the main, however, most of these comments were quite positive. Obviously, there will be some differences of opinion. I expect these can be ironed out during the implementation process which has already begun. I will be reporting further to the Dáil and the transport committee on this process in the next several weeks.

Light Rail Project

Micheál Martin


13Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the discussions he has had with the relevant parties regarding the Luas BXD link; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8582/12]

Paschal Donohoe


38Deputy Paschal Donohoe asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport if he will give an indication as to when he believes construction work will begin on the extension of the Luas BXD to Boombridge, Dublin. [8870/12]

Catherine Murphy


43Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport if, in relation to the proposed construction works of the Luas BXD line from St. Stephen’s Green to Broombridge, Dublin, he will inform Dáil Éireann that, in the sites where construction works related to the former coincide with future construction works for both the DART Interconnector and Metro North projects, full advantage will be taken of the opportunity to undertake preliminary works relating to both projects where practicable; the way such cross-project considerations form part of the National Transport Authority and the Railway Procurement Agency’s overall plans for transportation construction in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8866/12]

Paschal Donohoe


46Deputy Paschal Donohoe asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the position regarding the progress that has been made to date on progressing the Luas BXD project. [8869/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13, 38, 43 and 46 together.

The railway order application for Luas BXD was submitted by the Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, to An Bord Pleanála in June 2010 and the oral hearing for the scheme concluded in April 2011.

An Bord Pleanála wrote recently to the RPA seeking submissions and observations on matters relating to the railway order application including interface issues between BXD and metro north and the DART underground projects. It also wrote to the National Transport Authority, NTA, on this matter given the latter's responsibility for public transport provision and integration in the greater Dublin area and sought the authority's confirmation for the overall approach to be adopted in developing these projects.

An Bord Pleanála also asked the RPA to re-examine the location of one of the proposed stops in Dawson Street. It also indicated it would commission an independent study on an alternative to overhead cables in the city centre.

As part of the detailed preparations for the comprehensive capital review last year, consideration was given to the sequencing of these major projects as well as the funding issues. In this regard, various options relating to sequencing were examined by the RPA and the NTA and their advice was taken into account by me in reaching conclusions on the priorities for funding to 2016.

Both the RPA and the NTA advised me that BXD could proceed to construction in a manner which ensures the subsequent ability to develop metro north and DART underground is preserved. I understand they will be responding to the request for additional information from An Bord Pleanála over the coming weeks.

Subject to the granting of the railway order this year, essential pre-construction works could begin in 2013 with the main works scheduled to begin in 2015.

I welcome the Minister's clarification that there were discussions with the other interested parties in advance. Unfortunately, based on the query coming from An Bord Pleanála, it appears it has concerns about the capacity to maintain the operation of the Luas BXD line during any subsequent works on the metro north and DART underground projects. It feels the line may have to be closed for a time to allow works on the other two projects go ahead. The Minister's response, however, seems to indicate the provision of the Luas BXD line would not prevent the other two projects going ahead in the future.

Will the Minister assure the House that the discussions that took place were not just about the projects going ahead in the future but took into account the capacity of the Luas BXD line to remain operational during the course of any subsequent work on the two projects in question?

I welcome the Minister's commitment to this project. Will the new Luas line run to Broombridge station? Making that link is important because not only will it ensure Luas connectivity across Dublin city but it will also connect the Luas with the rail network which could facilitate travel from Maynooth to the city centre using both the train and the Luas.

Is the Minister aware of the importance of this project in the delivery of the Grangegorman-DIT project? It is undergoing some revision but the delivery of the Luas BXD project would allow contact between the new university at Grangegorman and the rest of the city.

The projects were discussed in great detail. When the revised capital plan to 2016 was decided upon, one question that arose, and one on which I and the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, sought assurances, was that if the Luas BXD went ahead first, whether it would still be possible to build metro north and the DART underground without having to close down the BXD line for several months. A series of discussions and documents exchanged between the RPA and the NTA showed it could be done. There may need to be temporary restrictions from time to time but it should be possible to work on the other projects without shutting down the BXD line or digging it up.

An Bord Pleanála's request for additional information is reasonable. We all know this from our involvement in the planning process. The information will be made available to An Bord Pleanála soon.

The Luas line will run to Broombridge station. There are three reasons as to why we are not just linking up the two Luas lines but extending them to Broombridge. First, it is to regenerate the areas along the route such as Cabra, Phibsboro and Stoneybatter. Second, it will give life to the DIT Grangegorman project when it goes ahead. Third, it will create an interchange at Broombridge, significantly upgrading that station, and link the Luas network to the Maynooth line allowing people, for example, to get on a train at Leixlip, switch at Broombridge and go on to Dundrum.

Written Answers follow adjournment.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.45 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 21 February 2012.