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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 27 Nov 2012

Vol. 784 No. 2

Priority Questions

Public Transport Provision

Timmy Dooley


93. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to ensure a viable public transport system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52911/12]

This question is in regard to the public transport system. My Department and the National Transport Authority are working with public transport operators to increase the efficiency and attractiveness of existing public transport services.  We are not in a financial position to make a significant investment in the public transport network, but we can get a better return from the existing public transport system through targeted investment and better use of current resources and by using smart technology to make public transport more responsive and user-friendly.

Targeted investment is essential in these financially straitened times.  An example is the Luas BXD project to link the Luas lines. The Government has also continued to invest in the bus companies, including the recent decision to purchase 80 new buses for Dublin Bus at a cost of €26 million and 60 new buses for Bus Éireann in 2011 at a cost to the Exchequer of €19 million. Considerable funding has also been provided in recent years for measures to make public transport more attractive such as the Leap card, real-time passenger information, automatic vehicle location, AVL, and providing Wi-Fi.

On 24 July the Government decided to provide additional funding of €36 million for CIE to ensure the companies could continue to operate for the rest of 2012. This would bring the total subvention for the year to €278 million, higher than the subvention level for 2010 and, in fact, the fifth highest level of subvention ever.  CIE is progressing the preparation of a revised five year business plan to address the underlying financial challenges facing CIE in order that its public transport services can be provided efficiently and cost effectively over the period of the plan.

That is a very fine statement, but the facts that underlie it are different. The Minister of State is aware of the auditor's report that identified the future viability of CIE as being in jeopardy. The reaction from the CIE group of companies was to increase fares and cut services. I understand the fiduciary duty of the company directors and their requirements to balance the books, but the role of the Minister of State is different; it is a public policy role, ensuring there is a public transport network and service to meet the needs of the travelling public. It is a vicious circle at the moment because with the increasing cost of travel and the reduction in services there is a reduction in the level of activity, which results in a difficulty for people who want to use the services.

The Deputy must ask a question.

When will the Minister of State set out the Government’s strategic policy position in terms of what it wants the public transport network provider to provide to the citizens of this State?

It is ironic that the Deputy raises the issue of fare increases, which are a matter for CIE and the National Transport Authority, when, in preceding years - when times were less challenging than they are now - his party announced large fare increases from this side of the House. CIE is in a perfect storm given the loss of revenue and passengers, the fact that PSO funding has had to be cut for obvious economic reasons, the removal of the fuel rebate and the increase in fuel prices. The company is in a difficult situation as the mainstay of public transport, but a bus business plan is being put together by CIE. The Government has taken action to ensure CIE will be able to operate into the future. We are working closely with the board and the various companies to ensure the work is followed through.

As regards the future of public transport, the medium-term Exchequer framework for 2012 to 2016 committed €1,363 million in public transport expenditure on the capital side. Irish Rail is getting €513 million under the third railway programme. I am sure the Deputy is well aware of the major resignalling programme in Dublin. Dublin Bus has 80 new buses and Bus Éireann has 60 new buses. The Deputy is aware of the Luas BXD project. Substantial grants are going to various cities to provide sustainable transport. We have launched the Leap card; Deputy Dooley might confirm to the House that he has purchased one himself. The national journey planner has been launched, as has real time passenger information, and Wi-Fi is provided on a range of public transport services. A substantial amount of work has been undertaken in a year and a half and our plan for public transport is evident from the commitments we have made.

That sounds like a response from a quack doctor that seeks to resolve the fact that one has a sore toe when one’s heart is failing. The heart of the CIE group of companies is failing. The integrated nature of the network is being disentangled as services are stripped to meet budgetary requirements. The Minister of State will have to rethink in its entirety what kind of public transport service can be provided based on the moneys that are available. I appeal to the Minister of State not to focus on short-term budgetary pressures. He must fight his corner with the Minister for Finance. I do not suggest that it is possible to create money in the current environment but the Minister of State must set out what is required of the State in terms of what the public transport service will look like and what future shape it will have, because if he allows it to be dismantled he will never be in a position to re-establish it.

The Deputy did not buy a Leap card.

As I requested, the Deputy might take the opportunity to confirm that he is a user of the Leap card. I encourage every spokesperson on transport to use the card to show leadership from this House. I completely disagree with the Deputy's statement. We are working very closely with CIE which, as the Deputy well knows and as I have outlined to the House on previous occasions, faces a very challenging environment. We have taken the necessary steps to ensure the integrated nature of public transport is maintained. We are also working very closely with the National Transport Authority to ensure time-tabling and other issues, whether they involve a combination of public operators through CIE or private operators offering various other options, are dealt with and progressed to ensure we have a quality product for users, particularly in urban areas in which there is high dependency on public transport.

Prisoner Rehabilitation Programmes

Sandra McLellan


94. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his attention has been drawn to the fact that both Wheatfield and Mountjoy Prisons now have teams that participate in the Big Issue street leagues; his views on the value for money in terms of its returns and its value to the wider society in view of the positive outcomes for recovering addicts, homeless young men and ex-prisoners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52860/12]

This question relates to the homeless soccer street leagues. I am aware of the work the leagues do in cities and towns, including prisons.  The Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, had the pleasure of meeting those involved during Ireland's participation in this year's Homeless World Cup when he attended a reception for the team in Leinster House last month.  The street leagues do very valuable work with homeless persons, drug and alcohol dependent individuals in rehabilitation, ex-offenders, people who are long-term unemployed with identified learning disabilities, refugees and asylum seekers.  Programmes such as the street leagues can have a very positive impact for participants and assist in leading to positive life changes. They present a wonderful opportunity for participants to become involved in sport, with the possibility of representing Ireland at the Homeless World Cup.  I firmly believe sport can play a very important role in Irish society and the homeless leagues are a very good example.

The Irish Sports Council which is funded by my Department is the statutory body with responsibility for the allocation of current expenditure funding for sports organisations. The council channels funding through the national governing bodies of sport. In the case of soccer, funding is provided for the FAI. I understand the homeless street leagues are affiliated to the FAI and that since 2006 the FAI has been providing financial and other support for the leagues through its Football for All programme.  The street leagues have been an important programme for the FAI in the light of the good work they do in regard to social inclusion in a number of cities and towns around Ireland.

The current prisoner population is 4,248. In 2011 the average cost of imprisonment was €65,359 per prisoner. Some 60% of those serving sentences of six months or less are poor and, in many cases, homeless. The majority of prisoners have never sat a State examination and more than half left school before the age of 15 years. Prisoners are 25 times more likely to come from and return to a seriously deprived area. Some 90.3% of committals in 2009 were for non-violent offences. In 2008, of the 520 prisoners who enrolled in the school at Mountjoy Prison, 20% could not read or write, while 30% could only sign their name. Over 70% of prisoners are unemployed on committal and a similar percentage self-report as not having a particular trade or occupation.

Will the Deputy ask a question, please?

In the light of the fact that the street leagues use sport to transform the lives of individuals from underprivileged, poorly educated and socially and economically excluded communities, does the Minister agree that this is a very valuable initiative in terms of mental health, recidivism rates and cost effectiveness? Will he liaise with his counterparts in the Departments of Health and Justice and Equality to ensure the leagues receive sufficient funding to continue their valuable work?

I certainly agree the leagues do very valuable work, targeting a group that is very difficult to reach. I should have mentioned that the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, sends his apologies. He is in Brussels today attending a meeting of the Council of Sports Ministers. He has informed me that he is due to meet Deputy Sandra McLellan and Mr. Sean Kavanagh of the Big Issue street league on Wednesday of next week to discuss the programme. I certainly hope the meeting will be productive.

With more than ten leagues and 1,000 players involved annually, as well as a national final and participation in the Homeless World Cup, does the Minister agree it makes sense to ensure the street leagues currently in operation and those that have recently been disbanded owing to a lack of funding are adequately resourced? I look forward to meeting the Minister of State next week and exploring with him how we can work together to ensure a positive outcome to this valuable initiative.

During the past seven years the FAI has supported the grassroots street leagues programme throughout the country to the tune of €280,000. It contributed €130,000 towards the cost of the Irish international Homeless World Cup squad in the same period. In addition to these financial contributions, the FAI has supported some local leagues - by means of its development officers who are part funded by county councils - through coach education, referee education and league development. Since 2010 financial support from the FAI has decreased owing to pressures on the Football for All budgets. In 2012 it provided funding of €17,000 for street leagues, €8,000 for grassroots programmes and €9,000 for the Homeless World Cup squad. Inquiries were made of the Department of Justice and Equality and I can confirm that it does not provide funding for this initiative.

Shannon Airport Facilities

Clare Daly


95. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the reason the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention) and Section 33 of the Air Navigation and Transport Act (1988) have been regularly used to impede peaceful protest and monitoring of US military planes at Shannon Airport, but no action has been taken under Article 16 provisions of the Chicago Convention in relation to the searching of planes suspected of involvement in renditions or arms transportation; and when this situation will be rectified. [53028/12]

This question is about the Chicago Convention which relates to civil aviation and section 33 of the Air Navigation and Transport Act 1988. The latter conveys powers on authorised persons to be used, inter alia, in the interests of ensuring the proper operation or the security or safety of an airport.  These powers may also be exercised by members of An Garda Síochána.  I can confirm that officials of my Department who are certified as authorised persons under sections 18 and 33 of the Act of 1988, as amended, have never used the powers provided in these sections for the purposes of interfering with protesters. However, it is, of course, unlawful for unauthorised persons to access the security restricted area of an airport. Any person who does so, including a protestor, may be liable to prosecution. I am advised by the Minister for Justice and Equality that An Garda Síochána has powers of entry and search where there are reasonable grounds for believing an offence has been committed. Where complaints of alleged unlawful activity concerning the use of Irish airports have been made to An Garda Síochána, investigations have ensued and, where appropriate, files have been submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. In the cases investigated, no further action was found to be warranted owing to a lack of evidence of unlawful activity.

The Chicago Convention applies only to civil aircraft and, therefore, the provisions of Article 16 of the convention in respect of the right to search aircraft do not apply to aircraft used in military, customs and police services which are deemed to be state aircraft. As I have stated in the House previously, I am advised that the previous Government received unique assurances, from the highest level of a friendly state, that no extraordinary rendition had taken place through Ireland.  I am also advised that it received legal advice that it was entitled under international law to rely on these assurances which were unqualified and unequivocal that no prisoners had been subject to extraordinary rendition through Ireland.

As the Minister indicated, the question relates to a provision in respect of the safety of airlines and was tabled in order to highlight the double standard. While the convention may not have been used against protesters, it is clear that legislation has been used to stop them. In addition, there is a very lax regime in place in respect of aircraft. I accept that there is an overlap with the Department of Justice and Equality in this regard. Almost 10,500 US flights, either military or civil, have traversed our airspace or landed at Shannon Airport during the past four years. The Minister has confirmed that not one of these aircraft was searched. I do not believe it is adequate to accept an assurance from the US authorities to the effect that just because they have given their word, this should be good enough. As the person with responsibility for the safety of airlines and airports, why has the Minister not initiated a process of random inspections to ensure that safety?

I do not believe I stated inspections had never been carried out. I said the powers under section 33 of the Air Navigation and Transport Act 1988 had never been used by officials of my Department. I cannot state whether the Garda has ever used these or other powers available to it. Where investigations have ensued, files have been submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Further action was not warranted in any of the cases investigated. This was because there was no evidence of unlawful activity.

The cases to which the Minister refers are those brought against protestors. I was merely using them as an example. What I am actually seeking is for the Minister to indicate the action he has taken against airlines and aircraft which may be involved in renditions or the transportation of arms. He has confirmed that he has taken no steps whatsoever to carry out searches of such aircraft.

The assurance we have been given from the highest level is that no prisoners are being rendered, extraordinarily or otherwise, through Irish airports. We have no evidence that renditions have taken place and I have no reason to believe they have occurred. There is a difference between military and civil aviation.

My Department deals only with civil aviation. Civil aircraft carrying weapons or munitions of war landing in or overflying Ireland must have a permit issued by me under the air navigation orders of 1973 and 1989. As outlined, the majority of flights transporting US military personnel through Shannon Airport are operated by commercial airlines under contract to the US military. This means they have civil as opposed to military status.

I advise the Minister to contact Amnesty International.

Sports Capital Programme Applications

Timmy Dooley


96. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in view of the large number of applications for the sports capital grant and the relatively small budget available, if he has had to change the allocation criteria used in 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52912/12]

The question relates to the allocation criteria for the sports capital programme and changes since the last sports capital round in 2008. Responsibility for the sports capital programme has been delegated to the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring. However, he is unable to attend the House today as he is in Brussels attending the European Council of Sports Ministers.

As the Deputy will be aware, there is phenomenal interest in this round of the sports capital programme, the first such round since 2008. A total of €30 million has been allocated to the programme in this round, with €26 million to be allocated to local projects and €4 million to regional projects.

With regard to the local projects, as the Deputy will be aware, funding under the sports capital programme is assessed on a county by county basis. Previous rounds were the subject of considerable public disquiet as the allocations between counties did not have a clear rationale. Between 1998 and 2010, a total of €136 per person was provided in sports capital funding across the country. However, the allocations to individual counties varied significantly. While the best performing county received €196 in sports funding per capita, other counties received a little over half of that amount. However, in order to ensure fairness, the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, has decided that funding will be allocated on a per capita basis to each county, with a weighting for past performance. Based on their historical performance since 1998, a weighting of between 90% and 120% will be applied to the per capita allocations to determine how much funding should be provided for each county. This is, of course, based on there being sufficient eligible projects within each county.

With regard to allocations within each county, every valid application is initially assessed and then receives a score based on a set of published criteria. These criteria are published on my Department’s website and include the extent to which the project will increase the levels of participation or improve performance, especially among women and older citizens; the level of socio-economic disadvantage in the area; the technical merits and financial viability; the extent to which applicant will be able to maintain the completed project; whether the facilities will be shared; and the level of sports capital programme or other Government funding previously received.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Two criteria have been added since 2008 - those relating to the sharing of facilities and previous Government funding. In deciding the final allocations of funding to projects within each county the Minister of State and I will have regard to the following: the performance of each application during the assessment process; ensuring a geographic spread of projects within each county; ensuring an appropriate spread of projects between rural and urban areas within each county; and ensuring there is a spread of projects among different sports.

In respect of regional projects, there are four additional criteria analysed in the initial assessment. They are priority as identified by the relevant national governing body of sport; priority as identified by the Irish Sports Council; the location of the facility within the network of national, regional and municipal multi-sports facilities; and linkages with the local authorities' swimming pools programme. This criterion applies to municipal multi-sports facilities applications only.

I have received what I consider to be troubling information from councillors around the country who have been informed by some clubs in their respective areas that they are not on the favoured list. They seem to have information that is not readily available. I understand from at least one club that it has been told by the local Fine Gael councillor that it has not met the criteria but that he will make an extra effort on its behalf. I was inclined not to believe what I was being told. However, one day I happened to be on Kildare Street and saw a procession of Fine Gael backbenchers en route to the Minister's office. This may have been a coincidence; they may not have been lobbying.

The Deputy never lost it.

I ask the Minister to inform the House as to the level of contact or the number of meetings that have taken place-----


Please, Deputies; this is Deputy Timmy Dooley's question.

Will the Minister tell the House the number of meetings he has had with members of his own party or the Labour Party on the subject of sports capital grants in the period since the applications were submitted? I ask him to provide the House with these details and also to give details of other individuals or delegations involved. Such information would be helpful.

As there is no prohibition on lobbying, people are free to lobby if they so wish. I have received letters from all parties, including the Deputy's. I would need to check my diary, but off the top of my head, I have not had any such meeting. The Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, is handling this matter on my behalf and that of the Department. He is the person who has attended most of these meetings. Councillors and others should not be in possession of any information because the scheme prohibits communication of that nature.

A considerable number of applications are ineligible either because there are no matching funds or because the applicant has no planning permission or does not own the land on which it is proposed to build. One of the difficulties with the scheme is that a very large number of applicants were ineligible in the first instance and consequently could not be given any grants. There is a precedent for Ministers taking the initiative to grant funds to ineligible applicants but that will not be happening on this occasion.

I can understand the ineligibility criteria and am aware of clubs that were rightly deemed ineligible and informed to that effect. I am not talking about ineligible clubs but about clubs that appeared to have met all the stated criteria, both on cursory and more detailed investigation. I am aware, however, of at least two cases in which a Fine Gael councillor told one club money would be delivered and another, while trying to sooth its pain, that it would not. This is less than transparent and less than helpful, particularly at a time when the Government is trying to carry out a loaves-and-fishes exercise with a much smaller budget. I do not question the Government's bona fides but ask the Minister to examine this to try to understand it and publish a list of the meetings that have taken place between him and his backbench colleagues. Such a list would be helpful. I ask the Minister to publish the diary.

I cannot understand how that can be the case because no allocations have been made or signed off on. People may well find out that they have been made promises that cannot be delivered upon but no allocations have been made at this stage.

I have no problem where there is written evidence; I am trying to obtain a picture of what occurs in private meetings.

The Gathering Expenditure

Mick Wallace


97. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on recent criticisms of the Gathering initiative; his views on whether it is an appropriate allocation of resources in view of the fact that 87,000 persons emigrated from here last year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52682/12]

This question relates to The Gathering. There has been a fantastic response thereto across the board, from local communities, voluntary bodies, public bodies, businesses and government.  That is why I was surprised at the tone of some recent adverse comments.

Tourism is a valuable service export.  Encouraging those from overseas, whether Irish or not, to sample what we have to offer is not a shakedown. It is no more so than exporting other goods and services.  With the hotel and accommodation sector already generating additional employment since this Government came into office, tourism can offer jobs to those who might otherwise face a choice between emigration and unemployment. I apologise to nobody for seeking to increase that employment still further by investing in The Gathering.  There is also a parallel aim to further strengthen our connections to all of those overseas who have a kinship with Ireland. I saw myself in Australia the extent to which our diaspora values that objective.

Tourism Ireland is implementing a major promotional drive for The Gathering across the world and has worked with business networks, cultural and sports associations encouraging them to promote The Gathering and to mobilise members to organise events in Ireland during 2013.  In autumn, Tourism Ireland commenced a major consumer campaign to promote The Gathering in key markets, and this will continue into 2013. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and I have attended events during the year to promote the initiative overseas.

Meanwhile, The Gathering project team and Fáilte Ireland are mobilising communities throughout the country and finalising details of the exciting programme of events for 2013, which will be announced shortly. I am determined to continue to promote this unique opportunity for us to show the world all that is best about Ireland, and I know the vast majority of Irish people, at home and abroad, will do so also.

The Minister is well aware of the comments on The Gathering by the former culture ambassador, Mr. Gabriel Byrne. His main comment was that The Gathering has been presented in such a way that it sounds as if we are just trying to make money from the diaspora. Given that so many people have left the country under terrible conditions in recent times, they may find the manner in which The Gathering has been presented as hard to take.

I submitted a question on the termination by the Garda of more than 100,000 fixed-charge penalties from 2008 to 2011, but it was rejected by the Department. The money lost to the State would have paid for 500 patrol cars. Gardaí have approached me, as a Member of the Oireachtas, to express their great concern that honest gardaí are being undermined by this activity. It is corruption and should be investigated. This Parliament should be discussing the matter. My questions for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department of Justice and Equality have been blocked. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, has had my question on his desk since January.

When I put it to Department of Justice and Equality officials, they said they had not investigated yet. This is a road safety issue and the Minister has had the report as well, although probably not for as long.

A question on The Gathering please.

It is a gathering of all the rogues.

This is a huge disappointment. This is corruption that the Government has refused to deal with.

It is a cover-up of questions that the Government does not want to answer.

I understand that question was disallowed but not by me. I imagine it was disallowed by the Ceann Comhairle's office. We have received those allegations, which I take seriously. My officials have met the person making them, as has the chief executive officer of the RSA. However, they are allegations and they need to be investigated. That is why they have been sent to the Department of Justice and Equality with the request that it does so.

The Department has had them since January.

Has the Deputy a supplementary question on The Gathering?

The Minister did not answer my question on The Gathering.

The Deputy is gathering his thoughts. He is a chancer.

The gardaí in question have taken a risk in this matter by coming forward with this information, which is with the Minister since last January. This is a serious matter and I find it hard to believe that the Government has not been more firm in dealing with it.

That is not the subject of the question. Has the Minister anything further to add?

My Department has not had the allegations since January. Once we received the information, we acted expeditiously. I asked my officials to meet the person and they did. The chief executive officer of the RSA has also met the person in question. As it is a Garda matter, it was passed on to the Department of Justice and Equality to investigate. It is something we take seriously and I have raised it with people at the highest level in that Department and in the Garda.