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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 20 Feb 2014

Vol. 831 No. 3

Roads Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Only in Ireland could we have a Bill entitled the Roads Bill where the subject matter is almost exclusively railways. It says something about how we collectively think about transportation - it is all about moving vehicles rather than moving people and goods. That is not just a recent pattern; it has been the traditional pattern, but it needs to change. It has certainly been evident from the 1960s onwards.

If we really studied it we would see that it is part of the problem in respect of how we develop and the additional infrastructure that we require as a consequence of a very scattered settlement pattern. Transport is very important. The merger of the Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, and the National Roads Authority, NRA, will be significant. There has been disproportionate expenditure over the decades on road, as opposed to rail transport. I hope that the merger will inject some new thinking but we cannot take that for granted. The Government and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport must give a lead.

The renaming and amalgamation of the RPA and NRA to form the transport infrastructure service will hopefully go some way towards creating new thinking but it would be useful to reflect on the present culture of the NRA. I have some concerns about that. Anyone who has tried to deal with the NRA knows that it is an impossible organisation to penetrate and very difficult to hold to account. It is a Teflon organisation. I hope there will not be added responsibility in the new organisation without the kind of accountability we require. A change in culture is essential, with the merger. An example of my concern is the shadow tolling clause on the M3 in 2006. This was withheld from public consultation. In effect, the NRA guaranteed the vehicle numbers on the motorway but when they did not materialise up to €30 million of taxpayers’ money was paid to the developers of part of the road. For them it was a win-win-win situation. They won the contract, the profit from building the road and they won again from the taxpayer when the vehicles did not materialise. That, unfortunately, is just one example. We have to do things differently. The NRA was at the helm, making that type of decision. The RPA has suffered over the years from having a great deal of expertise but very little capital to develop critical projects. Will there be a scrap between road and rail within the new agency? Where will the balance lie?

In the early 1990s I was a member of the Dublin Transportation Initiative, which was set up to develop several models for land use and transport planning. The model ultimately developed was the worst case scenario and was not one of the well thought-out and fleshed-out models that would have matched land use and transportation planning. That is part of the reason for the dispersed settlement pattern in which people travel great distances to work and land banks were held by a few. European funding was sought at the time because the greater Dublin area was seen as being at a huge disadvantage due to the serious problem of traffic congestion. We were told it made us very uncompetitive. The greater Dublin area was the driver of much of the industrial development in the country and it was critically important to deal with that. More than 20 years since that initiative and since European funding was leveraged to assist in dealing with that congestion, we do not have the vital piece of infrastructure, the interconnecter that would be the game-changer. If the National Transport Authority has the upper hand and continues to be dominated by the roads lobby and to spend money on roads that deficiency will continue and we will have an uncompetitive arrangement.

The big amalgamations of the railways took place from the 1920s on. Prior to that, the system had developed from private funds throughout the nineteenth century when it was seen as the biggest form of investment. We ended up with three railway headquarters, Broadstone, Kingsbridge and Amiens Street. That was illogical then but it is even more illogical now, given the numbers who need to use it. Connecting it would not only be of significant benefit to the city but would have a national benefit, particularly for the counties on the periphery of Dublin, of which Meath, Kildare and Wicklow are the nearest. We need to develop a transport system that is efficient and makes us competitive. We talk of being competitive in respect of wages but the waste of valuable time when people sit in traffic jams needs to be factored in too.

When we consider the total investment in transportation initiatives we must look at the whole picture, which is not confined to cost but includes impact on air and noise quality and on accident rates. A good rail-based public transport system would bring serious improvements because it would take people off congested roads, assuming we produce a high quality rail infrastructure. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport produced some figures on the cost of a fatality. It does cost-benefit analyses all the time. The cost is approximately €1.5 million per fatality, without speaking of the human cost.

This merger may reduce the number of quangos but what is its object in re-balancing how we move people and goods? Our system should not have a disproportionate bias towards the NRA, at the expense of investment in public transport, in whatever guise that takes. I have concerns about that and about the culture within the NRA. It will not be acceptable to proceed in such a way that something like the shadow tolling can happen, at gigantic cost. The cost of introducing the free medical card for children under six was calculated at €37 million but when one sees the amount of money transferred from this State into the pockets of developers through shadow tolling one sees the opportunities lost. We must make sure that does not happen in future.

When a railroad is built and someone suggests that a service be developed the first thing the people who want rail ask is, when was the last time any of these things made a profit. Apart from tolled roads, when did a road last make a profit? No one ever asks that question.

The road from Castlerea to Galway has never made a profit. It is not possible. On the basis of what many people say about rail, therefore, we should rip up that road and forget about it. We need to adopt a different attitude towards rail and ask about the social dividend and people's ability to get from A to B in an efficient, sustainable way. That does not appear to have been examined, which is taking a blinkered view.

People talk about the infrastructure of our rail network. The greatest pieces of infrastructure are the stations, but all I have seen throughout my lifetime is the architectural rape of these buildings. At the prettiest little stations one could find - they are a tourist attraction - one would get out not knowing what was in the town just to see them, but nobody will get out at these stations to look at PVC windows that have been put in these old buildings. Will people get out at any of the stations that used to have beautiful cast-iron bridges that have now been replaced with brushed aluminium? Are the people who have been running this country that devoid of class that they cannot see beauty when it stares them in the eye?

I see numerous buildings around the country near railway stations that are owned by the State being ripped apart, with ivy growing through the roofs. I saw that happen to two buildings in Castlerea. They solved the problem with one of them by knocking it down and crushing the cut limestone; I do not know where it ended up. That was probably one of the most beautiful buildings in the town. Who makes these silly decisions? We cannot get these buildings back.

When I was mayor of Roscommon we had a celebration at Castlerea train station for the 150th anniversary of rail coming to our area. At the time I was considering what a remarkable change that was for a post-Famine town where thousands of people had died in the workhouses. We went from a situation in which the fastest way of getting from A to B was probably on foot or, if one had a few quid, on a horse, to one in which people could travel tens of miles an hour. I thought it interesting that 150 years down the line, if one will pardon the pun, from the establishment of the most modern transport system on the planet at the time, the day we celebrated the 150th anniversary of its arrival in town, we had broadband communication that was a thousand times slower than that in South Korea. At the time I thought we had not progressed very far.

I hope people might learn from the fact that years ago, even though we were not ruling the country ourselves, the people running it seemed to be confident enough to say that we could have the best in the world. My fear about what is happening here is that it will be a way of burying the idea of rail even further below the big priority of road networks and that eventually we will end up with nothing.

Governments attempted to close our railway station in Castlerea in the 1980s and those the entire way down to Westport. They did not succeed. The fear is that in what the Minister is intending to do, rail will be forgotten - the plan does not have any real mention of rail - but whatever happens in the future, I ask that whoever is running the system learn from the fact that what is left will not be replaced if we get rid of it, because we no longer seem to be able to produce phenomenal architecture. We only need to look at Athlone, which had a very pretty station on the Roscommon side. If it was on the Westmeath side that would have been fine also. This is not a "Roscommon is more important than Westmeath" argument. They built what I consider to be an architectural abomination on the Westmeath side. In terms of what they did with the original station, they did not even board up the windows in a pretty way. They put in bare concrete blocks in the windows. They might as well have sprayed graffiti on it as well and said, "We don't care. Who's going to stop us?"

The next speaking slot is shared by Deputies Noel Harrington, Peter Fitzpatrick and Andrew Doyle. I call Deputy Harrington, who has ten minutes.

I welcome this Bill and I am pleased to speak on it. It is a confirmation of general Government policy to consolidate many of our State agencies where it makes sense to do so. I stand to be corrected but I believe that since this Government came to office we have abolished approximately 40 agencies to save costs. That is prudent governance, and I welcome all those moves. This is a welcome addition to those moves that will not only save money but make sense. It is also appropriate in an era when we do not have the same capital investment in our transport infrastructure that we had in the late 1990s and from 2000 to 2007 and 2008. Much of that capital investment was very welcome and it resulted in many of the infrastructural projects we see today, particularly in our motorway and rail infrastructure, but it has come at a huge cost. It is fair to say that from 1997 to 2007, from figures provided by the Comptroller and Auditor General and from elsewhere, the cost overruns and the management issues around the delivery of our national primary routes meant that the expenditure came in at €3.5 billion above the projections. That is a scandalous figure from our recent history, on which we should reflect, because if we had that kind of money available to us now, we could deliver much more on capital investments. One would think over that period that nobody else in the country or in the world had ever built a road. We completely mismanaged the delivery of these projects, and we are still paying for that mismanagement.

Thankfully, since 2007, the NRA has done an extraordinary job in delivering projects, ahead of schedule in almost all cases and ahead of budget. That must be welcomed. It has stepped up to the mark in that regard in recent years.

The next step is the amalgamation of the functions of the NRA and the Railway Procurement Agency, which makes sense because of the huge overlap in terms of procurement, design, IT and different specialties. The new agency will benefit enormously from the shared knowledge and expertise these two agencies will bring to the table, aside from the fact that in the medium term we will see annual savings of between €3 million to €4 million. That is a welcome initiative. I note that there will be some initial costs as a result of this amalgamation, but they will be greatly outdone by the annual savings.

We do not have a rail infrastructure in my constituency of Cork South West. We have not had a rail infrastructure in Cork South West since the 1950s, and there is an important lesson to be learned from that. I listened to Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan's contribution. I do not often agree with the Deputy but I agree with him that where rail infrastructure, for example, needs to be replaced or even removed, a corridor should be left in place. When the rail infrastructure in west Cork was removed it was a narrow-minded decision to allow the corridor be returned to landowners. That corridor would be an invaluable resource today and would, if the analysis stacks up, allow for the delivery of a rail infrastructure back to west Cork.

The only national road infrastructure in the entire west Cork area is the national secondary route, the N71, which has been starved of investment. It is a single carriageway running from Cork city along the coast to Bantry and south Kerry. It has to contend with tourist traffic, construction and agricultural vehicles, day-to-day traffic and pedestrians. One simply cannot make a safe journey along it at speeds that could reasonably be expected on national routes in other parts of the country. I urge the new agency to seriously consider a targeted investment programme to improve the N71.

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has undertaken a major initiative in respect of the wild Atlantic way which will be vital to the future of tourism in this country. I would like to see a single agency playing a decisive role in the development of this route by assessing its usage by visitors and locals alike in the various local authority areas. Depending on one's point of view, it starts either in Fanad or Kinsale and passes through the various local authority areas along the west coast. Much of the road infrastructure is local or regional roads but other parts consist of national routes. I foresee problems in managing what will be one of Europe's most iconic tourist routes and hope the new body will play a supervisory role in the maintenance and development of the route.

Public-private partnerships are increasingly important in delivering transport infrastructure. The relationship between the State and private companies has evolved and we would be naive not to learn lessons or change policies, when appropriate. It is worth considering one project now coming to an end, namely, the East Link toll bridge. It is far from my constituency, but it is relevant to consider whether it has achieved the best possible value for money. The bridge cost approximately £6.1 million to construct, but in the past 30 years commuters have paid between €60 million and €80 million in tolls to National Toll Roads, Dublin City Council and Dublin Port. Have we learned lessons from the project that can help us to better manage PPP projects in a period in which funding is challenging? Similar questions arise about the Limerick tunnel. I understand a subsidy will be required for the tunnel because traffic volumes are not as large as expected. I hope we will see greater volumes of commercial and other traffic as the economy picks up and that the subsidies can be clawed back as volumes increase.

This is a significant Bill that forms part of a wider Government policy to amalgamate and consolidate agencies. I hope the new agency will benefit from the pooled expertise of the NRA and the RPA and look forward to much improved investment along the N71 in my constituency.

This Bill provides for the dissolution of the RPA and the transfer of its functions, staff, property and liabilities to the NRA. The newly expanded NRA will be renamed the Transport Infrastructure Service to reflect its expanded functions and the fact that it is the result of a merger of two bodies rather than a takeover. This change is consistent with the Government's plans for public sector reform and, in particular, its programme for rationalising State agencies. Implications of the Bill include the prospect of at least €3 million in savings.

The new organisation will benefit considerably by having access to a range of specialist and technical expertise. The technical areas of expertise include project management, transport planning, negotiation and management of PPP contracts, engineering design and advice, environment procurement and property acquisition and management. There will be scope for greater efficiencies in procurement and the new body will be encouraged to seek opportunities to provide technical support, advice and services for other bodies on a commercial basis. The RPA has already generated an income of €1 million through the international contracts it has won.

The merger will deliver a streamlined organisation that will be a leader in the planning, delivery and management of transport infrastructure and will be able to demonstrate the best and most efficient use of scarce public resources. The need to restructure the institutional framework in the transport sector is recognised, particularly in the light of the reduced capital investment programme. However, the merger will allow core technical staff and professional experts to be retained in the public sector to support the future development of transport infrastructure. A number of projects are proceeding within the context of the Government's five year capital plan for 2012 to 2016.

The primary functions of the RPA are to secure the provision of such light railways and metro railway infrastructures as may be determined by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport; monitor and publish regular reports on the safety of light railway and metro infrastructure; enter into agreements with other persons to secure the provision of such railway infrastructure, whether by means of concessions, joint ventures or public partnerships; acquire and facilitate the development of land adjacent to railway works, subject to an application for a railway order under the relevant Acts, where such acquisition and development contributes to the economic viability of the works; and pursue commercial opportunities in offering advisory services, particularly in the international market. The primary functions of the NRA are to secure the provision of a safe and efficient network of national roads; exercise overall responsibility for planning, construction and maintenance of national roads; prepare or arrange for the preparation of road designs, maintenance programmes and schemes for the provision of traffic signs on national roads; secure and carry out construction and maintenance works on national roads; allocate grants in respect of national roads; and carry out training and research or testing activities in regard to any of its functions.

This merger has been recommended for financial and other reasons. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has stated the merger will allow the new organisation to become a leader in the planning, delivery and management of transport infrastructure in Ireland. The 2009 McCarthy report on public service numbers and expenditure recommended that the RPA and the NRA be merged into a single entity in the light of a significant overlap between the two bodies in terms of the services they delivered on behalf of the State and the scale and expertise of their staff in capital project management, procurement procedures and PPP contract management. The merger of the two bodies will create a single entity with responsibility for the procurement of all major rail and national road infrastructure.

I welcome the opportunity to speak about this important Bill which continues the work that started with the McCarthy report on finding efficiencies in the operation of national agencies and authorities which are also known as quangos.

It merges the NRA and the RPA into what essentially is a new national roads authority which will be called the Transport Infrastructure Service, which makes sense. Given that the 2010 budget for the administration of both agencies was of the order of €25 million, the projected saving of at least €3 million annually, presumably, mainly in administration, is significant.

The ability of an enlarged authority to be a significant player in the public private partnership market is of greater relevance because there will be collective in-house expertise in the areas of public transport and the provision of the road network. With an improving economy, as we have seen in the case of the N11-Newlands Cross bundle, it was possible, after many years of trying, for which I commend the NRA for its perseverance, to secure funding for public private partnership work which, as far as I am aware, is on schedule in both cases and progressing. These are two vital pieces of national infrastructure and both Deputy John Browne and I share an interest in the piece along the east coast, the N11.

I seek clarification on the additional functions of the NRA. On the amendments to the Roads Act 1993, the Bill looks at the conferral of additional functions on the NRA by the Minister. Specifically, it looks at the NRA specifying standards and by-laws on road maintenance, grants, court proceedings for unpaid tolls and the accountability of the chief executive. Perhaps the Minister might clarify whether this will be in his gift by way of statutory instrument.

Deputy Noel Harrington made a valid point on the wild Atlantic way. An opportunity arises from time to time, the potential of which is evident in the Greenway in County Mayo, to make use of disused railway lines which are ideal for walking and cycling for tourism and leisure purposes. People are increasingly in favour of using such amenities. There are instances where old railway lines are no longer in use and what was Irish Rail more or less handed over the property to whoever the adjacent landowner was. I refer, for example, to the Woodenbridge to Coolattin Estate where the Earls of Wicklow were based and where it is intended to put in place a walk-cycle path from Arklow to Coolattin. At one end of the estate there is the Tomnafinnoge oak wood and there are in existence many walkways, but there is an issue with ownership in that the property has been transferred and is no longer the property of the State. Is there potential for the new agency to look at acquiring the land ceded by CPO in the public interest? It is on the register and, for various reasons, people are hesitant to give it back or to allow wayleave on it. This is something that should be looked at because there is significant potential for its development.

My first speech in the Dáil was on a roads Bill and I was advised to be parochial. I ask that the new agency look at the N81 on the western side of the county. It is the route that has been neglected, although it is a busy one. Admittedly, it is not as busy as the N11 or many others, but many parts of it are way below standard for a national primary route.

I welcome the Bill. Given the potential to reduce costs and streamline infrastructure planning, as a party, we support this legislation. However, we must look at the background to it. There has been a 17% cut in the funding for regional and local road maintenance works this year at a time when motorists are contributing €4 billion in taxes to the Exchequer. The Minister must outline the savings achieved. A figure of €300 million has been mentioned. I would like the Minister to outline how he intends to save that money by the amalgamation of the Railway Procurement Agency and the National Roads Authority.

I always felt the Railway Procurement Agency was one of the better quangos. We saw how it delivered the light rail and metro infrastructure in Dublin. The Luas was an excellent and successful project. The RPA is also dealing with the Luas cross-city project which will connect and expand Luas services at a cost of €368 million and which is to be operational by 2017.

Whereas I always felt the Railway Procurement Agency was worthwhile, successful and doing a good job, I would have had serious reservations about the National Roads Authority. I always felt the condition of road infrastructure and the way the National Roads Authority was operated depended on who was Minister at the time. Generally, the county or region from which the Minister for transport came benefited. In the south-east region we did not benefit in the way we should have, given the expanding population, having regard to the port of Rosslare and all of the advantages of the region. We are still waiting for the bypasses around Enniscorthy and New Ross which we are told will be provided by way a public private partnership. Recently the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, stated work might start in 2014. Certainly, that would be welcome because both Enniscorthy and New Ross have become traffic bottlenecks. This has been an ongoing issue for many years. The Gorey bypass project was successful. Other than that, there has been little expenditure by the NRA in the south-east. I hope that, following the amalgamation, we will see the major road projects about which I have spoken get under way as quickly as possible.

The cuts in the allocations for regional and local roads will have a serious effect on how local authorities operate in 2014. In rural areas of Wexford and other counties many secondary roads are full of potholes and breaking up at an alarming rate and the reduction of 17% will cause serious problems for local authorities. We are also told that revenue collected through the local property and water taxes will not benefit local authorities until 2015 or 2016. As a result of the damage done to roads by flooding in recent weeks and months, it is important that the Government make additional funding available to deal with problems faced by the local authorities in road maintenance.

There has been much talk recently about the reduction in the number of quangos. The Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has stated 46 were done away with. If one looks at the amalgamation of VECs across the country which accounts for most of the quangos that have been done away with, there has been little real change. In recent weeks there was the setting up of Uisce Éireann which will probably become the biggest quango of all. It is overstaffed, costs are too high and it will be full of bureaucracy and red tape. We have had dealings with it, both in the House and at committee level, in recent weeks.

The operations of Uisce Éireann leave a lot to be desired, including how the company was set up, how it will be funded and the future costs of running that body. I would like to see more quangos being done away with, along with more amalgamations. I would also like to see some of the better structures being retained. It would be better, however, if some of them could either be amalgamated or completely abolished.

Section 17 allows the NRA to engage in the procurement of goods and services for regional and local roads. The Minister should clarify whether this Bill is signalling the end of local authority control of local and regional road maintenance. Local authorities have already been divested of refuse collection, water infrastructure, roads, driving licences and road tax functions. I would like to know what the Minister feels about the future role of local authorities and local government in general. Councils will be top heavy with members and staff. Given all the infrastructural elements that have been taken from them in the last two years, they will become no more than glorified talking shops.

In other countries more and more power is being devolved to local authorities yet we have gone in the opposite direction. We have withdrawn many valuable services that such authorities used to provide very well. For some reason, however, such services are either being privatised or allocated to existing or new quangos.

The Bill itself is worthwhile and we certainly support the overall structure of what the legislation intends to achieve. I do not know what effect it will have on railway infrastructure around the country, however. Earlier, a colleague from Cork mentioned the closure of railway lines in his area. In the past 18 months, the Wexford to Waterford railway line has been closed, which cuts off the rail network linking us to the south west. It was a major mistake to close that line.

Rosslare is one of the most important ports in the country and has often been described as the gateway to Europe. Its structure is unusual in that Iarnród Éireann and certain UK firms are involved in running the port. Some years ago, when it was envisaged that the port would be taken over and re-established under a port authority, the late Séamus Brennan stated that not alone would legislation have to be passed in the Oireachtas but also in the UK Parliament to facilitate the changes at Rosslare.

Some time ago, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, established a group to examine the future of Rosslare port. It is an important port for the country and for the south east in particular. More important, it needs to be upgraded to meet present day requirements. A number of additional shipping companies have come to Rosslare in the past year and are now operating to France, Spain and the UK. We hope to see more ferry companies operating from Rosslare. A major investment is needed for the port to provide all the modern facilities that large vessels require.

The Minister should clarify how €300 million in savings can be achieved. Where will the local authority fit in under section 17 of the Bill? Will the council have any future role in local and regional road maintenance, or will it all be taken over by a new body? If councils lose such services there will be very little left for them to do.

I welcome the Bill, however, and we will table amendments to it on Committee Stage. I am sure the Minister will be only too willing to take them on board.

The next speaking slot includes Deputies O'Reilly, Kyne and Eoghan Murphy. I call Deputy O'Reilly first and he has ten minutes.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and congratulate the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, on bringing the legislation before the House. It is another effort to use public moneys more efficiently and thus become more cost effective.

The move to merge and rebrand the NRA and the RPA as the transport infrastructure service, or agency, will greatly increase efficiency and reduce costs by avoiding a duplication of resources and the in-house expertise of both agencies.

The new transport infrastructure agency is a merger of two existing, well functioning bodies. Their merger represents the most efficient use of our financial resources. In addition, it is a clear illustration of the Minister's, and this Government's, commitment to abolish the proliferation of State agencies and enhancing their democratic accountability.

It is expected that the pooling of resources and expertise will increase in-house capabilities and reduce the agency's reliance on external consultants, thereby saving on costs. That is a critical point. I admire the highly qualified and independent Civil Service in this country, including local authority staff. They are people of the highest calibre who are independent of all political parties. I am always amazed by the degree to which consultants have to be brought in to supplement their work. Any effort to reduce that bill is welcome.

The McCarthy report, which recommended this merger in 2009, predicted it would generate savings in the region of €3 million to €4 million, as well as an overall reduction in the level of Exchequer funding. It is a significant saving for very necessary services. The McCarthy report was independent of any Government party so it provides a good benchmark. The merger will follow other largely successful efforts by the Minister to increase the efficiency and democratic accountability of State agencies. These include the merger of Dublin Tourism into Fáilte Ireland and the amalgamation of Dundalk and Dublin ports.

There are currently 40 fewer State agencies than three years ago. This is something to be commended and this particular piece of legislation represents an addition to the list. I agree with the last speaker that we need fewer such bodies. Given the considerable savings involved, this is an important starting point in achieving such efficiencies.

I welcome the inclusion of section 13 of the Bill, which ensures that the staff of the dissolved body will be retained with no threat to their remuneration or superannuation scheme. All their conditions therefore will remain in place, which is only as it should be. I also welcome the Minister's reassurances on that point.

Section 17 provides that the NRA will undertake procurement of goods and services on behalf of road authorities, in relation to regional and local roads, at the request of the Minister. In that context, it is vital that the expertise and knowledge within our local authorities remain at centre stage. The expertise of local authority engineering staff should be used to the maximum extent.

This section will also allow the agency, which will be armed with a combination of specialist skills and technical expertise, to compete for external contracts on a commercial basis.

I welcome the clause providing that the Minister has the final say on when and where the procurement will take place, ensuring an important level of accountability and transparency. Section 18 follows on a similar theme to the previous one, whereby it gives the new agency the additional capacity to interact with local government in the provision of services and in an advisory capacity on various issues such as planning and traffic management. The roads section in the Cavan local authority has an excellent service record and I know it will embrace this new change and collaborate successfully with the new transport infrastructure service. Having said that, I want a ministerial assurance in the concluding remarks that there will be no diminution of the input of the local authority and the in-house expertise it has accumulated. That should be the foremost resource in dealing with roads.

In part 4, section 25 states that the Minister has the power to request that the NRA make grant assistance from money sanctioned by the Oireachtas available to local authorities for local and regional roads. This year, County Cavan received €9,137,150 from the Department in funding for regional and local roads. When compared to last year's figures, there is a small reduction in the overall figure. I am anxious that the Minister give an assurance that Cavan will receive an additional allocation later in the year, as was received in previous years. Cavan County Council has an excellent track record of the good use of these resources and the efficient development of services. I will refer later to the absence of a railway and other means of transport. Cavan County Council has an excellent track record in appropriating an adequate amount of resources towards various road projects throughout the county. However, the recent inclement weather has impacted upon road conditions throughout the county and it strengthens our case for a top-up or a second allocation this year.

In addition to the weather, we just do not have rail. The railway systems in the county were dismantled. Recently, successful agribusiness and intensive farming have emerged, and while they are very welcome, they place an extra strain on the road structure which must be factored in. It is important economic activity from the point of view of the creation of employment and it should be supported.

The NRA is currently engaged on a number of key projects under the Government's capital investment programme and I know that the Minister is committed to them. The east-west link, which would link Greenore, near Dundalk, to Sligo, is dear to my heart. County Cavan is the lead authority for the development and delivery of the project. It is a 75 km project and is estimated to cost somewhere in the region of €150 million. It has received a significant level of Government investment since 2007, over €2 million, and this has brought the project up to preliminary design stage. This year it received an extra €100,000, but I would like a commitment in the Minister's reply that the infrastructure, which is critical to industrial and regional development in the area, will be given priority and that funding will be granted to the east-west link when it is available. It is vital to Abbott Ireland in Cootehill and Carton Brothers in Shercock, County Cavan, an employer of over 600 people. These employers are critical in an area that does not attract inward investment as easily as larger metropolitan areas. For that reason, I consider it vital expenditure and I would like to hear the Minister comment on the prospects for the east-west link in his final reply.

I welcome this Bill as it will create efficiencies and savings of up to €4 million in administrative costs. I hope that within this the local authorities play a vital role, as they have to date, and that it will be in no way diminished. I hope that in the ministerial reply there will be good news for County Cavan and the constituency of Cavan-Monaghan in respect of further allocations during the year and the vital infrastructural project that is the east-west link. It was so sad that we lost the railway network. The only way we can make do until we restore it is to get the infrastructural support we need.

I welcome the publication of the Bill. There is a clear commitment in the programme for Government to reduce the number of State agencies or quangos. I never liked the term "quangos" because I understand that these State agencies play a role, but there can be cost savings and a more efficient use of public money from their amalgamation. The Government has a good record in ensuring that we have around 40 fewer State agencies. I welcome the Bill to dissolve the Rail Procurement Agency and to subsume its role into the NRA. The projects on the NRA website are all Dublin-based, which is fine, so it is a Dublin-oriented agency. We must look nationwide in terms of whether we need the agency to focus only on Dublin projects.

The future of rail is important and I acknowledge it as a vital part of our public transport infrastructure. Hindsight is wonderful and some decisions are taken that the State regrets. An example is the closing down of the old Connemara railway in the 1930s. If it was with us today it would be a major tourism asset in the region. The decision cannot be reversed, but there are plans for a greenway, which is an exciting cycle and walkway project, along the old railway from Clifden to Oughterard. It has gone through the planning process and the development of the line. The plan is to develop it to Moycullen and into Galway city. It is an exciting plan and we hope to emulate the Achill to Mulranny route.

West on Track is a body that strives to promote the old western rail corridor. A colleague of mine, Councillor Peter Feeney, was at the founding meeting of West on Track. It is heartening to see the increase in support to 38% for the use of the railway line. This is due in part to online ticketing, cheaper prices when booking online and the minimal increase in the journey time. We must look at what is possible through increasing the speed of rail, better marketing and better online booking. There is also potential to remove some freight from the Dublin area and to encourage the use of rail for freight to and from Foynes and Waterford ports. It may also be possible in Galway with the port expansion plans. There are also reports that the Athenry to Tuam line could be reopened for passenger use. This can be examined.

Section 12 states the NRA may use the new name "Transport Infrastructure Service". It does not roll off the tongue, and perhaps the Minister will consider a new name such as Transport Ireland, which is more memorable. I agree with the comments of Deputy Joe O'Reilly with regard to the role of the local authorities and their continued important role in road allocation, given the greater powers for the NRA planned in the Bill.

The Galway city outer bypass is a vital piece of infrastructure for my region and it will open up the west of Galway city and the Connemara area. It is hugely important to tourism, business and the people who reside in the area. It will remove unnecessary journeys through Galway.

It will improve the quality of life for the residents of Galway city as well, which is very important. I also acknowledge the ongoing work on the planning of the Moycullen bypass and tendering for the N59 upgrade on the approach to my village of Moycullen. It is a very important piece of infrastructure that I have been trying to push since I first came to the county council in 2004. It is near enough to my house and I hope the project will be included in a stimulus fund this year if there is to be one. I am confident that will happen. I commend the Minister, who visited Moycullen during the autumn and met residents along the road. I hope we can make progress this year.

I will pick up where the last speaker left off with regard to the major potential for rail in this country, including passenger services and especially freight. I hope when the new agency is up and running it will focus as part of its work programme on how we can expand and improve that area of transport infrastructure in our economy. I very much welcome the Bill, which is important legislation that furthers our reform programme by rationalising two State agencies, finding greater efficiencies and ultimately reducing the burden on the State, which is to be welcomed.

Part of the rationale behind this merger is the reduced capital investment programme we have seen in the past number of years. It is important to take that into account but it is also important to realise that this will not always be the case and in the coming years there will be a rationale, calls and funding to increase our capital expenditure, and we must have the right resources in place if we are to do that. In one sense I caution that we should not lose the people we may need in the coming years because current levels of capital expenditure are so low. For example, light rail is the future for Dublin city and I would hate to see our expertise in the area go because there will be less expenditure once the Luas cross-city project is finished. I remain to be convinced by metro north and the DART underground, and light rail is the way to go for a small medieval city like Dublin. I hope the new agency will work in that direction.

When the merger taking place now is completed, I expect to see a reduction in staff numbers as the agencies should be able to find efficiencies and resources by removing certain duplication that would have existed if there were no redundancies. The redundancies are offered on a voluntary basis, of course, and it will be interesting to see the final figure for this new agency after the merger. I hope the number of staff employed will reflect the needs of the agency.

There is a difficulty in merging agencies like these but projects are still being implemented. We are seeing that now in Dublin city, as Deputies coming to Leinster House will have noticed the changed traffic management plan around St. Stephen's Green, Dawson Street and Kildare Street and how there is an impact on the area. It is an excellent project and the Minister is absolutely correct in proceeding with it, as it will be very important for Dublin city, all the businesses and the people who come to the city, as well as tourists. It is important we maintain a strong communications plan throughout with local businesses so they are aware of the phasing for this project, as it is happening over a number of years and it is having a big impact on the area around the city. Equally important for us is to give the message to the public that the city is open for business and despite these works, which will bring very big improvements in future, today, tomorrow and for the coming two years the city is open for business. Dublin city centre will remain a place to come to eat, drink, meet people, do tourist activities, shop and all the other activities that can be done in the city.

There are other aspects of the Bill that deal with collection of tolls. In Dublin city the East Link will move into the ownership of Dublin City Council soon and there is a question regarding maintaining the toll rate for people crossing the Liffey. There are different ways of looking at this, and as the payment of a toll at the bridge is already accepted, perhaps it might be foolish to remove the toll. There is potential scope to reduce it but if it is to remain at any level, the funding should be ring-fenced for transport projects. Immediately, I can think of dublinbikes, as we are seeking funding to expand that project south and north of the canals. The dublinbikes scheme is a massive improvement to the city and every bit of money we can spend on it will save the city and individuals money in the long run. If the East Link toll is to remain, we should invest the money in projects like dublinbikes, cycling infrastructure and road maintenance. With the change of ownership for the East Link, I hope there will be scope to improve traffic patterns over the Samuel Beckett bridge, which are not necessarily convenient to all people crossing the Liffey at that junction.

As we are discussing a roads Bill, I will mention the Smarter Transport Bill I published in 2011, which relates to the use of car clubs, parking on public streets and the ability to provide parking designated only for electric vehicles where there are charging points. I understand from the Minister that those regulations are being drafted and it would be excellent if they could be expedited and put in place as quickly as possible. We are seeing more electric vehicle charging points around the city but spaces are being blocked by people who do not have electric vehicles, which is a waste of infrastructure. If we want to continue the roll-out of electric vehicles in the city, we must ensure that our policy and by-laws are joined up and make sense.

I understand Deputy Anne Ferris is to share time with Deputies Seán Kenny and Maloney.

That is correct. In so far as this legislation will consolidate the intellectual resources of the Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, with the National Roads Authority, NRA, I welcome it. There is a natural synergy between the agencies; they are employers of engineering professionals and other people of experience in the area of infrastructural development. There is a case for having a single authority for the oversight of all of Ireland's strategic infrastructure development and there is already a basis for the argument in that the planning legislation for such development falls under the umbrella of the Strategic Infrastructure Act applied by An Bord Pleanála. That is an idea for future consideration.

Before us today is a proposal that will see the amalgamation of key resources of two of the State's infrastructural development agencies in a manner that could concentrate professional expertise and facilitate increased efficiencies. The Bill facilitates the application of procurement expertise currently available in the offices of the RPA and the NRA to local authority procurement. There are significant efficiencies to be gained through the management of single national procurement contracts for materials like road salt for the winter de-icing programme or stone chippings for surface dressing of roads.

I am also looking forward to the rejuvenated road design programme that can now proceed because of the potential amalgamation of design resources. The delay currently encountered in the mornings by traffic on the N11 travelling from County Wicklow to Dublin and in the evenings on the return journey is nothing short of scandalous. The money and earning potential wasted because workers and business owners must crawl through traffic jams is certainly not assisting economic recovery. I look forward to seeing the application of the super engineering resource to the much-needed revival of infrastructure projects that seem to have been sitting on the backburner in the aftermath of the economic collapse in 2010.

There are a number of projects I expect to be given priority by the new service in the development of the design programme, and a strengthening of the rail service to County Wicklow is overdue. The much awaited extension of the Luas to Bray and connection with the DART line would have economic benefits for retail and residents along the line. It would also facilitate the transfer of tourists to County Wicklow. Most tourists in Dublin never leave the capital city despite the stunning mountain landscape available just a few miles away. The proposed transport links to County Wicklow will grow national tourism and increase efficiencies in the national and local economies.

I welcome the progress on the N11 public private partnership contracts for the widening of the route to four lanes between Arklow and Rathnew. Given the additional engineering and design resources that will be in place as a result of this Bill, I also expect progress on the N11 upgrade from Dublin to County Wicklow. Key bottlenecks, like Fassaroe and Kilcroney junctions, must be addressed as a matter of priority. The N11 was developed over the years in a piecemeal fashion and significant stretches are non-compliant with current design standards and cannot deal with current traffic volumes. The growth of Bray and Greystones over the past ten years or so, together with increased long-distance commuting to Dublin from towns further south like Arklow, Wicklow and Gorey, has generated very large traffic volumes on the N11. Traffic demand on the route is at saturation point and there have been too many accidents on the N11 through Wicklow, and not all are connected to speed. To resolve the problem we will need road and rail design and procurement, with the provisions for staffing before us today.

The problem of increasing capacity on the N11 from Dublin to Wicklow will also necessitate an enhanced bus service to several Wicklow towns. Before any further office and industrial development is feasible in Sandyford, Cherrywood and Bray, the necessary capacity improvements to the N11 must come about through road works, increased rail links and new bus routes. Without these improvements, there is just no additional capacity on the N11 at peak hours.

The amalgamation of natural engineering resources is a fine idea as long as it results in increased efficiencies and the effective delivery of necessary national infrastructure. There is clearly scope for achieving further efficiencies in this regard. I await with anticipation the output of the new service in its first year and I and others will be watching this closely.

The proposal to merge the National Roads Authority, NRA, and Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, is consistent with the Government's plans for public sector reform and, in particular, its programme for the rationalisation of State agencies. The amalgamation is being implemented through the dissolution of the RPA and the transfer of its functions and staff to the NRA. The merger will add one more body to the 43 State agencies already merged or amalgamated. It is expected that there will be over 100 fewer State agencies and public bodies before the term of the Government ends. This will lead to a more efficient public sector that can deliver real developments for the betterment of the country.

The merger of the NRA and RPA will create a new organisation that will be a leader in the planning, delivery and management of transport infrastructure, demonstrating the best and most efficient use of public resources. The need for restructuring of the institutional framework in the transport sector is recognised. However, through the merger, core technical and professional skills will be retained in the public sector to support the future development of transport infrastructure. The body comprising the merged NRA and RPA will remain a non-commercial State body and it will be given the operational title Transport Infrastructure Service, TIS, to reflect better its expanded functions. The new organisation will benefit from combining the technical expertise and experience available in both the NRA and-or the RPA.

Section 6 of the Bill provides the main function of the legislation, namely, to transfer the RPA to the NRA. The section also provides that any reference to the RPA that relates to a function transferred under the section is to be construed as a reference to the NRA.

Section 10 sets out provisions to ensure continuity after the transfer to the NRA is completed with regard to functions, assets and liabilities of the RPA. Anything related to the transfer of the functions of the RPA not completed on its dissolution can be carried on or completed by the NRA. Every instrument and document made by the RPA before dissolution will be made by the NRA. Any reference to the RPA in the memorandum and articles of any company will be construed as a reference to the NRA.

Section 13 is an important provision that provides for the transfer of the staff from the RPA to the NRA on the dissolution day. Staff will not have less favourable terms and conditions of service relating to remuneration than they enjoyed in the RPA before its dissolution. I welcome that.

Section 14 provides that a transferred person’s superannuation arrangements will continue in accordance with existing RPA pension schemes, as applied before the dissolution day. Subsection (2) is a technical provision to prevent circumstances where RPA staff could inadvertently become members of the single pension scheme introduced by the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme and Other Provisions) Act 2012.

I hope the fact the legislation is referred to as the Roads Bill does not mean the NRA's functions will be prioritised over those of the RPA. Rail infrastructure is still underdeveloped, much more so than road infrastructure. I would like to see an amendment to the legislation that ensures a balance between the NRA and RPA components of the TIS to ensure road investment will not dominate over investment in railways. Simply put, we need to build more railway infrastructure, particularly in urban areas.

The recent storms affecting the entire country brought home to us the reality that climate change is happening. I am not dismissing at all the need to maintain our road network or invest in new roads but it does not make much sense to invest everything in the road network when there are other means of transport that people need and want, such as rail transport. In that light, I am very pleased the initiative has been taken to merge the two Luas lines in Dublin. I will be watching that project with interest. I hope progress is made on the DART underground interconnector when capital expenditure is reviewed. This large project would revolutionise public transport in Dublin and improve the road network around the city because it would relieve traffic congestion, reduce carbon emissions and address the question of climate change. I support the Bill.

I welcome this technical Bill, which transfers the Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, and all its functions to the National Roads Authority, NRA. There will be one less quango as a result of it. A policy objective of the Government was to reduce the number of quangos. In that regard, I welcome the Bill. I hope the NRA will now have scope to be adventurous in devising transport solutions for the 21st century. I understand from some colleagues in Dublin that the suggested rapid bus transport initiative could be a very cost-effective alternative to rapid rail.

This Bill seeks to amend the Roads Act 1993, which outlines the responsibility of road authorities for the maintenance and construction of public roads. As the House will know, there has been considerable damage to roads across the country because of flooding, including in north Tipperary and Clare. It seems the Government devolves funding annually to local authorities to fix roads. The roads are fixed but they are not fixed with any particular regard, or sufficient regard, to drainage, thus causing problems when it rains. It is not entirely unexpected that it might rain in Ireland. It rains every year; it is just a question of how much. When it rains, the same roads need to be repaired again the following year, largely because the drains were not repaired.

Two issues arise from this. First, section 13 of the Roads Act 1993, as amended, sets out the responsibility of road authorities for the maintenance and construction of public roads. It is stated that it is the function of a local authority to maintain and construct all local roads. Section 76 empowers the roads authorities to maintain and install drains etc., but it does not require them to do so. This might be an opportune time to consider requiring road authorities to maintain drains beside roads. Much money could be saved by requiring the opening of drains at the same time as a road is being fixed. I am not suggesting wording for an amendment at this stage but the Department might look into it. Perhaps we will revert to it on Committee Stage.

I am aware that the Department gives considerable grants to local authorities to repair roads, as I mentioned. An inspectorate in the Department used to carry out inspections. Guidelines are issued by the Department on the camber of roads, and a minimum of 3% is stipulated therein. I am not referring to County Clare or north Tipperary specifically. As Members, we travel a lot around the country and note places where there is no drainage whatsoever and where water pools on the roads. Considerable moneys have been spent on these roads. I understand the NRA said it would carry out the functions of the inspectorate but it is no longer doing so. In effect, therefore, there is nobody inspecting local authorities after they receive the money to ensure they carry out the works properly and ensure the proper camber and appropriate drainage. If this were done, considerable State moneys might be saved.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on the amalgamation of the Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, and National Roads Authority, NRA. They are a good fit in terms of critical infrastructure delivery. Over their relatively short periods of existence, both have acquitted themselves in a reasonably efficient manner.

In so far as they are a good fit they also complement the Government's endeavour to reduce the number of quangos. The term "quangos" has often been used as an almost pejorative term, and my political party is somewhat culpable in this regard although I do not believe it was used in any way to undermine the dedication or professionalism of people working in those bodies. However, there has been significant progress on that policy initiative. Of the 46 or 48 authorities identified originally, more than 90% of them have been progressed to amalgamations, abolition or being subsumed back into their parent Department. That is reflective of where we are in terms of demanding the maximum efficiencies. We much acknowledge that the public service, which has been much maligned in many respects during the downturn, has worked with this agenda and has embraced change in a very significant way with regard to work practices, organisations and so forth. That is to its eternal credit and I thank the public servants individually and their leadership in their unions.

In the context of amalgamating and abolishing these bodies, we have also not been averse to establishing new ones, and it is important to acknowledge that. They have been established on a case-by-case basis for good reasons. It is not as if we are implacably opposed to the principle. We should proceed with it where it makes good sense, but for a long period of time there was certainly scope for efficiencies.

With regard to this amalgamation, my colleague, Deputy Seán Kenny, said he hoped the Railway Procurement Agency would not be diminished in its standing relative to road expenditure. I wish to make a case in the other direction. It probably depends on where one comes from. If one is in the Pale, critical infrastructure is rail, DART, Luas and so forth. In my area roads are of primary importance and I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Alan Kelly, will bring that relative balance to the Department in respect of the consideration of budgets in the future. Everybody wants the best possible infrastructure that is efficient for their area, but in rural areas roads are the life blood of commerce, social engagement and so forth so we must ensure those budgets are not disproportionate relative to each other.

I wish to acknowledge the progress being made on the N22 in my constituency by the NRA in respect of engaging with landowners for the Macroom bypass. I thank the Minister for his intervention in approving the goodwill payment to the landowners. These landowners were caught up in a legal case which lasted over two years and delayed progress, so that is very welcome. I hope that it is now full steam ahead and that the Macroom bypass can be progressed in the next road building programmes, possibly in connection with the Dunkettle interchange. I realise there is a degree of catch-up required to get to that position and to get all the ducks lined up in a row in terms of a public-private partnership. That is a challenge and, hopefully, the new authority will waste no time in bedding down and getting stuck into that. I acknowledge what has been done by the staff in the NRA to date.

Roads are critical to employment opportunities. I agree with the point made by Deputy McNamara. A great deal of work could be done, not necessarily on national primary or secondary roads but on the more minor roads. When one considers the amount of potential labour that currently cannot find useful employment and the amount of work that must be one, it should not be beyond the ingenuity of our leaders to devise a system to match the two.

Finally, many Members will be familiar with the tragic crash that happened in Devon approximately 18 months ago in which Mr. Con Twomey, his son Oisin and his unborn daughter lost their lives and in which his wife was seriously injured. I thank the Minister for Transport, Deputy Varadkar, for meeting recently with Elber Twomey, the wife of Con Twomey and mother of the aforementioned children, in respect of a campaign she is trying to organise regarding the manner in which the authorities, be it the Garda or the Road Safety Authority, devise strategies to deal with suicidal drivers. Unfortunately, the circumstances in this case were that the pursuit of the driver resulted in the carnage and casualties.

The Minister has agreed to pursue with the Road Safety Authority and all other relevant bodies, particularly the Garda, a means of having best practice for dealing with drivers who are suicidal. I appreciate the Chair's indulgence in allowing me to make that point and I appreciate the signals the Minister has given about working with the Road Safety Authority and with the Minister for Justice and Equality, in respect of working with the Garda, to work out appropriate protocols.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill as I have a number of serious concerns about it and the proposed merger of the RPA and the NRA. For a start, the Bill's Title is a concern. It is the Roads Bill, not the transport infrastructure service Bill or the transport infrastructure authority Bill. Any further attempts to promote public transport and to move away from car dependency will be hampered because the main body, the NRA, will naturally be more focused on road-based transport options rather than trying to develop the State's light and heavy rail infrastructure.

I commend the staff of both the NRA and the outgoing RPA on the work they have done for the State over the last decade or so. Inherently, however, the NRA and RPA have competing interests. In fact, both agencies have always been direct competitors and I believe their competing interests will be impossible to reconcile in a merged body. Road-based projects will surely take precedence. One need only listen to earlier contributors to the debate in that regard. In that context, there is a potential that the merger of the RPA and the NRA, as proposed under the Bill, could be in breach of the Competition Act. Did the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, even remotely consider that? Any element of competition that currently exists between public mass transport and personal car transport will now effectively be eliminated by this Government.

There is also grave concern that no new light rail projects will be realised in the medium to long term because of the horrendous bailout mortgage the country now has on its back. Indeed, many people wonder what impact this merger will have on the Luas cross-city project, despite the assurances given to us by the Minister, Deputy Varadkar. When that Minister spoke in the House to introduce this Bill he spent a great deal of time talking about reducing and eliminating quangos, which is the classic Fine Gael and troika type of tripe that he and his colleagues have given us in the last five or six years. The result will be bad for public transport in the State.

The existing functions of the RPA will transfer to the NRA, which is provided for under section 6. However, the provisions regarding the functions of the merged authority are weak. Section 16, for example, provides that additional functions may be conferred on the merged authority by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. That is not a mandatory obligation on the Minister, and the functions of the merged body will be at the total discretion of the Minister in the future. Again, this provision points to the intended restriction of the merged body's functions primarily or exclusively to the road-based transport option. Section 17 relates to the potential for the Minister to request the authority to arrange for the procurement of goods and services in respect of regional and local roads, but there is no mention of light rail or other transport options. Interestingly, there is no mention of light rail in any of the provisions concerning the functions of the new authority. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Alan Kelly, who has responsibility for commuter transport, will explain why there is no specific reference in this regard. I note that "transport infrastructure service" might be the name of the body after the dissolution of the RPA, but I believe the merged authority will still be referred to as the NRA.

The House must bear in mind that this Bill is being introduced against a background of savage cuts in the public service obligation, PSO, and in existing rail and road-based public transport. The National Transport Authority, NTA, recently provided me with figures on the distribution of the available subvention between Dublin Bus, Irish Rail and Bus Éireann. This was in response to a parliamentary question I tabled to the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, last January. The total PSO in 2011 was just under €265 million. That has been slashed to €209 million this year. Effectively, there has been a 20% cut in an already small PSO budget for public transport. That must be seen in the context of what happens in most other jurisdictions and in great cities such as Amsterdam.

Incidentally, the direction of this Bill and of the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, is very anti-Dublin. It is a ferocious attack on the people of the Dublin region, in particular, and is very anti-urban centres.

It is a device designed to promote the lack of public transport in the State in the future. The share of the PSO for Dublin Bus has also been slashed - from €73 million when the Government took office to €60 million in 2014. It is a disgraceful situation in which people who pretend to represent labour, trade union and public sector interests are involved in a Government that would do such a thing. The share of the PSO for Irish Rail was also slashed from €149 million in 2011 to €117 million in 2014. The share of the PSO for Bus Éireann was also slashed from €43 million in 2011 right down to €32 million in 2014. The real effects of the huge cuts to the PSO are being borne out every day in terms of poorer services provided to passengers around the country in both urban and rural areas and very difficult conditions for employees of Dublin Bus, Irish Rail and Bus Éireann.

It has been reported in recent weeks that workers in Irish Rail, Iarnród Éireann, might go on strike because of further pay cuts proposed by the company following the Labour Court’s recommendations and following the cuts in the PSO. Iarnród Éireann management is under huge pressure because of the terrible cuts to the PSO. Five or six years ago we had begun to get movement in the development of rail-based transport in this country but all of that has now been lost. We already have a public transport service creaking at the seams and we are still heavily car dependent. According to EUROSTAT figures from 2002 to 2011 the modal split of passenger transport was between 84% on car-based transport compared to the remainder on public transport.

The neoliberal agenda of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, has always been the Fine Gael agenda. The rubbish about quangos and references to other important public service bodies and agencies shows clearly that he and Fine Gael do not believe in public transport services. His agenda is to privatise those services. We only have to look across the sea to the neighbouring jurisdiction in the United Kingdom to see what happens following the privatisation of important public transport services. It proves the old adage that the only thing worse than a public monopoly is a private monopoly. One only has to look at the bus market in the United Kingdom where companies such as Stagecoach, Arriva and FirstGroup have carved up the market between them on geographical grounds and produced lucrative regional private monopolies. One sees the same type of situation in Scotland. It is no wonder there is now strong support for the renationalisation of railway networks and operators following the disastrous performance of private sector companies.

The impact in this important area of the policies of Fine Gael and the troika are disastrous for public transport in the future. That is my concern following the elimination of the RPA. I remember, for example, the tremendous battle when Padraic White was the chairman of the RPA. He fought alongside the chief executive of the RPA to extend the Luas into Connolly Station to create an integrated DART-Luas network which Dublin so badly needed.

The Government has totally shelved major projects such as metro north in my constituency and metro west. Despite the necessity based on the huge economic fulcrum of Dublin Airport metro north did not proceed. We had already spent €165 million on enabling works and a further €19 million was spent on metro west. All that work has been abandoned by the Government. The Bill gives a legislative framework to the abandonment of the policy. I note that in the context of metro north the distinguished transport engineer, Cormac Rabbitte, recently gave a presentation to members of Dublin City Council based on his own detailed independent research that a project with a similar route to the one previously identified for metro north could be built for less than €2 billion. Transport planners should now examine public transport solutions for the 2025 to 2031 period for the 2 million plus people who will be living in the greater Dublin, north Leinster and Meath area, according to a recent Central Statistics Office analysis for 2031. The NTA rejected Mr. Rabbitte’s research due to the biased approach of favouring road-based transport solutions. The NTA took issue with the cost of boring machines. The reality is that it did not disprove the fundamental approach the engineer offered as a possible solution to developing quickly the kind of public transport network which the capital city and Cork city require. When I was the Minister of State, Deputy Alan Kelly’s, predecessor as spokesman on transport for the Labour Party I proposed a Luas network for the cities of Cork, Galway and Limerick. Such development has, unfortunately, now been abandoned under this short-sighted Bill. I urge the Minister to examine the Bill carefully before the Dáil finally gives approval to it. I am concerned by the Bill which is geared towards road-based transport solutions rather than public transport. It is anti-urban Ireland and it does not do what is necessary for public transport in the future in this country.

I am very pleased to have an opportunity to comment on the Bill. When it was published at the start of the year the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, spoke about the Bill in glowing terms. He said the merger of the NRA and the RPA would create a new streamlined organisation which would be a leader in planning, delivery and management of transport infrastructure in Ireland, demonstrating the best and most efficient use of scarce public resources. He talked about the restructuring providing a new institutional framework in the transport sector in the context of a reduced capital investment programme. It is reasonable for Members discussing the merits of the Bill to put that assertion to the test and to put the Bill in the context of the overall transport policy being pursued by the Government. That is what my contribution will do. I do not think we can look at any Bill that deals with roads and rail without looking at the overall macro strategy for transport. A number of issues come into that framework.

A number of speakers referred to getting rid of quangos and the undermining of them. It is worth examining the quangos that have been removed since the start of the crisis in this country in 2008. The previous Government abolished the Combat Poverty Agency and the Equality Authority has been undermined. Important bodies that were established by previous Governments have been abolished. Simply calling for the abolition of quangos - as they are so derisively referred to – as a good idea is an ideological position rather than examining each body on a case by case basis. I accept one could make a case for rationalisation in certain cases, but only if it will improve service to the citizen and increase people’s quality of life.

In the debate about rail, road and the development of public transport across the country and in Dublin city, I remind the House that prior to the general election in February 2011 the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, delivered a leaflet to every resident in the River Valley area of Swords stating clearly that the Fine Gael Party was absolutely committed to the delivery of metro north and that it would be delivered if one voted Fine Gael. One of the first decisions taken in the first 12 months in government was to suspend metro north. That is a fact. The Minister is welcome to come to the House and contradict what I say. It is a bit like the letter the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, delivered to the people of Roscommon when he said vote Fine Gael and we will protect your accident and emergency service. That proved to be incorrect. The description is due to my use of polite language. Poor Deputy Naughten had to resign from his parliamentary party in order to honour that pledge. People were hoodwinked.

North and west Dublin have not received the same degree of investment in public transport infrastructure as other parts of the city. The local development plan for the Fingal County Council area is based on the delivery not only of metro north but also in the long term of metro west. I could take the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, through the list of where the stops were intended to be located.

It is also worth noting land within the development plan was rezoned for residential development based on the delivery of metro north in particular. Very serious questions must be asked about the legitimacy of the Government's transport strategy, as a clear commitment was given to people metro north would be delivered. There has been no apology from the Government for this misleading information. As the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, stated on RTE television, "is this not what one says during an election?"

Road tolls are pseudo-privatisation of the road infrastructure. Increasing tolls is a stealth tax. Any charge which does not take account of people's income is regressive. It is like an increase in VAT and the introduction of water charges and the household charge. The best, most efficient and fairest way to fund public services is through progressive taxation based on people's wealth and income and not through the introduction of charges and the commodification of the use of services.

It is not only cars which use roads as we also have a bus network. Several aspects of public policy on buses are very striking. We have seen draconian and dramatic increases in bus fares since the Government took office. When Fine Gael and the Labour Party took office the average bus fare for the shortest commute in the Dublin area, which is often used by pensioners, those carrying shopping and people with disabilities, was €1.20. It is now €1.80 which is a 50% increase. Fares for between four and seven stages have seen a 42% increase and fares for between seven and 13 stages have been increased by 40%. Fares for more than 13 stages have been increased by 33%. For a school child, bus fares have increased by 38% under the Labour Party and Fine Gael with a 33% increase for travelling between one and seven stages. Under the Government it has become more expensive to use the bus. If we want an integrated transport system we should encourage people to use public transport. All of the international evidence shows people on middle and lower incomes, pensioners, young people and people with disabilities use public transport more, but their charges have been increased.

We have also seen an attack on Dublin Bus and an attempt to demonise it. Several years ago Deloitte conducted an efficiency review of the bus network and examined subvention by the State to the public bus network in a number of European capital cities. In Brussels the subvention was 68% of total revenue; in Amsterdam it was 62% of total revenue; across the water in London it was 39%; but in Dublin it was only 29%. These figures are indicative of a commitment for many years, under Fianna Fáil, the Progressive Democrats and continued by Fine Gael and the Labour Party, to undermine public transport. We are seeing an attempt to turn a public service into a for-profit service alone.

In my constituency of Dublin West a number of bus routes will be put out to competitive tender. In my view this will undermine the public service provisions of the bus network. Will the workers of private companies which tender for these routes have the same level of pay and conditions as those in Dublin Bus or will the companies be allowed to undermine Dublin Bus? We know this happened in refuse collection. Local authorities were bullied out of the market because private sector operators could tender for the service. The Government can state the public sector and local authorities could have tendered for it, but the overheads of the private companies were less.

The Bill must be seen in the context of a transport policy which is about the private sector being good and the public sector being bad. This would be a disaster in the long term for Dubliners and the country. On this basis unless there is serious change and reform of transport policy I will not be able to support the Bill. The local elections are in May. In the previous local elections Labour Party councillors were elected on the basis of a bus fare freeze in Dublin and opposition to water charges. These have been abandoned by the Government. This is why I raise serious questions about the Bill. I invite the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, and the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, to address the issue of metro north, in particular the dodgy leaflet put out by the Minister. He should come here to explain his position.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Roads Bill 2014 which will allow for the merger of the Rail Procurement Agency, RPA, and the National Roads Authority, NRA. The Bill provides for the dissolution of the RPA and the transfer of its functions to the NRA to form the new transport infrastructure service. I welcome this move. The reduction in the number of State agencies was a key commitment of the Government and the fact we have 40 fewer State agencies is evidence progress is being made. This is a significant reduction in the space of just three years. It is worth noting the serious efforts made to reduce staff numbers in the NRA and the RPA in recent years. This has led to a combined reduction from 435 to a staff level of 290. This is a significant reduction in staff numbers of almost one third which leads to reduced costs and increased efficiency.

With regard to quality delivery of service to the public, the one-stop shop model is the way to go. It will lead to a streamlined and more effective service in future. In this regard the new transport infrastructure service will benefit by having a range of skills, technical expertise and experience in a range of areas including transport planning, project management and engineering design and advice. The merger will result in long-term savings of €3 million to €4 million per annum to the Exchequer. In the current climate this is very welcome.

The Bill will see the dissolution of the RPA. Unfortunately it has no relevance in my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan because we do not have a rail service. There is no rail service in any part of Monaghan. The question still remains whether the railways could have survived. The Great Northern Railway, which operated the rail service, was dissolved in 1958 and its assets were divided between the Ulster Transport Authority and Córas Iompair Éireann. The bulk of the Great Northern Railway network was closed and only the Dublin to Belfast line remains. Following this move, by 1960 various towns such as Clones, Cavan, Carrickmacross and Monaghan lost their rail services. Many are of the opinion the services emanating from Clones, Dundalk and Dublin could have survived, as with little change the track could have been altered to create a through line between Dublin and Clones via Cavan. The Clones to Dundalk section could have been as viable as some of the services to parts of the west of the country, but the political opinion of the day was there was no future in the railways, and lifting the permanent way was more or less completed by December 1959.

The majority of the original track has been subsumed into agricultural land but the numerous railway bridges, stations and unused track dotted throughout the County Monaghan landscape are reminders of what we have lost. Visitors to the region regularly comment on the unusual situation that there is no rail service to Cavan or Monaghan and that it is a great pity the service is gone. Will the Minister of State consider carrying out a feasibility study on the viability of extending the rail network to include counties Cavan and Monaghan? In this regard I ask them to liaise with his Northern Ireland counterpart because the railway line would have continued to Donegal through the North of Ireland.

The lack of a rail network to this Border region obviously means people there are hugely dependent on the haulage industry for the export of goods. In this regard, I am greatly concerned that the new lorry road user charge that will come into effect on 1 April in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland will have a significant effect on those Irish road hauliers who use roads in Northern Ireland. I raised this matter with the Minister earlier this week and I welcome his intention to raise the issue again with his counterpart in the United Kingdom, Stephen Hammond. This charge will have particularly serious consequences for the hauliers in counties Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal who cross the Border on a daily basis and hopefully, a satisfactory solution can be found on an all-Ireland basis.

In conclusion, I again welcome this Bill, which marks a further step in the Government's reform agenda of tackling the proliferation of State agencies and quangos.

I welcome the opportunity to speak. It must be me, but it is becoming something of a habit that the Opposition is tripping over itself to contribute. It probably is not a Standing Order but if ever there was an opportunity to pass a motion of no confidence in an Opposition, it probably is long overdue. I will not include Deputy Terence Flanagan in the Opposition, as he is more in transition than in opposition. At the outset, I welcome the Bill because it fulfils a commitment given in the programme for Government to reduce the number of State bodies and organisations. I find it ironic that Deputy Broughan has been bemoaning it, because he has no problem in voting for it in the programme for Government in the first place. As for the showering of doom, gloom and negativity spewed out by Deputies Broughan and Nulty, they finished as they started. It was the most negative drone I have heard in this Chamber for a long time. The Government is attempting to streamline agencies into particular areas of expertise and no area is more important for the country's infrastructure than the rail and road authorities that currently are in situ. It is worth asking whether this is the opportune time to do it, given the improvements made to the motorway networks, as well as to the rolling stock and rail networks with the development of Luas and so on. The answer of course is it is. While one would love to be in a position in which the Government was able to deal with some of the issues raised by Deputy Nulty, the Alice-in-Wonderland-type economics from which Sinn Féin suffers appears to have streamed across to the benches occupied by Deputies Broughan and Nulty and all the Members there appeared to be suffering from it. While they criticised the Minister of State and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in respect of the proposals before the House today, at no stage had they a suggestion about from where the money would come to reverse all the bad things about which they were talking. Neither would I expect them to so do. However, to be any kind of responsible Opposition, they first should take responsibility for what it is they are suggesting.

The Bill before Members provides an opportunity to raise a number of issues. While it merges the Rail Procurement Agency, RPA, and the National Roads Authority, NRA, I have found an issue, in consultation with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, regarding a constituency matter, namely, the Adare bypass and it is an issue the Minister should bear in mind. At present, the Rail Procurement Agency is allowed to engage with An Bord Pleanála in a type of pre-planning consultation, for want of a better expression. The Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001 that established the RPA provides for that. Basically it states that "within 28 days of acknowledging such an application, the Minister shall, after consultation with An Bord Pleanála, appoint a person to be an inspector to hold the inquiry referred to" elsewhere in the Act. This provision is not available in respect of the National Roads Authority, which essentially is precluded at present from engaging in a pre-planning consultation. This leads to a fundamental problem that has arisen in Dingle, Slane and recently in Adare, whereby vast sums of money are spent on plans that do not materialise into anything but plans. An Bord Pleanála is statutorily allowed to turn down applications for major road infrastructure projects without providing a rationale to either the planning authority or the National Roads Authority. The result is the latter is working in the dark and must then submit a further set of plans, which may or may not take the conditions the board has raised.

While I intend to raise this matter on Committee Stage by way of an amendment, I note that Part 4 of the Bill as construed at present refers to amendments of the Roads Acts 1993. The Minister of State should specifically consider an amendment of section 18 of the 1993 Act, which allows for preparations of plans by the NRA and similarly, an amendment of section 22 of the Act, which would allow for pre-planning consultations to take place between the NRA, the planning authority and An Bord Pleanála. The reason I seek to have this done is to ensure one avoids situations such as in Adare at present, where it is not known whether another planning application for another route for the Adare bypass will avoid falling on the same hurdle as did the first one. It makes absolute sense that pre-planning consultation would be allowed, particularly in respect of strategic infrastructure. Moreover, such pre-planning consultation should be forwarded to the local authority in order that the local authority members could deliberate on it, because it may mean, for instance, that a variation in the development plan from which they are working is required. It is a simple thing and as I noted here in the Chamber recently on a Topical Issue I had tabled to the Minister, one would not build a house without a pre-planning meeting with one's local authority yet at present one potentially can build a motorway without such a pre-planning consultation and this is absolutely bizarre.

The national primary roads running through my constituency are the N21, N24, N69 and N20 and like every other constituency, they are in dire need. This is true in particular in the context of their linking of Limerick to Waterford, Galway, Cork, Tralee and Foynes on the Shannon Estuary. In the context of the Rail Procurement Agency being merged with the National Roads Authority, progress should be made on the reopening of the Foynes railway line for freight. I acknowledge the monopoly position to convey freight on rail has been lost by Irish Rail and a competition element now exists but there probably is no better location in the country for the future development of rail than between Limerick and Foynes. The latter is the deepest port in the country and conveys a huge amount of bulk cargo. As matters stand, a rail line runs directly into the middle of the port, there is future mining potential in east County Limerick and reopening the line would remove a huge number of heavy goods vehicles from the N69 through villages such as Kildimo and Clarina, as well as Foynes village itself. Moreover, it would allow for proper infrastructural development in the region and would constitute joined-up thinking. I urge the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, through the Minister of State, to make every effort to ensure that Irish Rail is on board regarding the work that must be done.

Earlier, I mentioned the planning issues confronting Adare with regard to the N21 but that is only half of the problem. Were the Minister of State to travel tomorrow to Killarney, Kerry or anywhere in Limerick, there is a huge problem that is not limited to Adare but which moves on to Newcastle West and Abbeyfeale.

I know that only too well.

Essentially, a motorway terminates in the middle of the village of Adare. The motorway from Dublin to Limerick, that is the M7 and M20, terminates in the middle of the village. This project must be prioritised. I acknowledge that times are tough and that constraints exist but I have demonstrated the point previously in this Chamber that road projects are starting in the south east, in Deputy John Paul Phelan's part of the country, albeit in a neighbouring county. However, the same traffic volumes are not being experienced there as on the roads in my constituency, which appear to be left behind. I do not know how this happens and would not care to even imagine but this is an absolute priority at present. The position is getting much worse and I refer to interim urban relief works, such as those carried out in the town of Roscrea, close to the Minister of State's home base. For many years, the Roscrea relief road solved a difficult problem for that town until the arrival of the motorway. For towns such as Newcastle West, Adare and Abbeyfeale, similar solutions must be considered because they are being choked with cars and traffic. Moreover, although the aforementioned road conveys the bulk of the tourist traffic from Dublin and Shannon airports into County Kerry and the south west, it is not inviting and is proving very difficult for business to take place.

I will conclude by stating it is my intention to table amendments that would make the Bill more workable in respect of pre-planning. Finally, I concur with some remarks made some time ago on the existing Roads Act 1993 and specifically with regard to section 76. I honestly do not believe that local authority members are aware of the power local authorities have in respect of drainage. At present, there are roads that resemble canals throughout the country. Local authorities have the power, without any major rigmarole, to remove water from the roads.

The reality, however, is that there is a reluctance on the part of some local authorities to do this because of the work involved. The powers laid down in legislation in this regard are not being invoked. Our local authority members need to take responsibility for this matter and ensure that their county managers, senior executive engineers and engineers are removing water from the roads. There is no excuse for their not doing so. While I acknowledge that water levels are currently high, what is being allowed to happen around the country is, to put it mildly, dangerous.

I commend this Bill to the House. I believe it is a good Bill that will streamline two agencies that have served us well. While staff of the NRA and the RPA have done a good job, it is time to move on. The proposed amalgamation of these agencies into the transport infrastructure service is the next step in this regard. I reiterate my intention to propose a minor amendment to the Bill on Committee Stage.

I would like to reassure my colleague, Deputy O'Donovan, that the road works in train in the south east on the N11 and, more specifically, on the N25 via the New Ross bypass are of the most essential nature. I am familiar with Adare, where I have from time to time found myself caught in traffic. I have the utmost sympathy with the residents of that beautiful town, who at particular times of the day are unable to go about their business because of the volume of traffic there. With regard to the work on the N25, I can assure him that the residents of Rosbercon, which is on the Kilkenny side of the bridge in New Ross, have for many years been virtually prisoners in their homes at particular times of the evening because of the volume of traffic that builds up on the euro-route, which is the route between Rosslare and Cork, which runs via New Ross, Waterford city and Dungarvan. Given the volume of traffic on this road, the New Ross bypass is a much welcome and overdue piece of necessary infrastructural development in my part of the world.

I agree with the sentiment expressed earlier in the week by Deputy O'Donovan that a person building a rural house should be encouraged to speak to the planning authorities in advance of making an application in that regard. In terms of the construction of major infrastructure, such a facility should exist. I agree also with the views expressed earlier by Deputy Heather Humphreys in regard to the need for a debate with the Minister prior to the introduction in April of the road user charge in Northern Ireland and the potential impact of that on hauliers in this part of the world. Certain actions need to be taken in this regard.

I welcome that this legislation provides also for a reduction in quangos. I found the contributions of some earlier speakers who were complaining about the abolition of quangos very interesting. The word "quango", which stands for "quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation", is a term that derives largely from British politics of the 1980s and applies all over the world, not least in Ireland. There was a huge proliferation of these agencies during the past 15 years, particularly during the Celtic tiger era, although not particularly in the transport area. Much of the time these were agencies behind which Government could hide in terms of decisions not made or decisions with which it did not wish to be associated. More often than not they provided an opportunity for patronage, with the appointment of people who were close to the particular parties in government to boards, for which they were suitably rewarded. I welcome that Departments are examining on a case-by-case basis what agencies might be abolished. That many of them are to be abolished is to be welcomed. There has already been some progress in this regard. Deputy Nulty referred earlier to the need for the Government to examine the abolition of these quangos on a case-by-case basis. Clearly, this is what is happening. It makes absolute sense that there would be only one agency in the transport area, particularly in the context of the huge investment over the past 15 years in our road infrastructure and the unlikeliness of investment in this area into the future given that most of the motorways have already been built.

The amalgamation of the NRA and the RPA makes sense. For this reason, I support this legislation.

The next speaker is Deputy Terence Flanagan, who I understand is sharing time with Deputy Mattie McGrath.

Like previous speakers, I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, to the House. I too welcome this Bill, which is essentially a cost-saving measure. While it will initially result in additional costs, it will result in a saving of €3 million per annum in the future, which I am sure will be welcomed by taxpayers. It will also result in a reduction in the amount spent on consultancy. A bugbear of mine, and, I am sure, of other Deputies, is the amount of money spent by the State on consultancy on a yearly basis when there is a level of that expertise already available in the public service. I welcome the proposed reductions in this regard and in the procurement area as a whole.

Under this Bill, the RPA will be dissolved, with its property and lands, rights and liabilities being transferred to the National Road Authority, combining the knowledge of both organisations to lead the way in the future delivery of transport infrastructure in Ireland. Since the coming into office of this Government, efforts have been made to rationalise and reduce the number of quangos and agencies. I am aware that the ambition of Government in this regard has not been successful owing to legal restrictions and other difficulties. However, the aim is to keep costs down and reduce staff numbers, which is what the public demands.

The RPA was established in 2001 under the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001. Since then, its main task has been the construction of the Luas network in Dublin city. The city centre is currently experiencing some turbulence due to the construction in Dawson Street of infrastructure to connect the two existing Luas lines. I acknowledge that this Bill will not create any difficulties in that regard, but perhaps the Minister of State would update us on that project. I note that 105 staff are employed in the NRA and 180 in the RPA. I presume all of these staff will transfer to the entity. Will that entity and all of those staff be housed in one building? Also, will the NRA and RPA brands cease to exist following the merger? As the title of the new entity will be the transport infrastructure service, will a rebranding exercise be required and, if so, how much has been budgeted in that regard?

On national roads, which is not an issue that arises often in my constituency of Dublin Bay North, my main concern is about overgrown shrubbery and trees and littering on the motorways, not only in my constituency but in general.

Is it the responsibility of the NRA or the local authorities to maintain the shrubbery, trees and everything else on the motorways? I find it frustrating that the issue is not being addressed adequately and it sometimes falls between the two stools.

I commend the NRA on the construction of the Dublin Port tunnel, which has made a huge difference in taking heavy goods vehicles off the roads, particularly at rush hour. At the time it was constructed it was the largest urban tunnel in Europe, at a length of 4.5 km. The opening of the tunnel has had a positive effect on air quality and traffic movement in the city centre. Dublin City Council's heavy goods vehicle management strategy, banning such vehicles from entering the city centre between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. without a permit, is bearing fruit.

In 2006 the NRA announced that it would provide for more rest and service areas along the main motorways. However, there is a complete lack of such service areas. There might be fewer accidents if people had more opportunity to break their journeys, get refreshments and resume their journeys after a period of time. I ask the Minister of State to comment on the matter.

What accountability will the new authority have to the Oireachtas regarding parliamentary questions? Will there be a dedicated unit in the new commercial State body to deal with parliamentary questions? Will we have a service level agreement to ensure we get responses in a timely manner?

Deputy Nulty spoke about tolled roads, which is a big issue for motorists who use the motorways frequently. It depends on the road being used, because there are no tolls on most roads. However, it can be very expensive, and we need to watch the increase in tolls. The matter needs to be kept under ongoing review because things are tight, and excessive increases will not go down well with the public.

While bus fare increases were mentioned, DART fare increases were not. However, I have raised the issue with the Minister of State in the past. I am also concerned about the lack of carriages on DART services, particularly during peak times. I know the Minister of State has looked into the issue directly with Irish Rail to ensure that customers get the high-quality service they demand and expect, given the amount they are paying to use it. I would like the Minister of State to confirm that the Department is monitoring the issue of increases in such fares.

I welcome the Bill. Any measure that will save taxpayers' money is welcome. Obviously it will take some years before those savings are realised. I note that the RPA is also engaged in overseas consultancy work, because it does not have the same level of work to do here given that we are not investing as much in capital infrastructure in the rail network. It is good that its expertise is being used in a positive way. I support the Bill.

I thank Deputy Terence Flanagan and his colleagues for sharing their time. I welcome the Bill. I hope the amalgamation of the RPA and the NRA will save money. Over the years we have seen amalgamations and suggested amalgamations of agencies, accompanied by promises of considerable savings and change. However, we never really get a chance to examine the impact of these changes, whether the savings were achieved and whether the amalgamation and integration really happened seamlessly.

The RPA oversaw the introduction of the Luas and other fascinating and good developments for the country. All of its functions will now be transferred to the NRA and they will become one authority. All land currently vested in the RPA will move to the NRA without any conveyance. I have not had many issues with the NRA in recent years. I had many battles with it concerning motorways, on which it did a fine job in the main. However, it was pretty ruthless in dealing with people regarding CPOs and the powers it had. It was very hard to deal with it when it reached the stage of introducing a notice to treat. I understand that CPOs are necessary in some cases, but I felt they were used crudely and excessively. In some cases we ended up paying considerably above the odds for parcels of land and in other cases not enough. Those worst affected were the people living adjacent to the motorway, just as we will now have people living adjacent to the proposed power lines if the project happens. They may not be in any line of vision, or the land may not be touched, but they have to live with constant noise and they are affected. They got no hearing, good, bad or indifferent.

The RPA has been in existence for a long time and has done a considerable amount of work, some of it very good. Section 20 of the Bill provides that the chief executive of the new agency will be accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts and to the Houses of the Oireachtas, which is very important. Heretofore, as with the HSE, we keep getting the answer that an item is a matter for the NRA and the Minister has no function. That was something the Government inherited from the previous Government. I railed against it many times during the term of the previous Government, because it was wrong that even though it was dealing with such big projects, involving vast amounts of money and affecting people's livelihoods, it was not accountable to the Oireachtas, with the line Minister just passing matters back to the NRA.

I often found it difficult to get answers from the NRA. Many of the motorways went through County Tipperary. I could never believe how it was allowed to design, plan and construct a motorway from the Border to Cork, which is a fabulous road, without proper service areas. They are coming now incrementally afterwards, but they should have been part and parcel of that project. It was unfair and unsafe. How did the Health and Safety Authority and other agencies stand over forcing people to drive these roads without any proper facilities to stop and rest? Imagine being the parent of a small child, as I know the Minister of State is, and trying to travel those roads. It was disgraceful that the NRA was allowed to bulldoze them through without having integrated service areas at least every 40 or 50 miles. They are coming now in places and there are planning applications. People in my constituency are looking to build another one but they are not having much success.

They should have been built initially.

There was a difficulty on the M8 last year. The contractor had to come back a few years ago to redo it but there is a problem on part of it in my constituency, south of Cahir. There is continuous ponding to the extent that there are yellow warning signs up warning that the road is dangerous in wet conditions. That is outrageous on a new motorway. The contractor, with whom I worked and whom I respected, should not have been allowed to walk away from that. It should not have been signed off. I think he had to maintain it for only a year. It is treacherous. Cars are overturned, the emergency services are called out and it will be only a matter of time before there are fatalities. Water is pooling, which causes aquaplaning. This is a new motorway. I am sure the Deputies who travel here from Cork see that for themselves. It is treacherous. There have been too many accidents on it. I have contacted the engineering section of the South Tipperary County Council, which does investigation after investigation. It is a newly built motorway and it should have been drained properly. It is not acceptable and it is dangerous. No one is being held accountable. Worse, the contractor, who in the main did a good job, should have repaired that bit of the motorway, where the work is faulty, at the sections north of Cahir and the Mitchelstown junction. I do not have their numbers with me but everyone knows where they are because flashing lights alert them to the fact that this is a newly constructed motorway.

Previous speakers have mentioned that the roadside is unkempt. There is litter at the rest areas, which is not the fault of the NRA. Filthy people decide to pollute it because they will not take away their rubbish. At the rest points there is not even a place to stand. If one stops for a rest one needs some kind of shelter to stand in and maybe have a cigarette. I do not smoke but one might want to eat a bar of chocolate, have a cup of tea or stretch one’s legs to get some fresh air. There is nothing like that to restore one if one is tired. There is nothing there, just a bare slip road, no shelter of any kind and no rubbish bin provided. There is an issue between the county council and the NRA as to who maintains it. That does not matter. Surely if people have rubbish they are entitled to dispose of it in a litter bin. I am not talking about household rubbish but what they would have after eating a take-away.

I condemn out of hand the building of tunnels that are too low. In this country we are in line with everything in Europe and everything has to satisfy European laws, yet we built tunnels that are lower than the European average, and now the NRA and the RSA and everybody else are forcing hauliers to lower their loads, making it less competitive for them to travel and more difficult to compete internationally. More important, it makes it less competitive for them to transport food and fodder from the east to the west, as we did successfully last year during the fodder crisis. It will add at least 33% to the cost of a load of fodder when it is scarce in March, April and May, due to the patent nonsense of somebody asleep at the wheel who allowed these tunnels to be designed and constructed too low. It beggars belief. Nobody is held accountable for it. Mention has been made of how good they are, which they are, but there are only a few of them and they are all too low. The ordinary taxpayer, the farmer or the housewife who needs anything delivered has to pay the price. It is unacceptable. The Minister is talking about it. I ask my colleague from Tipperary, the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Kelly, who is here today, to consider giving an exemption for the high loads. I am not talking about reckless or unsafe loads but about the three bales of silage or straw that are properly and adequately checked and tied.

The Minister of State is well aware that we have tried to get funding for the Tipperary town bypass. It is badly needed and has been promised for a long time. There have been several accidents at Duggan’s bends on the N24. That stretch of road from Pallasgreen to Cahir should be completed. It cannot be left on the back burner because it costs too much in economic terms and too many lives. One stretch of that road is at Duggan’s bends near Kilmoyler. There are only ten beds for the whole country in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire, and two are occupied by victims of serious accidents at Duggan’s bends outside Cahir. These are two out of five acute beds. The council is doing its best to realign the road but there are problems with the surface, the acute bends and buildings. Something must be done before there are more fatalities. There have been many there over the decades. At the moment it is particularly dangerous. They tell us that after prolonged dry weather the material that comes off the tyres of the trucks makes it greasy. Cars are turning over. I appeal to the Minister of State to visit the road in the interests of safety.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and the fulfilment of the commitment in the programme for Government. When the Members opposite, who have mysteriously vanished again, criticise expenditure they should reflect on the expenditure by this Government, the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar. We must prioritise how we spend money and the role and remit of agencies. The Minister of State’s legacy in this Department will be that he prioritised spending and will have left a lasting legacy in the agencies under the Department’s remit. That is to his credit. So often we hear of Ministers refusing to take on sacred cows or vested interests, but this Minister of State has done that. He has done it diplomatically, although his Department might not have been so diplomatic. He has been a breath of fresh air, and I do not say that just because I served with him in the Seanad.

There are legacy issues. Deputy O’Donovan spoke about the contributions from Deputies Broughan and Nulty. What planet do they live on? I would love to come in here and say we will open light rail in Cork and spend millions of euro on reopening the West Cork railway line and put trams back in Cork city, but we cannot do that. Fianna Fáil made the mistake of getting rid of them. It had no forward planning. That is one of the legacy issues - lack of planning by the party that was in government for so long.

How are we to spend the money? It must be spent wisely and properly. I hope the role of the NRA can be reconsidered. I fully agree with Deputy O’Donovan. It must engage with people in planning routes, creating motorways and obtaining planning permission. Although I do not want to agree too often with Deputy Mattie McGrath, who supported the previous Government for long enough, he is right about rest areas on motorways. It is wrong that between Cork and Dublin there is no recognised service stop, apart from the one at junction 14 or the one at Cashel. That should never have been allowed to happen. This Bill may well be about the dissolution of the RPA but it should be the launch pad for a discussion about the future usage of infrastructure, motorways, roads - whether secondary or national roads - and road users, and about how, when and why we use roads. If we are to create a transport infrastructure service, it must have a real remit that goes to the heart of our business here: to get more people to cycle or use public transport and to get out of the car more often. There must be real engagement with stakeholders. There cannot be obfuscation, which is so often the case when one rings some of these people. I welcome the merger of the boards and the elimination of some of the quangos, some of which are completely unnecessary. We must consider what is best for the road user. The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, was right: we must prioritise the maintenance of what we have already.

Where possible, we must look at creating new outlets, which I will come back to shortly.

Many speakers spoke earlier about the roads infrastructure being the lifeblood of commerce, and they are right. In my constituency of Cork South-Central there is a major debate regarding the N28, the relocation of the Port of Cork and so on. In that regard what we must do, and we do not always do it well, is listen to the local people. Obviously, we have to differentiate between the vested interests and the genuine concerns of local citizens, be they commercial interests or homeowners.

A situation has arisen in Cork South-Central with the N28 where a Part 8 planning notice was put up. Anyone listening to or watching this debate should envisage the Shannon Park roundabout and Shanbally, in Cork. The N28 is the gateway from the harbour industries, which are predominantly pharmaceutical industries, to the Jack Lynch tunnel one takes to leave Cork. It is a hugely important road network. It is critical to the pharmaceutical industry but also important to infrastructure be it in terms of the relocation of the Port of Cork or the terminal for the ferry in Ringaskiddy.

Engineers sometimes baffle me. They are the experts, and we always defer to the experts whom we believe know best, but I do not understand the reason they are proposing the signalisation of the Shannon Park roundabout, which operates effectively. Measures that will increase capacity and improve traffic flow are welcome but I do not believe this proposal will do that. It does not achieve those twin aims. I am concerned that these proposals will adversely affect the flow of traffic at peak times and the use of the infrastructure by industry. Also, during peak morning traffic a signalised roundabout will result in a significant build-up of traffic towards Carrigaline, which will have a profound impact on traffic at a key junction that facilitates the movement of people out of Carrigaline, be it for school or work. There is also a move now to replace the Shanbally roundabout.

The N28 project is important because having spoken to locals, this roundabout works effectively and facilitates both commercial and local traffic, and it will have a profound impact on the lives of people in the locality.

What are the considerations in putting forward a Part 8 planning application in terms of the role of the council and the National Roads Authority? On whose behalf do they act? Who serves on behalf of the residents who find themselves faced with a huge dilemma? Who serves on behalf of the principal of a school or in this case the parish priest of a church where there is not adequate car parking or an alternative route? That is my concern regarding some of the issues we have to engage with in the NRA and, in this case, Cork County Council.

The relocation of the Port of Cork to Ringaskiddy makes economic sense given the vibrancy of the harbour area and the huge importance of Cork Harbour but I will stray from the topic briefly to refer to the completion of the Bandon Road-Sarsfield Road roundabout and the contractor going into financial difficulty. I hope the Department and the NRA will play a proactive role with Cork City Council and Cork County Council in ensuring the ancillary works, that is, the continued erection of the noise prevention barrier for local residents and some of the works on the side of that motorway, are finished. It is a fantastic project delivered on time and will serve hugely to allow for the flow of traffic around Cork.

The investment this week by the Minister of €8.5 million in sustainable funding for Cork is to be commended and welcomed. It is a positive story to which some of the Members here should listen. It is an investment of €8.5 million in key infrastructure development in the city of Cork, continuing on the theme of ensuring that our road and rail networks are key to the lifeblood of commerce and to creating and sustaining jobs.

Since I was a child the Cork train station has been the source of much commentary. I will not repeat some of the commentary but I welcome the Minister's decision and that of his Department to fund the redevelopment of Kent station, and in particular to make Kent station more amenable to Cork city. We are on the threshold of developing a new conference centre in Cork. Wherever it is located, and I have a preference in that regard, one of the central planks in terms of getting people into and out of Cork will be the train station. The Minister's decision to open that out into Horgan's Quay is a good one and is to be welcomed. I hope the works will be commenced this summer and will be concluded some time in 2015. That is important. It is the idea of a Department working with the local authority and seeing the bigger picture in terms of Cork developing a new conference centre and recognising the train station as being important.

We must consider how we can develop the synergy between the airport and the train station. I would be failing in my duty if I did not say that many of us have concerns regarding Cork Airport. I met with the general manager, Niall McCarthy, who is a very good person with a plan for the airport, but in terms of the competitive stakes involving Cork, Dublin and Shannon there is a view, rightly or wrongly, that Cork city is losing out in terms of its airport. The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, has appointed a new consultative board but we need to see real action regarding Cork Airport because that, too, is a central plank in bringing people to the Cork area. I also make the point, and it might be contentious, that Cork Airport is the metropolitan capital of the south. One can drive from Portlaoise to Cork faster than one can drive from Portlaoise to Dublin, get on a plane and fly to Barcelona, Paris or elsewhere. I cannot understand why the Dublin Airport Authority does not sell Cork better because the Minister can leave his home in Tipperary and be on a plane out of Cork faster than he would if he drove to Dublin and flew out of Dublin Airport, and I am not being parochial.

The Deputy is straying beyond the scope of the Bill.

It is linked because it is infrastructure in terms of transport, and the airport is central. It is probably the pivotal piece of infrastructure we must get right in terms of Cork. We created 1,000 jobs in Cork in the past month but we need to encourage people to come to Cork and stay in the city and in the region of Cork.

I come back to a comment the Minister made reference to earlier in the week when he was in Cork, namely, that only 7% of Cork city commuters use a bus or a bike to get to work. That has been an indictment of public policy for a long time. The Department allocated moneys to Cork City Council earlier to try to improve that figure but I can tell him, and I would like him to go back to Cork City Council, that one of the major mistakes it made, and I do not know who the engineer was nor do I want to know, was the Washington Street realignment, which is a disaster. This is the most important west bound thoroughfare out of the city heading towards Macroom and Killarney but it has become congested; it is a nightmare. I am happy that Cork City Council has parked the scheme for the moment but nobody is happy, be it taxi drivers, motorists, cyclists, pedestrians or business people. If we want to encourage more people to avail of bus services, which have increased in Cork, and we have seen significant investment in bicycle lanes and bus corridors in Cork, that defies logic.

I realise the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, cannot get involved directly but perhaps his officials will liaise with Cork City Council in regard to the bus corridor on Wilton Road and the lack of joined up thinking on that busy thoroughfare, which is a gateway to Cork University Hospital, the Sarsfield Road and Bandon Road roundabouts and on to the city and the county. If we are serious about getting people out of their cars we must provide meaningful bus corridors.

We will probably not see the return of light rail in our lifetime but there is potential for a tourism bonanza with the viaduct outside Cork city. I hope the Department and the local authorities will consider an initiative in this regard. Mistakes were made in getting rid of the trams in Cork city and closing the west Cork railway line but there has also been significant investment in the Cork-Midleton and Cork-Cobh lines. People are critical of Government expenditure but during the lifetime of this Government we have seen work identified and almost completed on the Cork city centre movement strategy. New traffic management plans have been put in place and an appropriate balance has been found between the needs of the respective transport modes, with resulting improvements in reliability and journey times for buses and enhancements for pedestrians, cyclists and other road users. It may now be appropriate to develop a new Cork area strategic plan, CASP. I was involved with developing the current CASP while I was a councillor. It was a fantastic project and the steering group did great work on it but we need to modernise the way in which we manage our roads and other infrastructure.

I welcome the investment of almost €250,000 in sustainable transport intersections in Douglas. If one includes traffic calming measures on the old Carrigaline Road, the total investment comes to €330,000. These investments will improve journey times not only for motorists but also public transport users, walkers and cyclists. Safety and accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists must be central to projects in the parts of the city that require enhancement. With the Cork metropolitan cycling network, we must build on previous work done to ensure the overall cycling plan for Cork is enhanced and that we encourage awareness amongst all road users.

I welcome that we are spending money strategically and wisely. Speaking from a Cork point of view, there might be a concern that we are concentrating too heavily on bicycles when the figures do not indicate much movement in this regard. Long term investment will be needed if we are to get more people cycling. The cycle route between University College Cork and the city centre will help in this regard, as will the Carrigaline green route on which a further €850,000 is being spent to bring the project to its final stage. The green route will make Carrigaline more accessible to the city and help to deal with the horrific traffic congestion that people in areas like Maryborough Hill and Rochestown have faced for years. This congestion is partly due to the lack of joined up thinking when we built thousands of houses without providing bus routes, schools or playgrounds. Even though we are playing catch-up, at least this Government is committed to constructing green routes and key infrastructure.

The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, does not have a big pot of money but he has done a good job. His legacy will be one of change, particularly in the case of Cork city, and I hope Cork City Council will engage with his Department in reversing the bad decisions made in areas like the Washington Street intersection. I commend the Bill to the House.

On a point of order, I spoke on this Bill earlier today, as did two other Members of the Technical Group and I have since been following the debate from my office. I understand there is a sense of urgency among Government Deputies that more Opposition Members come to the House. If the Chair could facilitate us by providing a potential list of speakers, Members would be able to plan their day around their speaking slots. I remind the House that two thirds of the Members of this House are in Government parties. It is inevitable that the Government side would be able to provide more speakers. This has happened on numerous occasions, including during the debate on a European elections Bill. I recognise that the Government is frustrated with the Minister for Justice and Equality but this will not work as a smokescreen. If we were provided with a list of who is speaking, we would be able to arrange our time. When it comes to bad opposition, we are in our current hole because the parties now in Government wanted the previous Government to spend even more money than it already had spent.

That is not a point of order but the Deputy can raise it with the Ceann Comhairle and the Whips. The next slot is for an Opposition speaker

As there are no other Opposition Deputies in the Chamber, I call Deputy Stanton, who is the next Government speaker.

Does the Acting Chair not realise that as there are twice as many Government Deputies as Opposition Deputies, it is inevitable there will be more Government speaking time?

It is not for me to comment on the matter.

Please do not manipulate that reality. I am going back to my office to work. I apologise for doing that.

I have been a Deputy for 17 years and I recall that Opposition Deputies always used to be in the Chamber for debates. I have never seen the Chamber abandoned by the Opposition.

This Bill will amalgamate the National Roads Authority and the Railway Procurement Agency. In 2001 I was involved in the deliberation on the legislation that established the RPA. Those were different times.

The amalgamation of the two bodies was recommended in the McCarthy report and in 2010 the then Minister for Transport set up a steering group to bring about this merger. I am pleased it is happening now. However, I have a slight issue with the proposed name of the new agency, the transport infrastructure service.

It is a working title.

I acknowledge that but I suggest the name should reflect the road and rail elements of its function. Perhaps the "national road and light rail agency" would be a preferable name. The current name could lead to confusion with the National Transport Authority.

I recognise the importance of developing and integrating public transport. The Luas transported 30 million passengers last year. It has been a huge success and trams are packed much of the time. Will the new agency investigate the feasibility of constructing light rail lines elsewhere? I do not want to be too parochial but Cork city is ripe for such a project. Given the success of Luas in Dublin, I am sure light rail will be similarly successful elsewhere in the country.

I note there will be additional costs in the establishment of the new agency but there will also be long-term savings of approximately €3 million per annum. The merger of the agencies will bring their respective expertise and experience together in a complementary fashion.

I emphasise that light rail must be on an equal footing with road. That is important. We need to look at that.

In establishing large national agencies like this, we must be cognisant of local needs. I suggest to the Minister that he set in train a way so the agency would consult and meet local representatives at least once a year and tell us what it is at. That happens with the HSE, it should happen with the local authorities - I do not know that it happens everywhere - but I suggest it should happen here. Possibly, it should be built in somewhere that the agency would meet in a local forum with local elected representatives, in particular Deputies and councillors, to fill people in as to what they are doing and to get feedback as to the issues regarding the service. I note, for instance, that the RPA has a good website and makes public consultation an important part of it. That is not as clear in the NRA as it stands. We need to be cognisant of that need.

Like Deputy Buttimer, I welcome the plans to upgrade the train station in Cork and other such works that have been announced recently. The rail link to east Cork that opened a couple of years ago is working well. The fact that there are no parking charges in the stations is quite important because it has meant that commuters are using the service. We must encourage people to use public transport more often. I suggest to Iarnród Éireann and this new agency that they have some method whereby customers could lodge complaints and raise issues that they might have with the service. Currently, that is not easily done. Recently, I rang Iarnród Éireann about a complaint and received no response. I am a Member of Dáil Éireann and nothing came back. I might has well have been talking to the wall.

Deputy Stanton might give that to me.

This is the issue. If I cannot get a response, how can a member of the public expect a response? We need such a facility. We need to have these engaging with local elected representatives. One could probably make a telephone call to the Pope easier than one would to some of the staff in Iarnród Éireann and other places. We need such a facility.

When this agency comes together, it needs to look, for instance, at the town of Cobh in my area. There are 14,000 or 15,000 people living on the island but with the recent floods, it was cut off. The R624 was flooded on both sides and emergency services could not get in. This new national agency needs to look at that. The N25, from Midleton to Youghal, needs to be upgraded. There were plans to upgrade it in the past and it has not happened. We need, at least, to start the plans at some stage. Earlier mention was made of the road to Ringaskiddy. The road to Aghada, where there are two power stations, the oil refinery etc., also needs to be looked at and, possibly, needs to be taken over as a national road by this authority.

As I am on my feet, I will mention local roads. This authority will look after national roads and secondary roads, but what about local roads? I refer to roads in the countryside that in many areas are full of potholes. Such roads are causing frustration for those who have paid their road taxes when they hit a pothole full of water and hundreds or thousands of euro in damage is done to their car. I suggest that this new agency should have some role. I note that already the NRA is involved; it has a research strategy. We should also be looking at these minor roads because they are causing terrible frustration and additional costs. I heard one of my colleagues mention earlier about taking water off roads, and that is crucially important. We need to treat this seriously. Could the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, tell us if there is any way that even local people themselves could be allowed fill potholes-----

-----and open drains? At present, if they do that, and if somebody falls or has an accident, they are liable.

The local improvement scheme.

That is different altogether.

That is where they work with the local authority, they pay money in and they do a road up, but I am talking about where a pothole opens up on the road, there is a complaint made, and three weeks later when it is a crater someone comes along and fills it. If it was filled when it appeared first, the job would be done and it might not turn into a mini-volcano on the side of the road. These are the kinds of issue to which I am referring. We need to think outside the box when one does not have the resources and manpower. Currently, local authorities do not have the manpower to do the work.

LISs does not only have to be about money.

I know it does not have to be about money but, invariably, that is what happens. Is there any scheme in the country where it is not about money? At some stage, the Minister of State might send me examples of LISs so we could tell local authorities and owners that they can do it in a different way. Initially, it was the case that it was not only about money but, recently, it is almost invariably the case that one makes a financial contribution, the local authority will match it with so much and they will get the work done, and I am aware of areas where that has happened. I refer to a small pothole appearing in a road somewhere that gets bigger where a small amount of work could have sorted the problem on day one, and a local person could do it if he or she was allowed do it. On this matter, one should think outside the box.

This new agency should also have a role in looking at the economics of transport, in particular, in small towns. Many small town high streets are dying because of out-of-town shopping centres. There are parking charges in the town and no parking charges in the out-of-town shopping centres. It is difficult to park in towns and people are going to out-of-town shopping centres. Many such towns are dying and shops are closing. We need to ask this new agency to identify how the transport policies and research impacts on this big problem that is happening all over the place.

It is good to bring these agencies together but we also must be cognisant of using this legislation and this new agency in a positive way. We must ensure the agency does not become remote from the people. It must have some way of interacting and being close to the people. We are giving the new local authorities being established a new role. This new agency should set up structures to engage with the councillors and the local Deputies at least once a year and tell us what they are at, and have a website, email or portal so they can take suggestions, complaints and ideas from the public and from others.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Road transport is an important part of the communications system. The proposal to merge the NRA and RPA is a good idea. I hope it will bring about an integrated thinking. In order to ensure that the best possible, most efficient and cost-effective service is delivered to the public, it is essential that people are thinking in the same direction - like travelling in the same direction, the thinking has to be in the same direction - and, hopefully, at the same time.

While I agree with commentators who state regularly that we need industrial development throughout the country spreading the economic progress, in order to do so we need the basic transport infrastructure, whether it be road and-or rail, but they need also to be complementary to each other. There are countless instances where that can take place in the future, particularly under the aegis of this new proposal. I refer to the road transport needs in particular of the mid-west and the north west. Cognisance should be taken of their requirements in this industrial era with a view to ensuring that people are in a position to get to and from employment over relatively longer distances than normal because of the difficulty of spreading industry evenly throughout the regions. I hope that can be done.

The particular issue I want to raise in this context is the need to regularly upgrade our thinking in terms of the capacity of existing roads to deal with current traffic volumes. The M50 is a case in point. Like most Members of the House, I regularly use the M50 and it strikes me that the road is full to capacity. Quite a number of minor traffic accidents occur because the traffic is so tightly packed on that motorway at peak times. In fact, there have been some more serious accidents also. The Minister of State will recall that I have tabled questions about this matter previously. Particular attention should be drawn to the fact that some roads have reached their maximum capacity, given the increasing traffic volumes. How can we deal with this problem in advance? We seem to have difficulties in anticipating future requirements and only seem capable of a panicky response. Can some thinking be generated in that area to find out if there are alternatives, including investing in increased road capacity? These matters should be considered urgently.

My colleague, Deputy Stanton, said that local authorities were more accessible than national bodies, which they are. Recent road planning appears determined to prevent vehicles from entering towns and villages. Shoppers and business people are thus forced to go to major retail centres run by multinational chain stores. That takes business away from towns and villages, and people complain about the lack of footfall brought about by making it so difficult for people to trade locally. I ask the Minister of State to encourage those who are planning road improvements to bear in mind the business requirements of such areas. One should not always channel traffic away from town centres because it has a negative economic impact.

A co-ordinated and integrated approach is required in planning for road and rail services, as well as maritime and air transport. It is not beyond the realm of possibility, nor is it rocket science, so we should be able to do that. Other countries did so many years ago. In light of the proposed merger, an opportunity should be seized to have a fully integrated transport system incorporating road, rail, air and sea travel in one fell swoop.

As there are no further speakers, I call on the Minister of State to reply.

I thank Deputies for their contributions, including Deputy Durkan in particular for his modest and short contribution.

As Deputies will be aware, the merger of the NRA and the RPA is being implemented under the Government's plans for public sector reform and, in particular, its programme for rationalisation and restructuring of State agencies. This is an ambitious reform programme and significant progress has been made to date. The Government expects that all measures identified under the restructuring programme will be delivered later this year, apart from a small number of measures with which the Government decided not to proceed. These have been well documented.

A successful implementation of the merger of the NRA and the RPA will deliver a new streamlined agency which will be lean and efficient. It will be also a dynamic, flexible organisation, capable of responding to changed circumstances as they arise. The merged body will benefit from combining the technical expertise and experience already available in both bodies. Although we are dissolving the RPA, the core specialist, technical and professional skills developed by agency's management and staff over the years will continue to be available to support the development of transport infrastructure in Ireland into the future. The Bill also provides a timely opportunity to update existing provisions in the Roads Acts, having regard to current requirements with regard to the public road network and the functions of the NRA.

I will now deal with the issues raised during the debate on Second Stage. A number of Deputies raised human resource and industrial relations issues associated with the implementation of the merger. I wish to confirm that the draft legislation provides that all staff transferring from the RPA under the merger will not have less favourable terms and conditions of service relating to remuneration than they held in the RPA before its dissolution. This means that no RPA staff member transferring over to NRA will be any worse off as a result of this merger.

The amalgamation of two separate entities is never easy. In this instance, we are merging a commercial State body into a non-commercial body, and this brings with it a unique set of challenges and opportunities that need to be carefully managed. I would encourage all parties to engage constructively and openly with a view to reaching agreement on any outstanding issues or practical difficulties involved in the implementation process.

Deputy Dooley and others expressed concern that section 17, relating to the procurement functions of the NRA, may be designed to remove powers from local authorities. It is rather, as the Deputy suggested, an opportunity to operate shared services and reduce costs - for example, through bulk buying in the case of procurement of salt on behalf of road authorities for the treatment of regional and local roads. This should ensure greater certainty in terms of supply when it is procured at an early date and will provide better value for money when bought in bulk. This procurement provision is for the benefit, or on behalf of, road authorities. This will only arise where the Minister considers it more convenient, expeditious, effective or economical for the authority to arrange such procurement. It will not take away any existing powers from road authorities. It will simply facilitate road authorities by providing that goods and services may be procured at national level by one body - i.e., the NRA - on behalf of road authorities when requested to do so by the Minister.

Deputy Doyle asked about the level of savings and efficiencies from this merger. It is expected that there will be €3 million in savings over three years as a result. The Deputy also raised a query about section 22. The purpose of this provision is to enable the NRA to maintain as it sees fit national roads in respect of which it has taken over responsibility from the relevant road authority. To this end, a new power to make by-laws is being conferred upon the NRA. Examples in which NRA would need to make by-laws include the erection of signage and parking on the side of roads.

Deputy McNamara suggested a technical amendment to give the NRA responsibility for cleaning drains along the roads it maintains. We will certainly consider this amendment, the technical nature of which is welcome.

Deputies Broughan and Nulty raised a number of issues concerning the Bill. They were particularly concerned about the name. The naming of the Bill is a result of its being a change to the NRA. It comes from a long line of Roads Bills, hence the name on the Title of the Bill. The name of the agency - the transport infrastructure services agency - is a working title that is being considered by the Department at the moment. I want to assure both Deputies that road-based projects will not get priority over public transport projects. There have been a substantial number of announcements in the media recently concerning sustainable transport projects across all cities.

There have been a number of provisions dealing with sustainable transport in recent times and great success with bicycle schemes.

Deputy Mattie McGrath said there should be analysis of whether mergers are successful. For once I agree with the Deputy from my county; we should analyse whether mergers that have taken place have been successful. In a previous life I was part of the Bord Fáilte organisation that was merged with another organisation, CERT, which became Fáilte Ireland. Tourism Ireland was set up after a merger between that body and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. The analysis should consider whether this is the right thing to do and whether it has worked. It should happen with all mergers done by different Governments.

This is a unique situation in that I agree with Deputy Mattie McGrath on three points. Motorways have been set up without adequate service stations, facilities and rest areas. I regret that this was done and it should have been provided for in a better manner. As a father of young children, I know how difficult it is to travel on a motorway without these services.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan asked about a proposal to allow the NRA to engage in pre-planning consultation with An Bord Pleanála. There is merit to the proposal, which has arisen from discussions on the future of the Adare bypass. It has been noted that the promoters of the Luas can engage in pre-planning consultation with An Bord Pleanála but the relevant roads authority cannot do so in the case of a new road. This must be examined.

Deputy Terence Flanagan asked whether there would be one premises for the organisation. An implementation group is currently looking at different options and that is the desired outcome. It may not happen immediately. He also asked about accountability arrangements for the new body. The new body will be a non-commercial State body and will be bound by statutory arrangements for accountability to the Oireachtas. There are no plans to change it under the Bill, save for formalising the arrangement for the CEO to appear before the Committee of Public Accounts and other relevant committees.

I thank Deputy Buttimer for his comments about the recent announcement in Cork city. I have taken up the issues he raised in respect of Washington Street with the relevant local authorities. Deputy Stanton asked about the Bill and suggested another name for the authority. It is a welcome suggestion and might not be far from the Department's thinking. The name needs to say what the organisation will do. I also asked the Deputy to refer the Irish Rail issue and the local improvement scheme, LIS, to me.

A number of Deputies raised issues with regard to local authorities' budgets and the maintenance and improvement of local and regional roads. Last month my Department announced a total of €331.9 million to be provided to local authorities for maintenance and improvement of regional and local roads in 2014. We are also giving local authorities significantly increased flexibility this year. We have reduced the number of grant categories and increased the amount allocated under the discretionary grant heading, and we will facilitate the transfer of funds between key grant categories where local authorities need it. Local authorities can also re-prioritise their road strengthening programmes. This flexibility will help local authorities to tackle the damage done to roads by recent storms on top of the extra funding given as part of the allocation from the Government in recent weeks. Regarding the storm damage, the Government recently considered a report on the severe weather that affected Ireland from the middle of December. Given the exceptional nature of the damage, the Government has given €70 million in additional funding, with €16 million for roads. This will help local authorities in their endeavours and the increased flexibility my Department has given on how to spend the roads allocation will give them greater capacity to deal with it.

I recently announced that funding of €5 million would be provided towards repairing larnród Éireann's infrastructure and equipment which was damaged by the recent bad weather. Approximately €2.8 million will be allocated to repair the roof at Kent Station in Cork. Plunkett Station will receive over €1 million to clear up rock falls and protect against future similar occurrences. There will also be funding for remedial repair works at Pearse Station and other stations. In recent days, I announced €15.5 million in sustainable transport grants across the regional cities in Ireland. Almost €3 million will go towards additional work in realigning Kent Station and reconnecting it with Cork city.

Finally, if any Deputies intend to bring forward amendments to the Bill, as some have suggested, I ask that they give the Department's officials sight of the amendments at an early stage so that, where possible and where appropriate, the amendments can be considered on their merits and accepted rather than being rejected for technical reasons or because there was not sufficient time to consider them fully. I commend the Bill and thank all Deputies.

Question put and agreed to.