Other Questions

Heavy Goods Vehicle Levy

Mick Wallace

Question:

5. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will provide an update on discussions he has had with his UK and Northern Ireland counterparts in relation to the HGV road user levy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21591/14]

Joe McHugh

Question:

13. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will provide an update on the issue of the UK HGV levy, in operation since 1 April 2014, following the recent meeting in Armagh of the North-South Ministerial Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21590/14]

Dessie Ellis

Question:

29. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has sought any advice on the possibility that the HGV levy proposed by the British Government would be in breach of European competition or other business standards in view of the fact that it confers an advantage on businesses within its jurisdiction and undermines the haulage industry in neighbouring states; if not, whether he will commit to doing so; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21593/14]

This topic has obviously arisen on a few occasions. I am aware that it is in some ways beyond the Minister's power given that the UK authorities are allowed to do what they are doing. I realise the matter was debated recently in the Northern Ireland Assembly. It was stated that Secretary of State Theresa Villiers can exclude roads from the levy through an affirmative order. Therefore, if there is a will, there is a way. While the UK authorities can say what they are doing is within their rights under EU regulations, they could take a more friendly approach considering the strong relationship between our two countries.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5, 13 and 29 together.

As the House was informed at the last Question Time, there have been considerable discussions held with my UK and Northern Ireland counterparts on this issue. This issue has been raised by the Taoiseach with Prime Minister David Cameron and it has also been discussed by the North-South Ministerial Council.

As the Deputies know, this is a decision that rests with central government in London in the United Kingdom. Arising from the representations and discussions to date, approximately 7 km of roads that criss-cross the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic have been exempted from the levy. However, recent correspondence from the UK Minister has indicated that he is not inclined to make provision for the exemption of further Northern Ireland roads from the levy.

While it is accepted that the UK Government is within its rights under EU legislation to introduce the levy, the Irish Government is unhappy with the UK authorities' position on the exemption of the A5. I will request that they reconsider this decision. For a successful resolution to this issue, we need unity of purpose between the Irish Government and the Northern Irish Executive. In that regard, I am supported by my colleague in the Northern Ireland Executive, Minister Mark Durkan. However, I was disappointed by the partisan approach taken by some other parties in the Northern Irish Assembly when this was debated there on Monday. As a result of that, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted against our desired position on this matter. The contributions in the debate would drive one to distraction in many ways. The speakers were more concerned with the forthcoming elections than ensuring all-party support to get the A5 exempted.

A working group has been established to examine the feasibility of introducing a similar pay-as-you-go road tax scheme for HGVs in Ireland. There is precedence in Europe with the Eurovignette for a common road charging regime to be established, where only one charge is applied but where payers can use a number of different countries' roads. We should look to this example and seek to establish a common regime between Britain and Ireland.  While there are a large number of issues surrounding this and while it requires the support of the British Government, a common regime may have merit given our circumstances.  Therefore, my officials have begun tentative discussions with their British counterparts on this potential long-term solution.  A common regime would be of benefit to hauliers in the North and South, and it would also result in benefits between Britain and Ireland, as opposed to two different regimes that would impose significant regulatory burdens on hauliers.

I thank the Minister for the reply. I realise he is trying to improve matters. Many industries in this State, including the haulage industry, are experiencing difficult times. When the hotels and restaurants were in real trouble, the Government's initiative on VAT was strong, good and very helpful. It was economically beneficial in both directions.

The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is responsible for the vehicle road tax. Given that the rate of road tax for hauliers in Ireland is probably one of the highest in Europe and that the industry is in a difficult position, has there been any correspondence between the Minister and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government on the issue?

Yes, there has. There is now a working group including the two Departments and the Department of Finance. As the Deputy rightly says, road tax for hauliers in Ireland is very high. On the flipside, however, diesel prices are lower than in the North and Britain. In addition, there is a fuel rebate here. All these factors need to be taken in the round. Essentially, that is what we are trying to do through the initiatives of my Department, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the Department of Finance and others. We are trying to examine the whole suite of charges that affect hauliers, including road tax, fuel levies, fuel rebates and road charging, with a view to determining what we can do to make sense of it all so we will not end up with a tax regime that disadvantages Irish-based hauliers. We have been very successful in making Ireland tax competitive, particularly for multinationals and others. We want to do something similar when it comes to haulage but it has to add up, obviously.

I welcome the Minister's concluding points on closer scrutiny of all taxes and levies, including fuel rebates and levies. From speaking to many of the hauliers within the industry, I understand they will be examining these matters very closely in the context of the next budget. Taxation presents a challenge we need to address

I thank the Minister for the update on the recent North-South Ministerial Council meeting. I was monitoring the debate in Stormont closely. Unfortunately, political footballs are being thrown all over Stormont on this issue. It is a travesty, to say the least, because this issue has been very much to the fore in the minds of hauliers in my county for a long period. In fairness to the hauliers, they have been trying to work with Stormont and Dublin. Their representatives had a meeting with the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, which they found very helpful. They are aware of the work the Minister is doing.

I cannot understand why Sinn Féin, which is in government in Northern Ireland, has not been more proactive on this issue. It affects so many people, including hauliers, and the industry. The legislation at issue is UK legislation, from Westminster. In fairness to the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, he has been proactive and has been working with his counterparts in the North, but I believe we need serious engagement on the part of Sinn Féin in government in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Féin has ultimate responsibility because it is the secondary legislation that will ultimately be enforced. As has been pointed out by the Minister, Mark H. Durkan, that subordinate legislation is being not being enforced these days because the subordinate legislation is not in place. I ask Sinn Féin to be more proactive in government in Northern Ireland on this matter.

I have much sympathy with Deputy McHugh's remarks. We would like to see Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland taking the same view on this. It would be very helpful for me if the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly went to London and said that they want the A5 to be exempted, that the taxpayers are going to pay for a chunk and that they want trade between Donegal and the Border counties in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the Assembly voted against that. The reason given by many Unionist members was that they felt that Sinn Féin in particular played a very partisan role in this. I will quote one of the people involved in the debate, Mrs. Pam Cameron MLA, who is a DUP representative. She said: "I am glad to be able to speak on this issue this afternoon. I was initially broadly in support of the motion, but given the proposer's remarks I am afraid that I simply cannot support it." The entire approach taken by Mr. Phil Flanagan MLA, who is the Sinn Féin proposer of the motion, put off many people in Northern Ireland who might have supported it. This has really harmed Irish hauliers.

It is ironic that Deputy McHugh says that Sinn Féin is not doing enough when the Minister says that Sinn Féin brought forward the motion. We have certainly been fighting this corner, have made representations and have brought this motion before the Assembly. We have made representations directly to Westminster on a number of occasions.

One of the major problems we have is that with this in place, many road hauliers will take their business North. Are we able to calculate the damage that will be done? Damage will certainly be done because of the tax here which ranges from €3,500 to €4,000. In comparison, the tax in the North is £640. This area must be looked at. We must look at a broad range of areas in terms of taxes. The Minister mentioned that he might look at this area.

Does the Deputy have a question?

Some areas are exempted. We have 7 km. Why can we not go the extra mile and put on extra pressure? If Secretary of State Villiers can make decisions like this, surely we can keep putting more pressure on and making representations. This is going against the Good Friday Agreement in terms of co-operation and we should keep putting pressure on and go to Europe.

We will keep putting pressure on. One of the solutions may involve adopting the same system as that in the UK. I do not think there is anything ironic about it. In fairness, Deputy Ellis is not the worst of them but this is just a classic example of the two Sinn Féins. If ever there was a party of partition, it is Sinn Féin, which takes different positions north and south of the Border. I will give five other simple examples. The local property tax, which Sinn Féin opposes down here, is three times higher in the North and Sinn Féin in government has increased it for four years in a row. Water charges are already part of domestic rates bills in Northern Ireland and Sinn Féin has only deferred direct charges in the North until 2016. Sinn Féin imposed a two-year pay freeze on public servants earning over £25,000. In respect of public expenditure, Sinn Féin signed up to a four-year budget slashing spending in Northern Ireland by 8%. The Minister for Education in Northern Ireland, who is a member of Sinn Féin, has closed 30 schools and will close more. If ever there was a partitionist party in this country, it is Sinn Féin.

If the Minister knew the job that we have been trying-----

(Interruptions).

We have a limited amount of time. I call Deputy Wallace.

(Interruptions).

Last Tuesday morning, the Minister issued a press statement saying that he had full confidence in the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter. In the process, he chose to misrepresent my position on a number of counts. He misrepresented me on discretion, as the former Minister repeatedly did for over a year. The Minister made out that I was portraying myself as a victim, which I never did. The kernel of the problem was that the former Minister abused his office. The Minister literally tried to de-legitimise my challenge to the former Minister for Justice and Equality by saying that the former Minister should be forgiven because it is over a year ago and by choosing to bring up the fact that my former company could not meet a VAT liability five years ago. The Minister used that to defend the former Minister for Justice and Equality. That said more about the Minister than it did about me. I was really disappointed in him because I have always respected him.

Does the Deputy have a question for the Minister?

This is a form of politics in which I thought the Minister had no interest.

We must group these questions. We are out of time. Does Deputy McHugh have another question?

I thought we were talking about the HGV levy.

We wandered away from it.

(Interruptions).

Everybody has wandered a bit.

(Interruptions).

Can I chat about anything?

No. Other issues have come up.

(Interruptions).

Deputy McHugh has the floor. Does the Deputy have a question?

I agree with the Minister. In fairness, Deputy Ellis is not the worst of them. The economic philosophy of money growing on trees is certainly not one with which I am familiar. In respect of what is not being done, I called on Martin McGuinness six weeks ago. He is Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. I have asked him before and will ask him again publicly to proactively engage with his British counterparts in respect of this issue. I do not think that is being done. It is not being pushed hard enough. One can say that pressure is being put on but I do not think it is happening because the proof is in the pudding. Lorry drivers, hauliers and companies in Donegal who are driving through the North are being told, wink and nod, that the levy is not being enforced. It is law in the UK. The secondary legislation is not in place yet and Minister Mark H. Durkan says that it is not being enforced, but it is still law. It creates a massive grey area of confusion for many hauliers. I commend the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on his suggestion of a joint delegation from North and South. They should leave the political hats outside the room and go to Westminster. That is a good suggestion but it will need proactivity from the Northern end.

Deputy McHugh says he was not putting on a political hat but he never stopped talking about Sinn Féin. The Minister never stops talking about Sinn Féin. The Minister knows well that a large number of different things, be they education, school meals or household charges, are included in one single charge. They do not have myriad extra taxes that this Government has introduced. Unfortunately, this is what has happened. The Minister mentioned water charges. There are no water charges in the North. Perhaps he needs to read up on it. It is this Government that is introducing water charges.

Does the Deputy have a question?

Our people have made representations. Once again, I am telling the Minister that these charges involving €12 per trip are costing the industry a huge amount. We must look at helping the industry. If huge costs exist, some trucks will make several trips across the Border in certain areas and this will add up over the year. Is the Minister going to do something to alleviate that?

I know I have only a minute left and I have much to say. To clarify matters, the local property tax in the North is more than €950 for the average house. That does include water and bin charges but it has been increased every year for the past four years with Sinn Féin in government and it intends to bring in direct charges for water in 2016.

That is the truth. What Sinn Féin candidates are saying on the ground is not.

That is not the truth. There are many other issues.

In regard to Deputy Wallace, I did not issue a statement. I was asked a question by a journalist and I am not sure exactly which sections of that were played on the radio and which were not. However, I have on a number of occasions expressed my respect for Deputy Wallace in the stance he has taken in pursuing on the floor of this House the issue around penalty points. I believe he has done a good day's work and a good service in that regard, and I am going to repeat that again because I believe it is true. I am glad the Deputy agrees he is not a victim, which is important. In addition, I believe what Deputy Shatter did on "Prime Time" was wrong but I also believe that his apology should be accepted. I am not sure if Deputy Wallace has done that yet but I think he should. In regard to companies, I believe companies should pay their taxes and that directors and owners of companies have a responsibility in that regard. I cannot say otherwise.

On the substantive issue of hauliers, which is what this is supposed to be about, we are going to keep working on it. There are a number of different options for a solution but the shared objective of everyone in government is to make sure that we have a fair playing field for Irish hauliers when it comes to taxes and charges across the island and between Britain and Ireland.

On Question No. 6, Deputy Finian McGrath sends his apologies as he is attending the justice meeting.

Question No. 6 replied to with Written Answers.

Road Projects

Seán Kyne

Question:

7. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the current status of the project to upgrade the N59 on the approach to Moycullen, County Galway, for which planning permission has been granted; and if he acknowledges the urgency of this project in view of the deficiencies of the existing road; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21490/14]

The question concerns plans for the upgrade of the Moycullen approach section of the N59. The Minister visited Moycullen last autumn. I am looking for a statement on the plans for that road.

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for funding in regard to the national roads programme.  The planning, design and implementation of individual road projects is a matter for the National Roads Authority under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2007 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.

The project to which the Deputy refers is the N59 Moycullen bypass, which consists of two elements. The first is a 4.5 km single carriageway off-road, greenfield bypass of Moycullen and the second is the online realignment and upgrading of 900 m of the existing N59 on the Galway road into Moycullen. An Bord Pleanála approved the environmental impact statement and the compulsory purchase order for the scheme in 2012, and the project is now at design stage.

As the Deputy will appreciate, the scale of the reductions in the NRA under the infrastructure and capital investment framework 2012-2016 has meant that it has not been possible to progress a range of road development projects.  The key priority has to be the protection of the existing investment in road infrastructure. In that regard, it is not possible to advance the off-road, greenfield bypass aspect of this project at the moment. However, on Tuesday, the Government approved €43 million in additional funding for roads and, as part of that, €3.5 million has been allocated to carry out the online realignment and upgrade part of the project.

Having visited Moycullen with Deputy Kyne last year, I appreciate the importance of this aspect of the bypass works.  I would, of course, like to be in a position to announce funding for the overall project but, unfortunately, that is not possible for the time being.  However, real benefit will accrue to the people of Moycullen from a quality of life and road safety perspective as a result of progressing this particularly important aspect of the scheme.

I would like to welcome very warmly this announcement of €3.5 million for the N59 Moycullen upgrade. This is the best local news I have received in my ten years in politics. In fact, when I was elected to Galway County Council, the first delegation I met a few days after being elected was from local residents regarding this road. I am delighted and I would like to thank the Minister for his support on this. As he said, he travelled to Moycullen last August and had a meeting with local residents about the condition of that road, a meeting which was hot and heavy at times. We further discussed this matter with the CEO and chairman of the National Roads Authority last Friday at the turning of the sod for the M17-M18 motorway. I commend the Minister on his intervention.

This project is part of a 40 year campaign, believe it or not. It will include the widening of the very narrow Clydagh bridge and the provision of footpaths, cycle lanes and lighting on that section of road. I understand the tenders are near completion. Again, I thank the Minister for his support. I am sure the National Roads Authority will be advancing this very soon, possibly with work to start in the autumn. I am sure the Minister will be in contact with the NRA on that.

In regard to the overall objectives and benefits of the scheme, I want to put on the record of the House that a full business case has been carried out for the Moycullen scheme, which shows a benefit to cost ratio of 2.2 to 2.6. Between Galway city and the west of Moycullen, the existing N59 primarily serves as a commuter route, while further west it is more accurately described as a rural-tourist route. It forms the main street through the village of Moycullen, and traffic projections for the opening year of the project predict a traffic flow of some 11,000 to 13,000, which is very significant. Having visited Moycullen and discussed this with Deputy Kyne and the NRA, I do not believe anyone can argue about the merits of this project. We would love to be able to go ahead with the main bypass but we just cannot afford to do so. However, this will result in a major improvement for people trying to get to and from Connemara, and, in addition, for the people of Moycullen, who will be able to walk around the town and village in a way they cannot at present.

I thank the Minister. Many elderly residents have lived along that road for more than 40 years. Indeed, some individuals got planning permission up to 45 years ago and were told at the time not to put in a permanent boundary wall on the front of their site because there were plans to widen the road. This is wonderful news, on which I commend the Minister. It will also improve the very dangerous Kylebroghlan junction, where drivers cannot see properly when turning right. I again thank the Minister for his support on this project.

Sports Capital Programme Eligibility

Catherine Murphy

Question:

8. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the criteria used when determining how sports capital grants are allocated; if population growth and demographic development are taken into account; if he has conducted a survey to identify deficits in sports facilities provision; if so, where these deficits are located; the measures he proposes to address same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21356/14]

Eoghan Murphy

Question:

14. Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the current position of the 2014 sports capital programme. [21487/14]

Sandra McLellan

Question:

32. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when he will announce those receiving a sports capital grant for 2014. [21565/14]

Pat Deering

Question:

40. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the current position of the 2014 sports capital programme. [21569/14]

Historically, it has been quite difficult to fathom how sports grants have been allocated, and not necessarily just sports capital grants. Historically, for example, we have seen that a constituency where a Minister comes from is where the lion's share of sports grants have gone. It is very important that people understand the methodology if there is going to be confidence that the money is spent in the places where it is most needed and that demographic trends and deficits are part of that.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 14, 32 and 40 together.

Applications received under the 2014 sports capital programme are being assessed by officials in my Department.  Every application will be assessed by one official and reviewed by another.  Given the number of applications received and the detail contained therein, this process will take a number of months to complete.  I hope to announce the allocations later this year.

Applications are first checked to ensure eligibility.  All eligible applications are initially assessed against five criteria: the likelihood of increasing participation and-or improving performance and sharing of facilities; the level of socioeconomic disadvantage in the area; the technical merits of the project; the level of own funding available; and the level of sports capital programme funding received in the past. These criteria are designed to give higher scores to applications that will increase participation, where facilities will be shared, that are from designated disadvantaged areas, that have not received substantial funding in the past and that are ready to be progressed as soon as possible.

In 2008, local authorities were requested to carry out an audit of local sports facilities.  Many of these local authorities and local sports partnerships around the country have published online directories or databases of the sports and recreational facilities in their areas.

In deciding the final allocations within each county, the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, and I may have regard to other criteria such as population, performance during the assessment process, and ensuring a geographic spread of rural and urban projects and of projects among different sports.

Obviously, that is what I would have hoped to hear in the reply, namely, that the methodology is very clear. When the Minister of State goes to announce the grants, will there be checks and balances to make sure that is how it is applied? Given the new politics that has been talked about, this is one of the areas where people will look very critically if there is a deviation from that.

I have raised with the Minister of State on numerous occasions, albeit not in the context of sports capital grants, the significant deficit in respect of sports facilities in north County Kildare. Despite having a population of 60,000, not one town in the area has a swimming pool. When people ask me why their town does not have a swimming pool I tell them it is in County Kerry because that is where the Minister with responsibility for sports when money was available for new swimming pool projects was from. People want a return on the money being spent on sports facilities because that money belongs to them.

Encouraging people to live in towns rather than the countryside requires making towns attractive places to live and sports and leisure facilities are a vital part of that.

As Deputy Catherine Murphy will be aware, the swimming pools programme was closed some years ago. I have asked my officials to review the position regarding swimming pool projects and discuss the matter with local authorities. I asked a representative of the County and City Managers' Association what local authorities require to advance swimming pool projects. The enhancement programme for swimming pools worked well and saved a number of pools from closure. However, Deputy Murphy is correct that a small number of areas, including Leixlip, do not have a swimming pool. Local authorities are no longer interested in operating swimming pools because they are too costly. I am considering the possibility of opening a limited scheme to enable a number of counties to make an application for funding for a new swimming pool. I will review the matter.

The Deputy will have to admit that the most recent round of funding under the sports capital programme was the fairest ever allocation and the first that did not give rise to media controversy. I allocated funding on a pro rata basis to ensure every county received a fair share of the overall allocation. When I reviewed the allocations for the past ten years, I noted which counties had done very well, reduced funding to such counties and increased funding to counties that had not done so well. For example, the figures indicated that, on a per capita basis, funding to counties Carlow and Wicklow amounted to €1 or €2, whereas the equivalent figure for counties Donegal and Kerry was as high as €195 per capita. I wonder why that was the case. I decided not to provide further funding to these counties and instead increase funding to counties that had done badly in previous funding rounds.

When the most recent round of funding under the sports capital programme was announced, journalists immediately tried to find out if County Mayo received a greater allocation than other counties. The county was allocated, pro rata, the funding to which it was entitled, as were all other counties. I did what Dr. John Considine wanted to me to do and when he found no reason to criticise local schemes, he examined the regional schemes. Not every county had a regional scheme, however.

That is where the Minister of State was caught out.

Sports capital funding is welcome and the sooner it is announced the better not only for successful applicants for planning purposes, but also for unsuccessful clubs. Does the Minister of State have figures on the number of invalid applications? Given that this is the second scheme over which he has presided, can anything be done for clubs which have had two applications rejected? Clubs that have missed out on two funding opportunities may not have access to a new source of Government funding for a number of years.

The figure for invalid applications is 38%. I must give my officials full credit for making the application process easier and allowing online applications to be submitted. The three main reasons for declaring applications invalid were the absence of own funding by the applicant, a failure to have the property in question registered and the absence of a planning approval for the proposed works. While I made my officials available before the process commenced, they will not speak to applicants while the process is ongoing. Officials assisted applicants in every way during the initial process.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy is correct that some of the invalid applications were received from organisations which submitted an invalid application in the previous round of sports capital funding. Despite writing to the organisations in question following the previous process to indicate the reasons their applications were invalid, some of them submitted further invalid applications. I want this process to be fair and, as such, I will not consider any invalid applications. Under the most recent round of the programme and unlike in previous rounds, not one invalid application was considered.

I welcome the funding available under the sports capital programme and the criteria the Minister of State introduced two years ago. As the Minister of State noted, County Carlow was discriminated against for many years. It is interesting to hear Deputy Catherine Murphy refer to County Kildare. I am aware of one club in County Kildare which received more in sports capital funding than County Carlow secured over the years. Fortunately, this type of discrimination was addressed in the previous round of funding.

On invalid applications, will the relevant clubs and organisations be notified in advance of the next announcement on funding that their applications were invalid and the reasons therefor? Will they also be informed of the steps they can take to rectify the position in future applications? When will the funding allocation be announced and will the announcement specify a timeframe within which it must be spent?

On the previous occasion, we did not write to unsuccessful applicants until some weeks after the funding round was announced. On this occasion, I hope a letter will issue to every unsuccessful applicant on the day the announcement is made. Every club will receive a letter, as they did on the previous occasion, setting out the reasons their application was invalid. This should make matters easier.

On the timeframe for the announcement, more than 2,000 applications for funding have been received and are being processed. The announcement will not be made before the local elections.

I cannot understand the reason that clubs and organisations which received a letter explaining the reasons their applications were invalid have submitted further invalid applications in this round. It does not make sense. My officials made the process easier by providing a template to be filled in by a solicitor in which registration could be taken against a property. We did our best to make it as easy as possible for clubs to make applications for funding. We do not want to penalise clubs and while we not be able to fund every club, I want all of them to have a fair crack of the whip. The law of the land is that invalid applications cannot be considered and that will remain the case.

How were invalid applications from clubs able to proceed through to the next stage under the new electronic application process? Of the €26 million allocated two years ago, how much remains unspent?

I am pleased with the manner in which the Minister of State is allocating funds under the sports capital programme. He has not engaged in the type of gerrymandering that occurred under previous Ministers, although I must admit that County Kildare benefited from this approach under a previous Minister for Finance. Will clubs be able to carry out works in stages and be paid on that basis?

On invalid applications, a template to be signed by solicitors was provided as part of the process. Rather than completing this template, some applicants submitted letters with incorrect information. My officials did their best to make the process as easy as possible. Applications proceeded to the next stage because the letters that were received had to be checked. When this was done it was found that many of them were invalid. Registration of property is a major problem in this country. I respect the fact that those involved in sporting organisations act in a voluntary capacity. I feel sorry for the secretary or chairman of a club in the sense that applying for funding places a major onus and responsibility on them. While we try to be as lenient and fair as possible, invalid applications will not be considered. Having made the application process easier, I cannot do more. However, the number of invalid applications has declined from 48% to 38%.

Approximately €58 million of funding remains outstanding from previous rounds. In the previous round, successful applicants were given a two year period to spend the funding.

I see it happening again. More than a year and a half after the moneys were allocated, organisations are coming back looking for the second round when they did not even spend the first round. They will not be considered too seriously.

Can the sports capital allocations be paid in stages?

My understanding from the rules and regulations is that if some work is done and certified, then the Department will pay. The rules and the regulations go out with the announcement of the allocations, so the organisations have to abide by them. There is also the option of staged payments.

As Deputies Griffin and O'Brien are not in the Chamber, their questions cannot be taken.

Questions Nos. 9 and 10 replied to with Written Answers.

Local Authority Members' Remit

Anthony Lawlor

Question:

11. Deputy Anthony Lawlor asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the measures being taken in his Department to devolve powers to local authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21563/14]

Ray Butler

Question:

34. Deputy Ray Butler asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the measures being taken in his Department to devolve powers to local authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21494/14]

I appreciate the Minister is here to take this question himself as he was a city councillor himself and will appreciate my point. Heretofore, many councillors were not aware of their powers. I would like to see more powers devolved to councillors for roads programmes. When I was a councillor in the late 1990s, there was a three year roads programme which councillors could debate. Nowadays, it seems to be cloak-and-dagger type stuff with engineers, who mostly are inside an office looking at Google Maps, deciding roads programmes with no input from councillors who are on the ground. Will the Minister indicate if there will be increased powers for local authority councillors with regard to decisions on roads programmes?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 34 together.

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, has led the most significant overhaul in the powers and functions of local authority structures in recent history. He deserves great credit for this and I am keen to support his agenda of devolving functions to local authorities where it is appropriate to do so. The impact of his work is that the councillors who will be elected next week will have significantly more power and influence on local matters.

My Department's principal engagement with local authorities is on roads matters. This year I have given local authorities increased flexibility in the use of grants for regional and local roads. I am supportive of giving further discretion in that area to local authorities in the future. This may be to the extent of allocating a single block roads grant to each local authority or indeed including it in a single overall grant from central government. The merit in such a move would be to give local authorities real choice in deciding what they wanted prioritise in their own county, rather than such decisions being made by me or my successors in the Department's offices in Kildare Street.

In the maritime sector, I have already transferred five harbour authorities to local authorities. The national ports policy recommends that control of the State ports of Drogheda, Dún Laoghaire, Galway, New Ross and Wicklow also be devolved from central to local government led structures. This reflects the regional nature of those bodies and their move in tourism and leisure amenity. I expect to bring proposals to the Government in the coming weeks for legislation to give effect to these recommendations.

Proposals for the rural transport programme will see local authorities having a role for the first time in transport planning. They will carry out strategic transport needs assessment in respect of their functional areas and develop annual transport plans for submission to the National Transport Authority, NTA.

The local area hackney licence, introduced by the NTA in December 2013, is designed to facilitate low-cost entry to the hackney market for transport in rural areas. In applying for a licence, the applicant must submit an analysis of the need for the proposed service carried out by or on behalf of the relevant local authority and confirmation of the need for the services by the relevant local authority.

The role of local authorities in tourism development will be reflected in my forthcoming tourism policy statement. The policy will recognise the roles of local authorities in engaging communities, local enterprise support, providing tourism infrastructure and ensuring an attractive environment. Their role in community engagement underpins the community tourism initiative announced in April. This partnership between Fáilte Ireland, Irish Public Bodies Mutual Insurances Limited and the 34 local authorities, will provide an annual fund of €1 million over the next three years to support up to 700 local community-based events and festivals each year.

I have identified responsibility for local sports partnerships as a function for consideration for devolution to local authorities. Proposals will be submitted to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in the context of establishing Sport Ireland.

Will the Minister inform those newly elected members of local authorities next week of their functions and roles on roads programmes? Many of them are not aware of their roles and defer a lot of decision-making to local authority management.

Deputy Lawlor’s suggestion is an excellent one as the powers held by councillors are contained in many different Acts from maritime to local government to roads legislation, not one single Act. Rather than me just doing it for roads, the best action would be for the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to produce a small booklet for newly elected councillors informing them of their powers and under which legislation they are contained. This might be useful because the details of their powers are all over the place from planning to other legislation.

The Minister should be careful as he might burst their bubble. Many of them think they have a lot of power.

It would have to be a large booklet.

Yes, some councillors might prefer not to have these powers. I am amused from time to time about the number of representations I get from councillors about matters such as speed limits which they decide, not me. There will be a whole new set of councillors next week and, hopefully, they will figure out what their job is.

There will be outgoing councillors too. Is Deputy Lawlor happy with that reply?

Will he be happy next week though?

One of my concerns is that many local authorities are farming out more of their work for parks, local authority housing renovation or road maintenance for different reasons. I am firmly opposed to this because in the past, when local authorities had their own workers, it worked well.

Recently, Fingal County Council voted to oppose the election of a mayor for Dublin and the devolving of power to that proposed office. Has the Minister made any further representations on this? A mayor with some powers and a bit of bite is a good idea.

It is up to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to take stock about the proposed Dublin mayor and decide on how he wishes to proceed on that. It will not go away as an issue and, at some point, the people of Dublin will be asked for their view on it. I regret that this was not done on this occasion as a result of a decision of Fingal County Council.

I have a mixed view of the outsourcing of public service functions. Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes, it does not. Sometimes outsourcing does not always work and is not always better. Sometimes, it is and can work very well. Across the public service, even in agencies under my Department’s remit, because they are so constrained by the employment control framework and cannot take on additional staff, they have no other option but to outsource. This is regrettable because outsourcing should happen because it makes sense and there is a strong business case for doing so, not just because they have to as they are not allowed to take on additional staff. That is a matter the Government as a whole can consider in the coming months and the next year, now that it appears the budgetary situation is starting to improve.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.