Other Questions

Greenways Funding

Denis Naughten


6. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans for the completion of the greenway between Dublin and Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39196/15]

The approach taken to planning the greenway between Ballinasloe and Galway has led to a decision to pause the plans for the cycle way between Athlone and Galway. The fundamental problem is that the routing of the greenway through County Galway has taken a different approach from that taken on the eastern side of the River Shannon, where it was based on publicly owned lands along the canal and disused railways. Is the Minister committed to a greenway from Athlone to Galway and, if so, will he facilitate that by utilising existing public lands to the greatest extent possible?

As the Deputy will be aware, earlier this year, the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and I met representatives of landowners in that area and representative bodies, including the IFA. After that meeting, the Minister of State and I requested the project team tasked with delivering the western section of the Dublin to Galway greenway to commence a consultation process with landowners along the preferred route. A report was provided to the Minister of State and me, and we published it. We made it fully public because we want the matter to be in the public domain and to be transparent.

Having discussed the report with my officials, and the Minister of State and I having considered the report's conclusion, our decision was to pause the further development of the Galway and Roscommon sections to allow time to reflect on the issues raised and to give consideration to the possibility of developing a new route that works locally and has the support of key landowners. I appreciate - this was evident in the report - that overall the level of support among landowners along the Roscommon section of the then preferred route was positive. That was one of the reasons we decided to publish the report. I wanted all that to be in the public domain. Based on our joint prospective, we could not progress with that section of the route in its entirety without being clear as to how we would deal with the Galway portion of the route.

In the interim, my Department will focus on completing the section of the greenway from Maynooth to Westmeath through Kildare and Meath, which has planning permission in place and is ready for development. The reason the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and I met the landowners and the reason we decided to go ahead with other parts of the greenway was to make very clear our commitment to the completion of the overall project. A Dublin to Galway national greenway would be a massive piece of public infrastructure and I am committed to putting in place a process to complete that largest section.

I thank the Minister for acknowledging that there is considerable agreement on the section between Athlone and Ballinasloe. The reason for that agreement on the section through County Roscommon and part of County Galway is that about 40% of the route between Athlone and Ballinasloe is on publicly owned lands. Can the Minister give me an assurance that we will look at routing the greenway from Ballinasloe to Galway on existing publicly owned lands? As we know, over the next 15 years Bord na Móna will be pulling out of milled peat production. Much of its land bank in County Galway is not in production at the moment or will come out of production in due course. A significant land bank owned by Coillte is available. Does it not make more sense to try to map a route between Ballinasloe and Galway utilising those lands in so far as possible and then sitting down with the landowners in the other sections?

I will go to the heart of the Deputy's question on the use of private land. During the Easter school break earlier this year I had the opportunity to go to the greenway located in the county and constituency of the Minister of State, Deputy Ring. I observed the success of it running from Westport through Newport and Mulranny to Achill. Much of that greenway is located on and through private lands. Agreements were put in place based on the principle of permissive access regarding the use of that land. Using that land has delivered a project of extraordinary success because it has allowed cyclists and tourists, such as me, to see to the maximum the local communities and villages as well as the broader environment. Going through some farmland with the co-operation of the farmers has made it such a success.

The key point the Deputy put to me was whether I could give a guarantee that it could all go through public land. I am afraid I cannot.

I did not ask the Minister that.

The Deputy can put that question to me again then.

We have a process in place with TII and I will not prejudge the outcome of that, just as I did not prejudge the previous process that led to this conclusion.

I am disappointed that the Minister is failing to listen to me. I have been saying this since last February. I am probably the only public representative to say publicly that I want the greenway between Athlone and Galway to proceed. It will go through my parish and I am determined to see it go ahead. However, it can only proceed with the consent of landowners. In the example that has been given between Athlone and Ballinasloe it will go through public and private lands, which is the solution to this; it is a combination of both. The greenway between Westport and Achill goes through public and private lands, and that is the solution for the section from Ballinasloe to Galway.

Tremendous work has already been done, particularly by one individual, Anne Marie Johnson on Roscommon County Council. Will the Minister commit to bring the cycleway from Athlone to Ballinasloe, and even by physical segregation along the existing N6 as far as Aughrim? As the Minister knows, the 325th anniversary of the Battle of Aughrim will occur next July. We could create a siege cycleway from Athlone right through to Aughrim. I hope the Minister can give an indication that he is committed to such a development.

I am sorry but the Deputy earlier asked me to give a commitment on how the greenway would be built. I will not give that commitment when an independent body is in place to ascertain how it could be built. I will not prejudge what it might recommend or undermine its work in any way.

The overall Galway to Roscommon section, at more than 110 km, is the largest portion of it, as the Deputy will know. While the work is now under way to see how a new route could be delivered to try to meet the needs the Deputy has outlined, I have now decided that the Kildare and Meath portions of this should proceed and work will begin on those next year. I will not give any commitment on a new route simply because this work will be carried out by TII which will give us the best chance of getting a mix between public and private land while delivering a route that we know tourists and cyclists will want use.

All I am asking for is a mix.

I call Deputy Lawlor for a brief supplementary question.

I welcome that the Minister has said that the greenway from Maynooth to Mullingar will proceed. When will that be started? We are talking about the Royal Canal at the moment, but what plans does the Minister have for the greenway on the Grand Canal?

In answer to the Deputy's first question, I expect the preparatory work on the Kildare and Meath portions of the greenway will begin in the first half of next year. I expect those new portions of the greenway to be open by the summer of 2017, which will then allow us to have made much more progress on the first half of the greenway.

I am not in a position to say if further funding will be available in the coming months for the other greenway project the Deputy mentioned. The Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and I want to deliver more greenways and we want to find new funding to make it happen. This process will ascertain if different kinds of greenways can be delivered, perhaps at lower cost, to meet the kinds of needs the Deputy has referred to.

Military Aircraft Landings

Mick Wallace


7. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport further to Parliamentary Question No. 18 of 23 September 2015, if his Department relies solely on assurances from foreign airlines and militaries that personal weapons permitted on board civil aircraft used by foreign militaries, under the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order 1973, are unloaded, and that there is no ammunition on board the aircraft; if so, if he is satisfied that such assurances are sufficient to ensure that no breach of the legislation occurs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39256/15]

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport gives permits on a regular basis to foreign airlines and militaries for troops and munitions to pass through or over Ireland. Does the Minister rely solely on assurances that all regulations are adhered to, or do scheduled or random inspections ever occur? Is the Minister satisfied that no breaches of international law are occurring?

Airlines applying for exemptions under the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order 1973 make such applications on a dedicated application form for each flight. In approximately 90% of cases the applications relate to the personal weapons of the troops on board the flight. The application forms for such flights specify that the exemption is being sought for the personal weapons of the troops on board and that no ammunition will be carried. If ammunition is being carried on a particular flight, it will be clearly stated on the application form. Ammunition is classified under International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, regulations as a dangerous good and must be packaged accordingly and stored safely. The flights carrying the personal weapons of the troops on board that transit through Irish airspace and airports are operated by well-known US and EU airlines. These airlines are subject to strict domestic, international and EU safety and security regulations. I have no reason to suspect the 1973 order is not being adhered to.

I will clarify a comment I made the last time I answered an oral question on this matter, Question No. 8 on 23 September. While preparing the reply to today's question, it became apparent to me that I had inadvertently given the impression that all munitions were packaged securely and stored in the hold in such a way that they are inaccessible during the flight. However, these rules apply to munitions that are classified by ICAO as dangerous goods, such as ammunition or explosives. Unloaded personal weapons are not classified as dangerous goods by ICAO. On this basis, the international rules for the carriage of dangerous goods by air do not apply to unloaded weapons. There are no special packing requirements for such items given that they do not pose a safety risk to civil aircraft.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The US Department of Defense procedures, which are available publicly, permit the carriage of unloaded weapons in the cabin of civil aircraft. However, these procedures permit this only in circumstances where all the passengers on board the aircraft are military personnel, that is, a troop charter flight, and where the weapons are unloaded, rendered inoperable and stored securely within the cabin. It should also be borne in mind that these flights have to overfly or land in a number of other European countries besides Ireland and that common EU safety and security rules apply. I am not aware that such flights have raised aviation safety concerns in other jurisdictions.

The Minister says he carries out no scheduled or random inspections and takes them at their word that everything is always okay. Given that 33 million people have been displaced by war and there has been an incredible refugee crisis for some time, should we not be more concerned about what is passing through Shannon Airport and our airspace? Under freedom of information, Shannonwatch got details of flights that have come through Shannon and overflights during the past year. On 15 November 2014 and 16 November 2014, explosives and rockets with bursting charges, which are probably cluster bombs, went to Saudi Arabia. That is a war front. Amnesty International has highlighted recently the terrible atrocities and war crimes taking place daily in Yemen. Munitions are being flown through our airspace to Saudi Arabia to facilitate its war crimes. Does the Minister's Department ever consider the end result of giving permits for munitions and troops to pass through our airspace?

The civil aircraft used to transport munitions or troops through Ireland are subject to the same civil aviation legislation as other civil aircraft. International and national legislation allows for inspection of aircraft from other states and authorised officers of the Minister or the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, have the usual powers of inspection of all aircraft in Ireland for the purposes of ensuring compliance with air navigation and transport Acts. This legislation, like any other legislation, is implemented in a way that is consistent with our broader foreign policy and Government policy. The 1973 order empowers an authorised officer to enter and inspect a civil aircraft if it is suspected that the provisions on carrying munitions of war are being contravened. Where there are reasonable grounds to suspect an offence has been committed, the Garda Síochána has available powers of entry, search and seizure as part of its duty to prevent and detect crime.

The Minister says he does not avail of the rules and regulations in place. If we had a speed limit of 100 km/h on national routes but never inspected drivers, people could drive at 150 km/h. If we never inspect to determine whether people are keeping the rules, how can we know what they do? In 2014, 190 tonnes of bullets went through our airspace on six flights to Afghanistan alone. How many people did these bullets kill? How in God's name can the Minister tell me his Department can be comfortable with or can even know whether human rights are being abused or war crimes committed with the help of the munitions or through the actions of the troops passing through our airspace? Since 2001, the US military alone has killed 2.1 million citizens - not people carrying guns or explosives but citizens. How can the Government say we are still a neutral country given that we are facilitating it? We are complicit in major war atrocities. How can the Minister stand over it?

Our country is neutral. Our foreign policy is very clear on it and informs all choices the Government makes on foreign policy and other matters. My Department has clear responsibilities regarding legislation on the safety of aircraft. To extend the Deputy's analogy, the implementation of road traffic law is a matter for the Garda Síochána and, similarly, if there is evidence that the law I have described is being contravened in any way, it is also a matter for the Garda Síochána.

Regarding how my Department engages with other Departments, for any application that comes in regarding a civil aircraft and its use in the carriage of munitions and weapons, my Department seeks the views of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade regarding foreign policy matters and the Department of Justice and Equality regarding security issues. If the munitions are classified as dangerous goods, the views of the IAA are also sought and applications are sent to the Department of Defence. If any of the bodies object, an exemption is generally not granted.

City of Culture Initiative

Dessie Ellis


8. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the support his Department will provide to Dublin City Council as part of the council's efforts to secure city of culture status for 2020; and the estimated benefits a successful bid would have on the city's tourism industry. [39267/15]

What support will the Minister and his Department give to Dublin City Council as part of the council's effort to secure the city of culture status for 2020, and what are the estimated benefits it would bring?

The European capital of culture programme is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Two cities are designated as capitals of culture each year. In 2020, an Irish city will share the designation with a Croatian city. A number of cities are competing for the designation in Ireland and it would be inappropriate for my Department, a national Department, to make funding available to any one city given that they are all competing against each other.

How could we decide which city to fight for? I cannot win. Whether Dublin, Cork or Limerick-----

-----all our cities are full of good culture. We are pressing for whatever city and I am not sure how the Minister will gauge it. Perhaps he would indicate how he would make such a judgment or how he would see it. Much is happening in our city. Moore Street is being redone and the iconic buildings there are being brought on stream. While it is a pity we do not have the whole battlefield site, many good things are happening. I am concerned about Dublin city. There have been reports of a shortage of hotel places in the city. If it is the case, it must be examined. Whether Dublin, Cork or otherwise, we must ensure there is quality accommodation.

For the record, the cities applying are Dublin, Limerick, Galway and a combined bid from Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford. If I did not acknowledge all of them, I could be in difficulty with some of my colleagues, as would the Deputy.

We want to acknowledge all of them. I believe an announcement of the winner will be made by next July. I understand that a pre-selection phase in relation to all of this will take place in Dublin Castle this week. The winner will receive support from the Exchequer in order to make sure its candidacy is as successful as possible. While I have my own personal hope in this regard, I wish everyone involved the best of luck. Regardless of which candidate wins, it will get the full support of the Department and all of its agencies.

Public Transport Initiatives

Dessie Ellis


9. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport for an update on plans for the Dublin Bus rapid transit system that has been proposed for the capital city. [39269/15]

I want to ask the Minister about his plans for the bus rapid transport system that has been proposed for Dublin. It went off the radar to an extent when the capital plan was announced. Can the Minister give us an update on it?

As the Deputy will be aware, proposals in relation to three bus rapid transport, BRT, routes were included in the National Transport Authority's integrated implementation plan, which runs from 2013 to 2018. The Government has decided to proceed with the new metro north project, which we debated earlier. Funding will be available for that. In light of the Government's decision, I have asked the National Transport Authority to keep the capacity issues on the corridor under review. The authority continues to indicate to me that bus-based measures will be needed to provide increased capacity and to meet the level of demand in our part of the city. Such measures could take the form of a BRT, a BRT-type service or a conventional quality bus corridor project and upgrade. This is a matter that we will keep under review. Any final decision we make will take account of the status of the metro project.

There was a great deal of consultation on the three preferred BRT routes. Measures were to be put in place. The Minister is saying that while the metro is the main focus of attention, there may be interim projects that involve the use of BRT or some watered-down version of it. It is not clear whether the Minister is intending to push ahead with this in some capacity. He is saying that if transport problems develop to the extent that more accessibility, more bus services and more passenger services are needed, he will re-examine the BRT option. It is obvious that it could be a good interim choice to deal with the problems that exist in this city. Transport to the airport, for instance, is very important. The number of people using the Swords route, about which we have been talking for a long time, has increased dramatically. I think we should continue to look at BRT to see whether it can be utilised, especially in light of the money that has already been spent on consultation in this area.

Funding for the Blanchardstown to UCD and Clongriffin to Tallaght BRT projects is included in the capital plan.

Funding is included to proceed with those projects. As they are massive projects in their own right, they will take time to deliver. Regarding the Swords to Dublin BRT project, now that I have made a decision to proceed with the metro transport choice, I need to work back from that to determine the right form of bus transit to meet the needs that will exist before the metro opens in 2026 or 2027 and to accompany the metro when it is operational. The National Transport Authority is looking at that matter at the moment. It will make proposals in this regard. I would say that some of the projects we have done were worth going ahead with in their own right. I refer, for example, to the change that was made to remove a pinch point at the Cat & Cage on the Drumcondra Road. Regardless of the development of BRT, the removal of that pinch point was the right choice to make. It was the right project. Similar projects will be going ahead.

I agree with the Minister that there has been a massive improvement at the Cat & Cage in Drumcondra, which had been a bottleneck for many years. If we were to proceed with some form of BRT, it would facilitate such projects. We will probably need some supplementary measures while we are waiting for the metro line to the airport to kick off. I acknowledge that there have been some big improvements.

Tourism Policy

Bernard Durkan


10. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the extent to which he and his Department have identified the various potential growth areas in the tourism sector, with particular reference to the need to facilitate and encourage further expansion, growth and employment in the future and thereby capitalise on the economy's recovery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39194/15]

I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, to comment on the extent to which he and his Department have identified potential growth areas for tourism, in order to capitalise to the maximum extent on the employment potential in this sector, and to set out how he proposes to proceed in this regard.

I thank Deputy Durkan for raising this question. Tourism continues to contribute significantly to Ireland's economic recovery.  CSO figures for the first nine months of 2015 show that there were over 6.64 million overseas visits to Ireland, which represents an increase of 12.5% on the same nine-month period of 2014. This growth in overseas visits has been accompanied by strong growth in overseas tourism revenue from all the main markets. The most recent CSO quarterly tourism and travel publication shows that spending in Ireland by overseas visitors, excluding air fares or ferry charges, for the first half of 2015 increased by 16.2% compared to the same six-month period in 2014.  There was 8.4% growth in revenue from Great Britain, 33.7% growth in revenue from North America and 14.9% growth in revenue from mainland Europe.  Other long-haul markets recorded 2.6% growth in revenue.

The Government's tourism policy statement, People, Place and Policy - Growing Tourism to 2025, was launched in March of this year.  It acknowledges that generating increased levels of overseas revenue is a key part of the future of Irish tourism.  The main targets contained in the tourism policy statement to be achieved by 2025 are to increase overseas tourism revenue to €5 billion net of inflation, compared to €3.5 billion in 2014; to increase overseas visits to Ireland to 10 million, compared to 7.6 million in 2014; and to have 250,000 people employed in the tourism sector, compared to 205,000 at present. Earlier this year, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and I appointed a tourism leadership group to put in place a tourism action plan that will set out the actions required in the period to 2018 to achieve the overall objectives in People, Place and Policy - Growing Tourism to 2025 and to ensure the strong growth experienced in recent years continues. We intend to publish the tourism action plan in the first quarter of 2016.

We have time for just one supplementary question from Deputy Durkan.

I compliment the Minister, the Minister of State and everyone involved in the tourism sector on their remarkable performance over the course of the year, even though we did not have the hottest summer we ever had. It proves the point that every avenue should be utilised and assessed. Does the Minister of State feel there are other areas for expansion, such as the area of conference and business tourism? People who visit this country for one purpose might well come back for a different tourism purpose at a later stage. The Minister of State might indicate the extent to which he has had discussions with the tourism services sector with a view to identifying pressure points throughout that sector.

I thank the Deputy for his comments on tourism. There is no doubt that by the end of the year, 2015 could be not just the best year since the recession or the best year in the past ten years, but indeed the best year ever for tourism in this country. Those involved in every aspect of tourism in every corner of this country will say that this has been a brilliant year. All of the propositions, including the Dublin proposition, the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East, have helped to bring people into this country. The Deputy asked what we are doing to try to target further growth in the tourism sector. We set up the tourism leadership group because we are looking at ways and means of increasing the tourism sector. It is brilliant that we have over 200,000 people employed in tourism. We want to increase that to 250,000. I see no reason we cannot do so. One of the good things about tourism is that it can be in every corner of the country. When multinational companies are coming to Ireland, they want to specify where they want to be located. Tourism can be in every corner of the country. Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland and those involved in the trade are looking for business. We sometimes fail to give credit to the trade.

We do not give enough credit to the operators who are out there on trade missions all over the world. They are out there sourcing business at every opportunity. They go to travel fairs, as individuals and in groups, with the support of Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland.

The one area that we must look at is Dublin, because there is a lack of capacity in the city centre. We do not have that problem in rural Ireland but we certainly have it in Dublin. It is something that we must look at, target and deal with. We can see problems coming down the track with regard to Dublin, and if we want to see further growth, particularly in terms of conferences and events in Dublin city, then we must find ways to increase capacity.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.