I raise this Topical Issue matter in the House following a public meeting I attended immediately before Christmas in a village called Rathcabbin on the north Tipperary and Offaly border, which is known as the Lower Ormond electoral area. I am not elected to the district but it will form part of the new constituency of Offaly. I, along with my colleague, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, and other councillors in the electoral area were invited to the same meeting.
The meeting was very well attended. It was called by the residents of the village and the immediate area of Lorrha and surrounding areas because many people are frustrated, infuriated and quite angry about the gradual decline in the condition of the roads in the vicinity. We heard various speakers from those in attendance who were informed in the preceding days by schools in the areas of Birr and Roscrea that school transport providers and bus companies were seriously considering withdrawing their services because of the terrible state of the roads in the area. We also heard from many business owners in the area. It was explained that suppliers were ringing them in advance of deliveries and asking that people meet in locations three miles from their place of business, again because of the unfortunate state of the roads.
It is predominantly a rural farming area which depends on a major form of infrastructure to carry out their daily business and social and economic lives, such as bringing children to school and whatnot. It is becoming a very dangerous chore and impinges on livelihoods, cars and so forth. Unfortunately, over time, very little has been spent. I have submitted many parliamentary questions to the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Transport, Tourism and Sport.
Over time, and in particular over the past number of years, we have under-invested in local county and regional roads, a fact which is now coming home to roost. It is estimated that there has been up to a 50% underspend in the maintenance of our roads. That is putting extra pressure on capital investment and the reconstruction of roads. It is plain to see that the recovery has not taken hold in many rural areas but it has very little chance of taking hold if infrastructure is not put in place or brought up to the sort of level that people would expect, considering the amount of tax that is paid, such as road tax and property tax, and notwithstanding the fact that those two sources of funding were diverted to Irish Water over the past number of years, something which does nothing to assist people in thinking that progress can be made in this regard.
I am also conscious of the ongoing flood situation and the further damage being done to our roads. After the last major storm in June 2014, the Department called on local authorities to apply for funding to repair the damage, but up to 37% of what was requested was not forwarded by the Department. This is causing local authorities to fear doing the work they want to do. Further to a suggestion made by Deputy Corcoran Kennedy and I, a meeting took place between local authority members, a section of the community and engineers from Tipperary County Council. Immediate remedial works were carried out as best as they could be but, unfortunately, they were nothing along the lines of what was intended.
Very significant pressure will be placed on other local authorities as a result of the recent weather conditions. Will the Department make a specific and special case in this instance to address this issue and allow people to see local and national government are aware of the situation and are willing to put in place a plan or programme, over a number of years if necessary, to address this issue and return us to a level playing pitch with other parts of the country?