Roads Funding: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

"That Dáil Éireann:

notes:

— that there are almost 91,000 kilometres of regional and local roads in Ireland, which account for 94 per cent of the country’s roads network and which carry around 54 per cent of all road traffic;

— the importance of regional and local roads which are crucial to economic activity and essential for balanced regional development;

— that good quality regional and local roads are essential for social inclusion, providing vital linkages among communities and between communities, their towns and larger urban centres;

— the shortage of outdoor council staff who have not been replaced;

— the importance of the speedy delivery of the planned upgrading of our national road network, for both the economy and a more balanced spatial distribution;

— that according to the latest National Oversight and Audit Commission, the kilometres of all road types mapped to date indicate that 81.6 per cent of all regional roads, 87.1 per cent of all primary roads, 92 per cent of all secondary roads and 93.2 per cent of all tertiary roads fall outside of the best grouped condition rating category, many of which fall in the worst grouped condition rating category;

— that large segments of the national road network will be overloaded and operating above capacity and safe levels by 2030, if traffic volumes continue to grow; and

— that the growing congestion problems are the result of significant underinvestment in transport infrastructure over successive decades;

acknowledges:

— the commitments given in the Programme for a Partnership Government to increase the capital budget for regional and local roads by approximately 50 per cent;

— the publication of the Action Plan for Rural Development commitment to progress the major roads projects detailed in the seven year transport element of the Capital Investment Plan 2016 - 2021, which will help deliver economic and business benefits across rural areas and regions; and

— that world class road infrastructure is vital to build a stronger economy and is essential to the future of regional and rural development, particularly in terms of attracting investment, enterprise, tourism and the agri-food industries;

and calls on the Government to:

— consider increasing the regional and local roads budget as part of the Capital Investment Plan 2016 - 2021, in the context of the mid-term capital review which is underway;

— ensure that Transport Infrastructure Ireland and local authority funding is examined in the course of the expenditure review, with a view to being progressively resourced to ensure proactive national road project planning to increase the pipeline of essential roads projects, so that sufficient numbers of projects are brought through the planning and design stages and ready for construction as funding becomes available;

— accelerate support for the safety improvement schemes for dangerous junctions and bends, particularly where serious accidents and fatalities have occurred;

— continue funding, to enable the restoration of class 3/cul-de-sac roads;

— ensure continuation of Ceantair Laga Árd-Riachtanais (CLÁR) funding for disadvantaged areas;

— require local authorities to examine speed limits on all regional and local roads, and to ensure the process of adjusting speed limits continues to engage with local communities;

— ensure that local authorities take responsibility for ensuring that drainage, hedge cutting and the removal of overhanging trees are carried out where appropriate, in the interests of road safety, and to reduce damage caused to large vehicles particularly buses, lorries and agricultural machinery;

— urgently address road safety issues involving wild animals, such as deer, in co-operation with local authorities and other public bodies;

— undertake swift implementation of the commitment contained in the Action Plan for Rural Development, to examine the scope for increased investment in regional roads in the context of the review of the Capital Investment Plan 2016 - 2021, which will take place shortly; and

— reinstate a separate grant allocation to the Local Improvement Scheme, as funding becomes available, to support the upgrading and repair of non-local authority roads."

I am delighted to introduce the motion on behalf of the Rural Independent Group. Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil don Aire. I thank the Minister, Deputy Ross, and the staff in his office, in particular Aisling, and Triona of the Rural Independent Group staff. I also thank Ray O'Leary at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and officials in the Department Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government because the issue spans all of these areas. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, is aware of this and I wish to record my thanks and appreciation to him. I know how busy he is today.

This is an agreed motion. The Government has agreed it and we are very pleased about this. At our press conference today, I was asked about agreed motions as this is the third motion we have brought forward which has been agreed. We appreciate this very much. We are putting the Minister on notice that we will be holding him and the Government to account every day on Leaders' Questions and the Order of Business, with the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, to know when the promises will be delivered. We worked very hard for this and we are delighted we have an agreed motion. We have faith in the system and new politics, and I hope this will continue.

We have tabled the motion to ensure the importance of our regional and local roads is recognised so they can no longer be ignored and abandoned due to severe underinvestment which has occurred under this Government and previous Governments. In fairness to the Minister, he is a new man in the chair. Regional and local roads are of significant importance. They account for 94% of the country's road network and carry approximately 54% of all traffic. These figures are quite staggering. They are crucial for economic activity and essential for balanced regional development. However, these roads have been neglected for the past decade and longer. According to Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, which preaches the gospel according to the Minister, Deputy Ross, and everybody else, we are underinvesting in our roads network to the tune of €120 million a year. We will pay dearly for this.

My Rural Independent Group colleagues and I fought hard during the negotiations on the programme for Government to have funding for the road network increased dramatically. We received a commitment the Government would increase the capital budget for regional and local roads by approximately 50% over its lifetime.

I omitted to say that Deputy Grealish, who is not available today, and Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, who is detained in Kerry at the funeral of a very close friend, wish to apologise for not being with us.

The regional and local roads grant allocation for this year is €319 million, representing a 9% increase from last year. While this is very welcome and I thank the Minister for it, it falls very well short of what is required to maintain the network, as estimated in the strategic framework for investment in land transport published by the Department. While we continue this level of underinvestment, the backlog of repairs has increased from €3 billion in 2005 to more than €10 billion in 2016. The current allocation means we continue to put a sticking plaster on this huge problem. The Minister came to Tipperary and visited many projects and saw them for himself. This is very serious because it is getting worse. Anyone who knows construction, and I know a small bit about it, knows the longer it goes on without proper foundations the more expensive it will be to complete the job later.

The committed increase of 50% must be front-loaded. We cannot wait three or four years to increase roads funding as many of the roads are literally falling apart. We are failing the communities of rural Ireland, which are suffering with appalling road conditions, dangerous and overloaded roads, little or no public transport, huge motor tax payments and people trying to maintain vehicles with NCTs and DOEs. This is very unfair to people.

Last week, the Government announced its Action Plan for Rural Development, which aims to support 135,000 new jobs. How do we expect to attract investment into rural Ireland when access to rural Ireland is falling apart? It just will not happen. I slagged the Taoiseach about four country roads to Glenamaddy when he was speaking in Longford. This is what it is. We do not have access roads. Of greater concern is the fact we are not planning ahead. This is according to the TII chief, who stated very few projects are in the pipeline. It takes approximately ten years to bring a road project from design to construction. This is a very serious issue. If get we the funding, which I hope we will - perhaps we will win the lottery - we will not have projects available to complete. This is very serious. We need to get back to proactive national roads project planning to increase the pipeline of essential roads projects so sufficient numbers of projects are brought through the planning and design stage and are ready for construction as funding becomes available. It is criminal this is not being done. I want an explanation as to why we will not have any shovel ready projects at advanced design stage or ready to roll out.

We have major roads projects throughout the country which need to be upgraded. I will give a major example from my area and my colleagues will speak about their own parts of the country. The N24 Limerick to Waterford road travels through Tipperary town, Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir, as well as villages in Limerick. It is a major route that has been neglected for years and we continue to witness large volumes of traffic travel through these towns en route to Rosslare Harbour. The towns are suffering as a result of traffic backlogs and the condition of the road is appalling. In Tipperary town the road surface of the main street is appalling, but the local authority cannot repair it because it is a national route and falls under the heavy axe of the remit of the TII. This is very serious. The local authority states it can barely fill a pothole because of the TII. This bureaucracy must be weeded out.

More locally, many of our local tertiary roads have been absolutely abandoned, drains are no longer opened and hedges are not cut, and the local authorities take little or no interest in these roads. In many cases, they do not have the manpower as outdoor local authority staff have not been replaced and are at minimal levels.

We call on the Government to ensure that local authorities take responsibility for ensuring that drainage works, hedge cutting and the removal of overhanging trees are carried out where appropriate, in the interests of road safety and to reduce the damage caused to large vehicles, particularly buses, lorries and agricultural machinery. A mirror on a truck costs €200 at a minimum.

Local improvement schemes and class III roads must be supported. The local improvement scheme must be reinstated. Speed limits are all over the place, and we have raised this issue previously.

There is an 80 km/h speed limit on byroads, culs-de-sac and boreens and that is a road safety issue. The Minister is trying to improve road safety but it is not all about speed. There are simple issues like this where things are just not working. World-class rural infrastructure is vital to building a stronger economy and is essential to the future of regional rural development, particularly in attracting investment, enterprise, tourism and the agrifood industries. I plead with the Minister to get stuck in with the TII. Last night an appeal was made to him to get involved in disputes but we are not asking him to get involved in any disputes. We are asking him to look at the situation in rural Ireland as it is devastating. People in rural towns and villages in Ireland are entitled to roads which are as good as any place else, including the Red Cow.

The principal reason for the Rural Independent Group putting forward this motion is to highlight that the Irish road network is significantly underfunded. This raises safety concerns and concerns over the lack of connectivity between our major urban areas and it inhibits balanced regional development which significantly disadvantages our peripheral counties. The programme for partnership Government acknowledges that the capital budget for local and regional roads is still recovering after the economic crash and the new partnership Government proposes to increase this budget by approximately 50% in the years ahead if the national finances are improved. We acknowledge that the road budget has increased by 9% this year. This must be increased year on year to redress the ten years of underfunding. On 24 January, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, announced details of the €324 million investment programme for 2017 for regional and local roads. It was not a spectacular announcement but it was a step in the right direction.

We all pay equal road tax but unfortunately this does not ensure an even distribution of acceptable road infrastructure. The symbol of the rural road is still the pothole, which often multiplies and coalesces to change from comic to dangerous proportions. Poor road structure and inadequate investment must also be a contributory factor in some road traffic accidents and we are calling for urgent safety improvement schemes to address dangerous junctions and bends where serious or fatal accidents have occurred. Additionally, it is very difficult to convince county councils to take important simple safety measures to add rumble strips at entrances to our villages and towns where speeds are excessive and it is proving almost impossible to lower speed limits on roads which have excessive limits, as judged by local residents, road users and commercial traffic. The level of proof required that a limit is excessive is beyond the capacity of most local groups, having had to pass through so many regulatory bodies as to frustrate people to distraction. This process needs to be simplified and streamlined.

One of the legacies of the Celtic tiger era was the development of our motorway structure, linking our major cities. That undertaking was never completed and many projects were half finished or did not commence. We are still waiting for a motorway link between Limerick and Cork and for one between Limerick and Galway, to name but two projects. This deficit is a major factor inhibiting balanced regional development. My colleagues, Deputies Michael and Danny Healy Rae, are repeatedly speaking of the mythical Macroom bypass, which I presume will link Kilgarvan with the rest of the world. I am sure many of my colleagues will have similar projects which have not been completed or have not yet started.

The development of road connectivity is essential for economic development in trade, tourism and in health planning where travel time has been reduced allowing connectivity between hospitals. However, the recession has taken its toll on regional, secondary and local roads. A crumbling rural road infrastructure was one of the legacies bequeathed to the Irish people by the recession. It is estimated that roads need to have essential maintenance at least every seven years. Many of our roads have not been maintained for ten years or more and are now in a sorry state of repair. Maintenance costs multiply when roads are allowed to crumble and disintegrate, thus placing additional burdens on local authorities to bring them back to an acceptable level of structure. Additionally, county councils have lost many of experienced staff who had local knowledge on how to manage and maintain our secondary and local roads. Recruitment and retention of staff is critical if we are to upgrade our county road structure.

The Wild Atlantic Way has experienced extraordinary traffic increases over recent years and much of this traffic is using our secondary road system which is struggling to cope with the associated wear and tear. Combined with our extremes of weather, in particular flooding, this is putting great pressure on road maintenance requirements. The programme for Government also commits to reinstate a fully funded local improvement scheme to support the maintenance and repair of non-local authority roads. I am particularly keen to see the reinstatement of a separate grant allocation to the local improvement scheme, as funding becomes available, to support the upgrading and repair of non-local authority roads. This very worthwhile scheme was suspended in 2011. The purpose of the local improvement scheme is to provide funding for the upkeep and repair of isolated roads and lanes which have not been taken in charge by local authorities. In effect these are private roads, a legacy of history. The scheme was vital in keeping isolated people connected to their local community. So far the Minister has resisted calls for a separate ring-fenced fund, despite the state of many rural roads and lanes. However, I believe he has indicated that he would like to get the scheme started by the end of this year and I can assure him that he will get every encouragement from the Rural Independent Group Deputies in this matter.

The action plan for rural development contains a commitment to progress the major roads projects detailed in the transport element of the capital investment plan 2016-2021. This should help to deliver economic and business benefits across rural areas and regions. However, the action plan is weak on the subject of rural roads and their importance is under-emphasised. The road network across rural Ireland is like the arteries of the body. When the artery becomes damaged and neglected, one does not need to be a doctor to realise the consequences.

Ministers need to be on notice that, in the coming months, we will be regularly knocking on their doors with a copy of the plan. Most rural Deputies were elected because of outrage at the economic and structural decline of rural Ireland, leading inevitably to a decline in the social and cultural fabric of an important element of the Irish nation. We have shouted "Stop" in regard to rural issues and we expect them to respond. The rural road which we are discussing today is emblematic of rural Ireland. It is vitally important in itself but is only part of a greater totality. The action plan for rural development, with goodwill and drive, can be the catalyst for positive change. It is our role to ensure that it is.

I support this motion. As rural Deputies we are very conscious of the difficulties arising from the lack of funding for our road network, particularly our rural road network. I welcome the fact that we have had an increase in funding this year but, in the context of the depreciation in funding over the past number of years, particularly during the years of the recession, the 9% increase goes nowhere to address the problems we have with local councils.

The Minister took the time to meet with all the Tipperary county councillors on a recent visit to Tipperary when they outlined the difficulties they face every day and the anger and frustration they meet as public representatives in answering to the public for the lack of quality roads in their area. People in rural areas are the same as those living in urban centres. They pay taxes, levies and charges and have the same entitlement to traverse their local roads as somebody traversing our national highways. However, that is not happening and the majority of rural roads in Tipperary are either impassable or passable with extreme difficulty. People are very agitated because of that and there has been a huge increase in the level of claims to councils. The councils are not accepting responsibility for it and insurers will not take responsibility. There has been a huge increase in people whose vehicles are being damaged after hitting a pothole. Some €200 or €300 of damage is done to their car but they have recourse to nobody for it

A targeted approach is needed. The Minister has a big problem because this will take a huge amount of resources.

Those resources are not available from within the Minister's Department, so this is an issue which has to be addressed by the Government. In other words the Department needs support and assistance, particularly from the Department of Finance, on how to tackle this problem. In this regard, moneys need to be put aside. The magnitude of the problem has already been documented for the Minister and his Department from every local authority in the country. The extent of funding required has already been notified to the Department.

The 9% increase the Minister has obtained for the current year will simply not match the financial requirement. I would like to see an organised and co-ordinated approach whereby all councils receive sufficient funds to give priority to rural roads that are currently in an appalling condition.

I support Deputy Mattie McGrath's call for future planning on new roads. In my home town of Thurles, during the last two Governments' terms, I brought a new by-pass road plan to the stage where it was given priority by the Department. The route has been selected and the job is ready to go. It would create employment as well as alleviating the difficulties of traffic congestion in Thurles. It is extremely difficult to get through the town from one end to the other. I ask the Minister to re-examine the possibility of putting the Thurles by-pass back on the project list for completion. Significant progress has been made on it and it is at a stage where it simply requires the Department to say that it continues to be a priority and will be funded in future.

I ask the Government to acknowledge the commitments given in the programme for Government to increase the capital budget for regional and local roads by approximately 50%. That commitment was negotiated but it has not yet been honoured. We are relying on the Minister to accept responsibility for that. He should ensure with his Cabinet colleagues that adequate funding is made available to meet that commitment.

I am hoping to share time with Deputy Moran.

Yes, I noticed that.

However, I am not quite sure whether he has got the right time for this debate.

We will take the Minister's extra time.

Okay. I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling this motion. In particular, I thank Deputies Michael Harty, Mattie McGrath and Michael Collins for spending some time in my office last week in coming to an agreed motion, which was extremely helpful. I will try to respond in kind. I also thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for promising me a meeting in Tipperary some months ago to see the roads. He detained me for an extra three or four hours which is an indication of his commitment to remedying the county's roads.

I pay tribute to the Rural Alliance members who, in some sense, are the guardians of the roads in their constituencies. They are constantly on to me about the problems they encounter with their roads. I hope to respond not just in this reply, but also in visiting them once again. It may not be back to Tipperary because it seems to take ten times as long as it is meant to.

The Minister can come to Limerick.

I will certainly go to other areas and will, of course, go back to Tipperary.

I would like to start by acknowledging the major impact on the maintenance and improvement of our national, regional and local road network of the funding cutbacks from 2008 associated with the financial crisis. The size of the road network at around 99,000 kilometres made the impact all the more severe. That said, the fact that our public road network is twice the European average per capita will always present a funding challenge for the Exchequer and local authorities.

Analysis undertaken by my Department in relation to the Strategic Framework for Investment in Land Transport published in 2015 estimated, on a conservative basis, that expenditure of €580 million per annum is needed to keep the regional and local road network in a steady state condition. In order to avoid deterioration in the condition of the regional and local road network, each year 5% of the network needs to be strengthened and 5% needs to be sealed by way of surface dressing works. For the last number of years, only half the required road pavement works have been undertaken on the regional and local road network.

For the national road network the steady state analysis includes the cost of pavement works, signs and lines, safety works, bridge works, routine maintenance, small works and costs associated with programme support and network management. In addition to these network costs, there are also capital budget commitments requiring provision to be made for schemes at close-out and construction, and also for ongoing commitments in respect of PPP projects. The analysis conducted determined that on average the gross steady state requirement for national roads is around €580 million per annum, using 2015 as the basis.

Against the backdrop of serious funding constraints both Transport Infrastructure Ireland and my Department have been focussed on maintaining the network in as serviceable a condition as possible. In the case of regional and local roads this has meant concentrating resources on the maintenance and renewal of the public road network rather than new projects. The main grant programmes operated by the Department have been targeted at specific policy objectives: pavement sealing to protect the road surface from water damage, road strengthening based on pavement condition rating to lengthen the life of road pavements, and a discretionary grant which allows for a range of activities including winter maintenance. These three grant programmes account for most of the grant funding and are allocated based on the length of the road network in a particular county.

Local authorities can also apply each year for bridge rehabilitation grants based on condition ratings and for safety improvement schemes to address particular hazards.

In view of the fact that national roads and regional roads account for about 45% and 30% of overall road traffic respectively, the main requirement related to the regional and local road grant restoration programmes is that a minimum of 15% is expended on regional roads. Apart from that, local authorities have considerable flexibility in allocating grant funding and therefore it is important to emphasise that the decisions made on how best to use available resources are largely made by the local authorities in their capacity as the statutory road authorities responsible for their road network.

In this context, I would like to mention that while landowners along the road network have specific responsibilities in relation to hedge and tree cutting together with drainage, road authorities they do have the statutory power to intervene where necessary.

As part of the flexibility given to local authorities in managing grants, the practice since the recession has been to leave the decision on whether to contribute funding to maintaining private roads under the local improvement schemes, LIS, to individual local authorities. This is in response to what Deputy Harty had to say.

The reason a separate State grant allocation was not being made for LIS is that, given funding constraints, a ring-fenced allocation would result in a pro rata reduction in funding for public roads in a situation where public roads are significantly under-funded. In these circumstances it was preferable to allow elected members and officials of each local authority to decide whether to allocate funding to LIS, taking into account the own resource and grant funding available to it.

As State grants are intended to supplement local authority funding, my Department continues to emphasise to local authorities the importance of prioritising road maintenance when allocating their own resources. In fact, since the revision of the arrangements for the retention of local property tax in 2015, the Dublin councils no longer receive any grant assistance from my Department under the main grant categories.

I think everyone in the House accepts the importance of the road network in supporting the economic and social fabric of the country. The challenge for Government in recent years was how to address the real concerns about the condition of the network while operating within the EU fiscal rules and dealing with the many competing demands for limited resources.

Almost inevitably, this meant it was not possible to restore funding levels as quickly as everyone would have wished.

The publication in 2015 of the capital plan for 2016 to 2021 marked a move in the right direction in terms of restoring capital funding for the transport sector as we started to emerge from the financial crisis. The decisions on the transport elements of the capital plan were framed by the conclusions reached in the strategic investment framework for land transport. Maintenance and renewal of the road network will be the main priority over the capital plan period and the bulk of the roads capital budget, or approximately €4.4 billion, is earmarked for such essential work with a further €600 million allocated for implementation of the PPP road programme which is already under way. In this context, the capital plan provides for a gradual build up in capital funding from a relatively low base in 2016 towards the levels needed to support maintenance and improvement works by 2022. While 2017 sees an increase in overall funding, it will take some years yet under the capital plan to restore steady-state funding levels for land transport and to progress the improvement projects included in the plan. I was, however, very pleased this year, when announcing the regional and local road grants, to able to increase funding under the key road strengthening grant category and to make allocations to a number of projects which will support enterprises across the country.

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport I know there is a robust case for additional investment in transport infrastructure and that maintenance deferred will result in higher costs later on. I am very hopeful that the review of the capital plan which the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, has started will result in additional funding for the transport sector. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe's public references to investment in transport are reassuring in this context. The final decisions on allocations are, however, matters for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Government as a whole.

I thank the Deputies for introducing this motion. I thank all those who have invited me to their constituencies to see the roads. I do not think Deputy Michael Healy Rae has done so yet.

I have. I was the first person to do it.

I accept Deputy Healy Rae's invitation as I will accept one from Deputy Harty if it ever comes. I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for an education on rural roads which I will never forget.

"It's a long way to Tipperary".

I suspect the Minister may get a lot of invitations.

Just send down the money.

Moving on to the next group of contributors, I understand Deputy Robert Troy is sharing time with a number of colleagues.

I wish to share time with five colleagues. For fear that the Minister would think it was only the Independents or the Rural Independent Group who look after rural Ireland, I note that could not be further from the truth. That was evident in the last general election which saw our party double in size, particularly in rural areas where it has a strong tradition of looking after the interests of rural Ireland. I suspect it has more to do with the precarious and unstable nature of the Government that the Minister, Deputy Ross, is love-bombing the Independents to my right, or rather to my left.

Deputy Troy does not know right from left. He does not know where he is.

The Minister will never know-----

He needs a satnav.

Unlike Deputy Mattie McGrath, I know where I am and I know where I am staying.

Deputy Troy does not seem to know.

It is not something Deputy McGrath can claim.

Fianna Fáil lost its way. I know where I am.

To get back to the motion, the Minister thanked my colleagues to my left for coming and discussing it with him last week. Perhaps that is the reason it took him until Monday to contact me and establish whether something could be agreed with regard to Bus Éireann, an issue that is just as important as rural roads. I am glad to see the Minister had his priorities right last week.

I have a point of order.

A point of order, please.

It is not relevant.

Just on a point of order-----

Not on this, please.

We discussed that one last night. We did not object or interfere with Deputy Troy's motion.

Will Deputy McGrath resume his seat, please?

Deputy Troy should not be so petty.

Will Deputy Troy please proceed?

I am just making the point that the Minister could have contacted me in relation to Bus Éireann.

There has been a critical underinvestment in the maintenance of regional and local roads since 2012. The funding allocation for 2017 is still far below the level required to maintain regional and local roads across the country. Over the past four years, spending on roads in each county from 2013 to 2016 was, on average, 48% below what was needed to keep roads in good condition. That is according to the steady-state estimate from the Minister's own Department. As the Department itself has outlined, as approximately €580 million is required annually to keep our roads in good condition, this means current underspending is on average €258 million a year. This will result in many more roads being left in poor condition.

The Minister complimented himself on an increase in funding this year. To be fair to the Department, I acknowledge the good investment in roads infrastructure in particular to help the Center Parcs development in Longford. However, when one compares the funding in 2017 with the initial funding in 2016, there has been a reduction of €43 million. The Minister is not accounting for the fact that there was a supplementary budget during the year of €95 million to make allowances for the bad weather and flooding. As such, it is a little bit disingenuous of the Minister to say there has been an increase.

One of the areas where this has fallen down is the local improvement scheme. The Minister alluded to the fact that local authorities can use their own discretionary budgets to fund local improvement schemes. However, many local authorities do not have that capacity. It is a regrettable step because a small amount of money, even of the order of €4.5 million, would have made a huge difference to many local authorities. It states in the programme for Government that the Minister will reintroduce the local improvement scheme. Perhaps he might be able to indicate to the House when he plans to do so as per the programme.

An area in which the Department is not being forceful enough and in which it is not taking sufficient action is the underinvestment in transport infrastructure. Our level of capital spending in comparison to the rest of Europe places us second lowest. Despite having Europe's fastest growing population, spending on infrastructure is half what it was seven years ago. As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, has the Minister, Deputy Ross, had any consultations with the European Commission about availing of the Juncker plan to borrow at a low interest rate to make critical investments in our infrastructure? Perhaps the Minister will respond to that point in the wrap-up.

I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling the motion. I draw the attention of the Minister to the National Oversight and Audit Commission, NOAC, which carried out a survey of Irish roads last year and categorised them from worst to best and somewhere in between. Of regional roads, 18.4% were in the best category as were 12% of primary roads, 8% of secondary roads and 6% of tertiary roads. In other words, 82% of our regional roads are not in an acceptable condition. Of our secondary and tertiary roads, 92% are not in an acceptable condition. That is the challenge before us. The fact that we are €250 million shy of the required amount of money to maintain our road network sends a very strong message. We need to increase that funding because otherwise the road network will break up even further and the cost of putting it back will increase significantly.

I refer to the local improvement scheme. The Minister is more than welcome to come to Kerry for his holidays or to look at roads, but I would much prefer if he just sent us down the money.

That is personally extremely insulting, is it not?

When I was elected to the Chamber, the first Topical Issue I raised was the reinstatement of the local improvement scheme.

The Minister gave me a firm commitment that it was part of the programme for Government and would be reinstated in 2017. He turned to his colleague, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, and said he would not let him off the hook on this one. I do not know what has happened in the meantime, but the Minister has said it is the responsibility of local authorities. They do not have the money. We want a specific grant for local roads and improvement schemes or we will be going nowhere.

No more than the Minister, I do not like to be made a liar of, but when I get an answer from him I believe him. I relate that back to my constituents. I now find we are back to the same situation we were in last year, namely, that local authorities do not have money and local roads are going nowhere. I plead with the Minister to reinstate a specific grant so that every year a set amount of roads are improved and no other budgets are affected. The Minister has no idea how important the issue is to rural Ireland and I plead with him to address the matter.

I will briefly mention two other areas. As the Minister also has responsibility for tourism and sport, I note the Wild Atlantic Way is a major success but the road network that makes it up is in severe need of reinvestment. There should be a specific fund for the Wild Atlantic Way which runs right through my constituency. More money is required.

With regard to sport, there is a significant bid for the rugby world cup. We are very confident we will get it. It is being headed by a Kerryman, Dick Spring, which makes me even more confident that we will get it. However, the Killarney to Cork Road and the Macroom bypass is an essential piece of infrastructure if we are to make the project a success, should we be successful in our bid which I have no doubt we will be. I again plead with the Minister to get the Macroom bypass on the capital infrastructure programme. It is too important a project not to include.

It would be remiss of me if I did not take the opportunity to remind the Minister of his commitment to the Narrow Water bridge and the Ardee bypass, which were part of the regional and rural network in Louth. Obviously, he is not interested in that because he has left the Chamber.

The condition of our rural road network is the third most frequent representation I receive in my office, after health care services and social welfare payments. I spent 25 years in local government before I came into the House. When I joined the local authority in 1991, the cycle of repair and resurfacing of the road network was at a disgraceful once in 32 year cycle, which improved to once in 19 years in the 2000s. Since 2010, most of the rural network has a possibility of getting resurfacing work done once in 30 years.

In my county, those who live on roads which have less traffic, namely, local, primary, secondary and tertiary roads, are being treated as third class citizens. Despite paying their property, motor and agricultural vehicle taxes, development levies etc. they are not getting a fair share of spending in the areas where they live.

For the record, 75% of all of the roads in County Louth are made up of local roads and the national primary and secondary regional roads only make up 25%. There are about 386 km of tertiary roads in Louth, and not one red cent has been spent on a pothole repair programme for the those roads, not to mention resurfacing, in the past three years. That equates to 27% of all the rural roads in Louth. The diktat from management in the local authority to the workers is that if they attempt to fill a pothole on tertiary roads they will lose their jobs.

Based on the Department's strategic framework investment in land transport programme, Louth is getting less than half of what is required in the allocation for regional and local roads, leaving us with a deficit of €6.8 million. The 2017 allocation of €5.18 million for Louth is being lauded by many Deputies on the other side of the House. However, there has been further deterioration in the roads and an increased expectation that something will happen on all roads. People are failing MOTs, the tyres on their cars are collapsing and vehicles are being wrecked. As others have said, the state of the roads alienates motorists, cyclists and pedestrians who traverse the roads.

The corporate plan for Louth County Council outlines that, in regard to infrastructure, its aim is to maintain and improve the road network to ensure it is accessible, safe, smart and integrated and continues to deliver modern and sophisticated infrastructure providing ease of access for all citizens in Louth. That is aspirational at most and will not be achieved without proper funding.

The CIS scheme has not operated since 2014. The required level of input from residents to repair local roads was 20%. I have been informed by Louth County Council that 50% will be sought from people who are already crippled with road taxes. People do not have money to fork out for services for which they have already paid through their road and other taxes. I ask for realistic funding to be put in place to make road infrastructure better without further delay.

I welcome this motion. I found the Minister's comments extremely insulting. No one has a preserve on defending rural Ireland. Yesterday, we debated the threat to rural transport and are now discussing the threat to rural infrastructure. I, as a member of the Fianna Fáil Party and a rural Deputy, will fight on my back for rural Ireland and try to ensure that the Government delivers on the promises it made during the last general election which so far it has failed miserably to do.

We were promised that the LIS scheme would be reintroduced in 2017, something which has not happened. The funding for roads in Tipperary in 2017 is €2.54 million less than what it was in 2016. The Department's estimate is 47% less than what is needed to keep the roads in an adequate condition. Major infrastructure projects were promised for Tipperary. The N24 bypass of Tipperary, Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir and a ring road for Thurles have gone off the radar and are not mentioned in the capital programme.

Deputies who purport to have influence with the Government want to see them back on the table, but they are not mentioned in the capital programme. Our county is being forgotten about by the Government. Unfortunately, we are not the only rural county that has been forgotten about. This cannot be allowed to continue.

There is a lack of funding for rural roads. Constituents who have come to my clinic have told me that milk lorries are unable to enter farmyards, which puts their livelihoods at risk. We need more funding for roads. We do not need empty promises or resolutions; rather, we need funding now.

I also welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. It is one of the few topics for which I do not need to prepare notes because I live it every single day, as do my constituents. Galway County Council will be down €16.4 million in 2017.

People in East Galway do not understand how funding is allocated and the difference between an N, R and L - the classification of roads makes no odds to them as long as funding is delivered. It is an ill wind that blows some good. If we had not had flooding last year the roads would not have been fixed. The N65 in Portumna would not have been done at all: we had been falling into potholes for five years. It was the main bridge between Portumna, Tipperary and Offaly. There are concerns about Kilmeen Cross. People have waited for over five years for lighting and signage. Annagh Hill will not receive the required level of funding.

People who pay taxes, charges and levies feel like second-class citizens or the forgotten cousins of people in larger urban areas because their roads are not being resurfaced. In the case of roads under Galway County Council one is lucky if a road is resurfaced once in 30 years.

Constituents are continually canvassing to get their roads done and it is hard to explain to them that the funding will be cut again this year by €16 million.

It is almost 20 years since I first entered local government but to this day we are still talking about potholes in my community. I commend the local authorities on the work they do with the limited resources that are made available to them. Issues can be addressed here today and I am delighted that the Rural Independent Group tabled the motion, although it may be compromised since they went into the Minister's office.

Many issues have arisen in recent years. When funding for roads was cut, health and safety issues were brought to the fore. It could take two workers to fill one pothole because of health and safety issues, which causes tremendous cost for local authorities. Major road works, such as village roads being resurfaced, are another issue. The villages are shut down for months on end. It happened in Buttevant, where two local byroads suffered heavily. Extra funding should be made available for those projects to facilitate the byroads while the works are going ahead.

On a bigger scale, we have to get the M20 up and running. Why do I say that to the Minister of State and to the House? It is good to see a rural Minister of State across the Chamber. I say it because the Government speaks about more people being back at work. The more people who are back at work, the more cars that are on the roads and the more parents who are out and about taking their children to school and so forth.

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, was on the television and radio after Christmas giving out about the major increase in the number of accidents. People rang me and said, "Kevin, a lot of those accidents are because of bad roads".

We will move on. I call Deputy David Cullinane who is sharing time with his colleague, Deputy Peadar Tóibín.

Deputy Tóibín will speak first.

I call Deputy Tóibín.

Míle buíochas.

I was surprised when I first read the motion because I felt that it should have been stronger and I expected it to be stronger. I did not expect it to be stronger, however, because the motion was tabled by Opposition Deputies but because the state of the roads in the country needs a stronger response. I do not believe that the motion goes far enough given the decline in regional and rural areas throughout the State. The whole system in many parts of the country is disintegrating, making it really difficult for people to function. There are calls to "consider" increasing the regional roads budget and references to road funding being "examined" as part of a "review" and a "continuation" of funding. Those types of words are not what is required. We need a stronger commitment from the Government. It needs to put its money where its mouth is; quite simply, the Government needs to fulfil its spending responsibility in this regard.

The Government is not even heeding its own advice. Last week, the Government launched with great fanfare a regional and rural development document which promised €60 million that is to be spent on 600 towns and villages throughout the country. Last year, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport stated that €3 billion was necessary to repair the roads throughout the State and bring them to the necessary level of safety and function. The contrast between the Government's lack of ambition and what is necessary could not be more stark. The Department stated that €580 million was necessary annually just to keep the local and regional roads in decent condition. Contrast that to the Government's response, which last year provided for €298 million for that particular job. The Government is not even meeting half of the investment necessary just to maintain the road stock in its current state. At the end of a collapse in capital investment that lasted eight years, we are still not even keeping up with the level of depreciation of and disintegration in our local road system.

Transport is a key ingredient to enterprise. There is no point in launching a document on regional and rural development if the enterprises that we are seeking to invite into a local area do not have the opportunity to access markets and get their workers safely to and fro or the ability to function in the locality. The major backdrop to this situation is that under Fine Gael, and Fianna Fáil before it, there was a major over-concentration of development and of population in a handful of counties on the east coast. This was to the detriment not only to many of those living on the east coast, but also those living on the west coast. Dublin's current population is 39% of that of the State. By the end of our generation, its population will be 50% of that of the State. It will achieve city state status under this Government's watch, yet no investment efforts are being made to disrupt this over-concentration on the east coast. Until we talk about serious investment, we will not disrupt that over-concentration.

In my constituency, in the north west of the county of Meath, people regularly take detours to get to work, school, the shops or the church. Ambulances, milk lorries and post office men will not go down certain laneways. Small business owners do not invite customers to their towns but meet them in a café in another town for a coffee because they are so embarrassed and think that those customers will not do business with them because of the isolation forced on them by Fine Gael's lack of investment over recent years.

This comes down to investment. After eight years of capital depreciation and lack of investment, the State is second from the bottom in terms of infrastructural investment in Europe. It was only pipped by Romania from having the notoriety of being last. The great lie of this Government in recent years is that the crisis is over, but what the Government has done is roll up the crisis in a massive debt and we pay €7 billion every year in interest on that debt. That €7 billion is an opportunity cost to the roads, health service and education system in the country.

I commend the Rural Independent Group on tabling the motion. I agree with an Teachta Tóibín that the motion could have been stronger in its intent and in what it calls on the Government to do, but it does afford us an opportunity to speak again on the issue of rural Ireland and the importance of protecting rural communities, especially in the context of infrastructural development and, particularly, roads, to which the motion speaks.

Again, during Private Members' business, the relevant Minister is not present to hear all the contributions from all the parties. We had something similar this morning when we discussed NAMA and the Minister for Finance left after one or two speakers had made their contributions. Notwithstanding the presence of the Minister of State, such an approach does not pay respect to all the speakers in the House.

However, given that he is here, the Minister of State might pass on a message to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, which is that the Minister is also welcome to visit Waterford. He can visit places such as Aglish, Villierstown, Clashmore, Ardmore and many more, where, as in other parts of the country, as a result of floods, decay and all sorts of other issues, roads have been washed away. However, they have not been replaced because, as stated by an Teachta Tóibín, the capital budget was slashed during the recession and not rebuilt. We have one of the lowest capital spends in the entire European Union and the areas of roads was one of the biggest areas that suffered as a consequence.

The Minister of State might have seen the movie "Jerry Maguire". It had a famous phrase, "Show me the money". That is what this comes down to; we can have all the motions and action plans we want but we need to invest the money. The Government announced a plan for rural Ireland where €60 million is made available for 600 villages and towns over three years, which is €30,000 for every town or village in the State per year. How in God's name will that deal with all the issues, including broadband, roads, and infrastructural development, facing rural towns and villages? The plan states that there will be rate reviews and rate reliefs for businesses but the Government is trying to pull the wool over people's eyes with its €30,000 per year per village. It is not giving us the resources we need.

While I commend much of what was said by those in Fianna Fáil in their contributions today, at least we in our alternative budget provided for significant additional money for roads and capital investment. Our capital plan provided for €1.2 billion of additional money. As I have pointed out several times, this could be paid for given the flexibilities in spending and the fiscal rules which mean that we can smooth capital investment over four years. We can front-load capital spend. What we had from Fianna Fáil was a back of an envelope alternative budget that was not even costed by it.

The budget presented by the Government did not deliver the goods or the funding required. The harsh reality is that we are discussing these issues again because the Government did not do what it should have done in the budget.

Many new roads need to be built, including the Waterford to Cork and Waterford to Limerick roads. Significant good work has been done to link Dublin with other cities and while this work has been necessary, many routes and cities outside the M50 built have not been joined up. If we want to build up the regions and achieve proper, sustained and balanced regional development, we must have a strategy and plan backed up with resources.

While I welcome the motion, the good intent behind it and many of the sentiments expressed by Fianna Fáil Party Deputies, we must be prepared to put our money where our mouths are and properly invest in rural Ireland. We must ensure the national broadband plan is rolled out and proper funding made available for flood relief schemes. These issues are all linked. I cited a number of towns and villages in west County Waterford which require flood relief works. Flooding damages roads. If we invested in proper flood prevention works, we would not experience the types of problems we have in recent years.

The Government has not delivered a joined up plan for rural Ireland and has failed many rural towns and villages. Much more needs to be done and this will require investment, money and resources. Without these, there is no plan and we are left with the spin we heard in recent weeks.

On behalf of the Labour Party, especially rural Deputies, I express full support for this important motion and compliment the Deputies who tabled it. The 673 regional roads extending to more than 13,000 km make up only 15% of the non-national road work but carry approximately 30% of all road traffic. We also have 1,000 km of local roads. If we want to achieve serious bang for our buck, we must introduce a programme of investment to upgrade regional and local roads and connect towns and villages to ensure they are not left behind. This investment will be vital if we are to have a thriving rural economy.

If the objectives of the recently announced rural renewal and survival plan are to be achieved, resources must be provided to do so. If we are to promote tourism, cycling and walking, good quality local roads are needed. People take their lives in their hands going for a walk on many roads. Many regional roads are too narrow for articulated lorries and agricultural machinery and are no longer fit for purpose. On some roads, the level of potholes and broken down and crumbling structure is poor recompense for taxpayers and car owners who pay substantial road tax and find their vehicles are damaged by deficient pavements.

County Westmeath has 307 km of regional roads, while County Longford has 152 km of such roads. Imagine what it would mean for rural development and local tourism if these roads were in top condition. I welcome the funding of €6.8 million and €6.1 million for counties Longford and Westmeath, respectively, announced by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, last week. In particular, I welcome the moneys allocated to help accommodate the Center Parcs project.

It is time to consider how to better use the road network to connect rural areas and revitalise communities. For example, a road rating categorisation attaches to roads and guides their repair level for non-national roads. Ranging from one to ten, a rating of ten is good and indicates only routine maintenance is required. In County Westmeath, the total cost of restoring to a good pavement standard the worst non-national roads, namely, those with a rating of less than five, would be €20 million alone. The cost of restoring all roads to level seven or eight would be a multiple of this figure. The problem is that expenditure on roads is at its lowest level since 1975 and the evidence is there for all to see.

I note the capital plan provides €6 billion for investment in the road network in the period until 2022. It is clear, however, that significant additional expenditure is required. I recognise that significant resource constraints are in place, money cannot be generated confetti-like and we have just emerged from seven or eight years of significant recession. I note the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform yesterday called for applications for meritorious projects across Departments seeking some of the €2.6 billion available to the Minister following a review of capital funding. In that context, the upgrading of the N4, which is known locally as the N4 Mullingar-Longford-Roosky road scheme, is paramount as it is a high value project in the context of regional development.

In 2010, Westmeath and Longford county councils, in partnership with the National Roads Authority, NRA, and subsequently Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, announced the publication of the preferred route corridor for the scheme. The project was to upgrade approximately 52 km of the N4 national primary route between the N4 Dromod-Roosky bypass and the N4 Mullingar bypass. The scheme has been designed to bypass Newtownforbes, Longford, Edgeworthstown, Rathowen and Ballinalack. It is a vital project which was proposed for several reasons, in particular to cope with increased traffic flows, reduce journey times and improve road safety. It was suspended following the selection of the preferred route corridor and the delivery of the route selection report in 2010. Funding was not available to advance the scheme to the compulsory purchase order stage. The estimated cost of carrying out preliminary design and an environmental impact study and complete the compulsory purchase order documentation in readiness for submission to An Bord Pleanála is €4 million spread over three years. As I indicated, the construction of this road scheme would be of significant benefit to counties Westmeath, Longford, Leitrim and Sligo and the entire midlands and north west regions. I appeal to the Minister to provide funding to progress this priority infrastructural project, namely, the €4 million required to allow it to immediately progress.

The N55 from Ballymahon to Carrickboy is another important project in urgent need of funding. Longford County Council initially tried to advance this project with the NRA. More recently, it has been working with Transport Infrastructure Ireland. I had a meeting with representatives of TII on 15 December 2016 and it is acutely aware of the need for funding for this project as the matter was raised by the executive, local authority and Oireachtas Members at this meeting alongside other very important road projects.

Without good road access, investment simply does not take place. Highway access has been determined by a US annual corporate survey, presented to us by IBEC at the united N4 link chambers presentation in December, as being important in 85% of corporations' location decisions. Heavy vehicle use on the single carriageway N4 is higher than on some of our motorways. The typical maximum capacity on a single carriageway road is 11,000 AADT or annual average daily traffic. The AADT for the Longford-Mullingar stretch of single carriageway is currently 14,483 vehicles and is quickly approaching two or three carriageway levels. The Center Parcs project in Ballymahon, an extremely important development for the region, has significant potential to increase daily vehicle usage of the roadway, with up to 2,500 guests coming daily to visit this wonderful facility which will provide 900 jobs.

My local authority, Westmeath County Council, has done tremendous work at executive and local authority membership level in the past decade and a half to advance and drive forward projects such as the development of the N4 eastwards and the westwards development of the M6 motorway. Excellent work is being done on a portion of the N52 arterial route within the county boundaries of Westmeath at Billistown, Cloghan, Dalystown and Clonfad. This is an important route from the north east as far south as Borrisokane and Roscrea in County Tipperary. Enterprise initiatives by Westmeath County Council and ambition have resulted in significant work being done.

Some of this work can be done by direct labour. It is time to remove the shackles of the employment moratorium from local authorities and allow them to employ more staff directly, as they did in the past. They are treated like children in a kindergarten by the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. More autonomy should be devolved to local authorities to enable them to get important road works completed using their preferred method and employ local labour.

I will speak briefly about the disastrous decision made by the Department to refuse to grant a separate allocation of funding for local improvement schemes or LIS, the most cost effective and efficient schemes. The local improvement schemes have an entirely positive cost-benefit ratio and provide access to people who live and work on the roads in question. This funding must be restored. Using wide boy tactics by allowing local authorities to use up to 50% of their initial discretionary grants for local improvement schemes is a Pontius Pilate act by the Department, which reduces the discretionary budget. The local improvement scheme funding should be allocated directly by the Department to local authorities.

People living in culs-de-sac are entitled to the same the level of service, facilities and access as people living along main routes. They pay tax, rear families, work hard and contribute to their local communities but believe no one cares about their plight as the condition of some culs-de-sac is deplorable to say the least. I appeal to the Minister to devise a special allocation for culs-de-sac to ensure residents of such roadways do not feel left behind or left out altogether. Many of those who live in culs-de-sac give money to local authorities as part of planning conditions. Having done so, they are wiped from the map, so to speak, and the only time they see anyone is when a politician knocks on their door. They used to see postmen the odd time but since An Post erected monstrous green boxes at the entrance to laneways, they no longer see them either.

I have always been a great supporter of community involvement schemes. Westmeath County Council has been extremely enterprising and initiative driven in this regard. Some wonderful realignment work has been carried out following co-operation between local authorities and landowners and home owners, especially in recent years, all of which had a single focus on safety. This has been recognised in Westmeath where the council's engineering staff must be lauded and praised for the drive and enthusiasm they have shown in this respect. The Department should also provide a specific funding stream for this important work. I again compliment the Deputies who tabled the motion.

I support the motion, although I agree with other Deputies that its wording is very conciliatory and should be much stronger in calling for investment in our local and regional roads because that is vitally important. It is true that over the past eight years since the recession started, funding for local and regional roads has been slashed across the board. This very short-sighted policy will lead to increased problems into the future in terms of our road network. There is evidence that this is already happening. Many of the surveys that have been undertaken have flagged that massive investment is required to bring our roads back to a reasonable condition. It is important that this is done.

When the funding for regional local roads was announced a couple of weeks ago, much was made of the fact that there had been a 9% increase in funding. However, when one drills down into the figures, the increase in funding in relation to my own county of Donegal is only 1% and there has been a 42% reduction in the specific improvement grant for County Donegal, which means that areas within the county identified over many years as problem areas cannot be addressed. For example, we have been trying to have Fintra Bridge replaced for many years. Based on the current level of funding, the council will never be in a position to replace it. Unfortunately, most of the bridges in Donegal will have to collapse before they will be dealt with and it is strange that when bridges do collapse, funding can be made available to replace them. Many communities see this as the only basis on which infrastructure will be repaired or replaced.

The funding provided this year to Donegal County Council will allow for the improvement and restoration of approximately 3% of the road network in the county, which means, as others have pointed out, that it will take 30 years to address the issues throughout the road network in the county. This is not acceptable. As I said earlier, all we are doing is storing up problems for the future. We will hit a crisis point in the next couple of years such that investment will have to be made because otherwise roads will become unusable. This is the legacy of the crisis and the recession. There is much talk about recovery, keeping the recovery going and things turning around but in terms of funding for our roads, there is little evidence of any recovery or things turning around. Funding must be restored so that local authorities can put in place a realistic programme of renewal for our local and regional roads.

During the negotiations on the formation of the minority Government, much was made of the fact that the local improvement scheme was to be reintroduced in 2017 but that has not happened and it is unlikely to happen. As pointed out by Members, local improvement schemes are vitally important to families and individuals living in rural areas who cannot afford to maintain the lanes on which their houses are located. The local improvement scheme, by way of grant aid, enabled those people to improve the lanes and maintain them in a reasonable state. If we do not invest in the maintenance of the road network to a reasonable level, we will see into the future a continued and accelerated deterioration of the network such that significant investment will be needed to return it to a reasonable state.

Donegal County Council previously operated on an eight-year cycle in terms of the repair and restoration of our county roads. Local authorities should be able to expect funding from Government to enable them maintain our roads in useable condition. It makes far more financial sense to provide an adequate amount of funding to allow for the maintenance of roads on an eight-year cycle basis. This would ensure that all county roads are maintained in reasonable condition. As I said, there is no doubt that we will face a crisis in the future in relation to our local and regional roads and that we will have spend a hell of a lot of more than the Government has been allocating to date.

I propose to share time with Deputy Seamus Healy.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the critical issue of how we develop our transport system and how we improve our infrastructure, particularly in rural Ireland. I am conscious that this debate follows on from our debate on Bus Éireann and how we invest in it. The reality for any Minister in Government is that hard choices have to be made around what should be prioritised and on what money should be spent. The budget is not limitless and there are constraints on it in terms of education, health, housing and so on.

I fully understand the sentiments of the motion in terms of the need to maintain our roads in a safe condition. The number of pedestrian deaths in the last month alone calls into question the safety of our roads and the need to ensure they are maintained and safe to use. To my mind, we need to invest in the centre of the 600 villages and towns identified in the rural development plan. For example, if we do not invest in a new rural bus service, everybody will have to drive, there will be more cars on our roads and our roads will continue to deteriorate. This will continue the cycle in the direction in which we have been going for about 20 or 30 years now of having a car based system and having to continually increase investment in the road network because there is no public transport alternative.

The Minister mentioned that the allocation for maintenance of our roads as they are is €580 million. The sum of €580 million is not a small, insignificant part of the total capital transport budget. I wish we were spending the same amount on public transport provision this year. In terms of priorities, we have to start investing in public transport. We also have to start investing in technology that encourages people to use alternatives. There is technology on the horizon in terms of automation, car-sharing and other innovative ways of organising transport which may allow us to reduce the volume of traffic on our roads. We need to focus our effort on increasing the volume of people walking, cycling and using public transport. This can be done in the context of the national planning framework and the review of the capital plan to which the motion refers. We have to make the strategic decision to concentrate development as best we can in the villages, towns and cities throughout the country so that they become growing areas of development.

For rural Ireland, it is more important than anything else that our market towns and villages work. This will require decisions to be made on issues such as how we invest in water systems and housing systems, but also in transport. If we want to make rural Ireland work, investment in the public transport alternative should be prioritised because it helps the concentration of development within towns and villages in particular. That is not to suggest that we should not maintain our road network in safe condition. If we continue with the current system such that the road transport budget is three to four times that of the public transport alternative, it will not set us in the right direction. We need to make a radical shift to get more sustainable development, reduce environmental emissions and make rural Ireland and Ireland work as a whole. This will require investment in public transport rather than in our road network. That should come first.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion and I compliment the Rural Independent Group Deputies on bringing it forward. As we all know, local and regional roads are vitally important for social interaction and economic development. Many of these roads have fallen into disrepair and are almost impassible. While roads funding was diverted to other purposes, including the paying down of debt, local authorities have been starved of road grants. The grants were initially cut by the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government and the cuts continued under the previous Fine Gael-Labour Party Government. There were substantial cuts to those grants, the result of which is that 87% of all primary roads, 92% of all secondary roads and 93% of all tertiary roads - local or county roads - fall outside the best rating category.

A significant proportion are in the lowest-rated category. Local councils have to spend an increasing amount of their own moneys trying to keep these roads in a state of reasonable repair. Many of them, particularly the county roads in Tipperary, are in deplorable condition, littered with potholes, with the surface undermined, and require re-pavement and reconstruction. This is giving rise to significant damage to vehicles. The councils are now receiving regular claims for repairs to damaged cars as a result. There is a need for urgent investment in these roads if they are not to disappear altogether.

We have been seeking a bypass on the national primary route through County Tipperary, the N24, for well over 20 years. The road is the main link and it is a vital social and economic corridor through the county, extending from Limerick to Kilkenny, Waterford and Rosslare. It is not included in the current capital programme. I ask the Minister to consider urgently its inclusion in the review of the capital budget for roads, which I understand is to take place this year. This matter of the N24 affects Tipperary town, in particular. It runs right through the centre of the town, carrying huge numbers of vehicles down the main street on a daily basis. It extends to Clonmel, where the Frank Drohan Road, or the bypass, as it is known, is effectively a car park at many times of the day. Carrick-on-Suir is also affected. The stretch into County Kilkenny near Piltown is very dangerous. This road urgently needs to be included in the capital programme and a bypass for this whole area needs to be considered immediately.

I thank the leader of our group, Deputy Mattie McGrath, for his work on this motion. I also thank Aisling in the Minister's office and Tríona, David and Máirín in Deputy McGrath's office for their work. This is a very important Private Members' motion.

Regional and local roads providing links between rural communities and towns and larger urban centres are vital. Members and councillors representing rural areas know at first hand, and better than most, the value of funding for roads. With regard to the lack of funding for roads in County Kerry and throughout rural Ireland over the years, local authorities are not to blame. They are starved of funding. Every one of us knows that.

I wish to highlight the conditions on roads in Kerry. Certain roads, particularly in north Kerry, could be described only as something one would see in Beirut. Funding is required urgently to bring these roads up to the standard in the rest of the country.

It would be very neglectful of me at this time if I did not compliment and thank Kerry County Council. I praise our county councillors, the management of our council, our senior and junior engineers and, most important, the people who work on our roads. The latter are the people I most admire. These are the people who at 12 midnight, 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. are out in lorries salting the roads if the night is frosty. They are the people who are out the morning after a flood trying to repair the damage done the night before, be it by cutting back trees or filling potholes. They drive JCBs to clear the roads and keep them open. It would be very neglectful of me not to thank those people. I can speak only for people working in County Kerry but I wanted to go on the record of the Dáil to say I appreciate every hour they give on our roads and the work they are doing. I appreciate also the people who came before them who are gone to their eternal reward. I praise from a height those I knew and the ones I know now.

County Kerry is choked from both sides. The problem arises coming through Adare on one side and through Macroom and Ballyvourney on the other. This is resulting in businesses not wanting to locate in our county even though it is the finest county not only in Ireland, but in the world. It is most unfortunate that access has been neglected over many years. Major projects need to go ahead and require continued funding urgently. I am glad there is now movement on the Macroom and Ballyvourney bypasses but we need sustained funding for a number of years to ensure we will have a bypass in Adare and direct access down from Cork city, which is of huge importance.

Let us consider some of the circumstances with which we are dealing and the dangerous junctions in County Kerry. I highlighted this previously in the Dáil and it was most unfortunate that some Deputies believed it was something to laugh at. There is nothing to laugh at. I make no apology to anybody for raising in the Dáil the need for more funding to deal with dangerous junctions in our county. If I must raise the requirement for lights to deal with the number of accidents at dangerous junctions, such as where the R569 meets the Cork-Killarney road, the N22, I will not be one bit ashamed of raising it in the Dáil. I was sent up here to represent people on both big and small issues. Any issue of people dying on our roads is paramount.

Another issue I want to raise is that of hedges overhanging and encroaching on roads in County Kerry. People talk to me about the protection of birds. It is the biggest load of nonsense because a bird has a brain too. I know of no birds that are foolish enough to want to put their nests on the edge of the road where a lorry will be whistling by. They will go into a field and into quiet areas where they can build their nests and hatch their eggs in peace away from the traffic. Any person who believes it is wrong to cut hedges at certain times of the year is only talking balderdash. It makes no difference in the world what week of the year one cuts a hedge if it is going to protect people's lives. In the past, councillors were able to use councillors' allocations to cut hedges. That practice should be allowed to continue. In many instances, there will be landowners who are not present. They might be away in America or have emigrated. Trying to have uniformity such that everybody with land along a road will cut hedges at the same time is not working.

Deputy Mattie McGrath rightly referred to damage to vehicles and I disagree with him on only one point, namely, the cost of a mirror. There are certain vehicles for which one would not get a smell of a mirror for €200; they cost a lot more. Some coaches and buses have heated mirrors that in many instances can cost up to €1,000. If the poor people running the buses broke a mirror every couple of weeks or so many times in a year, it would be a fair loss to them.

The Minister, Deputy Ross, referred to deaths on our roads earlier in the year. I acknowledge he is extremely concerned about this, as is every Member in this House. We do not want people to die on our roads. I know for a fact - I would not say this only I know it to be true - that roaming deer are contributing to deaths on our roads. There has been an explosion in the deer population. It is no exaggeration to say a 70% cull of deer is urgently required. I refer to wild deer coming onto the roads. They are definitely causing deaths because people are swerving off the roads and losing their lives. The deer vanish and afterwards people ask why the car left the road. It is very clear and evident to me. Many have had their cars destroyed. If this occurs, young people cannot claim off their insurance. The killing thing about it is that the OPW and such bodies say that if one is out shooting deer, it is their deer.

However, when the deer is on top of the car's bonnet and the person is wondering whether anyone will provide compensation, the answer is "No" because the deer is a wild animal. That the vehicle is broken and the person may have been injured is his or her own tough luck.

I will mention something that is close to my heart. Many years ago, I attended a famous meeting in a great place called Glencar, which is up from Beaufort in County Kerry, where we fought for funding for local improvement scheme, LIS, roads. When I started out on Kerry County Council, I was proud that it was doing anything up to 60 roads per year under the LIS.

We can discuss roads until tomorrow night, but the most important section of any road for anyone is the last stretch that he or she travels every day to get home. Let us take the Leas-Cheann Comhairle as an example. When he was far away in Europe, the one place that he had to travel was the last stretch to his house, wherever that might be. Regardless of whether that happens to be a mile, half a mile or a quarter of mile of a private road, and regardless of whether there is just one house or multiple houses on it, that road is of national importance to its residents. The people of Ballinskelligs are every bit as good as the people of Blackrock. Do not ever forget it.

They deserve a proper quality road. They might live on a private road, but they are paying VRT, VAT and every tax in the world just like everyone else.

There should be a properly funded scheme. We were given an assurance in the programme for Government that an adequately funded LIS would be launched in 2017. The Government cannot make promises that it will not keep. It has to honour its word. This promise was written down in black and white. It is not good enough to tell county councillors that they are the ones who must decide whether to spend money on their regional roads or the LIS. That is not how it used to work previously. In the past, there was a special fund for the roads in question. Of course we want it in County Kerry, but I appreciate that every Deputy present wants it, and should have it, for his or her county as well. The LIS is of major importance.

There is a lack of drainage on our roads. They are not being drained properly because local authorities are not allowed to replace workers who have retired or, unfortunately, died. The roads workforce is dwindling. There are plenty of young people who would adore the opportunity to work for their local authorities. They would be proud to do so, but they cannot because they are not being hired. That is wrong.

Other Deputies have criticised the Minister, Deputy Ross, in recent days for not visiting his own Department in Killarney, County Kerry. I will not do likewise because I know that, although it was his genuine aim to do so before Christmas, events took a hold of him and he was not able to visit. However, he will accept the invitation that I issued to him many months ago. He was to visit the county to view a number of serious issues. I am glad that he has put on the record of the House tonight that he will visit County Kerry and his Department there and that he will examine the dangerous situation caused by our roads. I thank him in advance for his trip to County Kerry and I will be the first there to welcome him.

I echo the sentiments of a number of Deputies, in particular those of Deputy Healy-Rae, who mentioned Adare. Its bypass has been approved and work on the Limerick-Foynes Port route is ongoing. It has been deemed a tier 1 port in Europe.

I wish again to raise the provision of a spur road at Croagh on the proposed Limerick-Foynes route. Croagh is home to 200 jobs and 11 or 12 family businesses, but no spur road has been provided to the village. Croagh has been absent from the talk of rural connectivity and regeneration. A number of meetings have been held by Limerick City and County Council on this matter and a motion was passed by all councillors who were present to provide the spur road. The cost has been used as an excuse, but I do not buy it, given that a considerable amount of money has been allocated to the overall project. I do not know why the village of Croagh cannot be included. A three or four-month review has been mentioned, but I do not buy that either. This project could be undertaken much faster. Another excuse is that a spur road can only be built every 11-12 km. That does not wash, given what happens on other national primary routes. We must use every power available to us to ensure that pressure is placed on Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and the powers that be to provide a spur road at Croagh.

A motorway between Cork and Limerick is needed immediately. This project was shelved as a result of the economic crash a number of years ago, so I welcome the fact that it has entered the planning phase. I thank the Minister of State in that regard. Some €20 million has been spent on planning so far, with a further €1 million to be spent now. A plan is required immediately if we are to meet our target of 300,000 jobs for the southern region and develop it as a counterbalance to the eastern seaboard. The Cork-Limerick-Galway Atlantic western corridor that has been talked about since 2004 is needed urgently. Some €2.6 billion extra in capital spending can be allocated. This motorway needs €800 million. Building it would take a number of years, but we want to concentrate on the most dangerous points along the route, for example, from Croom to Mallow, which is the narrowest part of the road.

A number of roads that have been downgraded often have lower speed limits than primary roads that are of poorer quality. A speed limit review is necessary.

I wish to discuss regional and rural roads. I was still a councillor 12 months ago and was working on this matter with the local authority. We used to have tertiary road grants. They vanished in the crash, followed by the LIS and, later, councillors' discretionary funding. The Government has worked with people on improving the economy and giving the benefits of that to roads, so I find it difficult to take when the other side of the House fails to mention all of that and seems to abdicate responsibility.

As Deputy Healy-Rae stated, junctions pose the greatest danger at the moment. A countrywide programme of low-cost improvements to junctions needs to be put together. It would be a front-loaded, one-off investment. The roads are the same width now that they were 30 years ago, but there is a higher volume of traffic and vehicles are wider. As such, junctions are more dangerous. The investment would make them safer by, for instance, removing hedges and blind bends. The Minister and local authorities should discuss how to devolve some power to the latter so that they can, for example, use development contributions, which seem to have increased in recent years owing to an increase in the number of developments. Perhaps a percentage of these contributions could be used to top up the existing funding.

We must come to this Chamber with ideas and solutions. We need more funding, but we also need to start putting our heads together, find solutions and use the financial fruit of the economic recovery.

I thank the Deputies who tabled the motion for giving Members from across the House the opportunity to enunciate their constituencies' issues. As a Minister of State in this Department, I understand the issue of rural roads well. I come from one of the most rural constituencies in the country.

I acknowledge the points made by the Minister, Deputy Ross, and other contributors. We all appreciate the role that our road network plays in providing access to jobs, education, health services, social networks and recovery in our economy. As outlined by the Minister, the financial crisis and the resulting funding cutbacks of recent years had a major and tangible impact on the maintenance and improvement of our road network.

Given the very extensive nature of Ireland’s public road network, with twice the European average per capita, the real challenge for the Government in recent years has been to balance the concerns about the condition of the road network while operating within very limited financial resources. The difficult choices which had to be made resulted in major cuts in funding for the road network.

The statistics for recent years have been stark due to funding constraints with only half the required road pavement works having been undertaken on the regional and local road network and the priority for both Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has been focused on maintaining the network in as serviceable a condition as possible. In the case of regional and local roads, that meant concentrating resources on the maintenance and renewal of the public road network rather than new projects. While the Minister referred earlier to funding provided by the Department for road infrastructure, further funding is being provided under the CLÁR programme, which was reopened by my colleague the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, in October last year. The programme provides funding for small-scale infrastructural projects, including roads, in disadvantaged rural areas that have experienced significant levels of depopulation. That is a welcome development.

CLÁR 2016 provided funding for three measures, namely, safety measures for schools and communities, sports facilities, playgrounds and multi-use games areas, MUGAs, and local access roads. All 23 local authorities with designated CLÁR areas were invited to make submissions under the measures and in the context of their own county development plan funding. Following an assessment of the applications received, on 1 December 2016, the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, announced funding of €8.24 million to 651 successful projects under the programme. Some of the road projects which received funding under CLÁR in 2016 included pedestrian crossings at schools, new road markings and road safety signage, among others. The Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has a budget of €5 million for CLÁR for 2017 and details of the 2017 CLÁR scheme will be finalised and announced shortly.

While the funding available for roads will take some years to build up under the capital plan 2016-2021, by the end of the period, transport sector plan funding levels will be back to where they need to be to support maintenance and renewal of the road network. Given the scale of the crisis the country faced and the need to ensure expenditure programmes are sustainable, the gradual restoration of funding was the prudent approach to take. As the Minister, Deputy Ross, highlighted earlier, there is a very strong case for additional investment in transport infrastructure. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has now launched the review process for the capital plan and has identified €2.65 billion as the extra capital funding that can be allocated within the current capital plan period. The Minister, Deputy Ross, and I are very hopeful that this process will result in additional funding for the transport sector while recognising that the final decisions on allocations are matters for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

In the limited time available to me, I welcome the fact that my county of Limerick received an additional €3 million this year from Transport Infrastructure Ireland, which is badly needed. A reference was made to speed limits. For the first time in many years local authorities have received allocations this year from Transport Infrastructure Ireland to carry out the remaining element of work required to complete the national road network speed limit review. Local authorities have engaged with Transport Infrastructure Ireland and it is up to local authority members at this stage to adopt or reject the plans drawn up by TII. Money is being made available for the movement of signs. It is also important to pay tribute, as several Deputies have done, to outdoor staff in local authorities across the country. This has been a very mild winter but in recent years the weather has wreaked havoc on the roads and it should be pointed out that local authority staff have gone out in the worst form of inclement weather.

One of the most important things local authorities can do, as several Deputies alluded to, is in regard to roadside drainage. There has not been a proper programme in that regard for many years and that is something we really need to get back to because in many cases we are putting good money in after bad. Roads are not being properly drained and the lack of local knowledge about inlets and water tables is a considerable problem. I welcome the consensus on the motion. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his latitude. I also thank the Deputies who tabled the motion.

I support the motion. We have seen a deterioration in roads right around the country in recent years. In the early 2000s and prior to that, roads were resurfaced once in every ten years. Now that less money is around for that purpose, the likelihood of a road being resurfaced has become once in every 20 years. That is the reason we have seen such a deterioration in the condition of the roads. It is easy to give out about the Government but the reality is that when another Government blew up the country, we did not have the money we needed to spend on roads.

There is no doubt that for a country to come out of the situation in which we were and to move forward, no more than someone in business one has to spend a pound to make a pound. One might have to borrow money to ensure we bring things up to a certain standard. New systems are currently being used for road maintenance, such as rotavating them and putting a new type of macadam on them and such new roads are good for 20 years. What we used in the past was not suitable. However, the new method costs more. It is necessary for Ireland to borrow money in order to get out of the recession we were in.

Funding is required for the N4 and the N5 road from Mullingar to Castlebar must be finished. The road from Donegal to Tuam must be completed, as must the Mallow to Cork road. If we do not put in place the proper infrastructure and ensure people can get to a motorway within 20 to 25 minutes of leaving their house then one will not open up sufficient opportunity to them. The sad reality is that Galway County Council had a budget of €32 million for roads and it is down to €19.5 million. Roscommon County Council has €11.5 million for roads but it once had €19 million. It will cost money but in the long run it will save us money and it would help more people to find work and make the roads safer. A report showed that in certain counties, 14% of the roads are dangerous. I concur with what the Minister of State said earlier about council staff around the country and the amount of work they do. That must be acknowledged. I encourage the Government to examine all infrastructural requirements, be they hospitals, schools or roads and if necessary it must borrow money and ensure people in all parts of the country have an equal opportunity.

I sincerely thank Deputy Michael Collins and his colleagues for providing me with two minutes to speak in this very topical debate to which everyone wants to contribute. I compliment Deputy Mattie McGrath and his colleagues on raising this very important issue.

Time is limited and I will adhere to the rules. I echo much of what my constituency colleague, Deputy Fitzmaurice, said. I am pleased the Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, is present because he is a listener and he will take the message back. I will be very parochial. The constituency of Roscommon-Galway was utterly devastated last year. The total bill to fix the roads and bridges, as submitted by the county engineer, came to €11.5 million. We got €6.5 million. Roscommon is still 4% to 5% behind what the east coast got. One must remember that before one starts to talk about an increase of 4%. We have a deficit of €5 million. Roads are still not properly passable in County Roscommon and in parts of Galway. The Minister, Deputy Ross, has totally neglected the county that was worst affected by the floods. While I welcome the allocation of 11.4% and the 4% increase, it will still leave us with a deficit of €5 million. The senior engineer, area engineers, overseers and workers who were called by the politicians at 3 o'clock, 4 o'clock and 5 o'clock in the morning and got up and went way beyond the call of duty to help people-----

-----are being totally laughed at in this situation. They put in the plan and told the Minister what was needed but we are left with a deficit of €5 million. I urge the Minister to revisit the situation. I accept I am being parochial.

The Minister should also consider bringing back local improvement schemes. Local improvement schemes and the CLÁR programmes brought in by a Fianna Fáil Government were very positive and were good. They achieved things for rural areas, as the Deputies present know. If they are brought back, they will solve a lot of problems. The N4 and N5 need to be upgraded as a matter of urgency. They have been neglected. I urge the Minister to include them in the capital programme for 2017.

There are approximately 91,000 km of regional and local roads in Ireland. They account for 94% of the country's road network, which carry around 54% of all roads. The Minister, Deputy Ross, was in the Chamber earlier. He inherited a mess made by previous Governments which has left many roads with little or poor funding, especially in areas where political representation was weak.

We raised the condition and funding of roads on numerous occasions last year during discussions on the programme for Government. We have now received a commitment in the programme to increase the capital budget for regional and local roads by approximately 50%. An extra spend of 9% this year is a move in the right direction but is in no way enough. A figure of 50% over the lifetime of the Government is neither enough nor soon enough as many roads in south west Cork, which I represent, are crumbling. Last year was a prime example of this where roads throughout west Cork were closed for weeks on end. The road in Ballinspittle in west Cork is still closed. In some cases, not even a digger could travel on these roads. This was not the fault of the Minister. As I said earlier, he inherited a mess as the roads budget was totally underfunded.

Local authorities need to be funded properly and to revert to having more council staff on roadsides having a bigger effect in their counties. An embargo on council workers was simply penny wise and pound foolish. Dykes and gulleys are blocked. The fact that dykes have not been cleared has led to roads being washed away costing millions of euro. There is simply no funding for staff. This embargo must be lifted. Local authorities had full charge of verge cutting down through the years and it was carried out brilliantly. The fact that our verges are not being cut is costing this country millions of euro in terms of car damage and car rental companies not paying people who rent their cars because of scratches and tears. It is costing our tourism industry quite a lot as well. Tree felling needs to be carried out by local authorities. The local authority needs to look after the roadside. We are paying so many taxes, including the local property tax. Surely the roadside should be looked after by the local authority when we are paying motor tax. We have potholes on our roads and our cars are being damaged on a regular basis.

There has been report after report in respect of the N71, R586 and R585 in west Cork, but little or nothing has been spent on them down through the years. The money that has been spent on reports should be spent on passing bays. They will not cost a fortune but would be hugely effective. We do not want any flyover there. We want some simple work to be carried out to create employment in west Cork and promote our region as a place apart, which it is. The Minister met with a cross-party delegation from west Cork some weeks back. Since this meeting, we have had movement and the Minister has given consideration to many of the roads I mentioned. If he does, he will be the first Minister to have done so and will have the full support of the Rural Independent Group in what is a very difficult job. I also thank the Minister and his Department for the announcement of over €500,000 for west Cork roads last week. This is greatly welcomed by all of us in west Cork and is a move in the right direction.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Ceann Comhairle for their forbearance all night. When he was here earlier, the Minister said that he was hopeful that the review of the capital plan, which we hope will be at the end of this year, will help rural roads and get more money. Indeed the Minister of State has supported the Minister in that. I do not say that it might happen. I say it must happen because if we do not invest in roads, it will be penny wise and pound foolish. It has been accepted by Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and many other studies that roads are deteriorating. The quicker we address the situation, the better because the worse the condition of the roads, the more it costs.

I thank the management of Tipperary County Council, including the engineering staff and, above all, the outdoor staff, tributes to whom have been paid by many of my colleagues. They work so hard in all the troubled times and are out there trying to do a lot with such a limited number of staff. I thank county councils. They have a very important role and must be listened to and given more powers and more respect unlike their treatment by the former Minister, Phil Hogan. He banished local councillors but the councillors are the eyes and ears and are at the front line and I commend them. They deal with the staff and role they have. We have too many chiefs and not enough Indians. The embargo must be lifted. The local man on the road with a shovel is as important as the draftsman doing the work.

I said earlier that we need projects in the pipeline. We do not have enough of them. TII has said that forward planning must be looked after. We did not have enough time here tonight but I thank every Member who contributed and supported our motion. I do not even listen to the begrudgers who complained that our motion was too conciliatory and that we were contaminated in the Minister's office. We were not. I thank the Minister and his officials along with the Minister of State and everybody else for the spirit of co-operation they showed. According to some, we are going to be "anti" everything and give out. Deputy Troy seemed to be lamenting that we had access to the Minister's office. Thankfully, we have access thanks to the Independent Ministers and other Ministers. While that situation works, we will support it but as I said earlier, we will be raising it on the Order of Business and the Topical Issue debate to ensure it is delivered on and that the promises that made in the programme for Government are delivered. We want front-loading of the funding.

I make no apologies to Deputy Troy or anybody else. They want to have it ever which way - in government and out of government. They do not know what they want. They are like the dog in the manger. They are in opposition and can turn off the tap whenever they like but we are about rural people and rural Ireland. We do not begrudge Dublin the Luas, the Port Tunnel or the M50. We use them ourselves. However, we want a fair and equal slice of the cake - no more and no less. Every person in Ireland who pays their motor tax, NCT charges and insurance and who has to repair their car and support their children going to university and work is entitled to the same standard of roads. At the moment, it is not a level playing field. A total of 94% of roads are rural, local and regional roads with 54% of the total traffic. Think of those figures. It is time we had fair play. Former Ministers, Noel Dempsey and Martin Cullen, flew around in helicopters. The door even fell off the helicopter in Cork. They did not care about the people. They thought they were kings but now we are suffering from decades of neglect so it is important we get fair play. That is all we want. The Rural Independent Group is fighting for that for the rural road network and rural business. The Government's plan for rural Ireland launched in Longford will be useless and toothless if we do not have a road network that allows people, tourists and businesses to travel.

The Minister of State and the Government know that we need support and funding for the roads. We need to allow our councils and private people to look after the roads. As Deputy Michael Healy-Rae said, the last half mile of every journey is as important as the M50 when we all travel home to our counties and the people we represent who send us here. We are Teachta Dálaí, messenger boys and public representatives serving the public rather than being self-serving like some former Ministers when they had the money during the Celtic tiger. Let the work happen, the roads be repaired and the people be given the respect they deserve with a half-decent road and they will never complain.

Let us ensure there is basic drainage and tree felling and that we do not have too much officialdom interfering and telling us we cannot do this or that. We should have one agency. I hope the Minister goes to TII and allows the likes of the roads in Tipperary town to be resurfaced, a bypass for Thurles and the N24 to be created from Pallasgreen to Waterford. The people deserve no less. They are as important as anyone else. In respect of progress, where Tipperary leads, Ireland follows so I ask the Government to look after Tipperary and all the other counties in rural Ireland. It is not all about the capital city.

Question put and declared carried.