I thank the Leas-Ceann Comhairle. I appreciate the Ceann Comhairle selecting this Topical Issue. It is an issue of huge concern in the Cavan-Monaghan area and in the general Border region, namely, the need to upgrade our infrastructure, particularly road infrastructure. I welcome the fact the Minister, Deputy Ross, is here. From my observations in this Chamber, in previous debates he is a very good attender and replies to the Topical Issues put to his Department. That is a welcome development but unfortunately, it is not one that is followed by all Ministers.
As the Minister will be aware, Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal are more heavily dependent on road infrastructure than other counties in the State because we do not have a rail service.
Allied to that dependence on the road network is the fact that the local economy is very heavily dependent on the agrifood, construction products and engineering sectors. By and large, these are bulky products that are transported by heavy goods vehicles, HGVs, either to the domestic market outside Cavan and Monaghan or to ports and airports for export to foreign destinations. Those HGVs, in transporting the finished products from our region, need proper roads and proper infrastructure to get the products to markets within Ireland and to the ports and airports in good time. In previous debates in this House, through both parliamentary questions and topical issues, I have highlighted the need for additional resources for the Department's road works programme in the mid-term review of the capital programme. In those debates I made a special appeal to the Minister to address the infrastructural deficits of the Border region. This is particularly urgent in the context of the difficulties and challenges we face as a Border region. If enterprises in Cavan, Monaghan and the general Border area are to have any hope of remaining competitive, the Government must invest urgently in infrastructure.
Again, I refer to the fact that our local economy is very heavily dependent on the agrifood, construction and engineering sectors. These are also the three sectors in our economy that are most heavily dependent on the British market for exports. The economies of Cavan and Monaghan and North of the Border in Fermanagh and Tyrone are heavily dependent on these three sectors and in turn, these three sectors are most heavily dependent on the British market. These sectors are already facing difficulties because of the serious decline in the value of sterling since the middle of 2016, following the Brexit referendum. There is an obvious need to try to assist enterprises to remain competitive. The Government, we as public representatives and non-governmental organisations, NGOs, will put the very best case forward to Europe and to the British in regard to the best possible deal and the fact that we cannot countenance the return of a border on our island. Those issues are all up for negotiations but there is one decision that is totally within the competence of our own Government, namely the decision to invest in infrastructure and to provide additional financial resources to upgrade a road infrastructure that is deficient. There are many historical reasons, as the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will attest, for the deficits in the Border region, including the impact of decades of the Troubles on our doorstep and the lack of investment that followed on from that. Thankfully, since 1998 we have had huge positive developments in all of the province of Ulster and throughout our State following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. We have had an increase in North-South trade and the development of enterprises on an all-Ireland basis. Those enterprises that are based in the Border region face very serious challenges in trying to remain competitive. We must ensure that at Government level extra investment is targeted at the Border region to try to assist those companies to remain competitive. If we are to have any hope of those enterprises retaining their current complement of employees, not to mention creating much needed additional jobs, there is a huge onus on Government to prioritise investment in the deficient infrastructure in that region.