"That Dáil Éireann:
— that Ireland's network of regional and local roads is almost 91,000 kilometres in length, accounts for 94 per cent of Ireland’s road network and carries about 54 per cent of all road traffic;
— that the local and regional road network serves as the main connection between homes and businesses in much of Ireland, including Dublin and other urban areas, and plays a vital role in balanced regional economic development;
— that according to the latest National Oversight and Audit Commission, almost 70 per cent of regional roads have structural or surface defects and that ten per cent or more of local primary roads were structurally distressed in 12 local authorities;
— that well-maintained and good quality local and regional roads facilitate strong links between and among communities;
— that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has, on average over the past five years, provided local councils with less than half the amount of funding that is deemed necessary to maintain roads in a steady state condition;
— that repeated incidences of flooding and other extreme weather events have caused considerable damage to many local and regional roads;
— that many local authorities have too few outdoor council staff and have not been granted sufficient resources to hire additional staff;
— 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; and
— the considerable safety concerns arising from roads with structural or surface defects and that the presence of such defects increases the frequency of road collisions;
— the Programme for a Partnership Government commits to increasing the capital budget for regional and local roads by approximately 50 per cent, which has yet to be delivered; and
— the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has estimated, in its Strategic Framework for Investment in Land Transport, that an annual investment of €580 million is required to maintain the current regional and local road network, €163 million more than has been allocated this year; and
calls on the Government to:
— significantly increase the regional and local roads budget in the context of the Capital Investment Plan 2016-2021;
— publish a full response to the findings of the National Oversight and Audit Commission, with a detailed plan to address the issues and defects identified in this report, within three months;
— review the management of funds at local authority levels to ensure that funds are being used in the most efficient and effective manner possible and provide additional administrative supports where they are needed; and
— provide biannual reports to the Houses of the Oireachtas on the implementation progress of this plan, with the first update provided no later than six months following the passing of this motion."
Given the importance of this motion and its relevance to every constituency the length and breadth of this country I wish to share time with many of my colleagues.
Local and regional roads account for 94% of our road network, carrying 54% of traffic throughout the country. A recent report by the National Oversight and Audit Commission confirmed what many of us know from travelling the roads, namely, that 70% of our regional and local roads have serious structural and surface defects. The Programme for A Partnership Government, which the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is a co-author of, committed to increasing the capital budget by 50% but he has failed to do that in the first two budgets he has signed off on. Last year, during a debate on a Private Members' motion similar to this one, tabled by the Rural Independent Group, he confirmed his commitment to increasing road funding by 50%. I acknowledge that there has been an increase in funding this year but that does not match the 50% the Minister signed up for in the programme for Government.
That increase came at a time when Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, sent a letter to every chief executive in the country, before Christmas. It stated:
At this point it is envisaged that the 2018 Ordinary Maintenance allocations to local authorities will be reduced by approx. 30% from 2017 levels. This reduction will, however, be mitigated somewhat by the availability of additional funds which can be drawn down via the Geo App, but will, nevertheless be significant at approx. 17% overall.
While there is an increase from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport there has been a significant decrease in the funding provided to local authorities by TII.
The increase this year comes against a backdrop of years of significant underfunding. When the Minister got his ministerial briefing in 2016 the Department said that the clear risk in the continued underfunding of transport investment over the next three years is that it becomes a significant impediment to economic growth. Only last February the Secretary General of the Department when he appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts, PAC, said that the shortfall between the funding the Department believes should be provided to maintain the network and what is provided is very significant.
This is impeding economic growth across the regions. Anecdotal evidence from colleagues on both sides of the House is that there has been a sharp increase in the number of public liability claims made against local authorities because of road defects. Only last week, Westmeath County Council, which scored very high in the national audit report with, I think, the second best roads in the country, levied a young couple €5,000 for the pleasure of building their own home. This is not because the construction traffic has broken down the road. They have not even got their permission but because the road is so substandard the council is using a young couple, both working and paying tax, to make up a deficit to bring up the standard of the local road. I am sure many of my colleagues will list roads that need improvement, and some on the other side of the House, if they come in to support the Minister. The councils in Westmeath and Longford do not even fill the potholes in culs-de-sac. I spoke to Councillor Flaherty today who told me that Longford County Council made a submission for €895,000 to carry out low cost safety improvement measures but it got €175,000 from the Minister.
I am calling on all Members of this House to support our motion. I understand the Minister is going to accept it, just as he accepted the motion last year. The difference between this year's and last year's motion is that the Minister is signing up to report every six months on the progress to make sure he is achieving the targets he set in the Programme for A Partnership Government.