Priority Questions

We will commence today's business with questions to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Before we commence with the first question, I remind Members that there is a six-and-a-half minute slot for each question. The Deputy has 30 seconds to introduce the question, the Minister has two minutes to reply and the Deputy has an opportunity to ask two supplementary questions, to which the Minister replies. I am adhering strictly to this on the basis that I sometimes watch people sitting in the Chamber who wait for their questions to come up and, because we run over time on other questions, do not get their opportunity. I, therefore, ask for this little bit of a co-operation from everyone. The first question is in the name of Deputy Robert Troy.

Traffic Management

Robert Troy

Question:

1. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the steps he is taking to address traffic congestion in Dublin, particularly in respect of Luas cross city; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7940/18]

Traffic congestion is at breaking point in Dublin city. It is estimated that it is costing €350 million per annum in lost productivity and lost time. What steps is the Minister taking to address congestion in the capital city, in particular the large-scale disruptions that have occurred since the introduction of Luas cross city?

I thank the Deputy for the question. He is quite right: there is a congestion problem in Dublin. Dublin City Council and the National Transport Authority, NTA, jointly published in 2015 Dublin City Centre Transport Study, which sets out the various measures proposed for Dublin's city centre to ensure the efficient functioning of transport within the city centre. In preparing the 2015 study, Dublin City Council and the NTA reviewed the current and future transportation needs of the city centre, taking into account the Luas cross city project, the need to make the city more attractive and safer for walking and cycling and the move towards a more sustainable and accessible city for all. These two bodies, in collaboration with Dublin Bus and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, are progressively implementing the measures set out in that document to enable the continued development and growth of the city.

A number of changes have been made throughout the city centre over the past six months to accommodate the operation of the new Luas line. The most significant change was the introduction of the additional bus lanes along the north and south quays last August. A host of other junction and traffic signal changes have been implemented in advance of the Luas cross city becoming operational.

Furthermore, it was recognised that the College Green area would be unable, following the introduction of Luas trams, to cater for the same number of vehicles as it had previously. Addressing this, a separate proposal for a civic plaza at College Green was developed by the city council. This proposal also provides for revised traffic arrangements through this area.

The College Green civic plaza proposal is with An Bord Pleanála for determination. If approved, it would remove much of the conflicting traffic movements that exist on College Green.

In advance of a rescheduled oral hearing, the NTA, in collaboration with Dublin Bus and Dublin City Council, has proceeded to reduce bus vehicle volumes passing through the area, which would allow the junctions and signals to function more effectively. The combined effect of these changes has been to reduce the volume of buses passing through the College Green and College Street area by about 20% in order to reduce the delay issues arising in the area.

I am advised that these parties continue to keep the situation under review.

On the opening of the Luas crossover, the Taoiseach said it would encourage more people to use public transport, alleviate congestion and reduce our carbon footprint. Unfortunately, to date this has not happened. The Minister talks about the introduction of significant changes prior to this, citing as one of the measures the additional bus lanes on the quays. The average time it takes a bus to get from Heuston Station to O'Connell Bridge has doubled since the introduction of the second bus lane on the north quays. That is certainly not something to be welcomed or proud of. This morning I took the Luas crossover from Dawson Street to O'Connell Bridge. It took 20 minutes. I would have been quicker walking. I took it in order to experience for myself the length of time it takes. Coming back from Talbot Street this morning I took a taxi in order to be here on time for Question Time. This took 25 minutes. Unfortunately, there has been a lack of joined-up thinking and preparation, and the improvements the crossover represents is not feeding down to commuters' needs. People are actually spending longer on public transport now than before this was introduced.

I will afford the Deputy another minute.

Deputy Troy is absolutely right: there have been some teething pains as a result of the introduction of Luas cross city. These are not confined to the areas to which he referred; there have also been problems with people getting onto the trams and there has not been enough capacity. However, this is being well addressed and will, I hope, be resolved in the weeks to come. This involves putting more trams, larger trams and longer trams, on the green line.

To address the specific subject the Deputy mentioned, that is, the city centre, it has been recognised for some time that the College Green area would be unable to cater for the same number of vehicles as it had previously. This is following the introduction of the Luas trams, which has had knock-on effects.

Addressing this, a separate proposal for a civic plaza at College Green was developed, which also provides for revised traffic arrangements through this area. That proposal is currently with An Bord Pleanála for determination. If it is approved, it will remove many of the conflicting traffic movements that currently exist in College Green. Trams, buses and taxis would only run on a north-south axis. The existing complex sequence of traffic signals would be replaced with a single pedestrian crossing from the Trinity College entrance across to the plaza.

These problems were well flagged. The impact of the Luas cross city on buses etc. was flagged by Dublin City Council's transport committee as far back as 2015. It appears nothing was done. Why did it take tens of thousands of passengers facing severe disruption for the Minister to change some of the bus routes through College Green? Quite seriously, is there a concerted effort by the Minister's Department and the NTA to ensure that there is widespread disruption on College Green, ahead of an attempt at a later stage to take away all motorcars from College Green? What the Minister is doing now is creating such a disruption in the hope that people will get so annoyed and exasperated that they will accept a plan to introduce a cut to motorcars and taxis using College Green in the not-too-distant future.

That is a fairly extraordinary suggestion. No, there is no concerted plan of any sort that I am aware of to cause such disruption.

None that the Minister is aware of.

I am not aware of one and I can assure the Deputy that there is not one because I would be aware of a plan to do anything of the sort. The Deputy is right about one or two things, however. The issues were well flagged. There was a mismatch and still is a certain mismatch. A lot of that has to do with the anticipation of what would and will happen when An Bord Pleanála reaches its conclusion and releases its verdict. When that happens, we expect there to be a great deal of release in those conflicting traffic movements which are going on. However, that has been delayed and is not happening until May. I do not think the Deputy would have asked me or the NTA to delay the opening of Luas cross city until An Bord Pleanála had given its judgment as we never know exactly when it is going to do so.

There is absolutely no concerted plan of any sort. There have been problems but they are being addressed by the NTA in the ways I have described and I think they will be resolved very shortly.

Defined Benefit Pension Schemes

Imelda Munster

Question:

2. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the action he plans to take further to concerns that have been raised by unions regarding CIÉ pensions; when his attention was drawn to the underfunding of the pension schemes; his plans to remedy the matter; the reason CIÉ was in a position to disregard a ministerial directive; and if an independent investigation into the governance of both CIÉ pension schemes will be established. [7877/18]

What action does the Minister intend to take on the serious concerns raised by the unions about CIÉ pensions? Will he confirm when the underfunding was first brought to his attention? What plans has he to rectify that, and will he explain why CIÉ was in a position to disregard a ministerial directive?

This is a subject on which Deputy Munster, like virtually every Deputy, will have received submissions from many of those working in CIÉ who are members of the pension funds involved. She will have the same sort of sympathy that everyone else would have for people in this situation where the pension fund is in deficit.

Issues pertaining to CIÉ’s pension scheme are primarily a matter for the CIÉ group, its employees and the trustees of the pension scheme. The employees of CIÉ are provided pension benefits on retirement from one of two defined benefit schemes, namely, the regular wages scheme or the superannuation scheme. In common with the overwhelming majority of such schemes, they are facing significant challenges in maintaining solvency to ensure prudent provision is made to fund the cost of future pensions in a low interest rate environment.

CIÉ has put on record at the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, that it will not impose any change that it proposes without the agreement of the active members of both schemes and that it will continue to contribute to both schemes in accordance with the rules of the schemes. I have outlined the challenges faced in addressing the solvency of the schemes and the process under way to address the deficit, which involves detailed discussion between CIÉ and employee representatives, facilitated by the WRC. I urge all sides to re-engage with the WRC to resolve this issue.

The Deputy has also asked about CIÉ adherence to the requirements of statutory instruments. CIÉ has advised that it has complied with its contribution requirements under SI 323 of 2000 and SI 205 of 2010. Also, the Deputy may be aware that the schemes' accounts are independently audited and are required to be signed off by the trustees if they are satisfied that the rules have been complied with. These audited and trustee-approved accounts form part of each scheme’s annual report that is circulated to all the members. To date, no case exists where this has not occurred.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In recent weeks, members of one of the pension schemes have highlighted particular concerns and these have been communicated to public representatives and raised with both the Committee of Public Accounts and the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. Previous parliamentary questions from Deputies have also been referred to CIÉ for reply. I understand replies were issued to those Deputies last week indicating that CIÉ proposes to issue a comprehensive response to all queries on 22 February or as soon as possible thereafter. I am informed that a report on this issue will be presented to the CIÉ board, which is meeting on 21 February. I will ask CIÉ to ensure that a comprehensive response will also issue to the Deputy on the issues she has raised.

In 1994, an agreement was reached between CIÉ employees and the company to amalgamate the five pension schemes, which allowed the group to remove a potential €73 million pension deficit from its books. In return, the employees were assured by the board of CIÉ that it would guarantee the solvency of the pension schemes each year. The company by and large stuck to that commitment right up until 2009 when it failed to provide sufficient funding to ensure the solvency of the schemes in that year and the following years right up to the present. Since then, the board of CIÉ has underfunded the pension scheme to the tune of €80 million. How can the Minister say it has complied with requirements under statutory obligations?

Will the Minister establish an independent investigation into the governance of both CIÉ pension schemes? Did he investigate why CIÉ ignored a ministerial directive? He has not directly answered that question.

I am not aware of any ministerial directive that it has ignored. I have asked them this question and they have complied with every statutory instrument to which the Deputy refers. It is a tragedy and is very difficult for the members, but it is not unique. The deficit the Deputy talks about is far from unique for people in this situation at the moment. It is a defined benefit scheme.

I think what is happening here is that people are getting together and, quite understandably and maybe quite rightly, making representations to the board, public representatives, me and CIÉ itself about the difficulties in which they find themselves. This has been in and out of the WRC several times and is now largely outside the WRC. The management and workforce have been trying to get together to produce a funding plan which satisfies the Pensions Authority. They have not been able to do that so far at this stage. The last one is what they call "off track". Every effort must be made to get this on track for the benefit of CIÉ and the workforce. I urge them to get back to the WRC. This problem is not uncommon and it is in their interests to resolve it. I have every sympathy for the difficulties in which they find themselves.

The Comptroller and Auditor General told the Committee of Public Accounts that this was a statutory rather than a private pension scheme, so there is an obligation there under the law. More than 10,000 CIÉ workers have been left in limbo for the past eight years. They do not know what is happening with their pensions, all because the Government allowed CIÉ to ignore a statutory instrument. Not only has the company underfunded the pension scheme, it has also jeopardised the solvency of the two pension schemes. There are serious questions to be asked. There are questions to be asked of the Government, the Minister's Department and the previous Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport as to why they have ignored this matter for the past eight years or more. When it comes down to it, CIÉ has been allowed to do this. Quite simply, it has broken the law. What is the Minister going to do about it, how is he going to resolve it and how is he going to hold CIÉ to account for not adhering to a statutory instrument?

I repeat that CIÉ has assured me that it has complied with the statutory instruments to which I have referred and I will have to leave it at that. If the Deputy can refer me to a case where a statutory instrument has been defied by CIÉ, I will certainly take action on it because that is important.

CIÉ has received all the representations which have been made by Deputies and the public. It will hold a board meeting on 21 February and will respond to all those queries, including those from the Deputy. I will make sure she gets a response on 22 February. It is taking it seriously and is taking the concerns of people who are gobsmacked by the difficulties in which they find themselves seriously. It had to be regarded as not just something with which it has sympathy but something which has to be put right. If the Deputy can wait until 22 February, everybody will get a full response from CIÉ.

A referred reply was forwarded to the Deputy under Standing Order 42A.

Noise Pollution Legislation

Robert Troy

Question:

3. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the reason for his appointment of Fingal County Council as an independent noise regulator in respect of airport noise; the reason he plans to introduce less restrictive noise regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7941/18]

In his appointment as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the Minister has abdicated his responsibility in respect of the appointment of an independent competent authority for noise regulation at Dublin Airport. He has delayed and procrastinated. He has failed in this regard. We have learned in the past number of weeks that he intends to appoint Fingal County Council as the competent authority. Can the Minister outline the background to this decision and the reason he is satisfied that Fingal County Council has the capacity and capability to be an independent authority?

I cannot let the Deputy say things like that without any evidence. I have not delayed a decision. There have been delays, but not on my part. I have not procrastinated. If anything, I have put pressure on people to make haste in this. The Deputy is quite correct in saying that delays have happened elsewhere. They certainly have not happened in my Department; in fact, quite the opposite has happened.

As the Deputy is aware, the State is required to appoint an airport noise regulator under EU Regulation 598/2014. That regulation, which came into force in 2016, sets out how all member states should measure, manage and monitor noise at each of their major airports. In Ireland, only Dublin Airport is large enough to fall subject to the regulation.

As I have previously explained to the House, an earlier proposal to appoint the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, as the noise regulator ultimately ran up against legal advices, which made it impracticable. Those are the delays to which the Deputy referred. Therefore, an alternative had to be found. Following discussions between my Department and the Departments of Housing, Planning and Local Government and Communications, Climate Change and Environment, it was agreed that on balance, and having regard to the requirements of the EU regulation, Fingal County Council offered the best way forward.

It already has responsibilities under an EU environmental noise directive which encapsulates responsibilities relating to noise caused by conurbations and major transport infrastructures, including roads, railways and airports. In addition, having regard to its planning functions, it has considerable experience and expertise in the conduct of environmental impact assessments, appropriate assessments and managing extensive public consultations. There are, therefore, synergies arising from the assignment of this additional role.

A further factor that was taken into consideration was the existing scale of Fingal, which means it can relatively easily take on an additional function. It is true that Fingal will have to build some additional expert capacity, but that requirement would arise no matter what body this role is assigned to. The draft legislation will provide for additional funding to provide for this. My proposal was recently endorsed by the Cabinet, and I plan to bring draft legislation forward as soon as possible to give effect to this.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I think the Deputy is well aware that what I propose is to fully implement an EU regulation on airport noise. I am legally obliged to do so. It represents a new decision-making process, governed by standard EU rules that apply across all member states, and there is no basis for drawing any conclusion as to what the outcome of this new decision-making process will be. I am of the view that this EU regulation which, among other things, includes provision for public consultation and has the safeguard of an independent appeals process, represents a huge improvement on current arrangements.

The Minister said he has not delayed, yet the regulation came into effect in 2016. It is now 2018 and we are still discussing the matter. He cannot even give a timeframe for when his draft legislation will come before the House. First it was the EPA and then the IAA. I questioned the Minister repeatedly and the only difficulty he mentioned was that he was awaiting independent legal advice on whether a statutory instrument or primary legislation was required. Now we have moved on to a new authority. The Minister has failed. He has responsibility for this and has failed to deliver this for the past two years.

Is it true that his predecessor confirmed arrangements two years ago for transposing the EU regulations to the IAA but because of the Minister's inaction there have been two years of negative economic impact on our country? Has the Minister met the CEO of Fingal County Council to determine its readiness, skill and capability to take on this highly specialised task? Has he spoken to the DAA or any of the main airlines which use Dublin Airport regarding how they feel about Fingal County Council? What about the residents? Members outlined to departmental officials that they do not have confidence in the impartiality of Fingal County Council to be the competent authority in respect of noise regulation.

The Deputy made a lot of statements.

I asked a lot of questions.

I do not know whether the Deputy has taken a straw poll of the residents or has met one or two. To make the statements he did is absurd and irresponsible. I take exception to them because nobody has met more of the residents about the issue of noise than I have. Every Deputy who has asked me to meet residents' groups has been received and I have listened to what they have to say. If Deputy Troy wants to come to the House and say the residents are all against the proposal it indicates that he has been wandering the streets of Malahide and Swords over the past few days taking some sort of opinion poll.

I do not believe he knows what he is talking about. He is throwing an allegation around the House in a meaningless way which is totally unscientific and unforensic. Of course the delay was regrettable. A decision was made about the IAA, subject to legal opinion. The Deputy will be well aware that this was decided one way in the Office of the Attorney General and on reconsideration, as a result of certain European standards, and much to my regret and that of everybody else, the decision was made that the IAA was conflicted. We immediately looked for another noise regulator and have thankfully found one.

I based my conclusions on my conversations with residents and having talked to democratically elected people who represent the constituency. Incidentally, if the Minister wants the legislation to go through the House he does not have the numbers on that side. He might want to realise that and engage with us. The fact he did not turn up to the briefing to discuss this issue with the Opposition spokespersons and Members demonstrated his priorities and interest in this.

Did his predecessor of two years ago have in place confirmed arrangements in respect of transposing the EU regulations? Has he met the CEO of Fingal County Council to determine its readiness and skill to take on this highly specialised task? Has he met or spoken with the CEO of the DAA or any of the airlines which use Dublin Airport as their main base? These questions require "Yes" or "No" answers.

We want the second runway to be up and running. This is having a negative effect on economic growth, not just in the Dublin region but the country at large. The Minister has responsibility for dealing with this issue and has failed to do so, whether he cares to admit it, for the past two years.

It is a little bit excitable of the Deputy to say that I have refused to engage with anybody on this. I am perfectly happy to engage with the Deputy on this.

I said the Minister was not at the briefing.

I did not need the briefing; the Deputy did. I have been briefed on this on a regular basis virtually every day. This was a briefing-----

The Minister needs to engage with us.

-----which was arranged for the Deputy and anybody else who wanted to go to it and was interested in the matter. As the Deputy said, this is one of the most important projects-----

Answer the question.

-----which faces the country at the moment. Of course we would welcome the support of Fianna Fáil for the runway.

Did the Minister meet the CEO of Fingal County Council?

Of course we would welcome anybody who is interested in this and we will inform them and keep them up-to-date because it is too important.

Did he meet the CEO-----

I will answer the Deputy's question if he does not interrupt me. He is taking up a lot more time. I am willing to meet anybody-----

Did the Minister meet him?

-----at any time on this issue and my officials have engaged-----

I will take that as a "No".

-----in conversations. I cannot hear myself, let alone Deputy Troy. I certainly cannot-----

It is a "Yes" or "No" answer.

I am in the Chair and will rule on the matter. The Minister will answer the question. The Deputy has gone over time and is stopping the next Deputy from asking his question.

I will engage with anybody relevant to the project to promote it.

I take it that the Minister is saying no.

My officials have engaged with them intensely recently.

The Minister has failed again.

Road Network

Danny Healy-Rae

Question:

4. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his attention has been drawn to the need for the provision of the Killarney bypass from Farranfore to Lissivigeen and from Lissivigeen to Castlelough. [7875/18]

I am asking the Minister to prioritise the Killarney bypass, from Lissivigeen to Farranfore and from Lissivigeen to Castlelough on the Muckross Road. It is a very important scheme. The plan was first unveiled in 2004 but shelved or suspended in 2011. The route has been identified. I raised the matter with the Taoiseach in October during Leaders' Questions. Happily, a sum of €25,000 has been allocated, but I believe it will only dust down the fines.

This is not the first time I have heard the issue of this road being raised. The Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Griffin, has raised it with me many times. It is a serious problem and I recognise that the project is important to the Minister of State, as well as to Deputies Danny and Michael Healy-Rae and Martin Ferris and all other representatives in County Kerry. I will address the issue as seriously as I possibly can.

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding of the national roads programme.  The planning, design and implementation of individual road projects are matters for Transport Infrastructure Ireland under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. 

Ireland has just under 100,000 km of road in its network and the maintenance and improvement of national, regional and local roads place a substantial financial burden on local authorities and the Exchequer.  Because of the national financial position, there were very large reductions in the Exchequer funding available for roads expenditure after the financial crisis and the cuts meant that a significant number of proposed road improvement projects had to be suspended. The N22, Farranfore to Killarney, scheme was one of the projects suspended at the time.

The Building on Recovery capital plan 2016 to 2021 and the capital plan review allocations mark a significant step forward in restoring funding to the levels needed to maintain the road network in a “steady state” condition and allowing for some investment in road improvement schemes, but it is going to take time for funding to build up to the required level to support road maintenance and improvement projects.  I was able to secure significant additional funding in the capital plan review and it will allow a package of additional measures to be implemented, including the development of a pipeline of future projects.  In that context, TII has allocated funding this year to local authorities to progress pre-appraisal of a range of projects.  The N22, Killarney to Farranfore, scheme is one the schemes to be assessed.  I understand from TII that the funding provided for Kerry County Council this year is to bring the full scheme through pre-appraisal, with a view to assessing the extent to which the scheme or elements of it can be justified in terms of appraisal and advanced further.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's public spending code and my Department's capital appraisal framework have very specific requirements in relation to the appraisal of capital projects and given the many competing demands for funding, the appraisal process is very important in determining how best to allocate resources.

I am glad to see the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Brendan Griffin, in the House. I ask him to put his shoulder to the wheel and push this very important project. Progressing it has many merits. Killarney is choked by traffic during the summer months, with people trying to get in and out of the town. In a way, that is good as it shows that people want to come to Killarney. However, we need to cater for them. There is congestion on the Muckross Road, with traffic from Kenmare and Glengarriff trying to get through the town. Traffic has to pass through the town to get to Limerick or any other part of the country. There is also traffic from Killorglin and Liebherr, as well as to O'Shea's Funeral Home in the evenings, when workers travel up Dr. Hans-Liebherr Road and St. Anne's Road. The volume of traffic on the bypass is at the maximum. It is used by 18,600 vehicles per day. It connects with the Tralee and Farranfore road at the Cleeny junction.

I am glad that the Deputy acknowledged the presence of the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Brendan Griffin. It was very gracious of him to do so. I am also glad that he has acknowledged that we are taking this project very seriously. Kerry County Council selected the route in 2004. However, following a review, the scheme was revised several times before the project was suspended in 2009. The expected cost of construction of the 27 km route is between €160 million and €200 million. A bypass relief road was built in Killarney in the 1990s. It comprised a single carriageway with junctions. It is used by around 18,000 vehicles per day which is above capacity. The 21 km mainline scheme, or a section thereof, will provide a bypass of the town and the existing relief road.

Addressing safety issues should be a priority. There have been accidents and deaths at the top of Lewis Road. We need to get rid of the massive amount of traffic on that road. Madam's Hill junction, Farranfore junction with a turn-off for Firies, mid-Kerry and Dingle and Park Road roundabout and junction which caters for traffic to the the industrial estates and people from Gneeveguilla are all dangerous roads. The junction at Ballycasheen is also deadly. Other accidents and deaths have occurred at Coolcaslagh. We have to make the case for the continuation of the growth of the tourism product in Killarney. Some €180 million is being spent there which is projected to go up to over €500 million by 2025. If we include all direct and indirect spending, some €410 million is generated in Killarney. The tourism industry employs 3,122 people. We need to protect these jobs and add to them. It does not make sense to have the traffic from Glengarriff, Kenmare and Sneem travelling around by Kenmare Place to get to other parts of the country. As many vehicles need to pass through Killarney, I ask the Minister to prioritise this very important project. We have been told by IBEC that Ireland has the fewest infrastructural projects under way in Europe. I ask both the Minister and the Minister of State to prioritise this very important project.

The Deputy can be absolutely assured that I have taken his contribution seriously. The capital plan, as it stands, does not make provision for the N22, Farranfore to Killarney, scheme, but the extra funding provided in the capital plan review will enable TII to develop a pipeline of potential future projects. This project will be considered for development in the post-2022 period. Transport Infrastructure Ireland is progressing approximately 23 schemes through the pre-appraisal and early planning process this year, with a view to prioritising projects to be advanced further. The outcome of the pre-appraisal process will, therefore, determine which schemes or elements of them will be progressed. In the case of the N22, Farranfore to Killarney, scheme, the pre-appraisal process will include consideration of whether all three elements can be justified. Each of the potential projects will be subject to the appraisal requirements of the public spending code and the capital appraisal framework. In that context, the national development plan will state each Department must ensure all relevant appraisal processes and value for money tests in the public spending code are met before committing funding to individual capital projects. I will take to heart and to TII the submissions made by the Deputy and the Minister of State on this project.

Four years is too long to wait given the level of traffic congestion in Killarney.

We allowed the Deputy extra time, but we will not do so again.

Rail Network Expansion

Eamon Ryan

Question:

5. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the future of the proposed underground rail interconnector linking Heuston Station and Spencer Dock; if this interconnector will be included in the new national capital plan; and, if not, the way in which he plans to increase the capacity of the rail network. [7883/18]

In 1972 the report on the transportation in Dublin study carried out by An Foras Forbartha stated we should build an underground rail connection between Heuston Station and Pearse Street and Connolly Station. In 1975 the report on the Dublin rapid rail transportation study stated the same and that it should be the second phase after the introduction of the Howth to Bray DART line. In 2001 the plan A Platform for Change stated the project was more important than anything else and should take precedence over the widening of the M50. That did not happen. A railway order was issued in December 2011 but subsequently cancelled. The report on the NTA greater Dublin draft transport study for the period 2016 to 2035 brought the measure back in and stated we had to have it.

Does the Minister intend to build it? Will it happen? Are we for real on this issue? Will it be in the plan that will be announced tomorrow?

As the Deputy is aware, the National Transport Authority's, NTA, transport strategy for the greater Dublin area 2016-2035 proposes implementation of the overall DART expansion programme. In the Government’s budgetary framework for capital investment, Building on Recovery: Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016-2021, funding was allocated to progress a number of key public transport projects in the NTA's strategy, including the DART expansion programme.

The DART expansion programme has a key role to play in delivering an efficient transport system. When fully implemented, the enhancements to the heavy rail system provided for in the NTA's transport strategy will create a full metropolitan area DART network for Dublin with all of the lines linked and connected. This integrated rail network will provide the core high capacity transit system for the region and will deliver a very substantial increase in peak-hour capacity on all lines from Drogheda, Maynooth, Hazelhatch and Greystones.

The original cost of the overall DART expansion programme, including the DART underground tunnel element, was estimated, as the Deputy will be well aware from his own experience, at €4 billion, of which €3 billion was in respect of the tunnel as originally designed. The Government decided in September 2015 that the original proposal for the tunnel should be redesigned to provide a lower cost solution. I understand that the NTA is working with Irish Rail on a revised proposal that is expected to be completed soon.

In the meantime, significant investment to upgrade signalling and turn-back facilities in the critical city centre area allowed the upgrade and reopening of the Phoenix Park tunnel in 2016. At the time of its opening, the NTA stated that the opening of the tunnel was an opportunity in the short term, at modest cost, to bring commuters from the west and south west to the city centre and the business district in the south of the city. It stated also that the opportunity of developing the DART underground is to be protected for the future.

The upgrade to the Phoenix Park tunnel in 2016 at a cost of €13.5 million has seen commuters on the Kildare to Dublin Heuston line benefit from having the option of direct trains to Connolly, Tara Street, Pearse and Grand Canal Dock stations.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Following the mid-term review of capital priorities, budget 2018 increased the multi-annual capital investment funding envelopes for the coming four-year period, including providing an enhanced capital envelope of €2.7 billion for Ireland's public transport investment between 2018 and 2021. This enhanced capital envelope includes funding in the order of €230 million for mainline rail and DART capacity enhancement and will allow acceleration of the initial stages of the overall DART expansion programme, focusing particularly at this stage on providing additional fleet to enhance capacity and extending the electrified DART system. Specifically, it will allow substantial progress on electrification of the Northern rail line as far as Balbriggan, now expected to be delivered in 2022, and commencing work on the Maynooth line.

Planning for longer term investment will form part of the national development plan, the Government's overall ten-year investment plan which we will be launching later this week alongside the new national planning framework for the period to 2040.

That is the same no nothing answer the Minister gave me a year ago. I am clear on what the Minister is saying; it is not going to happen. I have no faith in the Minister's ability to protect public transport or deliver public transport in this city. Our city is grinding to a halt and he is sitting back and watching it happen. It was galling to read in the newspapers today the front-page news that the metro will open up lands in the north of Dublin. We knew that 20 years ago. We were planning that 20 years ago in A Platform for Change, which was a proper plan about how we would make this city function and work. Critical to it, as well as the metro, was the DART interconnector because the two go together. There would be joint stations that complimented each other and we would start to have a public transport system that works. The Minister has given up on that. There is nothing happening. He has been saying for a year and a half that he is doing plans and looking at it. If he had been doing it, he would have answered this question today and he would be announcing tomorrow the building of the DART interconnector, but we will get nothing.

The city is in gridlock and it will kill this country's growth prospects because it will not work. All the roads the Minister is building will not work. We need public transport.

You will have a further minute, Deputy.

Edgar Morgenroth is right. The Minister is killing our cities, particularly Dublin, and I am sad that is happening at a time when we have the money and the opportunity.

Deputy, you know that you have a further minute, so do not abuse the time.

Deputy Ryan was a little bit histrionic.

I am sorry. I am slightly emotional. I am 20 years waiting on this.

Please allow the Minister give his reply.

Deputy Ryan's party bankrupted the country in that 20 years.

During that 20 years-----

The Minister without interruption, please.

He has a short memory.

A very short memory.

-----I believe the Deputy was in government.

I did not interrupt the Deputy. He was in government for that period of time. I do not know when this particular project was cancelled but I think the DART underground was deferred by the previous Government in November 2010.

No. It was 2011.

When you were not so busy deferring bankrupting the country, bankrupting the banks and propping up Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern, which you did with alacrity, I do not know what you were doing about transport but we inherited a situation in transport from you guys which was an absolute and utter disaster. You get up here day in, day out wanting to spend money like water, as you did the time you were in government. I will not sit here and take that as though money comes out of the sky when you are in opposition but when in government you just spend it and bankrupt the country.

Address the Chair, Minister.

That is the outrageous type of narrative Deputy Ryan comes out with day after day. We should be spending €4 billion on an underground-----

We are doing an extremely progressive job. We will not bankrupt the country for infrastructure.

The Minister will spend €4 billion on roads in the next four years. He is bankrupting the country now because the traffic system in this city is grinding to a halt. He is the Minister for transport today. He should stand up to that responsibility in a country where we do have budgets. I heard European Investment Bank, EIB, representatives tell the Committee on Budgetary Oversight that there is no counter-party for us to lend to. They have no public projects ready to go. We protected this project when we were in government. We had the metro in the four-year plan. Fine Gael then killed it, which was the worst decision by any Government because it was the perfect counter cyclical plan that would have provided us not just with a transport system that works but it would have opened up those transport lines for housing. Instead, this Government is saying, "Aren't we great". It is 30 years late in opening up those lands for housing. What are the people in Kildare and beyond going to do when that rail system is not good enough to carry the numbers we need to be carried into this city? The Minister is a failure as Minister for transport.

He should stand up to that failure today. His key failing is that he does not believe in public transport. He does not believe in walking, cycling or any such mode of transport. All he wants to do is spend on roads. He has given no money to the cities-----

We are clearing up your mess.

-----and it is killing our country. That is why I am annoyed.

We are clearing up your legacy.

We are clearing up the mess you left behind.

We are clearing up the mess you left after you, which took ten years.

Gentlemen, this is Deputy Ryan's question.

It is very hard to listen to this rubbish.

Minister, will you address the Chair, please? The Minister has one minute to reply.

You cannot let him away with that.

Cannot get away with what? It is just the truth.

The truth is-----

It is the bloody truth.

-----that you presided over the bankruptcy of the country.

(Interruptions).

How long did it take you-----

I ask Deputy Ryan and the other Members please to desist. The Minister has one minute to reply. I ask Members to let the Minister reply.

It is very difficult-----

Please, Deputy Deering. Your question will be dealt with shortly. I will not allow you your time if you continue to interrupt.

If you want your question taken, let the Minister respond.

I am speechless-----

Correct. That is a first.

-----having to listen to this extraordinary narrative which you come in here day after day-----

Minister, will you address the Chair, please?

Yes. I wish to know the pills this man is taking.

How long did it take the Minister to drive in here today?

This man must be smoking amnesia-----

How long did it take him to drive in here today?

There is a thing called an amnesia pill, and it makes one forget everything.

Minister, will you address the Chair?

How long did it take you to drive in today?

For his years in the wilderness, he took his amnesia pills. He has forgotten he was in government when the country was bankrupt.

Where we-----

He has forgotten about the four-year plan to which he referred. His plan went up in smoke because he spent money like there was no tomorrow. We are at least producing a plan, which is a ten-year plan that is responsible-----

Roads, roads, roads.

-----gradual and realistic. I will not listen any longer to the sort of hypocrisy I have to put up with from Deputy Ryan. He comes in here day after day and forgets that he was in government when the country went bankrupt.

You forgot the people of Dublin.

You were the great prop of Cowen and Ahern when they had magic coming out of the sky, with castles in the air that never existed and were never built.

You are crippling this city-----

I have heard of a goldfish memory. I have never heard of a green fish memory.

Members, it would be good if we calmed down for the next set of questions. Do not irritate yourselves too much. Question No. 7 is grouped with Questions Nos. 18, 22-----

I have Question No. 6.

My apologies, Deputy Brophy. My train of thought has been interfered with. Is it any wonder?