“That Dáil Éireann:
— there are huge gaps in Ireland’s transport infrastructure, particularly in the west and north west, which are actively harming Ireland’s economic growth and development, as well as reducing citizens’ quality of life;
— economic growth is not spread equally across the country, and sound transport infrastructure is particularly important to economic growth in regional areas;
— maintaining strong, modern, and competitive transport links with the rest of the European Union (EU) is vital to securing Ireland’s economic future and ensuring that Ireland’s strong social and political links with our European counterparts are maintained;
— the decision of the United Kingdom (UK) to leave the EU will impede Ireland’s ability to use the UK land bridge to access continental Europe, thus closing off a route that two thirds of Irish exporters use to reach continental Europe and creating a need for alternative export and import facilities in Ireland;
— this Government and the last have failed to invest in Ireland’s ports, such that it is difficult for them to take advantage of new opportunities;
— the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) provides considerable funding opportunities for countries to improve their connectivity with the rest of Europe;
— the previous Fine Gael-led Government chose to exclude key infrastructural projects in their submission to the TEN-T Network, thus preventing these projects from receiving TEN-T funding and harming their chances of accessing alternative private financing too; and
— the majority of the projects removed by the previous Fine Gael-led Government are located in the west of the country, an area which is in considerable need of economic and infrastructural development;
— while the next review of the TEN-T Network is due to take place in 2023, European Commissioner for Mobility and Transport, Ms. Violeta Bulc, has stated at a meeting with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport that ‘extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary actions’;
— the European Commission reiterated in 2015 that member states retained ‘substantial sovereign rights’ to decide on projects; and
— there is a commitment in the Programme for Government that ‘in the first three months the new Government will apply to the European Union for the revision of the TEN-T Core Network, including applying for the reinstatement of the cross-border Western Arc’; and
calls on the Government to:
— instigate a full review of the TEN-T programme at European level well in advance of 2023, in recognition of the challenging circumstances facing Ireland and the weaknesses in our existent TEN-T programme;
— conduct a detailed and comprehensive review of potential projects to be included in the revised TEN-T programme, taking into account the regional imbalances that currently exist within the programme and the varied objectives that Ireland will need its transport infrastructure to meet;
— ensure the timely delivery of Ireland’s existent capital plan, Project Ireland 2040; and
— present a report to Dáil Éireann within the next 6 months outlining the actions that the Government has taken to bring about a review at European level, detailing the projects that they will be putting forth for consideration, and allow for a full debate on these issues.”
I am sharing time with Deputies Lisa Chambers, Niall Collins, Eugene Murphy and Casey.
The motion relates to the TEN-T network and Ireland's transport infrastructure. The concept behind the TEN-T network was to improve transport corridors, enabling economic growth and cohesion and connectivity within Europe. It covers all modes of transport - road, rail, sea and air. Maintaining and improving strong, modern and competitive links with the rest of the EU is vital to securing Ireland's economic future and ensuring that Ireland's strong social and political links with our European counterparts are maintained. Given the level of engagement the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has had with his counterparts over the last two years, I question if he subscribes to this.
In order to have this connectivity we must improve Ireland's transport infrastructure, which has huge gaps due to lack of investment over the past decade, in order to deal with the growth in Ireland's population and economy. The short-sightedness of this and the previous Government has not only restricted economic growth and prevented regions from reaching their full potential, but it is also having severe negative consequences on the quality of people's lives. The length of time people are spending commuting has increased significantly in recent years. We have significant overcrowding on public transport. These matters need to be addressed now.
TEN-T has two layers: a core network and a comprehensive network. Under the last review covering the period from 2014 to 2020 the TEN-T network comprised upgrades to the Cork to Dublin and Dublin to Belfast rail network, and investment in Cork and Dublin ports. When submitting Ireland's proposals to the EU the then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, who is now Taoiseach, severely lacked ambition. He did not include much of what he could have included and also removed key projects in the west of Ireland. I will leave my colleagues to deal with that.
The benefit from inclusion in TEN-T designation is the eligibility for funding from the Connecting Europe Facility. As well as eligibility for funding, it makes it much easier to access loans from the European Investment Bank and it is more attractive for public private partnerships.
The review of the TEN-T network is not due to take place until 2023. We believe given the significance of Brexit on the movement of goods and people for Ireland, we must make a compelling case now. In reply to a parliamentary question earlier this week, the Minister stated: "My Department is also committed to making a more detailed submission to the European Commission in respect of the TEN-T network, taking account of the implications of Brexit..." I do not see a sense of urgency coming from the Minister or the rest of Government on this. The European Commissioner for Mobility and Transport, Ms. Violeta Bulc, recently stated that extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary actions.
Two thirds of Irish exports use the British land bridge to reach continental Europe. It is vital that Ireland seeks out alternatives which much include significant investment in our ports. If we look at the ports' designation, Ireland is totally out of sync with the rest of Europe. Ireland with a coastline of 2,795 km and a population of 4.7 million has five ports designated in the TEN-T network. Malta with a coastline of 135 km and a population of 436,000 has four ports designated in the TEN-T network. Scotland has 11 ports designated and Denmark has 22 ports designated. I use that as a comparator to show how out of sync we are and how urgently we need to review our TEN-T network. I remind the Minister that when he signed up to A Programme for a Partnership Government, he was going to complete a review within the first three months of Government. In responding to the motion the Minister might enlighten the House as to how that review is going and when we can expect an outcome from it.