Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Airport Development Projects

I remind those Deputies who are participating, and the Minister, to observe the clock.

Robert Troy

Question:

60. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the construction of a second runway at Dublin Airport; if this is a priority over the construction of a third terminal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45945/18]

What are the Minister’s views on the construction of a second runway at Dublin Airport? Does he consider it a priority to ensure the construction of a second runway and for it to be operational ahead of the construction of a third terminal in light of the recent report the Minister initially leaked and subsequently published?

I welcome the Deputy's question and the opportunity it provides to reiterate my full support, and that of the Government, for the provision of additional runway capacity at Dublin Airport. The airport experienced its seventh consecutive year of growth last year, welcoming close to 30 million passengers, and the importance of ensuring that we have adequate airport capacity at our biggest airport to drive national economic growth cannot be overstated.

Project 2040 recognises, at a national level, the importance of delivering the north runway as soon as possible, given its strategic importance for the country. With the award last week by the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, of the main construction contract for the north runway, I look forward to the commencement of the works and their completion in early 2021.

In addition to the north runway, the DAA's focus is on delivering a package of projects that are needed to address existing capacity constraints at the airport, and the authority has recently announced its plans to spend in the region of €900 million by 2023 on an expansion of airside facilities. These projects will ensure that the airport can accommodate the expected growth over the coming years to approximately 40 million passengers. Ireland needs those projects to be completed to ensure maximum international connectivity for the economy.

While there is no question over the priority accorded to addressing the immediate capacity development requirements at Dublin Airport, it would be wrong to lose sight of the need to plan for the longer term. To that end, as the Deputy will be aware, Oxford Economics in conjunctions with Cambridge Economic Policy Associates were contracted last year, in line with a commitment outlined in the national aviation policy, to conduct a high-level strategic capacity review of Ireland's State airports. This review was delivered to me at the end of August and provides a very helpful assessment, which is both specific about short-term actions as well as identifying further work that needs to be undertaken to assist in decision-making for the longer term to 2050.

I am sure the Deputy will agree that it is critical to get strategic development decisions right. To ensure that there is an open approach to the options for Dublin Airport, including any decision on a third terminal, I have just commenced a process of consultation on the review in which all stakeholders will have an opportunity to set out their views. When I have all the views and information available to me, I will carefully consider the issues and make recommendations to the Government in early 2019.

The select leaking of elements from the report on terminal 3 supports the Minister's view on an independent terminal, but the authors of the report say an independent terminal might not be worth the effort. A third terminal would be premature given the much more pressing demands for an operational runway, additional aircraft stands, a taxiway and parking stands. What is the rush? Has the Minister engaged with the DAA on terminal 3? Has he engaged with any private stakeholder or developer on their interests in terminal 3?

The Minister referred to plans that are under way by the DAA on the €900 million development. Does he have any concern that the red herring he raised about an independent third terminal might put those very plans in jeopardy and have a negative effect on decisions that are being taken to increase the capacity that is needed here and now?

These are not competing projects. They can run in parallel and they have a very different timeline. The aim is that the runway would be completed by 2021 but we have to think more long term given the capacity problems that afflict Dublin Airport in particular. As Deputy Troy is aware, at the moment Dublin Airport has approximately 30 million passengers going through it annually. What is anticipated in the report, to which the Deputy refers, is that passenger numbers could increase to between 50 million and 60 million by 2050. The runway is a very short-term project compared with what we have to consider in the long term.

In general, airport infrastructure must be considered in the long term. The Government realises that the run-in for such projects takes a long time and, as promised and as we are obliged to do, we commissioned a report that came up with some startling figures. An independent third terminal is one option that has been considered. My Department and others will be involved in talks and consultations with stakeholders about the prospects for a third terminal and the need for it.

It is a fact that the report was not requested by the Government's national aviation policy in 2015. Has the Minister met the DAA to discuss a third terminal? He can indicate whether the answer is yes or no. Has he met any key private stakeholders about the third terminal? Again, the Minister can indicate whether the answer is yes or no.

An independent noise regulator is critical to the runway that is to be constructed by 2021. Will the legislation for such a regulator be enacted before Christmas of this year, as was promised? Is the Minister confident that the legislation he is introducing will be sufficiently robust and independent considering that we are one of the few countries that is opting for the local authority to be appointed the independent noise regulator?

The DAA must make a submission to the Commission for Aviation Regulation by the end of the year on charges and the €900 million worth of planned development works to deal with current capacity requirements. However, the Minister adding the red herring of a third terminal into the mix puts a question mark over the feasibility of what is being proposed.

The Deputy is mistaken. The €900 million which the DAA intends to spend is aimed at dealing with a maximum potential of 40 million passengers. However, we must plan for beyond that point. The DAA is making some good, serious and constructive suggestions. I made an effort to meet the DAA to discuss matters, and I will meet the authority in the very near future to see what its plans are.

Did the Minister meet the DAA - yes or no?

The DAA could not meet me.

Did the Minister meet any private stakeholders?

Let me make it absolutely clear: I will meet anyone who has a vested interest, including the DAA, private interests, Aer Lingus, Ryanair and anybody else who has an interest in the development of Dublin Airport, if they have a constructive interest in doing that. The future of Dublin Airport is very exciting but it is very demanding, and we have to consider every possible option. That is what the report did. I have not made up my mind-----

What is the rush?

-----nor am I intent on making up my mind in the next two weeks, ahead of the findings from the consultations with the stakeholders. The Deputy will understand that when that has been done, I will be very happy to make an early decision because airport infrastructure demands long-term but early decisions.

Bus Services

Imelda Munster

Question:

61. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to outline the rationale for the continued privatisation of the public bus network, in particular, the latest tranche of Bus Éireann routes to be put out to tender, in view of the fact that the first privatisation effort has only begun and has, therefore, not been subject to a performance review. [45720/18]

What is the Minister's reaction to the continued privatisation of our public bus network and, in particular, the latest tranche of Bus Éireann routes to be put out to tender? What is the Minister's reaction in view of the fact that the first privatisation effort has only begun and has, therefore, not been subject to a performance review?

I thank Deputy Munster for her question. The current direct award public service obligation contracts with Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and Iarnród Éireann expire at the end of November 2019. It is a statutory function of the National Transport Authority, under the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 and Regulation (EC) No. 1370/2007, to award PSO contracts and to determine the appropriate mix of directly-awarded and competitively tendered PSO services. It is incorrect to describe competitive tendering as privatisation as nothing is being sold, services are not being deregulated and control remains with the NTA.

The NTA is required to follow a statutory process underpinned by EU and national legislation before the direct award contracts may be renewed. As part of this process, the NTA launched a public consultation process in early October for the bus services contracts. This will inform its forthcoming decision on the renewal of the contracts, including the decision relating to the direct award and competitive tender balance of contracts. Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, users of bus services and other stakeholders were invited to make submissions on the NTA proposals. The closing date for submissions was 30 October 2018.

As the Deputy is aware, the NTA is proposing to directly award to Dublin Bus an equivalent service level that the company will have at December 2019. The NTA is proposing to directly award to Bus Éireann an equivalent service level that the company has in December 2019. Furthermore, the NTA is proposing to amend that contract in 2021, reduce it by up to 10% of services and provide the removed services through a separate contract following an open competitive tender process. Should the NTA decide to competitively tender 10% of Bus Éireann services, it will be open to Bus Éireann to tender for these services if the company so wishes. The Deputy will recall that Bus Éireann was successful in the recent competitive tender competition run by the NTA for the operation of five city bus routes in Waterford city.

The new direct award contracts proposed by NTA will provide a guaranteed level of PSO funding to Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann up to 2024. The PSO programme represents significant expenditure of taxpayers' money and has increased by some 35% in the past three years. This year €285 million in funding has been allocated toward funding our PSO services.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I remind the Deputy that all public transport services, whether provided by direct award contracts or through competitive tender, will continue to be regulated by the NTA so that Leap services, free travel pass, real time information, etc., will all continue to operate on these services and fares will continue to be regulated by the NTA.

The NTA has statutory responsibility to award PSO contracts and to determine the appropriate mix of directly awarded and competitively tendered PSO services. Under law, this is not an area in which the Minister has a role. Following the conclusion of the NTA's public consultation process, I understand the board of the authority will take its decision on this issue later this month.

This is privatisation, despite what the Minister says. It is the start of the privatisation route. Our public transport network needs to be protected. It is a public service. It is about connecting communities and urban and rural areas. It provides a lifeline to rural Ireland and is also better for the environment. Public transport is not supposed to be about profit. It is supposed to be about providing a public service. We need to invest in our public transport network rather than trying to tear down Bus Éireann.

The Minister is going ahead with the plan to place the next tranche of Bus Éireann routes out to tender despite the fact that there has been no review. He is not even waiting to see whether his first privatisation effort was successful. I am sure the Minister has done his research but he need only look across the water to see the disaster privatisation was over there. It appears he is jumping the gun in his eagerness to tear down our national carrier, Bus Éireann. Where will it all end?

I thought I had nailed the lie that this was privatisation. I thought Deputy Munster would know that this opening of the bus market is not privatisation. If she can explain to me what is being sold, I will listen to her. Nothing is being sold. None of the assets is being sold, as Deputy Munster knows full well. The privatisation scare will continue to come into this House as long as the Deputy does this. I hope she survives it because the privatisation scare simply does not hold any credibility. What is happening here is the allocation of some direct award contracts and some competitive tender contracts. These are running at approximately 10% in some cases. What we are seeing is a continuous attempt to dub this as privatisation. It is not privatisation because not a single State asset is being sold. What we are seeing is a certain amount of competition entering the market, which is welcome.

I agree with a good deal of what Deputy Munster said and I share one of her interests in this matter, namely, that this should not be about profit. I want to see revenue being generated and the companies doing well, but not primarily for the purpose of profit. I want passengers to get the most out of these companies. That is the objective and that is why we are putting these routes out to tender.

I beg to differ with the Minister. The most profitable public transport routes are being sold, notwithstanding what he says. Does he accept that his privatisation agenda for our public transport routes will ultimately cost the State, just as it did elsewhere when public services were privatised?

I imagine the Minister is aware of reports and findings from across the water which clearly show that Britain's privatised bus system is a source of widespread and justified disgruntlement. The system is described as an overpriced, inefficient, poor quality mess. When privatisation commenced in Britain in 1986 it was with the promise that, as the Minister might say, more people would travel. However, the number of bus trips taken in cities outside of London subsequently collapsed from 2 billion per year to 1 billion per year. Britain's bus privatisation story, or disaster, is one of profit before need. It is a dismal tale for those who believe that the private sector automatically trumps the public realm, a view shared by the Minister. It should serve as a stark warning to him when he looks across the water and sees exactly what has happened there. Privatisation eventually cost more, especially in the London area. The Minister already knows that but it is as if he does not care and has decided to leave a mess for someone else to clean up afterwards.

Maybe Deputy Munster would like to do it. If she does not know the difference between privatisation and competitive tendering, she would not be able to sit in this seat for too long.

I will not take the route the Minister has taken in any case.

There is a major difference. The Deputy says the most profitable routes are going out to competitive tender. She did not use that term but that is what is happening. The next Bus Éireann routes the NTA is proposing to put out to competitive tender are those which are low-performing. It proposes to tender these routes, which serve the Dublin commuter area and the eastern region, in 2021. The level of customer services on these routes has been below performance targets. Let us not get that point wrong as well. Deputy Munster can get one thing wrong but to get two things wrong in one minute is rather a lot.

The Minister has exceeded his allotted time.

It is not about profit. It is about social need on routes that are not profitable and keeping them going for the good of the community. That is what the NTA is doing and that is the reason the PSO subvention increased by 36% in the three year period from 2016 to 2018. Deputy Munster complains that we are somehow running down these routes and the companies in question when the opposite is the case. We are committing more and more capital and money to them.

Insurance Costs

Robert Troy

Question:

62. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to outline the status of the progress in implementing the recommendations of the cost of insurance working group that fall within his remit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45946/18]

Following a Fianna Fáil motion in 2016, the Government established a cost of insurance working group to examine the high cost of insurance. Responsibility for implementing several of the working group's recommendations was ascribed to the Minister and his Department. Will the Minister provide an update on the progress made in implementing those recommendations?

The cost of insurance working group is chaired by the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy D'Arcy. My Department has responsibility for 12 of the 71 actions arising from the cost of insurance working group report published in January 2017. Quarterly update reports are issued by the Department of Finance and are available on its website.

The current status of my Department's actions are that six are complete and six are due for completion in quarter 4 of 2018. The six actions completed to date relate to the holding of formal discussions between the advisory committee on small public service vehicles and Insurance Ireland, which is broken into two actions, with those discussions having commenced; establishing a fully functioning database to identify uninsured drivers, with insurance companies compelled to provide the driving licence number for such purposes; the submission of a detailed project plan for the development of a master licence record; and a requirement on the insurance industry to promote compliance with road safety legislation. My Department remains committed to the delivery of the remaining actions arising out of the recommendations of the working group.

As regards the cost of motor insurance, the main contributing factor in my area of responsibility is road safety and the improvement of road safety. In that respect, the implementation of the actions set out in the Government’s road safety strategy for the period 2013 to 2020 should, over time and taking account of the recent mid-term review of the strategy, lead to a reduction in road traffic collisions, fatalities and injuries, and material damage claims. This should make an important contribution to reducing the cost of motor insurance as the insurance industry has acknowledged it has done over the past decade and a half.

There is a rather larger duty upon us to reduce insurance premiums by way of having a policy that increases road safety. I believe the Deputy will agree that we are doing that very effectively, and with his support in very many cases. We have reduced the number of collisions and, it is hoped, the number of road deaths, and introduced legislation that has contributed enormously to road safety.

The cost of insurance is a significant for motorists, taxi drivers and the haulage industry. The cost of car insurance has seen increases of 70% between 2013 and 2016. Last year, Verona Murphy of the Irish Road Haulage Association cited that some hauliers were seeing an increase of 300%. Nevin's Taxis in the midlands, which operates six cars, has seen its insurance costs increase by €60,000 in one year. The Minister will know Tom Allen, the music promoter. His insurance costs increased from €562 in 2013 to €2,162 in 2018, with no claims.

The Minister's Department was the lead Department in respect of seven recommendations by the cost of insurance working group, which published its report in January 2017. Of those seven recommendations, not one has been completed. As a consequence of that, there are other recommendations that are unable to be completed and, as a result, we are continuing to see hard-pressed motorists being gouged for the cost of insurance. The Minister and his Government colleagues are failing to address that.

I believe I addressed most of that in the answer to the Deputy's question when I referred to 12 out of the 71 recommendations. The cost of insurance working group took into account all the other issues the Deputy mentioned. We have succeeded in completing six of the recommendations and we will complete the other six in time.

The important job we do, and that we have done reasonably well, is to keep the cost of insurance premiums down as far as possible by making the roads safer. That is our primary job. I will list some of those measures. I am sure the Deputy knows that today I introduced to the Cabinet, and Deputy Munster will be interested in this as well, a measure that is very dear to the Deputy's heart, namely, a measure on rickshaws, on which I accepted an amendment from Deputy Munster in this House in 2016. That will be implemented now and it will make the roads in Dublin and Cork safer from the menace rickshaws have become. It is to be hoped that will also mean that non-motorised rickshaws will have to take out insurance to which the Deputy referred.

The Minister will have another opportunity.

The Minister is living in cloud cuckoo land. He is taking credit for implementing an amendment in respect of rickshaws that was voted on in this House two years ago. How is the consolidation of the Road Traffic Acts coming along? Has it even commenced? According to the response to a freedom of information request, it has not.

Can we stick to the question I am asking on the recommendations of the insurance reform group? The Minister's Department was the lead Department in respect of seven of the group's recommendations and of those, none of them is completed. Recommendation 10 is that regular engagement should commence between the advisory committee on small public service vehicles and Insurance Ireland. The update as of the end of the previous quarter is that regular meetings between the advisory committee and Insurance Ireland have not occurred. Recommendation 28 is to establish a database to identify uninsured drivers - motor third-party liability insurance. The update is that legislative changes are needed to require drivers to provide insurance with their driving licence number. That has not happened. Recommendation 30 is to develop a master licence database to make it easier to access information on car and driver. The update is that this is two years behind schedule and it will be delivered by 2020 at the earliest. These are the updates from the Minister's Department. Meanwhile, people are being ripped off by the cost of insurance and the Minister talks about regulating rickshaws two years after the Dáil voted on that amendment. He should get real.

Before Deputy Troy bursts another blood vessel in his phony outrage, I will try to do as he asked. He is quite right. Some of these recommendations have not been implemented. Six out of 12 have been implemented. On one the Deputy mentioned, ongoing meetings of the database project board are being held to oversee the project's implementation, and others are progressing. They have not all been done and they will not all be done in a timetable that is dictated by the Deputy. He complains about whatever happens on these issues. I do not mind that. We are doing a very effective job in keeping the roads safe.

The Minister should ask people who are paying a 300% increase in the cost of their insurance if he is doing a good job.

The Minister, without interruption.

There is a problem with insurance companies. Insurance companies have had problems with their profits for a long time. The reality probably is that they are charging far too much because they are trying to catch up with profits they lost a long time ago. That is unforgivable.

Do something about it.

Allow me to say something about the courts. The payouts for whiplash in this country, with which the Government has nothing to do, are multiples of what they are overseas. It is more than 12 times the typical amount it costs the claimant in terms of medical expenses. To put that in perspective, according to a report today in the Daily Mail, compensation awards for whiplash in Ireland are five times higher than in the United Kingdom. Insurance companies ultimately pass on that cost to all their consumers. The Deputy should not blame the Government for all of this. The insurance companies are charging too much and the courts-----

It is the Minister's job to regulate it.

-----are giving outrageous awards.

For God's sake.

Rail Services Provision

Brendan Ryan

Question:

63. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will approve the requests from Irish Rail for additional carriage stock to ensure capacity can be maintained and subsequently increased on the main commuter routes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45931/18]

Commuter rail routes into Dublin are bursting at the seams at peak times. They are under-resourced and under pressure. Recent timetable changes have not fixed the problem on the northern commuter line. While the number of trains has been increased, the trains have had the number of carriages reduced. Therefore, the overall capacity problem has not been addressed. Overcrowding is not only leaving people stranded on the platforms and late for school, work or hospital appointments, but also creating an unpleasant commuting experience for those crammed into the carriages. Travel on some peak services is reported to me as being unsafe.

As the Deputy is aware, the National Transport Authority has responsibility for ensuring the development and delivery of public transport infrastructure in the greater Dublin area, including, in consultation with Iarnród Éireann, the provision of rail fleet.

Public transport passenger numbers have increased in recent years, reflecting broader economic and employment growth. Rail passenger numbers have similarly increased across the network, in particular on the commuter network in the greater Dublin area. These increases are welcome. However, they clearly place pressure on the capacity of the network and the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Iarnród Éireann are continuing to make service and infrastructure improvements to address these pressures.

In recent years, new services were introduced on the Kildare line using the reopened Phoenix Park tunnel. These services have provided additional capacity on this important commuter corridor. In September this year, the DART moved towards a ten-minute service during the core operating day. Since the introduction of the new services, the NTA and Iarnród Éireann have monitored the impact on the broader commuter network and made adjustments as necessary in response to any identified issues. A number of additional services in the morning peak on the north side of the network have recently been approved and will provide additional capacity. Additionally, by the end of this month all peak-time DART services will be operated using six-car or eight-car train sets, which will provide a moderate increase in capacity. December's revised timetable will see additional off-peak capacity added to the Kildare, Maynooth and northern lines, providing passengers with additional travel options throughout the day.

While these are all immediate measures which will enhance overall capacity, other medium-term and long-term measures are required. Key to these measures is the provision of additional rail fleet. In the medium term, it had been hoped to refurbish a number of older train sets with a view to their reintroduction to service. However, following a tender process the overall cost of the refurbishment tripled as compared with initial estimates and the refurbishment proposal simply does not represent value for money.

The need for additional rail fleet remains, however, and the NTA and Iarnród Eireann have begun a process of identifying the potential of acquiring second-hand rail fleet, either through lease or purchase. The Deputy will be aware that this is complicated by the fact that the Irish rail network operates to a different gauge than those of the UK and most other European countries, and any second-hand vehicles would require modification for Irish use.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

A decision on the viability of the second-hand vehicle option approach will be made by the end of this year, following market availability analysis and procurement options analysis.

In the longer term and as part of the DART expansion programme generally, there is a need to significantly increase the fleet in any event. Work on developing tender documentation and train specifications for the proposed bimodal fleet of rail vehicles is progressing. The formal procurement notice seeking interested train manufacturers is expected to issue before the year's end and a formal contract for the new fleet is expected to be signed in 2019.

As the Deputy can see, a number of immediate short-term, medium-term and longer-term measures are under way which are designed to deal with the increased numbers of passengers availing of rail services. The Deputy is aware that investment in the greater Dublin area commuter rail network is a key priority of the Government, as reflected in the inclusion of the DART expansion programme in the national development plan, NDP, and an indicative funding allocation of €2 billion over the next ten years.

Irish Rail has requested capital investment in its carriage and train infrastructure. A host of other infrastructural works is needed to upgrade lines, provide further electrification and improve signalling junctions, but extra carriages can be provided now. This would help to provide solutions to our overcrowding now and make commuting more reliable and comfortable. Transport in Dublin is at breaking point. If the new fleet is not ordered now and we do not find a solution along the lines alluded to by the Minister, there will be no additional capacity by 2021. Irish Rail is seeking to lease 70 new carriages, which would provide 5,500 extra journeys. It also needs to expand the existing fleet of 629 carriages with the national development plan sanctioning investment in 300 new vehicles. The first order of 100 vehicles is likely to be in place by next year but they will take up to three years to deliver.

Decisions need to be made now as otherwise the Minister will store up problems that will lead to disaster only two years from now. I acknowledge underinvestment has been an issue in the years of the downturn and it is necessary to catch up.

I thank the Deputy for acknowledging that. It certainly has been difficult to play catch-up, especially after the difficult period we had. As he is from the north side, the Deputy might be interested to learn that the main issue that arose concerned capacity around the north side of Dublin. The National Transport Authority, NTA, and Iarnród Éireann responded swiftly to customers' concerns by scheduling additional morning peak services from Portmarnock and Clongriffin. At Portmarnock, it provided an additional 7.29 a.m. service to Pearse Station and a 7.42 a.m. service to Bray and, from Clongriffin, it provided an additional 7.45 service to Bray. With these additional services, Portmarnock has the same number of peak morning services as it had before the timetable change and Clongriffin has one extra peak morning service. Iarnród Éireann has stated that it believes these changes will address the frequency concerns of passengers from Portmarnock and Clongriffin and the capacity issues that have arisen, particularly at DART stations such as Harmonstown and Killester. The NTA and Irish Rail are considering the potential of acquiring second-hand rail fleet through either lease or purchase. However, the Irish rail network operates on a different gauge, that is, the width between the two rails, from most other European countries, including the UK. This means that any second-hand vehicles would require modification.

For the Minister's information, he is rereading his earlier answer.

A decision on the viability of the second-hand vehicle option will be made later this year.

Does the Minister realise he read the same answer twice?

I thank the Minister. If the NTA and Irish Rail can deliver on that second-hand option very quickly, it will be welcome. However, commuters cannot rely on services and are being forced to get earlier trains to get to work on time, leading to overcrowding on trains during peak times. We will have serious problems when commuters start to lose confidence in public transport. In my constituency of Dublin Fingal, necessary and welcome new housing estates are being built in Donabate, Lusk, Rush, Skerries and Balbriggan. Among many other things, the people who buy these houses will be attracted by the fact that they are located near a commuter rail line. At the moment, there is not enough capacity to cope with existing demand. The Minister must urgently provide Irish Rail with the funding for extra carriages and capacity measures. I have raised the fragility of the M1 corridor with him on several occasions. The road and bus network in this corridor has slowed to an absolute crawl, and the M1 cannot take any more. Extra train carriages must be leased immediately to allow for the lead time for delivery. This matter must be treated with the urgency it deserves.

I agree that it is an urgent matter. We are sometimes victims of our own success. The upsurge in commuters in the Dublin area has put a lot of pressure on rail services and public transport in general. In some ways, this is wonderful but in other ways it creates difficulties. Funding of €230 million over the period from 2018 to 2021 has been allocated to mainline rail projects. Further investment includes the Dublin city centre resignalling project to improve speeds through the city centre and the new central traffic control centre, which will enable the DART expansion programme to progress, as well as generally improving national rail movements. The benefits are not just combined to the Dublin area. These investments will be of benefit across the rail network nationally.

As I stated, additional funding will also increase the rail fleet and allow further progress to be made on the electrification of the northern rail line to Balbriggan, which is now expected to be delivered in 2022. We will also commence work on the Maynooth line, which is part of the Dublin to Sligo line.

Traffic Management

Robert Troy

Question:

64. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the College Green plaza; if he will advance an alternative option; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45947/18]

In light of An Bord Pleanála's recent decision on College Green, has the Department considered alternatives in consultation with the NTA and Dublin City Council? What is the Minister's plan for future traffic flow around College Green?

I thank the Deputy for his question. He will be aware that the planning application was brought by Dublin City Council and the decision to refuse was made by An Bord Pleanála. The council's application was made in its role as the relevant local and roads authority for Dublin city. I am sure the Deputy respects the role of the city council and all local authorities regarding their statutory roles and responsibilities.

The Deputy refers to the development of a plaza on College Green, which forms a central element of Dublin City Council’s plans for the area and features in the council’s development plan. There is a transport element to the council’s plans for College Green, and that was founded on part of the 2015 Dublin city centre transport study, which was developed by the council in partnership with the NTA. This transport study sought to address the transport issues facing the core city centre area, facilitate the implementation of the council’s development plan and safeguard the future development of the city.

The study noted that the development of the Luas cross city service required a renewed focus on traffic and junction arrangements along its route, including the College Green area. Complementing that focus, the council sought to improve the public realm and create a new civic plaza. As I mentioned, I understand that the proposal to upgrade the public realm forms part of the council’s current development plan. Therefore, as the Deputy can appreciate, the planning application for the College Green plaza proposal is a matter for the council.

However, as I stated, there is a transport context for this. The issue of congestion formed the backdrop to the 2015 study and also forms the backdrop to any discussion of transport within the core city centre today. As we all know, the College Green area is an important transport corridor for public transport, pedestrians and cyclists. The implications of An Bord Pleanála's recent decision are being carefully considered by the council in its role as the relevant local and roads authority for the area, as well as by the National Transport Authority in its statutory role as transport authority.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

That consideration reflects the statutory responsibilities of the various State authorities. It is not a matter for decision by a Minister as to what the traffic arrangements on a city centre street might be or whether a public plaza should be created or how it should be created.

What I am responsible for is the development of public transport policy and the overall funding to provide for its implementation. In that regard, we have made progress in recent years since publication of the city centre transport study in 2015. We have increased rail services through the reopening of the Phoenix Park tunnel; continued to invest in the city centre re-signalling project; introduced ten-minute DART services; invested in new bus services and fleet; and invested in improved cycle routes and expanded public bike sharing schemes.

We are planning for the future too, through the BusConnects, MetroLink and DART Expansion projects. Therefore, there has been progress in public transport in recent years and that progress will continue and accelerate with the roll-out of the projects to which I have just referred.

In relation to the specific issues in the College Green area, I expect the council and the NTA to fully consider the board's recent decision in the context of the known issues which remain in the movement of transport through the area.

Whether one raises the issue of congestion with the Minister, the NTA, Dublin City Council and Dublin Bus, the response is always that they must wait and see what the outcome on the College Green plaza is because the decision will be central to the future plans for traffic flows in Dublin. As the Minister correctly said, this issue dates back to 2015 when the NTA and Dublin City Council carried out the Dublin city centre transport study. Despite identifying it in 2015, it took Dublin City Council a further two years to make an application to An Bord Pleanála. Public hearings were postponed because Dublin City Council misadvertised in the national newspapers. Because the Government allowed a situation to continue where the membership of An Bord Pleanála was depleted, it took longer for the issue to be adjudicated on. Given the importance of the scheme and the additional time both the NTA and Dublin City Council have had, has the Minister met the CEO of Dublin City Council and the CEO of the NTA and brought them together to see how are we to advance the plans made or what are the next steps in the process?

The answer to the Deputy's question is "No" and I have no intention of doing so. The city council and the NTA are the principal parties. Obviously, An Bord Pleanála has played another part, but the city council is responsible for what happens. It is responsible for the appeal to An Bord Pleanála. It is responsible, with the NTA, - they are the grown ups - for taking a further decision. I can only inform the Deputy of what I know about the issue, that is, at a council meeting last night a number of councillors stated the project for which permission was refused owing to the board's concerns about the significant negative impact it would have on bus transport and traffic must not be abandoned. It seems the likelihood is that councillors wish to go ahead with a plaza of sorts and respond to the reservations of An Bord Pleanála about the project. One of the councillors, the council's head of traffic, stated last night that there was an urgent need to reconfigure College Green to take account of the increased numbers of pedestrians and cyclists in the area and the new requirement for 55 m Luas cross-city trams. They are taking their responsibilities seriously. Much as I would like to see a result as soon as possible, it is not up to me to become involved in the issue.

The Minister has a flair for blaming someone else or stating it is the responsibility of someone else such as Dublin City Council, the NTA or Dublin Bus. Does he have any responsibility to the tens of thousands who commute in and out of the capital city on a daily basis who have seen their commuting time increase dramatically in recent years? Does he have any responsibility to get the key stakeholders together to advance the major projects that need to be advanced because Dublin Bus is waiting to rerouting certain service until the decision is made? The Minister stated he would leave it to Dublin City Council. Given that it took the council two years, from the time it was decided to make the application, to make it, the fact that it misadvertised in the media which delayed the project further and that the application, as submitted by the council, did not meet the approval of An Bord Pleanála because the arguments put forward in it were weak, surely the Minister has some responsibility to bring the key stakeholders together to ensure we will advance the project and work to reduce congestion and get the capital city moving again.

The Deputy should stand for election to Dublin City Council as that is where he should be if that is what he maintains because that would be the proper platform. That is where the issue was discussed last night and where it will be decided. It is looking for various solutions and good luck to it. Like the Deputy, I would love to see it happen. The Deputy says I am washing my hands of something, but the opposite side of the coin is that he would ask, if I did do something about it, how dare I interfere with the NTA and Dublin City Council when it was none of my business. It is not a matter for me in which to become directly involved. It is unrealistic and untrue for the Deputy to say we have not done anything about the traffic problems in Dublin. The plaza is an area in which I have no jurisdiction. I do in others. Let me repeat to him some of what I have stated ad nauseam in the past but which for some reason he does not seem to be able to acknowledge or take in.

The Minister takes credit for successful measures.

We will have to move on.

We have done a large amount about traffic problems in Dublin city. We have increased the percentage of passengers on public transport which is part of our policy. I suppose Deputy Troy has never heard of ten-minute DART services.

It is chaotic.

I suppose he has never heard of the improvements in bus services and the bus fleet.

We are making no progress.

The Minister should take the ten-minute DART service and see what he thinks of it.

I suppose the Deputy has never heard of the Phoenix Park tunnel or the Luas.

There are other Members in the House.

I suppose Deputy Troy has never heard of the city centre re-signalling project either.