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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Vol. 982 No. 10

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Driver Licences

Robert Troy


43. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the progress with regard to allowing asylum seekers to apply for driver licences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21995/19]

This is an issue I have raised with the Minister previously through both oral and written questions. To be fair, the Minister has given an undertaking to look into the possibility of extending the rights of asylum seekers to apply for a driving licence. Will he take this opportunity to update the House in regard to what his Department is doing to extend that right?

When the Deputy prefaces his remarks to me with "To be fair", I get very worried because I am not used to it.

As the Deputy is aware, historically, Ireland has not issued driving licences to asylum seekers.  The Supreme Court ruling last year stating that asylum seekers may work while awaiting the outcome of their asylum applications has no direct relevance to driver licensing law. That judgment was in respect of a right to work only and does not confer an entitlement to a driving licence in order to obtain certain types of employment.  The two issues are legally quite distinct and the court ruling does not change the position.

I have, as the Deputy knows, asked my officials to re-examine the question of whether we should issue driving licences to asylum seekers, as I know some EU member states do.  The matters at issue in the case of driver licences for asylum seekers are matters of both EU and national driver licensing law.  I understand, based on legal advice, that it would be possible to issue asylum seekers with driving licences, and I will be happy to consider that, once other matters are resolved.

Verification for the purposes of obtaining a driving licence is an important issue. This may prove difficult for asylum seekers but it is a requirement that all applicants have to meet.  It would not be appropriate to require some applicants to meet higher standards of ID verification than other driving licence applicants. The other matters, as I have previously stated to the Deputy, relate to the integrity of the driver licensing system and, in that regard, I have written to my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality. I have not yet received an update for the Deputy since my previous reply to him in April.  As I informed the Deputy at that time, my understanding is that the Minister for Justice and Equality is currently seeking background material from the European Migration Network as to the interpretation and implementation of Article 12 of Directive 2006/26/EC.

I always give credit where credit is due. Unfortunately, apart from acknowledging that the Minister would look into it, we are no further on - not an inch further on. The Minister could have read out the exact same reply that he gave me eight months ago. That is extremely disappointing. While the decision of the Supreme Court in May 2017, which afforded the opportunity to asylum seekers to avail of work, was welcomed, we are preventing many asylum seekers from doing just that. There are two centres in my locality and I will give an example from one of them, Mount Temple Spa, which is located off the old Dublin to Galway Road, two miles from the main road. The National Transport Authority removed a bus stop from that location some years ago and although I wrote to ask that it be reinstated, it was not. There are only two bus services a day from a very remote location into the town of Moate. Of the 80 people resident at the centre, almost half are eligible to work and they are willing to work, but they have been prevented from working by the inaction of both the Minister and his Cabinet colleague. This service is available in many other European countries and in every province in Canada. Why can we not roll it out here in Ireland?

Ireland has taken the view, up to now, that asylum seekers are not "normally resident" here. Germany takes the view that they are. What the Deputy is asking me to do is to change that view. I am sympathetic to what he says and I am particularly sympathetic to the fact many of these asylum seekers have skills that are necessary and they want to stay here, and getting a driving licence would obviously assist them in their desire to stay here.

We are looking for two things. One, obviously, is a different interpretation of "normally resident", and there is another problem, which I am addressing in order to get a conclusion which the Deputy would like, namely, identity verification. A key difficulty in issuing a driving licence to asylum seekers is identity verification. Ireland has determined that the appropriate level of identity verification is the standard authentication framework environment, level 2, or SAFE 2. Asylum seekers come to the jurisdiction with a variety of documentation, or potentially no documentation.

Verification may be, practically speaking, impossible in some cases.

I remind Members to watch the clock.

I am sorry, it is quite a complicated issue.

It may be. I do not want to interfere. I am reasonable. I ask Members to watch the clock, that is all.

It is quite complex. I apologise.

The Minister does not have to. He will have another minute.

The Minister is sympathetic yet he is still not willing to act in a speedy manner. That is the bottom line. I raised this question eight months ago and we are no further on today. I acknowledge it is complex but I have cited examples, not just in other European countries. In the United States and every one of the ten provinces of Canada, asylum seekers are able to avail of a driving licence. I am not asking us to reinvent the wheel; I am asking us to be imaginative and flexible in terms of affording these citizens a right to work and to contribute to the Irish economy, which they want to do. In very many instances, and I have given the example of Mount Temple Spa and the Athlone Accommodation Centre in my constituency where, given their location, they are prohibited from working due to the lack of public transport. Give these people at chance. They want to work and to contribute to society. The only people preventing them are the Irish Government.

I would like this to come to a conclusion as well. The Deputy has led the charge on this, which should be acknowledged. I accept it has not been as speedy as we would have wished. Part of that is because it is complex and it involves EU regulations and several Departments. It is regarded as a redefinition of standards which we have already set.

I replied to the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, in February of this year, seeking his views on the issues. He responded to our correspondence on 12 March, stating that officials were seeking background material from the European Migration Network as to the interpretation and implementation of Article 12. A final response is awaited. I think we are fairly close to a conclusion of that particular argument. There is also the issue of verification, to which I have already referred.

I was just saying, before the Leas-Cheann Comhairle quite rightly pulled me up for time, that the verification of ID to SAFE 2 level may be, practically speaking, difficult in some cases for asylum seekers.

It would make sense to issue licences only to asylum seekers whose ID could be verified to SAFE 2 standard. It is important that the same standards apply here as apply to everybody else. However, I would like to be able to resolve this, complex as it is, in the direction in which Deputy Troy is aiming.

Road Projects Status

Pearse Doherty


44. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the progress being made to finalise preferred routes with respect to the TEN-T priority routes improvement project in County Donegal; and when the preferred routes design option will come before the local authority for approval. [21721/19]

Permission has been given to Deputy Ellis to take Deputy Pearse Doherty's question.

I would like to ask the Minister for an update on the progress on finalising the preferred routes with respect to the TEN-T priority routes improvement projects in Donegal. When will the preferred route design option come before the local authority for approval?

I would like to explain that as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding of the national roads programme. Under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, the planning, design and construction stages of individual national road projects are matters for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.

Within the overall context of Project Ireland 2040, the national development plan, NDP, has been developed by the Government to underpin the successful implementation of the new national planning framework, NPF.  This provides the strategic and financial framework for TII’s national roads programme for the period from 2018 to 2027.  In the ten years covered by the plan, more than €11 billion will be invested in the overall road network.

In County Donegal, the TEN-T comprehensive road network runs from the Leitrim county boundary on the outskirts of Bundoran in the south of the county to the Northern Ireland Border with Derry in the north east of the county at Bridgend on the outskirts of Derry city. It involves sections of the N13, N14 and N15.

In 2016 Donegal County Council commissioned a corridor needs study on the TEN-T comprehensive network within Donegal. The study identified projects in Donegal that are necessary to improve the TEN-T comprehensive network to the required standard in compliance with the TEN-T regulations. The outcome of the study identified a priority list of schemes.  

The project consists of improvements and realignment of three sections of the national road network. These are the N15 and N13 Ballybofey to Stranorlar bypass; the N56, N13, and N14 Letterkenny bypass and the Letterkenny to Manorcunningham dual carriageway; and the N14 Manorcunningham to Lifford realignment scheme, including the N14 and N15 link to the A5 western transport corridor in Northern Ireland. As I have previously outlined, in the context of Project Ireland 2040, these projects are identified as strategic investment priorities in the NPF and the NDP.

Feasibility studies for the priority schemes commenced in 2017 and the route selection process is ongoing. Public consultations on identified route options for all these priority schemes were held in April and May 2018 in Letterkenny, Lifford and Ballybofey. The short-listed route corridors have been evaluated and assessed and the emerging preferred route has now been identified for each of the schemes. 

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The emerging preferred routes were presented at the public consultations, which took place in February 2019.  Following these consultations, further confirmation and refinement will establish the preferred route corridor for each scheme, which I understand will be presented to the public in the third quarter of 2019. In advance of this the design team intends to give a presentation on the preferred route to the elected members. Donegal County Council is the sponsoring agency. When the preferred route corridors are established the next phase will be to move to planning and design and subsequently to the appropriate approvals procedures in accordance with the public spending code and Government approval.

I will now refer to the benefits of the scheme. These schemes are of critical importance to this isolated north-west Border region. They are important in meeting the challenges and opportunities of Brexit, enabling regional growth and in the context of developing a city region encompassing Derry, Letterkenny and Strabane. The project will significantly improve access to essential services like primary healthcare in Dublin, Derry and Galway, as well as access to the principal international gateways in Knock, Shannon, Foynes and Dublin, as well as Belfast, Derry and Larne in Northern Ireland. The project is key in delivering the national policy objectives of developing strong and connected rural communities and economies.

With regard to funding, TII has allocated € 2.5 million to Donegal County Council this year to progress planning work on these projects.

I ask this question in place of my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, whose constituents have asked him to raise their concerns about the proposed TEN-T roads project with the Minister. As the Minister said, the TEN-T network is a proposed scheme of improvements on three national primary routes in Donegal, namely, the N15 and N13; the N56, N13 and N14 Letterkenny bypass and Letterkenny to Manorcunningham dual carriageway; and the N14 Manorcunningham to Lifford realignment scheme, including the link to the A5 western transport corridor. While no-one in Donegal is opposed in principle to having these vital upgrades carried out, there are real concerns over the possible effects on the local communities of certain sections of the preferred route options which have emerged.

I take the point Deputy Ellis has made, of which the Government is well aware. These schemes are of critical importance to this isolated north-west Border region. It is important in meeting the challenges and opportunities of Brexit, enabling regional growth and in the context of developing a city region encompassing Derry, Letterkenny and Strabane. The project will significantly improve access to essential services like primary healthcare in Dublin, Derry and Galway, as well as access to the principal international gateways in Knock, Shannon, Foynes, Dublin and, through Northern Ireland, to Belfast, Derry and Larne. The project is key in delivering the national policy objective of developing strong and connected rural communities and economies. There may be reservations, as there are about all routes. However, Deputies Ellis and Pearse Doherty will appreciate the overall benefits here .

TII has allocated €2.5 million to Donegal County Council this year to progress planning work on these projects. Donegal County Council, as the Deputy will know, is the sponsoring agency. When the preferred route corridors are established, the next stage will be to move to planning and design and subsequently to the appropriate approval procedures in accordance with the public spending code.

Traders in Ballybofey and Stranorlar fear the absence of a road link to the corridor will decimate trade in the towns. Similarly, homeowners and farmers have expressed anger at the prospect of having their homes razed to the ground or farmlands bisected to make way for a few kilometres of tarmac. Despite their willingness to facilitate and explore alternatives, they have described the public consultation phase as a mere box-ticking exercise. TII intends to bring the proposal to the council in the coming months. Can the Minister advise when this will happen and what assurances can be given to the people of Donegal that their voices will be listened to as part of this process? When the project design came before elected members of Donegal County Council last month, councillors were justifiably angry at being advised that the adoption of the preferred routes was an executive function. We have heard that far too often. They were effectively told that the decision to pass the plans was not for them but for senior officials. Surely, this constitutes a fait accompli. Given the concerns of the communities I have referenced and with local elections around the corner, can the Minister give a commitment that councillors who take their seats in the new council will have a say and will be able to bring the genuine concerns of their constituents to the attention of both the local authority and TII?

I understand the concerns of Deputies Ellis and Doherty for the communities. They have every opportunity to make their views known, and I presume that the new council will not be reticent in expressing its opinion. I will outline for the Deputy the expected construction timetable for all three schemes to which he refers. A project identified as a priority in the TEN-T study should take approximately three years to progress to construction, commencement and completion. However there is no timeframe for completing the schemes at present as they need to obtain both business case approval and planning consent. They are subject to the availability of funding in the future. To deliver a major national road scheme from concept to construction and completion can take an average of between eight and 13 years. I can break this down for the Deputy if he wants.

We will not have time.

I will give the Deputy an estimate of costs. The estimated cost to the Exchequer for planning in the period from 2018 to 2022 is €6 million. The estimated working cost of the project is €400 million, broken down into three lots of €115 million, €99 million and €186 million.

Question No. 45 replied to with Written Answers.

Road Safety

Thomas P. Broughan


46. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to reduce speeding and aggressive driving on roads and streets here and to legislate for home zones or slow zones in residential estates and built-up areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21728/19]

As the Minister knows, the Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety identifies inappropriate speed as a factor in virtually all crashes. Some 1.25 million people tragically die on roads throughout the world every year. Many people think that there has recently been an upsurge in aggressive behaviour and speeding by many drivers. We need to take action to combat it. We have had the debate on Jake's law, which would require speed limits of 20 km/h and 30 km/h in home zones and slow zones, but local authorities have been very slow to implement them. The Minister has spoken about graduated speed limits. Is he planning legislation or action in this regard?

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in relation to roads. The planning, design and implementation of individual road projects on national roads are matters for TII under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015 in conjunction with the relevant local authority. Regional and local roads are a matter for each respective local authority.  The enforcement of road traffic legislation is a matter for An Garda Síochána.

Following the 2013 review of speed limits and subsequent 2015 guidelines for managing speed limits, provision has been made for greater use of lower speed limits in urban areas. This includes the greater use of the 30 km/h speed limit and the use of 30 km/h slow zones.

These slow zones should be introduced to increase safety for the most vulnerable road users on roads such as those which have direct frontage housing or are immediately adjacent to play areas. Signs for slow zones, amongst other things, indicates the presence of other types of road users. Further material relating to these is available in the traffic signs manual, TSM, and an accompanying advice note.

In addition, my Department introduced a new design standard for urban roads a number of years ago - the design manual for urban roads and streets, which provides for improved urban design to support traffic calming and safer interaction between road users.

Road authorities have been requested to give serious consideration to the lowering of the speed limit from 50 km/h to 30 km/h within residential estates. Where a speed limit of 30 km/h is being implemented, local authorities and community groups should consider the implementation of slow zones. This is being rolled out across the country in conjunction with lower speed limits. In addition, since 2015, special speed limits of 30 km/h have been applied in more than 6,400 housing estates. My Department has been funding this programme of works since 2015.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

On national roads, as well as major new schemes which contribute greatly to safety, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, operates a programme of minor works, including safety improvement works. The safety section of TII carries out assessments of the network which identifies accident clusters, including assessments under the European road safety directive. Works identified under these programmes are identified to the local authorities and may attract funding once a feasibility report is submitted to the safety section of TII.

Many of these programmes and initiatives are flagged in the road safety strategy 2013 to 2020. There are other relevant actions in that strategy which target the behaviour of drivers. Implementing those actions involves a variety of organisations, including the RSA and An Garda Síochána.

The Minister is responsible for speed limits. When the current speed limits were introduced in 2004, one of his predecessors, the late Seamus Brennan, raised the question of whether we should have opted for an upper limit of 110 km/h rather than 120 km/h. Is it now time to re-examine sections 5 to 9, inclusive, of the 2004 Act with which the Minister is familiar?

According to statistics on the Garda Síochána website, 13,364 drivers were detected for speeding in January this year and 11,284 in February. This is a dramatic increase of more than 8,000 for January and almost 8,000 for February compared to 2018. There seems to be a trend of an increasing number of drivers being detected for speeding. I asked the Minister other questions about this approximately a month ago and he told me that a pedestrian who is hit by a car travelling at 50 km/h has a 50% chance of survival but, at 60 km/h, that drops to 10%. This is something the Minister should have high on his list of priorities. He promised us legislation on this and has not delivered.

I want to make it clear that I will give an opportunity for Deputies to contribute but they must allow the person who tabled the question two opportunities to speak first.

That is fair enough.

I have made a commitment on speeding that is no way being diluted. The Deputy will be aware of the fact that I am intent on introducing a Bill on graduated speeding as soon as possible. I am taking it to the Cabinet committee on infrastructure and it will come out of there by September or October, I hope. We will then introduce speeding legislation. Graduated speeding fines are necessary.

The Deputy will be as aware as anybody that speeding is a serious problem, which is the cause of a large number of road deaths and I am intent on tackling it. The figures the Deputy outlined are telling and he will not find me wanting on this issue. Everybody always finds Ministers wanting on the time it takes to introduce anything. I am fully committed to introducing graduated speeding limits.

There have been 58 fatalities in the year to date on our roads, including nine pedestrians and four cyclists. That is an increase of three on the same period last year and we had a few bad months at the start of the year. Is it now necessary for the RSA to run ongoing, strong, pervasive campaigns to tell us all to slow down a little?

There is also a movement in Europe. The carmaker, Volvo, is talking about introducing limiters. Many drivers are lucky to have advanced driving systems on cars which were launched recently and those systems should be present in the entire car fleet. We should look at that.

The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment was talking about the climate action plan yesterday. There are fewer carbon emissions if one drives more slowly. This is something the Minister needs to act on for many reasons.

I am allowing a short, relevant, 30-second question from Deputy Ellis.

More than a month ago, 50 km/h signs were erected on Hazelcroft Road and Cloonlara Road in Finglas south. It is an entrance to a housing estate, a large and built-up area with many children. Dublin City Council erected those signs. I made complaints but I was told that the council has not adopted the 30 km/h speed limit. I find it appalling that the speed limit is 50 km/h entering a built-up estate. The Minister should raise that with the council because it is not good enough and those signs are still there in a built-up estate.

It is a fair question but it is a matter for Dublin City Council. I could send the council a missive and ask why this has happened if the Deputy wants me to. I do not know what the response will be but the council will probably say it is a matter for itself. I thank the Deputy for raising the matter.

Deputy Broughan will find graduated penalties satisfactory and it is a part of the agenda he has been pursuing with eloquence and determination over a long period. I have not been quick enough for him but I am following a path of which he would approve and will continue to do so.

Local authorities have also over the past few years been reviewing speed limits on rural roads in accordance with the 2015 speed limit guidelines. This is a major exercise but it should improve consistency in the application of speed limits across the country, which, in turn, should contribute to improved road safety.

Regarding regional and local roads, my Department funds an annual programme of safety improvement works for eligible local authorities. This programme encompasses a variety of works in both urban and rural areas.

There is nothing to which I am more committed as a Minister than safety on the roads. We cannot do everything at once but there is an urgency to it.

Park and Ride Facilities

Catherine Connolly


47. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when park and ride facilities will be rolled out in Galway; the status of the work programme for the implementation of the Galway transport strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22095/19]

Cén uair a bheidh córas pairceáil agus taisteal le feiceáil ar shráideanna na Gaillimhe, thoir agus thiar? When will park and ride be rolled out in Galway and what is the status of the work programme for the implementation of the Galway transport policy given the serious challenges facing us in climate change and the traffic chaos on the streets of Galway?

As the Deputy refers to, a transport strategy for Galway city was prepared by the NTA, in partnership with Galway City Council and Galway County Council, in 2016. Development of the strategy was informed by a wide-ranging public consultation with interested stakeholders and the public.

The strategy sets out an overall framework for the development of transport infrastructure and services in Galway city and its environs over a 20-year period.

I very much welcome the type of evidence-based approach in transport planning in the major cities and, in particular, the co-operation between the NTA and the relevant local authorities in developing these strategies.

The Galway transport strategy supports opportunities that will reduce congestion and car dependency through increased capacity of reliable and sustainable public transport and the promotion and facilitation of cycling and walking, which, in turn, promotes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The strategy considered that bus-based public transport represents the most appropriate system for Galway over the period of the strategy. It concluded that a high-quality bus-based public transport service will cater for the forecasted passenger demand and will provide significant flexibility in network options and the ability to integrate with other modes.

Project Ireland 2040 provides an indicative allocation of €200 million to support the development of a BusConnects programme in Galway. This will deliver a rationalised network of five high-performing cross-city routes. All routes will serve major city centre attractions as well as linking all major destinations across the city. Galway BusConnects will comprise next generation bus lanes, enhanced services, cashless fares and account-based ticketing. A network of park and ride sites, serviced by the more efficient bus network, will also be put in place.

A work programme to guide the implementation of the Galway transport strategy is currently under development by the local authority. I am informed by the NTA that it had been hoped to publish this programme last month; however, the programme is still under development and will now be published later in the year.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I am as anxious as the Deputy that implementation of the Galway transport strategy begins in earnest but I recognise the need to ensure that implementation is conducted in a planned and co-ordinated manner. I am advised by the NTA that the implementation of the proposed infrastructure development required by the strategy will be approximately five years.

In advance of that, Galway can benefit from the increased funding I am making available to support improved PSO bus services and fleets, as well as the increases I have secured to improve cycling and walking infrastructure.

In spite of the Minister's best efforts and the reply he read out, I am far from happy. There is a traffic crisis in Galway. Less than two weeks ago, the House declared a climate emergency. I specifically asked when park and ride facilities would be rolled out in Galway. I asked that in the context of the council unanimously including park and ride facilities in the city development plan in 2005 when I was mayor. We are now in 2019. When will they be rolled out? On the status of the implementation plan, is the Minister stating that there is not yet an implementation plan? I may have misinterpreted his comments.

As I stated, I am as anxious as the Deputy that implementation of the Galway transport strategy begin in earnest, but I recognise the need to ensure that implementation is conducted in a planned and co-ordinated manner. I am advised by the NTA that the implementation of the proposed infrastructure development required by the strategy will take approximately five years. Of course, in advance of that Galway can benefit from the increased funding I am making available to support improved PSO bus services and fleets, as well as the increases I have secured to improve cycling and walking infrastructure. There has been a delay in finalising the plan, as the Deputy is aware. In cities outside Dublin, the NTA must work with and rely on councils to a far greater extent than in Dublin, where it has stronger statutory powers, which are sometimes criticised by Dublin councillors. Infrastructure required for Galway BusConnects can be delivered within five years, subject to planning.

I am unsure whether there is wilful blindness or wilful incompetence. I do not wish to be negative. The city is thriving on one level, but it is choked with traffic. We included in the city development plan in 2005 that park and ride was necessary. We led as elected members and the people of Galway led us. Last year, I collected 22,500 signatures in favour of light rail, which is an argument for another day. I mention it because during the course of that nine-week campaign, people queued up to ask us, please, to do something for the traffic in Galway in a sustainable manner and in light of our climate change commitments. One of the simplest and most obvious parts of the solution is to put park and ride facilities in place. I ask the Minister to leave aside his script for a moment and say whether, if he were in my position, he would be happy that, in 2019, it will take another five years to put in place something for which we submitted a plan in 2005 having proactively recognised the problem?

I fully understand the frustration at the growing traffic problems and the difficulties experienced by passengers in Galway-----

It is a problem nationwide.

-----and various other areas nationwide where the population is growing and there is prosperity. Galway is no exception in that regard. The Galway transport strategy recognises that the provision of park and ride sites on multiple approaches to the city is important. It made a commitment in that regard. It is proposed to base park and ride facilities on the city-wide high frequency public transport network, thereby maximising the range of destinations that can be reached. Potential corridors for park and ride have been identified as part of the bus network development, and these facilities will be developed within the existing road corridor and boundary where possible. Where that is not possible, greenfield sites will be explored. Any site investigations will take potential environmental impacts into account.

Transport Policy

Éamon Ó Cuív


48. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his policy priorities for the transport sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22062/19]

It would be very helpful for the Minister to clarify his role in respect of transport policy and the facets of that policy into which he has an input. What are his transport policy priorities?

There is quite a lot of information to provide in two minutes, but I will do my best.

I will cut the Minister off after two minutes. It is a long answer, but all Members are aware that two minutes are allocated for replies.

My Department's priorities for the transport sector within the capital envelope available to it are to maintain the existing extensive transport networks to ensure quality levels of service, accessibility and connectivity to transport users, and to develop infrastructure and service provision as envisaged under Project Ireland 2040 with a view to meeting the needs of the 2040 population by tackling urban congestion and improving connectivity to the regions, key international ports and airports. In the roads area, my highest priority is the safety of all road users. I am committed to continuing my Department’s work, in conjunction with my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, in improving safety on our roads, above all through the continuing implementation of the Road Safety Strategy 2013-2020.

In terms of investment policy in this area, my priority is the delivery of the significant projects and programmes committed to in Project Ireland 2040, such as rolling out BusConnects-type programmes in Limerick, Galway, Cork, Dublin and Waterford, including significantly enhanced cycling facilities, in line with transport strategies; improved and enhanced Local Link services in rural Ireland; significantly improved funding for the heavy rail network across the country, which is now at steady state; the delivery of major regional roads projects such as the M20 connecting Cork and Limerick, the N4 Collooney to Castlebaldwin project, the M8-N40-N25 Dunkettle interchange in Cork, the N5 Westport to Turlough project, the N5 Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge project, and contributing to the delivery of the A5 project; the development of new infrastructural facilities at the ports of Dublin, Cork and Shannon Foynes; the MetroLink; the DART expansion programme; and the accessibility retrofit programme. These projects and programmes will be complemented by other planned investments to improve the sustainability of our transport system, such as the development of a new national train control centre and the roll-out of strategic cycle networks in the major cities.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The specific priorities in the roads sector continue to be maintenance of the national, regional and local road network in good condition; advancement to construction stage, subject to necessary approvals, of the important national and regional road improvement projects identified in Project Ireland 2040, including those I mentioned; and the appraisal of a range of other projects with a view to prioritising projects for future development.

My priority in respect of delivery of public transport services is to maintain and ensure implementation of governance oversight arrangements for State bodies in the public transport domain and ensure appropriate funding of services that require public financial support. On public transport and active travel policy, my priority is to complete a review of existing policy as committed to under A Programme for a Partnership Government. This review is a significant and substantial resource commitment, and my Department has commenced and substantially completed the research and analysis required to inform the proposed period of public consultation which I expect to launch in the near future. My Department is also preparing proposals for legislation which will enable Ireland to accede to several maritime safety related international conventions.

Brexit has been identified as my Department’s highest strategic risk. It, along with other Departments and key agencies, has been preparing for Brexit for three years and continues to so do through extensive contingency planning and stakeholder engagement. The key transport risks and associated priorities that have been identified in a no-deal scenario include our continued aviation connectivity, the ability of our international road haulage sector to travel to the UK and use it as a landbridge to the Continent, the potential impacts on ports and airports as a result of the significant increase in the control requirements of the Departments of Health and Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Revenue Commissioners to carry out checks on imports once the UK becomes a third country, and continuity of cross-Border public transport services.

In the aviation sector, the policy priorities are contingency planning for UK withdrawal from the single aviation market, in particular for a no-deal Brexit scenario; the capacity of State airports, including the Dublin Airport north runway and capital investment programme, as well as long-term future capacity needs; and the restructuring of the Irish Aviation Authority and Commission for Aviation Regulation. I hope to publish a Bill on this matter before the end of 2019.

I note that equitable fares are not included in the MInister's policy priorities. Does he have any role in ensuring that there are equitable fare structures on public transport throughout the country? Does that fall within his policy remit?

The Deputy will be aware that the NTA sets fares.

The Minister's reply is most useful. We now have a definitive confirmation that the Minister has no policy role in ensuring equity in fares on behalf of the nation. I do not know what we elect Ministers for. Does the Minister have a policy to ensure that all agencies prioritise low carbon footprint public transport - rail and bus - within the money available? Our rail fleet is far more carbon-friendly and has a much smaller carbon footprint than buses. What are his policies in regard to ensuring that our public transport, including bus and rail, has a much lower carbon footprint? Is his policy to prioritise rail over bus because of its lower carbon footprint?

The Deputy will be aware that Government policy is, and has been for some time, not only to have a clean environment policy but also to ensure that public transport is used. As he is aware, there is a significant emphasis on buses as means of public transport in cities. He will also be aware that we will purchase diesel-electric buses after July and no more diesel-only buses will be purchased. It is imperative in public and private transport that everything is subject to climate change examination. That is my policy in that regard.

What about rail?

Sports Capital Programme Applications

Shane Cassells


49. Deputy Shane Cassells asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the point at which the large-scale sport infrastructure fund will be announced; and if an indicative list of preferential projects has been agreed to date between his Department and the major sporting authorities as to which should receive funding. [22097/19]

Before I address my question, I wish to acknowledge the passing last night of Michael Lynch from County Meath, a former Member of this House and the Seanad. Michael was a proud representative of the people of Meath and a great friend to me. On behalf of the people of County Meath and the Fianna Fáil Party, I extend my sympathies to his family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

At what point will the large-scale sport infrastructure fund be announced? Has an indicative list of preferential projects been agreed to date between the Department and the major sporting authorities as to which should receive funding?

I too extend my sympathy to the family.

The large-scale sport infrastructure fund provides €100 million over the coming years. The scheme is designed to provide a transparent and robust system for funding sports capital projects where the Government contribution exceeds the amount which is available under the sports capital programme.

The new scheme opened for applications on 19 November 2018 and the closing date for receipt of applications was 17 April 2019. The fund is initially focusing on the requirements and development plans of national governing bodies of sport and local authorities, all of which received letters inviting them to make applications. New swimming pool projects and the refurbishment of existing swimming pools are also eligible for funding under the new scheme.

Full details of the scheme are available on the Department’s website. Among the issues which will be considered when assessing applications are the priority given to the projects by the relevant local authority or national governing body of sport, whether the projects are multifunctional in nature and cater for a number of different sports, and whether the proposed projects are located in a disadvantaged area or cater for people with disabilities.

A total of 72 applications have been received and departmental officials are undertaking an initial assessment of them. Details of all applications submitted have been published on the Department's website. The total amount sought is €172 million.

In view of the detailed information contained in each application, I am advised that it will take a number of months to have all of them assessed. Accordingly, while there will be no undue delay in completing the assessment process, I expect that it will be towards the end of this year before allocations are announced. It is to be hoped that, if we are all here by the end of the year, we will be able to announce them at that stage.

It is to be hoped some of us will be anyway.

I have been asking the Minister of State for a long time, and have submitted parliamentary questions to his office as well, about the discussions between the Department and the governing bodies such as the GAA, the IRFU, the FAI and so forth. They are the bodies that will have preferred grounds they wish to see developed. The names of the grounds have been leaked to the media from day one. The IRFU has leaked that it is the RDS for Leinster Rugby and the FAI has leaked that it is Dalymount Park, although the Minister, Deputy Ross, appears to have poured cold water on that in recent months because of its finances. The names of a number of grounds have been leaked by Cumann Lúthchleas Gael and there has been a changing of the goalposts. One of those grounds is Páirc Tailteann in Navan in my constituency, which the Minister of State has visited. Unfortunately, I was not informed when the Fine Gael ministerial showboat rocked up that day.

That is a regular occurrence.

I would have loved to have been there to welcome it and to offer a detailed presentation as a proud GAA man. I am seeking information on the negotiations on this ground with Cumann Lúthchleas Gael. It is a 20,000 seat proposal and the Minister of State knows it is a strategic ground for the north east. I would be obliged if the Minister of State would give a candid response to my question.

I was reluctant to speak about sports capital grants at all when I saw that it was the Deputy who was asking the question given that he condemned the most recent announcement of sports capital grants.

I condemned the gimmick of the Minister of State electioneering with it.

The clubs throughout the country that received the grant aid were very happy to get it.

It was electioneering.

The debate has been civil all day.

I would love it to be civil again. When we work so hard to put funding in place in the Department and to get it out to the front line, it is very disheartening to hear members of the Opposition condemning us for providing funding for clubs.

Answer the question.

We do our best for the clubs throughout the country, and when one hears members of the Opposition criticising our work, it is disheartening. It is totally political and is beneath the Deputy.

It is not leaking if national governing bodies publicly state what their priorities are in their development plans. It is those bodies telling their members and the public what sporting infrastructure they believe is strategically important to them. The national governing bodies deserve an apology for the Deputy's rant about them leaking. They are not leaking. They are talking publicly about the projects which they consider to be strategically important to their organisations and they are entitled to do that. In the sports capital division in the Department the Minister, Deputy Ross, and I and our officials are working closely with the national governing bodies to assist them in whatever way we can. The large-scale sporting infrastructure fund will provide the facilities that showcase the high-performance athletes who will inspire the next generation of athletes and encourage sporting participation. There is nothing wrong with that and we are proud to assist with it.

The Minister of State used extra time and we are trying to let every Member participate.

Every sports club in Ireland and the national sporting organisations deserve an apology for the flippant manner in which the Minister and the Minister of State treat them, as if they are giving candy to them. That is who deserves an apology. They are the decent community leaders in this country. The Minister of State need not lecture me.

Which clubs would the Deputy take the money from?

He is not talking to the Healy-Raes now. He should sit down.

Which clubs in County Meath would the Deputy take the money from?

The Minister of State had his time and he is trying to waste my time as well.

Please stop. I must ensure there is order in the House, and there has been order for the past hour and 25 minutes.

What a bizarre rant.

You will have an opportunity to speak.

This is a strategic piece of infrastructure. That is heightened by the fact that the local authority supports it and is planning to have Navan central railway station behind the back of the stand. If the Minister, Deputy Ross, ever honours the promise he gave me three years ago to visit Navan and examine that piece of infrastructure, I could get both him and the Minister of State to visit Navan and help the people there and in Meath. A highly detailed cost-benefit analysis for this ground has been carried out in view of the fact that there has been controversy with other major grounds throughout the country. I would welcome both the Minister and the Minister of State to Navan to examine this and, one hopes, support the proposal. Navan and County Meath deserve it.

As the Deputy knows, I was glad to be in Páirc Tailteann last summer during the hot weather and I might be there again in the Super 8 during the summer, all going well.

I wish Meath GAA every success-----

Please be relevant.

If it wins the Leinster senior football championship, we might not be in the same round. I am happy to engage with any national governing body, county board and anybody at any level in sport about their infrastructure needs and capital requirements. We are doing that. We are trying to bring money to as many people as possible at every level of sport. We have committed to doubling our investment in sport between 2018 and 2027, and we got off to a very good start in the most recent budget with a huge increase in the sports budget for current and capital spending. We should be allowed to do that work without politicisation of the process and without being criticised for getting money to the front line and assisting the volunteers without whom sport in Ireland would be much poorer, as would our communities and society.

In fairness, Deputy Cassells is an avid GAA man, as I and many Members are, but he should not be criticising us for rolling out this fund, which is very important for so many people.

We must move on. We will have time for the next question if Deputy Troy forfeits his introduction.

The Minister will have to be speedy in replying. There will be one question after the reply.

Rail Services Provision

Robert Troy


50. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of the MetroLink project with particular regard to the cost of the revised route. [21998/19]

As the Deputy is aware, the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, have statutory responsibilities to develop and deliver MetroLink. In March, the NTA and TII launched a public consultation on the preferred route and that consultation period ended yesterday. This was developed following the NTA's and TII's reflection on the many responses to the earlier consultation they had held last year on the then emerging preferred route, a public consultation which gave rise to much public commentary, particularly regarding a number of specific areas across the city. The NTA's and TII's consideration of this second consultation period on the preferred route will inform the ongoing development of the preliminary design for the project and allow it move on to the next stage.

An important part of that next stage is the development of what is known as a detailed business case. The issue of cost estimation will form a key part of the development of the business case. In developing that business case, the TII is working with leading international experts in the field of cost estimation for mega-projects such as MetroLink. This work will form part of the business case for the project. The business case developed by the TII will be reviewed by the NTA prior to submission to my Department for consideration in line with the requirements of the public spending code. My Department will ensure robust and rigorous analysis and challenge of the business case. Its consideration of the business case will inform the memorandum I will then bring to the Government for its approval. Subject to the approval of the Government, TII will proceed to the planning process and apply to An Bord Pleanála for a railway order. This application is expected to happen during the second quarter of 2020.

Let me be clear. The development of the business case and the costs underpinning the actual construction of a project like this are subject to ongoing refinement throughout these preparatory stages. Conditions might be imposed during planning that result in cost adjustments, for example, and ultimately costs will be further developed during the procurement process. Further Government decision points will be required in this project's life cycle. At each of those points careful consideration will be given to the ongoing value for money and benefit of the project.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

MetroLink is a mega-project. It is one which we all have views on. I want to reassure the Deputy that, as Minister, I have two key priorities here: delivering an improved public transport system to serve the needs of the public now and into the future; and ensuring efficient and effective expenditure of taxpayers' money. The issue of overall cost is a major factor in any transformative project like this one and it is important that we allow due deliberation as required under the public spending code.

Will the Minister outline the decision-making process that preceded the decision to effectively shelve the southern portion of MetroLink? How much will the new route cost per kilometre compared with the old route? Does the Minister believe it to be the case, and does he agree with the Taoiseach, that the new, revised and shorter metro route will probably be €2 billion more than what was originally anticipated?

The NTA took the decision. The authority made a recommendation on this decision that was certainly approved of by the Department and me. Deputy Troy asked about the issue of the costs. I have already said in my reply that there has to be a business case put forward. It would be foolish of me to anticipate the result of that business case.