I firmly believe that the process involved in selecting the preferred options and the consultation process are significantly flawed. I will give a couple of examples. First, I welcome the DART+ Maynooth–Dunboyne line. There is no doubt that the rail transport system for the whole community along that line will be transformed. I did not receive a single email, telephone call or submission in opposition to the project. There is considerable support for it. The benefits of the DART line will certainly be significant but, as with all major infrastructural projects, there will be a major impact on communities. Some impacts will be significant and others less so. With regard to a number of estates along the new DART line, the impact on the associated communities, families and homes will be significant. The most impactful measures will be the closure of the Coolmine level crossing and Irish Rail's preferred option, that is, building a bridge between St. Mochta's estate and Riverwood.
Let me give to examples. During my recent review of the documentation, I noticed that the option of going under the Coolmine crossing was ruled out because of the height of the canal. However, when I asked those concerned to consider a lock system, I was really surprised to hear it was not proposed to the consultants and that if I put in a submission, it would be considered. I am not an engineer but I believe the whole community is a wee bit puzzled because the consultants did not consider a drop-lock or similar system used on canals across the world. This really needs to be considered.
Another major issue was the consultation process itself. I acknowledge that Irish Rail has, following strong representations from many in the community, extended its deadline for the consultation process twice. The latest extension is until 21 October. However, we are to be subject to level 3 Covid restrictions for a number of weeks and it looks very likely that these will continue for some time beyond 21 October. This means that only those who are tech savvy can take part in the process. It also means that it will not be possible to engage in the essential type of consultation processes that would normally take place between Irish Rail, Deputies, councillors and communities, with organised public meetings at which large maps, hard copies of relevant documentation and detailed plans would be made available. We cannot overstate the importance of being able to look at hard copies of a map and plans and call a person over to ask him or her what something is, where such a line goes or where a certain road leads to, for example. It is important that we get this wonderful project developed and on-stream as quickly as possible, but not at any cost. Once the preferred options are chosen, there will be no way back for the people, except through the High Court.
On behalf of the hundreds of people, especially those who are not tech savvy - including some older people and others who are unable to use Zoom or have meetings on Teams and who will be very much affected - I ask the Minister to ask Irish Rail to hold off until we can have physical meetings and are able to look across a table at those proposing the project so the community can ask the officials the hard questions.