Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Housing Provision

The Minister of State, Deputy Malcolm Noonan, is aware that the majority of Dublin city councillors last night voted against the disposal of the Lawrence Lands site to a private developer. Let us be clear: the councillors voted for public housing on public land. The proposal that was put forward by Dublin City Council, DCC, was not acceptable to local councillors. The price of the so-called affordable houses ranged from €325,000 to €380,000. This is completely unacceptable. In what world is that affordable? People in the area are paying enormous rents and are waiting for up to 15 years on the housing list. They cannot afford to wait any longer.

Sinn Féin fought for the development of this site. Local communities want to see this site developed but want to see the right type of housing. It needs to be social, affordable and it needs to be cost rental. We also want to make sure that facilities are provided for the community, such as schools and local services. We have only one chance to get this right and the development needs to deliver for people in dire need of housing. Last night was a signal of the type of housing people in my constituency need and want and the council must deliver that. The Minister of State knows what councillors want to see built on this site. They want public housing on public land. Will he commit to meet them to progress this further?

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, for his attendance. As he knows, the funding mechanism for this project is something called the housing land initiative, which predates the formation of this Government. It is wholly inappropriate for delivering good quality public housing on public land. There is an alternative, which the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, can put on the table straight away. He can meet Dublin City Council management and offer the council exactly the same financing it has already received for the St. Michael's Estate, Inchicore. That would be to secure a European Investment Bank loan for approximately 70% of the financing and to provide the serviced sites funds for the remainder, something he was already going to do for the housing land initiative deal with Glenveagh.

The value of using the St. Michael's Estate model is that we can deliver social rental, affordable cost rental and genuinely affordable purchase homes for working families on this site. It is interesting that the Government parties on Dublin City Council last night voted three ways. The Minister of State's own colleagues did the right thing and they voted against a very bad deal and I genuinely welcome that. Fine Gael councillors, because the land initiative was really their policy framework, voted for it. Fianna Fáil voted three ways: some voted for it, some voted against and some abstained.

I will take the liberty to make a point, given that the Minister of State's party leader and one of the three heads of the Government is sitting beside him, and say to Deputy Eamon Ryan that we have a real chance to get this right if the three Government parties come together and work with the majority of councillors on Dublin City Council and put the St. Michael's Estate funding package in place. Then we can very quickly move towards planning permission by DCC next year and be on-site to commence construction of much-needed social, affordable rental and genuinely affordable homes next year. This can be done, and while I know the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, and the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, will support the principle of that, we need them to convince their colleagues around the Cabinet table, in both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, to work with the majority of councillors in DCC and do the right thing and get the right kind of deal in Oscar Traynor Road.

I thank both Deputy Ó Broin and Deputy Mitchell for raising this issue and for putting forward constructive proposals regarding it.

As we are all aware, last night Dublin city councillors voted by 48 votes to 14 not to transfer lands at Oscar Traynor Road as part of a development agreement to deliver 853 homes on the site. That was a democratic decision of the local authority members. If I may, I would like to provide the House with some context on this matter, as I understand it. This site has been vacant since the late 1970s and had long been prioritised for housing development by the council via its housing land initiative, as was mentioned by Deputy Ó Broin, together with sites at O'Devaney Gardens and Emmet Road, Inchicore.

The approach and tenure mix for the delivery of homes on the site had been progressed by the council on the basis of 50% of the homes being private, 30% social and 20% affordable, that is, 428, 253 and 172 homes, respectively. This approach had been agreed by the council's housing strategic policy committee in 2016 and by the full plenary council in January 2017 by 58 votes to four. The council executive confirmed its view to the council members, in advance of its vote last night, that an exhaustive process has been undertaken in recent years and the delivery model, itself agreed by councillors, was considered the most effective way to develop the site, both in terms of mixed tenure and from a financial perspective. The executive outlined the complexity of bringing such a large-scale site to this point given the specific resources and expertise required, which the council does not have on an in-house basis. It also pointed out the substantial legal, planning and, above all, financial risks associated with undertaking a development of this scale.

The council's executive confirmed that, using the leverage afforded by State-owned lands, it proposed entering into a comprehensive development agreement with the preferred bidder. In addition to the value of the land being reflected in the reduced cost of the works, Dublin City Council would have received payment of the sum of €14 million from the developer as part of the public procurement process, with strict conditions around planning and development, including a commitment to facilitate local employment. This money would be invested in the city with a significant portion of it ring-fenced for the Oscar Traynor Road environs.

In deciding not to progress with this proposal, the council executive has suggested that the delivery of homes in Oscar Traynor Road may now be set back for quite some time. There was a comment from Mr. Brendan Kenny reported in today's edition of The Irish Times that the delay could perhaps be up to eight years. This would be most regrettable, especially in view of the fact that this area has the highest social housing waiting list in the State. One point on which we can all agree is that given the time spent by the council on progressing this site to date, it is critical that it is developed for housing as soon as possible.

Five months ago, we launched the programme for Government, which includes a range of commitments, including the prioritisation of increased supply of public, social, and affordable homes; to increase the social housing stock by more than 50,000, with an emphasis on new builds; to progress a State-backed affordable home purchase scheme to promote home ownership and; to ensure that local authorities are essential to the delivery of housing.

The Government has since backed these objectives in budget 2021, with €3.3 billion being made available for the delivery of housing programmes. This overall investment will see the social housing needs of over 28,500 households being met in 2021. This includes 12,750 new social homes to be delivered through build, acquisition and leasing programmes. Capital funding of €468 million was specifically provided to cover affordability measures including: a new national affordable purchase shared equity scheme; a new cost-rental equity loan facility to help deliver cost rental homes; and services sites funding.

My Department is working with local authorities, approved housing bodies and other key stakeholders towards the expansion and acceleration of delivery of social and affordable housing. My Department has consistently supported Dublin City Council's efforts to advance proposals, including funding the cost of all the 253 social homes on the site. In addition, at up to €50,000 per home, serviced site funding of up to €8.6 million was made available to the council to help subvent the delivery costs of the more affordable homes. My Department remains ready to support the council to deliver this important strategic site.

The land initiative was only ever used as a financing mechanism because central government would not give local authorities the funds required to develop sites themselves. It was partly because funding was slashed after the recession of 2008 and then after the recovery because Fine Gael did not want to invest. It makes no sense to allow 50% of the homes on public lands to be sold at unaffordable open-market prices and then allow a developer to extract the full market land value from the affordable homes so that they are priced at between €325,000 and €380,000. Not even the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's economic and evaluation service thinks this is a good way to deliver homes. The report two weeks ago confirmed that the most cost-effective way to deliver public homes is through direct delivery by local authorities.

We all now have an opportunity. The vote has been taken and it is not being reversed. If the Government and Opposition along with councillors of Dublin City Council sit down together to ask how we can get this site up and running as quickly as possible, we can move the project forward. That can only be done if the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage decides to take the reins on this. As he did with St. Michael's Estate, he should guide Dublin City Council to a European Investment Bank loan and provide matching service sites funding.

Dublin City Council does not have the capacity because we have starved it of staff and resources for decades. I know the Green Party agrees with this, notwithstanding the Minister of State's reply. The only way the council will ever get the capacity is if we trust it, fund it and staff it to deliver these projects. In the interests of the community of Coolock and the Oscar Traynor Road, and the city overall, let us treat last night's vote as a wake-up call. Let us get around the table urgently, put the funding mechanism in place and send a clear signal to the housing manager in Dublin City Council that we want Part 8 planning applications for a mixed-use social affordable rental and affordable sale development on Oscar Traynor Road to be progressed next year. Finances will be secured and work should commence on site in 2022 to deliver the best-quality public housing development on public land the citizens of the city deserve.

I reiterate that the advice of the council's executive to council members was that an exhaustive process was undertaken in recent years and the proposed delivery model, which was agreed through Dublin City Council, was considered the most effective way to deliver the site both in terms of mixed tenure and from a financial perspective. Notwithstanding this, I note the decision of the council, which will now, no doubt, take some time to consider its next steps. My Department will endeavour to support the council with any future developments, which is the commitment the Deputy is seeking this evening, with plans that might be under consideration over coming months. Our Department remains willing to explore options and avenues available to work with local authorities, approved housing bodies and other key stakeholders towards social and affordable housing delivery objectives.

I take on board the point the Deputy made in the context of opportunity. We need to seize this opportunity because of the urgency of the housing crisis, and we will do that.

Wastewater Treatment

I draw the attention of the Minister of State to the most recent Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, report on waste water discharges highlighting non-compliance in many waste water treatment plants and their impact on receiving waters. It is a disgrace that in 2020 a total of 35 towns and villages are discharging raw sewage into nearby watercourses. It is equally disappointing that so many plants are failing to meet EU pollution standards.

I welcome the opportunity to raise this serious matter. It is a long-running and extremely worrying situation that we see every year when the EPA produces its report. We see similar annual reports on water quality from the EPA and we are all aware of the degradation of aquatic ecosystems, the loss of biodiversity and the overall decrease in water quality scores. We are failing to meet a commitment under the water framework directive to achieve good status for our water bodies. The main impacts on our water system are from diffuse agricultural run-off and point source waste water treatment plants. It is well researched and well reported. There are also issues with combined sewer overflows in the urban networks and unauthorised tappings into urban surface water drainage networks. Forestry practice in many locations is contributing to acidification of water. The presence of excessive organic matter is creating trihalomethanes in our drinking water supplies. There are also cases of excessive nitrates in our water. Both of these chemical imbalances have serious impacts on human health, the latter of which is particularly harmful to infants. There are issues with the management of septic tanks and their impact on groundwater.

Many of the locations with poorly performing waste water plants have been subject to development growth, but our water services upgrades do not keep pace with that development. This is the fallout from poor planning and urban sprawl. All of this points to decades of underinvestment in the water network, some of which dates back to Victorian installations. I have followed the water services investment programmes over the years and no Government has ever shown sufficient attention or committed to providing adequate investment to maintain and improve the water network to the levels required. We have been careless with our precious, finite and life-supporting resource.

As water quality and our sources of supply decline and degrade, our health, biodiversity and environment suffer, as do investment in our economy and our international tourism reputation. This Government needs to be the one to halt the decline and address the infrastructural deficit to provide clean and reliable drinking water supplies. When that water is abstracted and used for domestic, business or industrial purposes, it needs to be treated to a very high degree before being discharged into the receiving waters. Last week's report shows that the treatment process is substandard in many places.

The EPA report also covers areas where Irish Water has made improvements, which is to be welcomed. In Wicklow, Irish Water recently carried out a major upgrade to the Victorian Vartry water supply at Roundwood, which is vital to Dublin and north Wicklow supplies. I understand that the construction of the Arklow waste water treatment plant is soon to commence following the granting of the foreshore licence.

I ask the Minister of State to outline the level of investment required to allow Irish Water to get these 35 towns to meet tertiary treatment or adequate treatment standards and the estimated timeframe to construct or upgrade at these locations.

I thank the Deputy for bringing this important issue to the attention of the House.

I welcome the comprehensive report from the EPA showing that, while many serious challenges remain, Irish Water is continuing to make progress and is improving the performance of our waste water systems. The Deputy will appreciate that, since 2014, Irish Water has taken on the full statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local level. In turn, the EPA, as environmental regulator, is responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance with the necessary quality standards for the collection and treatment of waste water discharges. Today’s report shows that Irish Water has reduced the number of priority waste water sites listed by the EPA. It has increased the number of large towns and cities that now meet the required EU standards for waste water discharges, and it continues to reduce the number of towns and villages discharging untreated waste water.

The EPA appreciates and acknowledges the long and complex programme of work that lies ahead for Irish Water. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, and I, like the EPA, are eager to see faster progress on the delivery of each of these projects wherever this is feasible. The Minister spoke to officials from Irish Water following publication of the EPA report. The company has quite serious challenges, and while we all know that it will not be possible to fix all our infrastructural deficits overnight, this work requires very significant and sustained capital investment. These are complex projects and must be carefully planned in consultation with communities as well as designed to meet future needs.

The programme for Government includes firm commitments that will ensure Irish Water is funded and is structured to fully meet this challenge.

The Government is supporting Irish Water through delivering the balance of the €8.5 billion funding package committed to in Project Ireland 2040. As part of budget 2021 we increased provision for the Irish Water capital programme by €100 million over this year's initial allocation, from €592 million to €692 million. The Government also provided an additional €87 million in capital funding to Irish Water this year as part of the July stimulus package and the budget.

The discharging of untreated sewage directly to the environment is clearly not a tenable situation and is one that I earnestly wish see addressed as soon as possible. When Irish Water was established in 2014, it inherited a system in need of very significant improvement. The company has set about this task but was possibly overly ambitious in some of its plans. However, the company has halted the discharge of raw sewage from the equivalent of 100,000 people in 15 towns across Ireland, removing half of all the raw sewage discharged. Over half of the remaining discharge will end with the completion of the Cork lower harbour project and the construction of the Arklow waste water treatment plant. The company expects to start work in 2021 on 12 further areas where raw sewage is being discharged, with the work in the majority of the remaining areas due to start in 2022 and 2023. A new treatment plant for Avoca is being designed at present, with a planned construction start date of 2023 and a completion date of 2024. The current estimated cost is €8.5 million.

As the Deputy will know, the provision of a sewage treatment plant for Arklow has a long and complex planning history going back as far as 1988. It is one of the largest areas left without a treatment plant, with a population equivalent of 36,000 people. A site has now been secured and planning permission has been granted. I understand a contractor has been selected and construction is due to start in 2021. Irish Water has informed the Department that the construction will take three years.

I note comments on the EPA report from the Sustainable Water Network concerning our commitments under the EU water framework directive. I also note that Coastwatch Ireland is calling for a ban on wet wipes because of their impact on our storm water overflow discharges. This is something the Government should seriously consider. In terms of waste water treatment generally, we are making significant progress although that progress cannot come fast enough.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I acknowledge that Irish Water has been making progress and that it inherited a system that was not invested in for many years because investing in waste water treatment plants, or pipes in the ground, was not headline grabbing. We have neglected a very precious resource and the result of that neglect is that we have been discharging substandard water into our watercourses, our rivers and the marine environment for many years.

I welcome the programme for Government's commitment to retaining Irish Water in public ownership as a national, stand-alone, regulated utility. The Government has also committed to ensuring that Irish Water is sufficiently funded to make the necessary investment in drinking and waste water infrastructure. The programme also mandates Irish Water to develop plans to ensure security of supply and sufficient capacity in drinking and waste water networks to allow for balanced regional development. We must ensure that we match those commitments with adequate funding. It is important to recognise that the treatment of both drinking and waste water is expensive and complex. It requires investment and constant maintenance and our health and the health of our country is at stake if we do not adequately fund the commitments made in the programme for Government.

I thank Deputy Matthews for making those very important points about Irish Water and the capital investment programme required. It will take a nationwide approach to prioritising planning and investment. The company has developed a long-term investment perspective in order to address the deficiencies in public water and waste water systems. The company is closely regulated by both the EPA and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU. I noted the Deputy's comments in the Wicklow Times today. He referred to our commitments under the water framework directive, marine protected areas and biodiversity, all of which are interrelated. I also note that the Avoca waste water treatment plant was raised by a former Green Party councillor, Ms Nancy Quinn, as far back as 1988, which is astonishing. That plant is finally being delivered and while it is very late in the day, it is happening now which is most welcome.

The task here is enormous. As the Deputy quite rightly pointed out, we have not seen significant investment in this area for decades because these are not projects that many people perceive as necessary but they absolutely are. I reiterate the Government's commitment to ensuring that Irish Water is tasked with and supported in continuing to work to address infrastructural deficits all over the country to bring our water and waste water infrastructure up to modern European standards and make it fit for purpose for the Irish economy and country.

Heritage Sites

I thank the Minister for taking this very important Topical Issue this evening. Bunratty Castle in my constituency of Clare is almost 600 years old and King John's Castle in the neighbouring Limerick City constituency is almost 800 years old. These castles have withstood sieges, burnings and many battles waged outside their walls over the years. However, despite their physical bulk and durability, these castles and the beautiful folk park that adjoins Bunratty Castle do not, like many sectors of our economy, have the resilience to withstand the ravages of Covid-19.

Management of the Shannon Group that runs these sites through the Shannon Heritage company plans to close these sites early in January. It cites a massive downturn in international tourism, continuous loss-making since the onset of Covid-19 and the inability of the Government to underwrite the operational losses of a semi-State commercial company as the key reasons behind the imminent closure. These were the very same reasons that were to the fore last summer when the Shannon Group announced that from the end of August right up to the end of this year, Bunratty and King John's castles would be closed. Thankfully the Government intervened in late August and subsidised the incremental losses, thus keeping both sites open. This averted closure and prevented job losses. It is vital that the Government once again works with the Shannon Group to ensure that these sites do not close. They were once of strategic military importance to our ancestors and now they are of strategic tourism importance. The closure of both sites would be a massive blow to workers employed by Shannon Heritage and the domino effect on hotels, bars, restaurants and many others involved in the supply chain would be immeasurable. I call on the Minister to intervene urgently to save these sites from closure in January.

Deputy Crowe and I have already explained to the Government the central importance of these sites to the economy of the entire region. Thankfully, the Government listened and decided last August to provide funding to enable the sites to remain open. What is quite mysterious to me is the fact that the Government decided to allocate €2.4 million to keep those sites open but it has only been able to spend €700,000, which is about one quarter of what was originally allocated, for reasons that I do not have time to go into this evening. Seeing as there is €1.7 million unallocated, as it were, surely resources are available to the Government to keep those sites open and to preserve continuity of service on those sites which have acquired iconic status.

The Government must also be cognisant of the situation facing the workers at Shannon Heritage. Up until August, the prospect of being thrown on the unemployment scrapheap was hanging over their heads but due to political intervention, they got a reprieve. Now they are being told that come 30 December, the reprieve ends and the prospect of unemployment again looms large. Surely it would be better to have those people employed, providing a service and maintaining continuity on those sites rather than sitting at home, existing on social welfare payments. Where is the saving to the State in that? Those workers regard their jobs as a vocation more than a job and they are being treated in a very shabby way. I appeal to the Minister to give those workers some solace as the Christmas period approaches. I ask him to give them a reassurance that they will not be thrown onto the unemployment scrapheap in January and that the service being provided by Shannon Heritage at those sites will continue.

I am very pleased to respond to Deputies Cathal Crowe and O'Dea on this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin.

The management of Shannon Heritage sites, including their opening arrangements, is an operational matter for Shannon Heritage and Shannon Group plc, which is a commercial State body under the aegis of the Department of Transport. Shannon Heritage has a commercial mandate to manage a portfolio of tourism and heritage attractions in the mid-west region and Dublin. As Shannon Group operates in both the aviation and tourism sectors, it has been severely impacted by Covid-19.

Budget 2021 includes a number of substantial measures to support and strengthen the tourism sector. Those measures are supplemented by economy-wide business supports and social welfare measures. The total funding for the tourism sector will increase in 2021 by more than €59 million, or 36%, over the initial 2020 allocation in budget 2020, to €220.9 million. Combined with other measures such as the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, and the rates waiver, the Government is helping to sustain businesses that have been most severely affected by the necessary public health restrictions. As part of the budget package of measures, €55 million has been provided for business continuity schemes for strategic tourism businesses to help them survive through the pandemic and contribute towards driving the recovery. This funding will be administered by Fáilte Ireland and focused on strategic businesses. Fáilte Ireland is currently engaging with the tourism sector in the design of funding schemes, taking into account the effect of other horizontal funding measures.

In addition, the VAT rate for the sector has been reduced to 9%, which will improve the competitiveness and viability of businesses. Funding of €5 million has been provided for focused upskilling training to support business survival and recovery in the sector and the improvement of the digital presence and e-commerce capability of tourism businesses. Investment in the tourism marketing fund has been maintained to ensure that Ireland is in a position to recover quickly, when it is safe for tourists to return from our key markets.

In response to the impacts of Covid-19, the Government has put in place a range of supports to help business and citizens face the challenges presented by the global pandemic. I understand that Shannon Group, including Shannon Heritage, has benefited from these horizontal supports, which include the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, its predecessor, the temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS, the rates waiver and VAT warehousing. The tourism recovery task force undertook a comprehensive analysis of the impact of Covid-19 on the sector and drew up a recovery plan containing more than 30 recommendations across a number of areas designed to help the sector to survive and recover from the crisis out to 2023. Its short-term recommendations informed the sector-specific measures adopted in the budget. To help inform our ongoing response to the pandemic, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media will shortly appoint an oversight group to monitor the implementation of the recovery plan and the recovery of the tourism sector in general.

In regard to Shannon Heritage specifically, a commitment was made by the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, to provide funding to ensure that Bunratty Castle and Folk Park and King John's Castle, which were due to close at the end of August, could remain open to the end of 2020, subject to public health measures. It is open to Shannon Heritage to explore further the various support mechanisms now available. I encourage it to liaise with Fáilte Ireland on the State supports of which it may be able to avail.

I thank the Deputies for raising this important matter. The tourism industry in its entirety has been decimated by the Covid-19 crisis and the sector will take the longest to recover. Overcoming the challenges faced by the sector as a whole will be instrumental in driving economic recovery, particularly in rural areas.

One of the Shannon Heritage employees to whom I spoke today said, "We want to work". The employees are hungry to work and everything should be done to save jobs and keep the heritage sites in the mid-west open. I want to know whether the Government will offer a continuance of the supports it made available to Shannon Group and Shannon Heritage last August. The Minister's response suggests that this mechanism may be open once again and I ask that he offer clarity in this regard. In addition, will the Government consider applying to the EU for a damages schemes for the heritage sector in order that specific ring-fenced supports may be put in place for the likes of King John's Castle in Limerick city and Bunratty Castle and Folk Park in County Clare? Furthermore, I ask that the Minister look at ways of funding the considerable obligations Shannon Group has in maintaining old castle buildings at a high annual cost. Shannon Group has advanced plans for a major capital project for Bunratty Castle and Folk Park costing €40 million. The hope is that State supports from Fáilte Ireland to the tune of approximately 75% of the cost will get the project over the line. I hope the Minister and the Government will do everything possible to ensure it can be delivered.

I conclude by saying that there will be life after Covid. The country is about to turn a corner. Vaccines are imminent and the economy has been supported throughout the past few months. In the meantime, when Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, King John's Castle and all the people working there and in the supply chain need our support more than ever, I ask the Government to have their back.

The Minister's response indicates that we are in the same position now as we were last August. At that time, the Government was prepared to allocate €2.4 million to ensure the continued operation of the sites in question. Only €700,000 of that has been drawn down, which brings us up to Christmas. What is the problem with allocating some more of that money now to keep those sites going from January until April, when they would usually open? Is it more desirable to lose continuity and have people sitting at home drawing social welfare rather than providing a service in King John's Castle, Bunratty Castle and Folk Park and other sites? As I said, the treatment of these workers has been quite indefensible. They have been buffeted from pillar to post, with redundancy looming one day, followed by a reprieve. Now redundancy is looming for them once again. Can the Minister provide some solace for these workers as we approach Christmas?

I hope I can do so. The key solace is, first, that we hope to get out of level 5. King John's Castle has been closed since the level 3 restrictions were introduced. Bunratty Castle and Folk Park has some limited outdoor activities but it also had to close once level 5 restrictions were introduced. Those restrictions, more than anything else, have been a significant factor in the closures over recent months. We do not know what will happen in the new year but we hope, please God, as Deputy Cathal Crowe said, that we will start to see our way out of this pandemic. That is the first and key source of solace.

I absolutely agree with the Deputies on the importance of these two sites for the regional tourism sector. I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media but it seems to me, in reading the response, that the €55 million fund that Fáilte Ireland will be managing for specific key, strategic tourism businesses may well be the best avenue in terms of getting support funding for operations as we start to recover.

As Minister for Transport, I have a keen interest in this area because both sites are operated and managed by Shannon Group, which is connected to enterprises at Shannon Airport and the industrial estate. Most Deputies will be aware that it is not just the workers in Shannon Heritage who are in real difficulties. The wider group, because of what has happened to the aviation sector, is in significant trouble. We have to look at this in the round. In that context, I encourage the Deputies, as I know they already are, to engage with Shannon Heritage on the best strategic response as well as in respect of the immediate support mechanisms which the Government is willing, and has been willing at every stage, to provide in order to support businesses. I would argue that one of the issues we need to think about right now is the wider strategic future for the likes of King John's Castle and Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, which we want to see thrive again. We must give thought to the best structural way of doing that, given the ongoing difficulties with the entire group as a consequence of the Covid-19 crisis.

Greenways Provision

I thank the Minister for Transport for being in the Chamber for this debate. I welcome the significant funding that was granted last week for greenway projects throughout the country and, in particular - being parochial about it - the fantastic funding given for my own constituency of Kerry. It is good that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is also here. The funding is very much appreciated and builds on work in recent years to get the network going in north Kerry, between Tralee and Fenit and between the Limerick border and Listowel. Funding was also allocated for the south Kerry greenway. On Thursday, we saw the fantastic decision by An Bord Pleanála to grant permission for that project to proceed. We hope it will now go ahead, after many years of planning, design, hearings and everything else.

I have no doubt that it is going to be a world-class, iconic greenway.

This is going to be extraordinarily special. It is a 32 km route from Glenbeigh to Reenard, which overlooks Valentia Island. It follows part of the Farranfore to Valentia Harbour railway line which initially opened in 1885, when it reached as far as Killorglin, before being extended to its full length in 1893. It ran until 30 January 1960. The line has now been closed for almost as long as it was open. I hope the great renaissance this greenway represents will be symbolic of a great future for that part of Iveragh and of Kerry. From where I live on the Dingle Peninsula, I can look across to Castlemaine Harbour and Dingle Bay, where the railway line used to run. The scenery is beautiful and outstanding. There are a number of outstanding features along the line such as way covers and brilliant viaducts, including the one at Gleesk in Kells and the one over the water in Cahersiveen. There are also wonderful tunnels that weave in and out of the mountainside overlooking Dingle Bay. It really will be world class.

We have now completed the phase involving An Bord Pleanála. I hope there will be no further reviews of the project or any judicial reviews sought. I call on everybody to unite behind this project for the greater good. The next challenge will be to find the funding to complete the project. More than €5 million of Government funding has already been committed, comprising more than €4 million in 2014 and the further €1.4 million which was announced last week and which is most welcome. Approximately €15 million more will be required to ensure the project is completed. With regard to the timeline, if that funding is provided very soon, the project could be fully completed by the end of 2022. That would be very welcome because this area of south Kerry really needs help.

When the railway line was completed back in the 1890s, it was a massive economic catalyst for the area. In a similar way, this greenway will be a great economic catalyst for that part of Kerry. I am not overstating the case when I say that it will be world class and iconic. It will be extraordinarily special. There does not seem to be funding available immediately for this particular project, however. It is so special that it requires a response and specific funding from Government as a one-off. It is that unique and world class. I ask the Minister to do everything he can to ensure the funding is provided as soon as possible so that the project can begin as soon as possible, and with it, the recovery in that part of south Kerry.

I thank the Deputy for the opportunity to address this issue. I very much welcome the decision of An Bord Pleanála to grant permission for the south Kerry greenway as, I am sure, does the Deputy, who worked very hard on this issue. It has been a long time coming as funding was first allocated to this project back in 2014. One only has to have seen some of the footage that was included in news reports over the weekend following the decision to acknowledge just how iconic this greenway will be when built. Most greenways are lucky to have one iconic feature whereas the south Kerry greenway will have a number of them, including the mountain pass with views over Dingle Bay, the Gleesk viaduct, the Drung Hill tunnels and the Cahersiveen railway bridge, all of which will contribute to what will be one of the finest greenways in Europe.

Of course, there are some elements of the board's decision that will need to be examined in further detail. I understand that Kerry County Council is looking at the implications of these conditions, particularly the non-approval of the section from Cahersiveen to Reenard Point. I expect to see some options submitted in the new year as to how that missing link may be handled. It may be the case that it makes more sense to bring the route through the town of Cahersiveen and to provide an on-road highly segregated route that would bring users to the heart of the town before going towards Reenard Point and onwards to Valentia.

I am sure the Deputy will have seen our recent press release on funding for greenway projects in 2021. Some €1.4 million is remaining from the original allocation of €3.9 million from 2014 and this is available for Kerry County Council immediately to spend on this project next year. Kerry County Council will need to evaluate the impact of the changes to the project arising from An Bord Pleanála's decision and submit an updated and revised business case that includes costs and which complies with the public spending code to my Department. We will then examine it and decide what funding can be provided over the coming years.

I am sure the Deputy will have appreciated the additional €4 million in funding that I was able to allocate to two other projects in Kerry, the Listowel to the Limerick boundary and Tralee to Fenit sections of the great southern greenway. I understand that Kerry County Council will be bringing the Tralee to Listowel section to planning in 2021 and I would expect to see an application from it for construction funding for this section next year or the year after. I also hope that Limerick County Council will bring forward planning for its sections of the route over the coming years and that we will eventually have the entire great southern greenway constructed between Limerick and Fenit.

As part of the programme for Government, we achieved a commitment to spend €360 million per annum on cycling and walking infrastructure across government. The south Kerry greenway will form part of that expenditure over the coming years, along with a large number of other greenways that are under construction or in planning at present. I was delighted earlier this year to allocate funding of €4.5 million to 26 different projects around the country that will provide a pipeline of projects to be considered for funding. As we have seen with the south Kerry greenway, it can take considerable time for projects to secure planning permission and that is why we are pre-funding feasibility, planning and environmental studies for a large number of projects so that they are shovel-ready when they are funded for construction.

I look forward to cycling the south Kerry greenway in the near future. I took a break in Valentia this summer and the Deputy is right; it is the most spectacular location. I will never forget going on a cycling holiday in the same area as a young child. We headed off from Valentia along that dramatic cliff road and down into Ballinskelligs on the other side. I will never forget it and anyone who has cycled it or walked it would feel the same. Continuing on after getting this route all the way from Limerick to Valentia or Reenard Point makes sense. It is part of the Ring of Kerry and of a much wider regional greenway. It will make a huge difference to towns like Cahersiveen and Glenbeigh and every other place on the route. I will very much support the Deputy in making this happen as quickly as possible.

I thank the Minister for his very positive response. It is very encouraging to see the enthusiasm with which he approaches this project. If I had never been a Dáil Deputy, this is something about which I would still have personally been passionate. I remember talking about the potential for a cycleway on this old railway line in geography class when I was in secondary school. This was back in the 1990s when cycling tourism was not considered to be a money-spinner. It inspired scenes in the children's novels I wrote a number of years ago. I really want to see it happen. There are beautiful books written about the old railway line by Patrick O'Sullivan. We owe it to the great engineers and workers who have gone before us and who sweated blood and tears to build this fantastic infrastructure back in the 1880s and 1890s to make the most of it for future generations. That is why what is happening now is so positive and encouraging and, as I have said, could be symbolic of a renaissance for this part of the county.

As the Minister will know, however, money talks. We require the funding to get his project going and to make it happen now. I see this as part of an overall integrated network which we can complete. The parts of the jigsaw are now starting to come together. I remember writing a little piece called "Why Greenways should be called Goldways" back in 2013 after cycling the Westport-Achill line. The point I made in this piece was that there are many opportunities in Kerry to develop a linked-up network. At the time, people told me that I was crazy and that the route between Tralee and Fenit would never happen but it is now under construction. The Limerick border to Listowel route is also under construction. The linking of Tralee to Listowel is now one step closer after the funding that was received last week. There is no reason the south Kerry greenway from Glenbeigh to Reenard could not extend further in the future and link up with those other routes.

I call on the Minister to do everything he can to find the funding. I also commend all the supporters of this project over many years, particularly the people in Kerry County Council who never lost faith and many others in the south Kerry area who helped us to get to this point. We are not over the line yet and there may be a long way to go but last Thursday's decision was certainly very positive. The funding is the next step.

There is money in cycling tourism. I know it. I spent 15 years in our family business, which my sister and her husband still run and which is involved in cycling tourism.

I have to declare that background. One of the attractive things about cycling tourism is that it tends to slow people in a region down. Some of the places people want to go cycling in are the more out of the way places so this disperses funding down to the local level of bed and breakfast accommodation and local pubs, restaurants and shops. It is a good form of tourism and it is low impact in a range of different ways.

My experience in this is in international marketing. I am a former chairman of the walking cycling Ireland business group, a national organisation. It is brilliant that we have these routes connecting up to become part of an extended network because we can go to Germany or America and say we have these high quality routes. This is not just greenway routes as there will be other areas where we will not have a rail line or a completely segregated route. There are good areas for cycling where we can use our existing road network. This could be part of some of the routes we are suggesting. The Ballaghbeama Gap through the centre of the Iveragh Peninsula is a stunning road which is not dangerous to cycle. The volume of traffic is low and there is a good line of sight. I have brought thousands of people on some of those back roads. In my experience of cycling around the Beara Peninsula, which is the next peninsula down from Iveragh, this could be done without necessarily always having segregated routes. We have to start thinking about this type of tourism as a major part of our tourism potential, which it is and people know that in the area. When I am cycling on a road and I receive a one-finger signal from a driver to say hello, I always take that as an indication that the road is safe enough to cycle on because people can see each other, the speeds are not so fast and there is a culture of connection and respect. We have that across rural Ireland but particularly in Cork and Kerry in my experience.

While these projects are for tourism, particularly in areas such as Kerry, they are also local infrastructure for local people. They are there to make it easy for a local child to get to school or for a local person to get to the shops, to work or to use in an everyday way. They are not disconnected from local use and must be for local use first and foremost in my view. My understanding is that the difficulty with the section from Reenard Point to Valentia and back to Cahersiveen relates to coastal erosion. It was not a planning difficulty or a compulsory purchase order problem. The alternative is for us to provide infrastructure in the fine and stunning town of Cahersiveen that enhances the town and makes it easier for local people to get a good public realm and a well-designed main street. We should use this as a mechanism to reimagine Cahersiveen. I mention what we have done in Clonakilty with the good public realm there. Let us do that in Cahersiveen at the same time as we put the greenway through. That would turn the town around and make it a tourism Mecca.