Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Aviation Industry

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

42. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Transport the way in which he plans to support the aviation sector in light of the necessary public health restrictions and the devastating impact of Covid-19 on the sector; if he plans to establish a new survival and recovery taskforce to plan and prepare to sustain and recover this important industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15577/21]

The aviation sector is facing an unprecedented challenge. Most people acknowledge the need to suspend international travel at this time as part of the State's pandemic measures, but it is also recognised that this puts significant pressure on an already crippled sector. Aviation workers need financial support and protection during this time. The sector also needs a survival and recovery plan to be put in place to help it to recover when it is safe to travel again. I ask the Minister of State to outline her plans to support the recovery of the sector.

Legislation to provide for the introduction of the mandatory quarantine system recently entered into force. Contractual arrangements have now been finalised and it is the intention of the Government to commence the operation of mandatory quarantine this week. The Department of Health is leading this process, supported by officials from several Departments, including the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Transport, Justice and Public Expenditure and Reform, as well as the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and via input from the private sector.

Passengers who have been in one of the designated states within 14 days of their arrival in Ireland must complete a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a designated facility. The 14-day period of quarantine can be reduced if travellers undergo testing on arrival and again on day ten and that testing does not return a positive for Covid-19. Mandatory quarantine applies to all passengers travelling from designated states, regardless of nationality, and includes Irish citizens. The aim of mandatory quarantine is to protect the population from challenges posed by new variants of concern.

Turning to the other aspects of the Deputy's question, the Irish aviation sector is critical to the economic development of the country. It is a key enabler of international trade and business, including foreign direct investment and tourism. However, it is clear that the aviation sector in Ireland and internationally is currently experiencing the most challenging crisis in its history. Many analysts are predicting that it will take several years for the sector to return to 2019 levels of activity. Traffic in 2020 was down approximately 80% on 2019 levels and revenue has fallen dramatically.

As the Deputy is aware, the Government has put in place a range of supports for businesses, including the aviation sector. These supports include the wage subsidy scheme, waiving of commercial rates, deferral of tax liabilities, the Covid restrictions support scheme, the credit guarantee scheme and the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, working capital scheme, with some of these now extended to 30 June 2021. Irish airlines and airports have availed of more than €200 million through these supports to date. Liquidity funding is also available through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, pandemic stabilisation and recovery fund for medium and large enterprises.

As regards specific supports for employment, we have the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, which is a key component of the Government's response to the Covid-19 crisis to support viable firms and encourage employment.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The scheme has been extended to the end of June 2021.

In November 2020, in recognition of the very difficult circumstances facing the aviation sector, the Government agreed a revised funding package of €80 million specifically for Irish aviation in 2021. A part of this package, comprising more than €21 million, is being provided to the regional airports programme, RAP. The new RAP, which was published on 4 February, gives funding certainty to those airports up to 2025. The airports eligible for RAP support are Donegal, Kerry and Ireland West Airport, Knock. In addition, €32 million is being provided to Cork and Shannon airports through a new one-year Covid-19 regional State airports programme.

The European Commission has approved under EU state aid rules a €26 million Irish state aid scheme to compensate airport operators for the losses caused by Covid-19 and the travel restrictions imposed by Ireland to limit its spread. This scheme consists of three measures: a damage compensation measure, an aid measure to support the airport operators up to a maximum of €1.8 million per beneficiary and an aid measure to support the uncovered fixed costs of these companies. The aid will take the form of direct grants. Airports will be invited to apply for funding under the scheme shortly. The scheme will augment the supports already in place and help the industry to maintain connectivity and make a recovery from the impacts of Covid-19. The possibility that further targeted supports may be required later in 2021 cannot be excluded, particularly in the event that restrictions on travel remain in place throughout the forthcoming summer season.

My officials and I have maintained regular contact with key stakeholders throughout this crisis. On 5 March 2021, I chaired a special meeting of the steering committee of the National Civil Aviation Development Forum, NCADF. The NCADF, which was established through a recommendation of the national aviation policy in 2016, brings together senior stakeholders in the aviation industry, mostly at chief executive level. The meeting provided an opportunity for very constructive engagement with members of the committee, together with other senior leaders from Irish aviation.

It is clear from my engagement with the aviation sector that the priority issue for all those involved in the industry is that of planning to progress, as a matter of urgency, to the reopening of international travel as soon as circumstances allow. To this end, a sub-group of the NCADF has been tasked with developing proposals for restart and recovery of the Irish aviation sector. It is anticipated that the sub-group will present its report to the steering group of the NCADF next month. The work of the NCADF will inform Government decisions on the restart and recovery of the Irish aviation sector, which will also have regard to developments at EU and international level, as well as public health advice.

The Government is fully alert to the devastating impact of the global pandemic on international travel and values the critical role that aviation plays in the Irish economy. It is expected that it may be some time before it is possible to permit a large-scale return to air travel, but we remain committed to ensuring that the aviation sector can maintain the necessary core capability to retain strategic connectivity and to rebound quickly when circumstances allow.

Aer Lingus today announced an expansion of its air services from Manchester. I saw a communication sent within the company which offered staff here the opportunity to move to Manchester and base themselves there on local terms and conditions, that is, Manchester terms and conditions. That is deeply concerning for those workers. It has been said that this is happening because there is such uncertainty regarding the Irish response and commitment to the aviation sector. It really indicates that those companies want a response from the Government that gives them a clear outline of what the future holds. We know Covid is very difficult, but Air New Zealand got an investment of $900 million, while Air France got €7 billion and Lufthansa got €10 billion. I ask the Minister of State to give confidence to workers in the sector that their position is secure and to outline in clear terms that a plan is in place for the recovery of the sector.

As I outlined, more than €200 million of supports has been granted to the aviation sector. The airports and airlines have had access to that funding, which includes the temporary wage subsidy schemes and other supports. As a result of the very difficult circumstances the aviation industry is experiencing, the Government agreed a revised funding package of €80 million specifically for Irish aviation in 2021. A part of this package, more than €21 million is to be provided for the regional airports programme. That gives those airports security and certainty around funding out to 2025. Airports eligible for RAP supports are Donegal, Kerry and Ireland West Airport, Knock. In addition, €32 million is being provided to Cork and Shannon airports.

It is important that I reiterate the supports the Government is providing and will continue to provide to the aviation sector. We are in regular contact with the sector and the key stakeholders about the future of the aviation sector.

I have not gone through the other measures under consideration, such as routes potentially being moved to Belfast. I mentioned the situation at Manchester Airport. I refer to the operations at Shannon and Cork airports. I raised this issue with departmental officials at a public meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communication Networks.

I am deeply concerned in respect of the issue. Workers in the sector are deeply concerned by it. Does the Minister of State share that concern? To what degree have the Department, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, assessed the impact of Covid on the sector? What sort of aviation sector can we expect post Covid? Has any empirical assessment been carried out in that regard? What scale of lay-offs is the Minister of State expecting? I believe everything needs to be done to support the sector, notwithstanding the challenges of Covid. For example, there are proposals in respect of a German model of support for workers that has been advocated by unions in the sector but has not been taken up.

I assure the Deputy that this issue is being taken extremely seriously at Government level. All Members understand the importance of aviation for Ireland as an island nation, including for foreign direct investment, tourism and connectivity as an island. I chaired a special meeting of the steering committee of the NCADF. My departmental officials maintain regular contact with the sector. The NCADF was established through the recommendation of the national aviation policy in 2016 and brings together all the key stakeholders within the aviation industry. That meeting provided a very constructive opportunity for that engagement around a roadmap for recovery at the appropriate time while obviously taking into account the public health measures and what is happening at EU and UK levels.

The Deputy can be assured that every necessary support will be given. We are constantly watching and monitoring this matter. There is considerable uncertainty in Europe today. The numbers of people infected with Covid-19 have increased. This is not just an Irish issue, it is a global issue. I assure the Deputy the aviation sector is critical to the Government.

Aviation Industry

Duncan Smith

Question:

43. Deputy Duncan Smith asked the Minister for Transport his views on the future viability of the aviation industry sector and the thousands of jobs in the sector in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15565/21]

My question is the same as Deputy O'Rourke's. It is the only question. What I have heard over the past five minutes has not given any comfort to me or any of the thousands of workers who are watching and concerned about the future viability of their livelihoods and lives. I must ask again what is the view of the Minister of State on the future viability of the aviation industry. The people also want to hear the view of the Minister for Transport on the matter and I would welcome that.

As I said earlier, the aviation industry is absolutely critical for Ireland and its foreign direct investment, tourism, economy and for the functioning of an island nation. This Government acted quickly when the pandemic broke last year and offered a large range of supports. The airlines and aviation sector have benefited from more than €200 million of that suite of supports.

This is, obviously, an evolving crisis. It is going to take a number of years for the aviation industry to reach pre-Covid-19 levels of international travel. That is the opinion of key analysts and is widely recognised and accepted. It is critical we do everything we can and engage with all the stakeholders on a roadmap to that recovery when the time is right. That is what I am doing with my officials. We are meeting with the national civil aviation forum to work on that roadmap and pathway out when the time is right. There is too much uncertainty. As the Deputy knows, we have mandatory hotel quarantine starting this week in Ireland. We have an epidemiological situation at European and international levels that is concerning. We have done very well in Ireland in managing the virus but we have to ensure continually that we are monitoring it while preparing a roadmap for a route out when the time is right.

There are supports in place and we will continue to engage with the sector, including our airports and airlines. I hear the Deputy's concerns around employment and that is why we have put in place a large range of supports, including the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, and commercial rates waivers for the airlines. It is a difficult time and it is only through engaging with the key stakeholders that we will find that roadmap out. It will not be an easy road.

It will certainly not be an easy road. It is a pretty desolate road at the moment. We have consistently been calling for action. The language is so familiar, as it has been for months. The Minister of State mentioned the fact the EWSS has been put in place, as was the temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS, was before that. We are talking about a survival package, a recovery package that is going to protect jobs.

Four Aer Lingus aeroplanes that would otherwise have taken off from Ireland will now be taking off from Manchester. This has been flagged to us on the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks for a long time. It is not going to be like the old days. It will not be a case of rocking up to Dublin Airport to find someone has put a chain on the gates, saying all the jobs are gone. It is not going to be one big event. Jobs are going to go in dribs and drabs. They will be shaved off. That is what is happening. When four aeroplanes that were resident in Ireland go, they are gone and the jobs will go with them. Baggage handlers are going. Fuellers are going. They are going in ones, two, sixes and dozens, but they are going. Their livelihoods are gone. That is happening right now and there is deafening silence from the Government on the issue. It is the same thing over and over again.

I must remind the Deputy of the uncertainty we are facing. We were all hopeful this time last year that we would be out of this pandemic within a number of months but that has not been the case. As I said, the Government acted fast by putting in supports and those measures are still there, including PUP, EWSS, and the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS. All of those are also available to the aviation sector.

I know many people have lost their jobs. It is a really difficult time for many families. We need to try to protect as many jobs as we can, not only in the aviation sector but in every sector. That is done through the broad range of supports that are available across sectors, including the aviation industry.

Working with the aviation stakeholders around what the recovery will look like is critical and that is what I am doing with my Department. It is difficult to see what that recovery will look like now, when we are in the middle of the pandemic, but that work is ongoing and proposals will be brought forward over the coming weeks.

Our concern is there will be thousands of workers who will be outside the industry and looking in at that recovery in a couple of years' time because they have been let go. The workers are asking for a safe return to travel, as we have all been asking for. We want a roadmap back with clearly defined public health guidelines and milestones. That is not easy, we know that, but the European Commission is working on a digital green pass, albeit there is a lot more detail to come on that. The Taoiseach stated earlier he is supportive of that and it is offering some light at the end of the tunnel. However, we need our Government to provide a proper roadmap. We do not need Government Senators pouring honey into the ears of workers out there when the Government of which they are a part is doing very little to provide a roadmap. Every single worker in the aviation industry, from the ground to the cockpit, knows they are going to be the last industry to come back. They know that and have known it since the former Taoiseach made his speech in Washington last year. Those workers want and deserve a roadmap. They also deserve supports because their jobs and livelihoods are going to be gone.

I am equally concerned about protecting people's jobs. That is why I am engaging with the aviation sector, those who are at the coalface within the industry, around what that reopening will look like when the public heath advice is there. Now is the time to be working on that and to protect as many jobs as possible. That is the work I am doing with my officials within the national civil aviation forum. There is a subgroup relating to bringing back proposals around what that reopening will look like.

I must reiterate that it is a very uncertain time within a number of sectors. We know there are going to be changes and this is a moving roadmap as to what recovery will look like. In the meantime, we must try to support the industry as best we can and support that connectivity. We must support our airports so that they are able to rebound as easily and quickly as possible when the time is right. We must also protect as many jobs as possible, not just in aviation but in every other sector that depends on it.

Driver Test

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

44. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Transport the actions he is taking to address the backlog in driver tests, theory tests and driving lessons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15578/21]

There is a massive problem in the area of driving tests, lessons and licences. I do not yet see a sense of urgency from the Government. There are 100,000 people waiting for driving tests and more than 80,000 waiting for theory tests. The demand for lessons is huge. It is having a major impact on workers and families and it needs to be a priority. How are the Minister and the Minister of State addressing these problems?

The current public health emergency has had a profoundly disruptive effect on the learning and testing system in this country. I can assure the Deputy that the Department is very aware of the challenges facing the Road Safety Authority, RSA, as it works hard to manage the backlog in the driver testing and theory testing service. The driving test service is not currently operating as normal due to the impact of Covid-19. Tests are only available, under level 5 restrictions, to essential workers. This has had a significant impact on waiting times. RSA driver testers are undertaking driving tests in extraordinarily difficult conditions. The driving test is conducted in an enclosed space for a period of over 15 minutes, where physical distancing is not possible. Given the significant risk to testers when conducting a driving test, the Government has deemed that the driver testing service should be available only for essential workers in level 5 Covid-19 restrictions.

Due to the suspension of driver testing services in the first 2020 lockdown, along with the health protocols since resumption of service and the further curtailing of services during subsequent level 5 restrictions, a significant backlog has developed. While the service is limited during level 5 restrictions, the RSA is examining ways of increasing the number of tests within health constraints with an eye to resuming wider testing after level 5. This includes increasing the number of testing staff to help reduce and, over time, eliminate the backlog. Following discussions with the RSA, my Department has approved the hiring of a further 40 temporary testers for 22 months.

The process of recruitment is now under way. However, it will take some time for people to be selected and trained. These new hires will be in addition to the 36 temporary testers which I previously gave sanction to rehire during 2020. The provision of extra testers will not on its own suffice to address the problem. One of the difficulties is with the capacity of test centres themselves, given limits on throughput due to Covid-19.

We received lots of documents at the transport committee and we have heard from the RSA. I read one document we had not previously seen in the media at the weekend, which outlined the concern in the RSA about the impact the backlog will have on road safety and insurance costs. Those are real issues that need to be addressed.

The limited capacity that is in place currently is not even being used at 100%. It is being used at 75% because essential workers cannot get lessons in order to sit their test. In effect, they are being held up earlier in the queue. If they had their lessons completed, they could get a test. That is an anomaly raised with the RSA. Is that something on which the Minister of State has sought advice from NPHET and will driving lessons be allowed to resume on 5 April?

My understanding is that testing capacity is at the maximum allowed under public health advice. There is a limit to the number of tests that can be physically carried out each day due to the level 5 restrictions. Even with the hire of extra driver testers, that in itself will not help the current backlog due to the time involved and the limitations on the throughput in the centres. I assure Deputy O'Rourke that we are in constant contact with the RSA, which is working very hard to come up with ways to reduce the backlog when the level 5 restrictions are lifted in order to carry out more tests per day. Overtime is being considered to allow tests to be carried out later in the evening and at weekends. A number of measures are under consideration, but while level 5 restrictions are in place we are curtailed for public health reasons. We are trying to keep everybody safe - the instructor and the learner as well.

I ask the Minister of State to go back and speak to the RSA because what she said is not actually the case. The RSA has clearly said there is spare capacity currently as essential workers cannot sit the test because they have not completed their lessons. I am not trying to make a meal out of it, but I ask the Minister of State to go back to the RSA and confirm whether what I have outlined is the case. The issue of concern is NPHET's advice on essential workers being able to get their essential driver training, EDT, lessons. I seek clarity on that because if lessons could go ahead then the full testing capacity that is available could be used. I urge the Minister of State to follow up on the matter.

The RSA sought 80 additional testers to address the backlog. It outlined the difference 80 testers would make versus 40. Will the Minister of State provide the extra 40 testers?

Deputy O'Rourke can be assured that whatever resources are needed in order to alleviate this backlog will be provided. I have sanctioned 40 extra testers and they should be in place by the end of June. Given the public health restrictions under level 5, there is a physical limit to the number of tests that can be undertaken. I assure the Deputy that if more testers are required then more will be sanctioned. We are in constant communication with the RSA on the matter. Public health is our primary concern. Every question the Deputy has raised relates to public health. I accept that it is very frustrating for people who are trying to progress with their driving lessons and to get their test but the reason for the backlog is due to Covid-19 and trying to protect people. The RSA and the testers have done a very good job on minimising the spread of the virus because of the protocols they have in place.

Ports Development

Verona Murphy

Question:

45. Deputy Verona Murphy asked the Minister for Transport the level of financial support his Department will be providing to Rosslare Europort to initiate the various studies needed to support an application for Rosslare as a service port for the wind energy sector off the east coast of Ireland; when this financial support will be forthcoming; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15603/21]

I wish to ask the Minister about the level of financial support his Department will provide to Rosslare Europort to initiate the various studies needed to support an application for Rosslare to act as a service port for the wind energy sector off the east coast and when the support will be forthcoming.

The primary function of State ports is to facilitate maritime transport, which is the most important means of connecting Ireland to international markets, accounting for more than 90% of Ireland's international trade, in volume terms. At the same time, it is recognised that there is a pressing need for Ireland to have the port capacity in place to exploit the opportunities presented by offshore renewable energy, ORE, with the programme for Government targeting a capacity of 5 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030.

The Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, met with Iarnród Éireann on 1 December 2020 and it outlined the potential for Rosslare Port to service the emerging offshore wind sector in Ireland and the scale of the investment in infrastructure needed depending on a number of options. Rosslare is unique among the State-owned ports, as it is not a commercial company operating under the Harbours Acts but is instead operated on a commercial basis as a division of Iarnród Éireann with all investments funded from port revenues. This is similar to other ports in Ireland which receive no Exchequer funding and must fund all their infrastructure developments through their own resources, borrowing or through EU grant funding. Some of these ports are also examining the business potential of ORE.

At my request, officials have commenced an assessment of options for the facilitation of ORE by the ports, including possible funding under the European recovery and resilience facility. However, it was decided this would not be one of the projects going forward to Europe as part of Ireland's national recovery and resilience plan due to prioritisation of other more mature projects that are in line with EU timelines to maximise Ireland's overall funding.

My Department is continuing to explore whether there is any other funding available to assist with the provision of ORE facilities at ports. In particular, officials are currently engaging with the European Commission seeking changes to the Connecting Europe Facility, CEF, criteria to allow EU funding of port infrastructure for ORE in the next funding stream for 2021-2023 and also in an effort to influence the next trans-European network for transport, TEN-T, regulation so that green infrastructure projects will be included.

With all due respect, it was the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who was on South East Radio on 28 January. He said he understood that there was a much needed, urgent investment required for Rosslare. He gave an assurance on the radio to Wexford people and to the country. Rosslare is of national importance. He said there would be significant investment in Rosslare Europort because it is strategically critical for the country and it would potentially be of benefit to the region to have the economic centre and activity. Given that assurance, I cannot understand why we have not seen the money if it is an urgent investment requirement and why we do not have confirmation of the investment. The port's traffic has increased by more than 500%. We know it is Ireland's most strategic piece of infrastructure and that the investment has to come. I ask for confirmation of when that will be.

I agree with what Deputy Murphy said about the importance of offshore renewable energy. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is present and I can attest to his passion and commitment to ensuring this is rolled out. Any funding provided to ports can only be a contribution towards the costs and would have to be in compliance with state aid rules. It is envisaged that this would require a competition and it would then be up to the ports to apply for any funding that might become available after preparation of a comprehensive business case. In this context, ports would have to engage directly with industry on specific requirements and investment costs. My Department is also meeting with other ports and administrations to establish best practice in this regard in Europe. We are looking at how other countries have done this. There is ongoing engagement between the Departments of Transport, the Environment, Climate and Communications and Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

In addition, there is direct engagement with the offshore renewable energy sector and other relevant stakeholders to explore the mechanisms of investment required for this infrastructure.

I thank the Minister of State. I appreciate the understanding she appears to have. The reality is that the Carbon Trust has said that Rosslare Europort is the preferred port for an offshore wind farm construction base. There is no competition. It is the most strategic port. With the knowledge and understanding that the Minister and Minister of State have, I am a little dismayed to think that the potential in Rosslare may be lost because this will ultimately go to the UK.

If we do not give the urgent attention and investment required to Rosslare, we will lose the potential of billions of euro being invested in the Irish economy because we failed to prepare the most strategic preferred port for the construction of a wind farm base. I cannot understand that we are discussing today the possibility that there might be a competition process. There is no competition. Rosslare is deemed to be the best port. I ask the Minister of State to confirm when the funding will be forthcoming.

I thank the Deputy. We have to identify funding streams, which is what the Department is actively doing. We are engaging with the European Commission to seek changes to the CEF criteria to allow EU funding of port infrastructure for offshore renewable energy in the next 2021-23 funding stream. We are also seeking to influence the next TEN-T regulations so that green infrastructure projects could be included in that. As a sea port on the comprehensive network, Rosslare is eligible to apply for European CEF funding for transport-related infrastructure. That work is ongoing in the Department to determine and identify funding streams.

On competition, all ports are competing with one another. We would encourage ports to work together. Some boards have different strengths and abilities. They could put together a business case. It would be a competition and state aid rules would apply around that, but there is a lot of engagement taking place within the Department and with the industry because it is critical that we get the information from industry in respect of its needs and what it requires in order to roll this out successfully for Ireland.

Climate Change Policy

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

46. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Transport the new measures he plans to introduce to reduce the 20.3% contribution of the transport sector to Ireland’s total greenhouse gas emissions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15579/21]

I ask the Minister about his plans for the transport sector as part of our overall action against climate change. I very much welcome the revised climate action Bill published yesterday. The scale of the challenge is huge and with the transport sector accounting for 20.3% of emissions, I ask the Minister what contribution he sees the transport sector making to our 2030 target.

I am committed to achieving substantial carbon abatement across Ireland's society and economy, or helping our society to do that, and securing an efficient and low emission transport system. The programme for Government climate action commitments represent an important step up in ambition, seeking to fundamentally change the nature of transport in Ireland and achieve a 7% average annual emissions reduction to 2030.

Targets and measures set out in the existing 2019 climate action plan will not be sufficient to meet this Government's increased ambition. Therefore, work is under way to frame a new 2021 climate action plan. This work will determine the nature and scale of additional measures required to achieve the step up in emissions reduction within the transport sector.

Key targets for electric vehicles and biofuels already represent ambitious goals, but we need to do more right across the transport sector. Continued investment, increasing capacity and improving access and quality across a range of sustainable mobility options and better managing the demand for transport will need to play a critical role.

When agreed, the 2021 climate action plan will chart a course to reduce transport greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in line with our programme for Government commitment. This will advance us towards the ultimate goal nationally and at EU level, which is to reach a near zero emissions mobility system by 2050.

Work to reduce emissions continues apace even as we prepare the new plan. The Deputy will have seen evidence of this in yesterday's announcement of the set of interim actions that we are committed to implementing even while the climate action plan 2021 is being developed. It will ensure continued momentum of our emissions reduction effort across the transport sector.

I have supplementary questions on two matters. One is the Connecting Ireland programme. There are particular challenges in Ireland because of the spatial configuration of our communities. We are unique in many respects, specifically the dominance of Dublin and the types of rural and sparsely populated communities we have. Connecting Ireland is essentially a BusConnects programme for the rest of Ireland, as I understand it.

Related to that, there will continue to be significant car dependency. Our electric vehicle plan seems to be all over the place. It is not delivering anywhere close to what it needs to deliver. It needs fundamental reform in every way. I ask the Minister to speak to those points.

Deputy O'Rourke is absolutely right to focus on Connecting Ireland as a key element in our transport plans. To achieve the level of emissions reductions will involve everywhere and every place matters. Connecting Ireland is critical to achieve the national planning framework objective of better balanced regional development. The programme for Government committed to significant improvements in rural bus connectivity and public transport. People do not have the level of services and access to public transport they deserve.

TII, the NTA and my Department are examining specific measures, including moving to a testing and implementation phase where we establish new bus networks and ways of delivering rural bus connectivity. That will involve the likes of Bus Éireann, private bus operators, Local Link operators and getting the connecting element of this strategy right. The advantage of such bus systems is that they can be rolled out relatively quickly. Such a project will require significant additional resources and good planning to back it up in our towns-based strategy so that people can live in towns served by buses. I will come back to the Deputy on his second question in a further reply.

I thank the Minister. On that point, at the climate committee yesterday we heard from Dr. Lynn Sloman who referred to a Swiss example of good rural public transport. Built into it were performance and service standards that were binding. That is the type of direction we should be moving in. I will let the Minister come back to me on the point on electric vehicles.

I refer to the Road Traffic (Amendment) (Personal Light Electric Vehicles) Bill 2021. Does the Minister know how quickly that legislation will move forward? We have done pre-legislative scrutiny at the transport committee. When might we expect to see the amendments and the legislation enacted?

I should have said that we will discuss this on Committee Stage. The joint committee did very useful and good work in its assessment of the climate Bill at the pre-legislative scrutiny stage. I was very aware of those hearings yesterday which were very useful and interesting. I look forward to reading the committee's report on transport because in my mind it is the most challenging issue. In the next four to five months, I will seek to work on a collaborative basis with all Oireachtas parties on how we draft this plan.

The electric vehicle element is key. I do not accept that it is not working at present. The key restriction in terms of the roll-out of electric vehicles is the availability of vehicles from international suppliers. That is starting to change as a variety of different car companies start to provide electric vehicles options across their ranges. At the same time, we are using the carbon fund to invest in the ESB's fast-charging network.

We will continue to look at other legislative measures and other financial mechanisms to ensure we get the charging infrastructure to match what will be a very significant ramp-up in electric vehicles.