“That Dáil Éireann:
— State-led strategic infrastructural investment is essential for the social and economic growth of our villages, towns, and cities and to ensure balanced regional development and increase connectivity;
— the network of 94,000 kilometres of regional and local roads across the State provide vital connectivity to rural Ireland;
— the State’s regional airports carried 5.45 million passengers in 2019 and reports from 2016 and 2019 demonstrate that Cork, Shannon and Ireland West Airports generate a combined annual €2.13 billion to the economy and support directly or indirectly 29,050 jobs;
— our ports are vital assets to our coastal and island communities and have important economic functions including building resilience in respect of supply chains post-Brexit;
— public transport investment, including bus and rail, can play a major role in decreasing CO2 emissions from the transportation sector and provide workers, families, and communities an alternative and sustainable mode of transport;
— the recently published National Development Plan 2021-2030 sets out a broad vision for infrastructure investment; however, there are many projects without a commencement and completion date or an identifiable funding allocation, with projects seemingly prioritised on the basis of planning considerations rather than their importance for achieving balanced and strategic development; and
— the current strategic rail review is being completed on an all-island basis which is a positive development;
further notes that:
— the approach of successive Governments has failed rural Ireland and the downgrading of the North and Western regions from a ‘developed region’ to a ‘region in transition’ by the European Commission is an example of this;
— senior members of Government, up to and including the Taoiseach, have indicated publicly that a number of critical regional infrastructure projects outlined in the National Development Plan 2021-2030 may never be delivered, casting doubt on approximately 30 road projects, while other public transport projects will be delayed by years;
— Bus Éireann Expressway bus routes from Galway, Limerick, Cork and Belfast have been cut, impacting connectivity and frustrating efforts to reduce transport emissions;
— an economic appraisal by former Economic and Social Research Institute economist Dr. John Bradley in June 2021, entitled ‘The Atlantic Railway Corridor - The Galway-Mayo Rail Link: An Appraisal’, assesses potential demand for Phase 2 and 3 of the Western Rail Corridor at 575,000 passengers per annum by 2030, and finds in a cost-benefit analysis that restoring the rail connection between Galway and Mayo via Tuam yields a positive net present value and a benefit to cost ratio of greater than one, concluding that a strong business case based on potential passenger and existing freight flows to southern ports justifies it being prioritised for delivery; and
— no firm commitment to deliver the extension of the Western Rail Corridor to Mayo has been provided in the National Development Plan 2021-2030; and
calls on the Government to:
— provide clarity on all projects included in the National Development Plan 2021-2030, including funding and timescales for the progression and the estimated completion of projects, ensuring balanced regional development is prioritised in the delivery of projects;
— introduce a statutory requirement that all Government Departments and public bodies will undertake rural impact assessments in relation to their measures, especially where measures have a socio-economic impact on rural Ireland;
— fully commit to the delivery of the Western Rail Corridor extension to Mayo as a key infrastructure project for regional development and seek relevant sources of European Union funding to advance the project;
— prepare a new all-island national aviation policy that recognises the impact the pandemic has had on our regional airports to ensure they can continue to contribute to sustainable regional development;
— resource Bus Éireann via the National Transport Authority to ensure there is no curtailment of the intercity Expressway bus services; and
— urgently expediate the delivery of key public transport projects as outlined in the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (CMATS) 2040 and Galway Transport Strategy.”
I am sharing time with colleagues and I will take five minutes.
This Private Members' motion is an attempt to put balanced regional development and investment in public transport at the centre of Government and to be central to tackling the climate change crisis. The national development plan was to be the litmus test of the Government's commitment to regional development. I believe that is a test that it has failed. Right now, workers and families are being hit hard by carbon taxes. This is not only unfair but also an environmental strategy that will not work. Taxes designed to change behaviour only work when the people have alternatives. This motion is crystal clear. We need State-led investment in strategic infrastructure for our regions. We have decades of evidence of how successive Governments have failed to deliver for rural Ireland, not least the west is categorised by the EU as a region in transition. This is not a case of just a political party saying that Governments have not delivered for the west. This is being said by the EU also and by many other commentators. We desperately need State-led investment in infrastructure but, sadly, we seem to have another Government that is unwilling to lead. We have 94,000 km of regional and local roads across the State that provide vital connectivity for, and to, rural Ireland. Yet despite years of empty promises, in Mayo we still do not have delivery on the likes of the N26 and R312.
Sinn Féin has brought forward this motion to give the Government a second chance, a chance for it to show voters it is serious about regional transport infrastructure, it is serious about reducing carbon emissions and that it has a vision for our country beyond maintaining the status quo and blocking change. This motion is a direct response to the Government failure to deliver on very modest demands for investment in infrastructure in the regions. The motion calls on the Government to provide clarity on all projects included in the national development plan, ensuring balanced regional development is prioritised in the delivery of projects; to introduce a requirement for the Government to undertake rural impact assessment of all policies; and to prepare a new all-island national aviation policy that recognises the impact the pandemic has had on our regional airports such as Ireland West Airport Knock; to resource Bus Éireann via the National Transport Authority and to ensure there is no curtailment on the intercity Expressway services; as well as to urgently deliver key public transport projects such as those outlined in the Cork metropolitan area strategy and the Galway transport strategy.
Regarding an issue that is very close to my heart as is the case for many people in Mayo and across the west, the motion calls specifically on the Government to fully commit to the delivery of the western rail corridor extension to Mayo. The western rail corridor has become a byword for regional development and investment in the west. Why has the Irish Rail 2040 rail freight strategy not even been released yet? That strategy has remained unpublished for almost a year and it is referenced in a number of recent publications, including the terms of reference for the rail review and the draft consultation for the greater Dublin area transport strategy published today. The west will not forgive another Government for failing to deliver on this project.
If the Government does not support this motion and commit to the western rail corridor, what little faith people in Mayo and across the west have left in it will continue to erode and disappear. The publication of the economic report by the former Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, economist, Dr. John Bradley, earlier this year confirmed what Sinn Féin has been saying for years, namely, that there is a strong business case for restoring the rail connection between Galway and Mayo via Tuam and the western rail corridor should be reopened and prioritised as a capital project. Many Government Deputies from the west have been very critical of the national development plan, NDP, and the complete lack of any commitment to the western rail corridor. They are right. Not including the project in the NDP is a missed opportunity for the Government to show it is committed to regional development in the west. I call on Members from the parties in government to take this second chance to support regional infrastructure development and the reopening of the western rail corridor by voting in favour of the Sinn Féin motion.