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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 10 Mar 2022

Vol. 1019 No. 5

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Planning Issues

I sincerely thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to discuss this issue, which arises when community groups, particularly those in rural communities, come together in a voluntary capacity to develop community facilities. There should be an open door policy on the part of the Departments down to the local authorities in regard to developments proposed by community groups. From my experience, it has been very frustrating for community groups in the way they engage with the planning regulations.

They have to jump through hoops to get planning for a community group or very small community facility. There is so much red tape. Much of the time community groups come together and have no resources. They look for funding from other mechanisms to try to fund projects. They must come up with matching funding, whether from volunteer labour or from the communities themselves by having to raise funds, which is a difficult thing to do.

They see the regulations they must go through in terms of environmental and ecological consultants. In terms of planning itself, reports by architects, who much of the time, may be working voluntarily for the community, must be provided but, on top of that, professional reports by archaeologists, ecologists and so forth must also be provided. They are hugely cumbersome for community groups.

Community groups come together to try to do something in a meaningful way and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which oversees planning, should recognise that they should be encouraged. There should be a clear pathway as to how they do their business and how they are accommodated within the planning system.

We are not talking about willy-nilly planning or anything like that. We are talking about planning for community groups. We quite often see their frustration when they are met with large bills when to try to get consultants in to do something that is minuscule in the overall planning scheme of things. The Department should look at this and there should be priority in terms of small community groups planning relatively small developments. There should be a clear policy.

Departments are well used to issuing guidelines to local authorities and asking them to look at things. Clear guidelines should be issued by the Department on how to address and encourage these community groups. They are putting in facilities for everybody. Only for these community groups coming together in a voluntary capacity, many of these facilities would never be built. They come together but end up not having a clear pathway and being frustrated by the system. It is time the Department looked at it and issued clear guidelines for the entire the country, not just for rural Ireland but for urban Ireland as well in order that specific reference is made to volunteer and community groups which are providing for their greater community.

I thank Deputy Moynihan very much. This is an interesting one.

It is an interesting one. I can most definitely empathise with Deputy Moynihan's points regarding the importance of community facilities.

I am taking this response on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for local government and planning, Deputy Burke. The title of this Topical Issue matter was picked up and taken by the planning department. The points raised by the Deputy, however, are much broader than the planning aspect necessarily. I accept completely what he said. I am not going to read response I have here because it talks about public consultation. I think the Department misinterpreted the point the Deputy was going to make or sought to raise on this Topical Issue matter.

The Deputy highlighted not-for-profit community organisations that provide resources for local people and communities and, in doing so, they should be aided and assisted by the State insofar as we can. While planning is one part of that, when we look at the different guises in which they might get that State funding and support, it tends to come with conditionality.

With many streams of State funding, the initial core funding for many of these projects tends to be to get them to a point where they have carried out a feasibility study and detailed design but, at the end of that first lot of money being spent, construction has not started. We do not have that physical building. The second part is the shovel-ready element. We have to get the balance right between supporting communities to deliver what is needed and ensuring what is delivered is right, but not overdo the bureaucracy.

I am very minded that this Topical Issue matter could just as easily have landed on the desk of, let us say, our colleague, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys. Her Department manages Our Rural Future through the town and village renewal scheme and community enhancement grants, which are obviously on the smaller scale. That is the funding body for many of these elements. One could also say that sports capital grants are an element of this because sports clubs, by their nature, provide these community facilities as well. Conditionality will always come with the sports capital money but that is something the Department is very good at navigating through. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, could talk at length on that element.

The Deputy made broad points, however. Whether it is through LEADER funding or otherwise, there is conditionality with all this funding. We, as a Government, have put in place much funding here, as well as in the urban side. The €2 billion in urban regeneration funding has been in place for some time. We had the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF, which the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, announced last year. That was a really significant investment across those larger urban areas. Some of the linkages of that were going into community groups as well.

The Deputy's point is a valid one, however, in terms of a whole-of-government approach to ensure we support community organisations to deliver what is needed. The community facilities the Deputy talked about are so important to our rural communities. I will bring his points on the planning side back to the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, but the points he raised are broader than that one Department. If he has specific examples in terms of blockages he has found in his constituency, I am happy to hear them and perhaps debate them further.

I have specific examples. I am mindful of the parliamentary regulations not to comment on or criticise any person or entity so I will respect that. We looked at this from the ground up. There should be recognition from the planning department and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, right across the Departments and down through to county development plans, that what we need here are clear guidelines on how community groups should be looked at and engaged with.

We engage with community groups in the very same as we do with large commercial entities. It is the same planning policy, regulation and detail. There should be clear guidance from the Department to local authorities around community groups. There are regulations in terms of agriculture, houses on farms and different things. There are clear guidelines along the way but there should be a clear guideline in recognition of the voluntary capacity in which people who set up voluntary and community organisations and do tremendous work go about their business. There should be clear recognition from the State to say we applaud the work that is done by voluntary and community groups, and that we are making a provision within the planning regulations to ensure these people are guided and helped through it and do not end up in a bureaucratic and legislative cul-de-sac. There should be clear guidance that local authorities and, indeed, Departments have to work through. There should be clear guidance and help from the State to all community and voluntary groups. They are ultimately providing a service for the State for the benefit of its citizens.

Again, I thank Deputy Moynihan for raising this important topic today. I concur and I will bring these points back to the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, and his officials in the planning department. There should be uniformity of approach here. Community groups looking to go through the planning process to deliver a community facility should not have different experiences depending on what local authority they are in or the mood or approach of the relevant chief executive, director of services and officials throughout that local authority.

It is, therefore, really important that we support them and that community groups are not necessarily put through the same rigours as big industry or a commercial entity in trying to deliver. Community groups are volunteers. They generally tend to have thrown their own day jobs. Sometimes, the onus on them can be considerable to deliver something that is not for any material gain to themselves but to the broader community. The point the Deputy made is a valid one. I will bring it back to the Minister of State and highlight those points.

Ukraine War

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for selecting this issue. Deputy Cannon planned to be in the Chamber for the Topical Issue debate on Tuesday and Wednesday but it does not suit him to be here today.

On the education side, many young Ukrainians, and primarily their mothers, will be overwhelmed on arrival by having to deal with such a dramatic change in their lives and the trauma of the recent past.

Their fathers might not be with them. This will be very difficult.

The first point of contact in the community will be through the schools. Already, we are seeing schools facilitating so many young people. There are many schools. Even in my own constituency today, I was copied into an email from a primary school that was written to the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley. It said that they are ready, willing and able. They want to help and they want to facilitate young people and young Ukrainians. While that process is overwhelming, I would like to especially acknowledge the officials who are working closely with organisations such as Dóchas and the Red Cross in trying to prepare the ground for such a massive undertaking. We are talking about over 100,000 individuals. In dealing with the trauma part of it, there will be a role for the schools. There will be a natural healing in getting students - young people and young Ukrainians - into the schools as quickly as possible so that they can be with people their own age. Obviously, other services will be needed. Our services are already stretched in this area. However, we have to ensure we have support systems for people who are dealing with severe trauma in this regard.

The Committee on European Union Affairs, which I chair, is being proactive. The Ukrainian ambassador will be before the committee next Tuesday. The Moldovan and Georgian ambassadors will be there too. We have reached out to the Romanian and Polish ambassadors. We want to be as proactive as possible to help on the humanitarian side. We are also looking at the real, urgent needs that Ukrainian citizens have at the moment.

The opposite of hope is despair. There is still so much hope out there when you speak to people. People are finding it difficult to deal with the visuals that they are seeing on social media and on television on a day-to-day and hour-to-hour basis. They are struggling with those visuals. That being said, people are trying to help. I believe there is such a capacity in the Ukrainian people who have become part of our communities over recent years. I am finding through my own office that individuals are reaching out to me, directly and indirectly, to offer help, such as in the area of translation. I know a particular Ukrainian individual who has translated for the HSE and has also been a support teacher in a secondary school. Politicians like myself and the Minister of State, in his office in Kildare, need to have a one-stop shop to direct that. I know this will not happen straight away. We will not have everything right straight away. It is important from an information point of view, where people are trying to help. I will add another point at the end. I acknowledge the role of both Ministers, Deputies McEntee and Humphreys, in the social protection aspect of this matter. That is already up and running so that people can get a personal public service, PPS, number quickly, which is so important. I am delighted to see such a pro-active approach in that regard.

I thank Deputy McHugh for raising this important matter and I thank the Minister of State for being here to deal with it.

I thank Deputy McHugh for raising an issue that is foremost in all of our minds across the Government right now. I know Deputy Cannon was working with the Deputy on it earlier in the week. I assure the Deputy and the House that along with officials in all Departments, including the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, on behalf of which I am participating in this Topical Issue debate, I share the Deputy’s concern. We are all working on it. We are monitoring the situation very closely. All Departments, particularly the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, which is quite a mouthful of a departmental name, are responding quickly and effectively in the event that Ukrainian nationals come to Ireland seeking international protection. We know they are doing so, and they have begun to do so already. They will do so in much greater numbers into the future.

The Department is working closely with key stakeholders, the European Commission, other EU agencies and other member states to be prepared for a sudden increase in individuals seeking international protection in the EU. The Department is ready to assist if the EU develops a more co-ordinated approach to supporting nationals from Ukraine. Deputy McHugh rightly highlighted that this is an evolving situation and one to which we are responding in real time. We will continue to do so as the picture becomes clearer about what is required in Ireland’s role in supporting people who need it. We are liaising with the Cabinet and with EU colleagues to ensure there is an effective humanitarian response, as well as a whole-of-government approach.

I can confirm that accommodation will initially be made available by the International Protection Accommodation Service, IPAS, within the Department, to those Ukrainian nationals who seek international protection in Ireland and require it. IPAS is providing accommodation to Ukrainian refugees arriving in Ireland. It is scaling up operations as the number of arrivals increases. Some 955 Ukraine nationals to date have sought IPAS accommodation. We are working across the Government to source accommodation from as many sources as possible. Officials are actively working to procure accommodation and supports for Ukrainian arrivals to Ireland through hotel accommodation in the first instance, as well as various accommodation solutions, including the use of modular housing on State-owned land.

We appreciate that many people may wish to make offers of accommodation to support people who are seeking temporary protection in Ireland. The Government is working with the Red Cross in this regard on the logistics. They have put in place a national pledge, the website of which has been launched and is available online at There has already been a remarkable response from the public, as the Deputy is aware. Over 10,000 pledges have already been received, showing the Irish céad míle fáilte hospitality, the sense of charity and the sense of outrage that our citizens share at what is happening to Ukrainian people right now. We all want to play our part to help.

As the Deputy will be aware, Ukrainian nationals arriving in Ireland at this time are being granted - if they wish to avail of it - temporary protection for at least one year. This means that Ukrainian nationals who are fleeing the conflict will be allowed to work. They will be given access to health services, accommodation, education for children and other social supports. Details of the new measures have been published on the Department of Justice’s Irish immigration website, Our colleagues, including the Ministers, Deputies McEntee and Humphreys, are all working in conjunction on the supports in that area. Last night, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth published a frequently asked questions document on its website to help people with any questions they may have. More information on supports and services has been published on

Departments are extremely busy working with colleagues across the Government to assist the humanitarian efforts regarding Ukraine. As this situation, which is unprecedented in our lifetimes, unfolds, our team's primary focus remains on critical operational matters as the situation evolves. IPAS staff, along with staff from Departments of Justice and Social Protection, are at the receiving area in Dublin Airport to provide PPS numbers as Ukrainian nationals arrive. The Department of Social Protection will also provide an income support through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. This is a weekly social welfare payment. It is also paid for adult and child dependants. Details of this are available on the Department website. I can go into further detail in a supplementary response.

I thank the Minister of State for a comprehensive response. I will conclude by saying that at this stage I think there are over 10,000 pledges by individuals who want to help and want to accommodate individuals and families in their homes. That has to be acknowledged. Yet, from speaking to people within the Red Cross, there has to be a level of patience in getting it right, through vetting and by ensuring it is done in a proper way.

I call on insurance companies to facilitate arrangements in respect of individuals and families who will go to rural areas and will be keen to have their own independence and freedom of movement. Should insurance companies look at stepping up to the plate if families decide to add people onto their own contracts with those companies? The insurance companies should step to the plate. I am calling on them to think about that. In rural areas, it can be more difficult for individuals to get around.

I mentioned in my earlier intervention, and I will finish on this, that without hope there is despair. The Irish people have responded in a way that has shown that there is hope and that there will be light at the end of the tunnel. I want to finish with a quote from a relatively new Ukrainian friend of mine. While I am not sure he will agree that we are on the friendship spectrum yet, I will take the liberty of saying so. I asked him how he thinks things will evolve. He just said, “I know our people are very strong and they will make it through”. I think we need to hear those words of hope.

There is light at the end of the tunnel but, for the moment, we will have to work hard and efficiently and ensure we do right for these many people who are relying on us.

The Government will not be found wanting in supporting the Ukrainian people. The 2016 census showed that 3,000 Ukrainian nationals were resident in Ireland at the time. They all have loved ones about whom they are greatly concerned and they may be looking to bring them here. We are taking a whole-of-government response to ensure we offer them all the supports they need. As I mentioned, there is the initial support of social protection and the supplementary welfare allowance for child dependants. Similarly, the HSE has a role to play in healthcare. Ukrainian nationals will be supported to access public primary and post-primary education, and Tusla will also provide assistance in these matters.

To date, all Ukrainians who have sought access to the IPAS system have been accommodated. We will continue to work hard to provide the additional accommodation that will be needed to meet the increased demand we expect. From 1 October to 9 March, 3,800 new arrivals sought international protection. We are aware pressure on the system will grow, which is why departmental officials are actively working to procure accommodation and supports for Ukrainian arrivals through hotel accommodation, in the first instance, and various other accommodation solutions.

The Deputy made a point about the need for industry and businesses such as insurance companies to take a mindful approach. We are taking a whole-of-government approach, including the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and Social Protection. All the Departments are working together in a co-ordinated way and we need business to support us in that regard. This unprecedented challenge will throw up many anomalies and we need to be agile to respond to them. The Government will not be found wanting in supporting these people. I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter.

Social Welfare Payments

I raise this issue because it concerns another example of difficult circumstances in which many people, whether they are carers or not, find themselves. It relates to the inability of people who care for a loved one to pay for the additional electricity consumption that caring for someone requires. As the Minister of State will be aware, many people find it easier to keep on top of electricity bills by using a pay-as-you-go meter. Unfortunately, they spend more this way but many people feel they must use a meter because they cannot take the chance of receiving an astronomically high electricity bill they might have difficulty paying. Carers, in particular, have to be mindful of these costs because they are under-resourced. They have to stretch every penny, as I am sure the Minister of State will agree.

This week, I was contacted by one such family. They care for their son, who has needs that require the assistance of certain medical devices and equipment. He is an 11-year-old boy who has a number of conditions, including cerebral palsy, sleep apnoea and epilepsy. Because of these conditions, he needs the assistance of a number of medical machines while at home. One of these is a high-flow oxygen concentrator. While it is known to be heavy on electricity, it is vital equipment. It is not the only machine he needs but it is a significant one. It is turned on every night from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and frequently during the day, which has a considerable impact on electricity use, meaning the increase in energy costs is really biting.

The family sent me a video in which they ran through the payment records on their meter. The increased costs are obvious. They are paying between €70 and €90 a week, yet the boy's mother has told me she gets between €64 and €70 every two weeks under the household benefits package, and that is before the impact that the increasing energy and fuel costs is having on securing other areas of treatment for the child, which I might get to later. When I spoke to the family this week, their question was whether the Government will increase the electricity allowance for carers.

Speaking about the budget is pointless, given we are into only the third month of 2022 and these are the issues facing families. I am sure the Minister of State will outline figures on the household benefits package and the €200 electricity subvention, which will be minus VAT, and so on, but the question remains. Other families are in similar circumstances. They may have loved ones at home who have exceptional needs that require specific supports. In many cases, maintaining these specific supports, such as the machine I referred to, involves costs that are hidden from the State. I say "hidden" because this family is not being supported to meet these additional costs. The costs are on them, hidden from view and forgotten about, and the families are left to get on with it.

I ask the Minister of State, on a compassionate basis, what the Government can do to address the needs of families such as the one I have mentioned. Given the rising costs that have been incurred by these families, is the Department considering taking the needs of carer families into account and providing them with further assistance to meet the increasing costs they are incurring by providing for their loved ones?

The household benefits, HHB, package comprises the electricity or gas allowance and a free television licence. The Department of Social Protection will spend approximately €273 million this year on the HHB package for more than 484,000 customers and their households. The package is available as a supplementary allowance to those in receipt of various social welfare payments, including but not limited to the carer's allowance, the State contributory and non-contributory pensions, and the widow, widower's or surviving civil partner's contributory pension. The electricity allowance is paid to all recipients, regardless of domestic meter type. The package is generally available to people living in the State aged 66 years or over who are in receipt of social welfare-type payment or who satisfy a means test. It is also available to some people under the age of 66 who are in receipt of certain welfare-type payments.

As part of the overall welfare budget package of €600 million in increases the Minister for Social Protection secured in 2022, she was pleased to be able to increase the fuel allowance payment by €5 per week, effective from budget night. This brought the weekly rate of payment to €33. In addition, as part of the budget, she increased the weekly income threshold for fuel allowance by €20, bringing it to €373.30 per individual. The fact fuel allowance is a means-tested payment ensures it is targeted at those most in need of it. These targeted increases were informed by ESRI research that indicated that certain household types, such as those living alone, were at higher risk of poverty than other households.

The Government is acutely aware of the increases in consumer prices in recent months, especially in regard to fuel and other energy prices. To mitigate the effects of these rising costs, it has announced additional expenditure measures totalling more than €500 million, which will make a positive impact on the incomes of all households. The issue is multifaceted and the Government has responded across a range of Departments’ services. As part of these measures, an additional lump sum payment of €125 will be paid to all households in receipt of the fuel allowance payment. It is expected this will be paid soon, within the month, at an estimated cost of €49 million. An energy credit of €200 including VAT, which is estimated to impact just over 2 million households, will be paid in April. Furthermore, a temporary 20% reduction in public transport fares will apply from April until the end of the year. The original Sláintecare report proposed a reduction in the drugs payment scheme from €144 to €100, and the Government has decided to reduce this further, to €80. This will benefit just over 70,000 families. The working family payment, increased on budget day, will be brought forward from 1 June to 1 April. Caps in respect of multiple children on school transport fees will be reduced to €500 per family at post-primary and €150 for primary school children.

The recently announced electricity costs emergency benefit payment is a key measure being developed by the Government to mitigate the effects of the recent unprecedented increase in electricity prices. The scheme, under the auspices of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications and supervised by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, will be paid in addition to the gas and electricity element of the HHB package to qualifying households. Approximately 2.1 million households will benefit by €200 from the new scheme. The President recently signed the required legislation and it is expected payments will begin in April 2022. Furthermore, due to the continuing rise in inflation as part of the economic consequences of the tragic conflict in Ukraine, the Government decided yesterday to reduce excise duty on fuel, with effect from midnight last night. The Department of Social Protection operates both an exceptional and urgent-needs payment as part of a supplementary welfare allowance scheme for people who have an urgent need they cannot meet from their own resources. These payments are available through community welfare officers, with whom all of us will be familiar.

All further measures will be considered, while taking account of the overall Government policy and budgetary constraints. The Government will keep these measures under constant review, with a focus on the cost of living, not least for the most vulnerable in society.

As I predicted, the Minister of State rattled off figures from the budget and mentioned some of the other measures the Government has brought in, but carers have told me, and I have no doubt they have told him too, that the measures are not enough for them. I told him about the video I received. That family's electricity bill has jumped from €197 to €349 in five months, so a once-off €200 payment will make but a slight difference for them for one month. On top of the domestic demands they face, they have the travel costs associated with attending appointments for young Alex.

This week, travelling to Temple Street, the parents put €70 of fuel in the car, which only half-filled the tank. Accommodation and food also had to be paid for. They ask how they are expected to live and call on the Departments of Social Protection and Health to increase supports for carers who are in such circumstances. The family also pointed out that the Government is pushing for electric cars. There is no point in that if there are no electric wheelchair adaptable cars.

Families who are looking after ill loved ones are among the family carers who have kept much of the pressure off the hospitals, especially during the pandemic. For decades, they have provided a service that saves the Government an estimated €20 billion each year. I am asking for some compassion and for someone to review the situation of Alex's family and others and give them an extra bit of help. That is all they are looking for. There are not many families in this position. Considering this family's electricity bill jumped from €197 to €349 in the space of a couple of months, the €200 payment will only help for a couple of weeks. After that, these families will be in severe trouble again.

I thank the Minister of State for taking my questions and for his time.

I thank Deputy Martin Browne. All Deputies deal with carers in our constituency offices and in the course of our daily work as parliamentarians, and we are in awe of the fantastic work they do. That is why the State provides supports for people on fixed incomes who are providing such a vital service to a loved one. The State recognises that this service is of huge value.

I accept there are difficult challenges. There is the impact of the conflict in Ukraine. The increase in the cost of living was a problem before that but it has been exacerbated by the conflict. That is why people on carer's allowance qualify for the household benefits package.

The Deputy stated that I had rattled off a lot of figures. There are a lot of different figures because we take a whole-of-government approach to this matter.

Family Carers Ireland says it is not enough.

It is not only the €200 payment. As I said, we also have a community welfare system. In individual cases that do not fit the norm, community welfare officers provide support that may be needed for a time, including to meet exceptional needs.

I outlined many interventions the Government has made since the budget. A record budget has been provided to the Department of Social Protection for 2022. An additional €500 million package was announced in February to mitigate the cost of living. We also had a cut in excise duty yesterday. This is the response of a Government acutely aware of the challenges that people are facing and working to support them in every way it can. In individual cases such as the one the Deputy outlined, measures are in place to have them looked at on a case-by-case basis.

The Government will not be found wanting in supporting people. We know the pressure people are experiencing. I outlined many of the supports in place. The Department of Social Protection provides a number of more targeted payments to help people with their household costs. These include the fuel allowance, the living alone allowance, the telephone support allowance and, in particular, exceptional and urgent needs payments as part of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme for people who have an urgent need they cannot meet from their own resources, as the Deputy outlined. The Government will support people at this difficult time.

The Government needs to realise that these families save €20 billion a year. What would happen if they withdrew the service they provide tomorrow morning?

That is why we are supporting them.

It is not enough.

National Transport Authority

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this issue. Having had the pleasure of sitting through the earlier Topical Issue debates, I often think this portion of the week better reflects the work I do in my clinic every week and probably the work every other Deputy in this House does.

We are all committed to active travel. The Government has invested more in this area than any other Government. We are doing so to deal with climate change. Across Dublin, I see examples of how that investment is being turned into more cycle lanes and better access for people with disabilities and pedestrians. However, in one location, the interchange at the M1-R104, better known as the Oscar Traynor roundabout, we are not seeing those improvements. It is a classic tale of two local authorities and a transport authority not coming together to service the needs of a community that is divided as a result of an outdated form of roads engineering project that did not take account of cycling and walking.

Children living in Oak Park, Royal Oak, Santry Villas or any other part of Santry who attend Gaelscoil Cholmcille must effectively cross a motorway interchange to get to school. One traffic survey in 2017 found there were more than 3,000 traffic movements between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. at that junction. As Members can imagine, this makes it impossible for a child on a bike. We can imagine a young mother or father taking young children to school and trying to negotiate what is effectively a motorway interchange.

I would not normally bring an issue such as this to the House but in this case, the north side of the roundabout is dealt with by Fingal County Council, the south side is dealt with by Dublin City Council, and the National Transport Authority, through Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, manages the roundabout. Nobody seems to be availing of the considerable resources the Government has put in place to ensure there is proper cycling and pedestrian facilities at this interchange. I ask the Department of Transport to take an active interest in this issue to ensure that one of the local authorities takes the lead on it and that it is supported by the TII. In all of that, we must ensure there are better facilities on the ground for the people who need them.

I thank Deputy McAuliffe for raising this important issue in his constituency. I am responding to this Topical Issue on behalf of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan.

As the Deputy will be aware, the programme for Government sets out an ambitious and wide-ranging set of commitments in relation to walking and cycling, supported by an increased multi-annual budgetary allocation amounting to some €1.8 billion over the lifetime of the Government. From 2021 to 2025, we will see 20% of our total transport budget, approximately €360 million per annum, invested in Ireland's walking and cycling infrastructure to provide a safe and connected network for those who commute, walk or cycle to work or school and those who walk and cycle on our more recreation-focused greenway network.

The Minister was recently delighted to recently announce an allocation of €289 million to local authorities to fund active travel infrastructure in 2022. This funding will support approximately 1,200 projects throughout the length and breadth of the country to make walking and cycling in our villages, towns and cities safe and sustainable.

Coolock Lane junction, which the Deputy highlighted, is located at the intersection of the R104 regional road and the M50. A section of motorway previously designated as the M1 was redesignated as part of the M50. The current arrangements at this location, as the Deputy rightly highlighted, are not pedestrian- or cycle-friendly. Similar to other projects developed in the same timeframe, this junction was designed as part of a motorway, with the objective of maximising vehicular traffic movement.

As the boundary between Fingal and Dublin City Council areas runs through this junction, any proposal for development of pedestrian and cycling facilities would involve a number of parties, namely, Fingal County Council, Dublin City Council and Transport Infrastructure Ireland given the proximity of the Dublin Port tunnel and the national road status of the corridor. I have no doubt the Deputy has raised this matter with officials in the local authorities as well.

The National Transport Authority is fully supportive of improving the pedestrian and cycling facilities at this location and has had discussions with some of the relevant parties on the potential for such enhancements. It is a matter for one or other of the local authorities to develop proposals to address the deficiencies at this location. In such circumstances, the National Transport Authority is prepared to fund either Fingal County Council or Dublin City Council to undertake the design and planning phase for a scheme to enhance the pedestrian and cycle movement at this junction and to obtain planning consent for the proposal. That is positive news. As regards any subsequent construction, the National Transport Authority expects to be able to fully fund such implementation. However, this is subject to confirmation of the final design and can only be confirmed at that stage.

The current framework for road safety is set out in the Government's fifth road safety strategy. The Road Safety Authority has overall responsibility for overseeing implementation. On 15 December 2021, the Government and the Road Safety Authority launched Ireland's Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030, along with an associated action plan for the first phase of the strategy running from 2021-2024. The programme for Government 2020 commits to the introduction of "an ambitious road safety strategy targeting the vision zero principle" and "a new road safety strategy focused on reducing death and injuries of vulnerable road users, pedestrians, and cyclists". The new strategy meets these objectives. The strategy aims to deliver a 50% reduction in road deaths and serious injuries by 2030. The phase 1 targets are a 15% reduction in deaths in the period and a reduction of 10% in serious injuries. This will be a major step on the way to the EU vision zero target of zero deaths or serious injuries by 2050.

The strategy adopts a safe systems approach.

This is recommended as best practice by the UN, the EU and the WHO. It is a holistic approach that takes into account all factors, including allowing for the fact that even with the best systems, people will make mistakes, and so such areas as road design and emergency response need to be tailored to this reality.

I say all that in the context of the junction on Coolock Lane highlighted by Deputy McAuliffe. It is an area that fits with the type of improvement that is supported by the State agencies in conjunction with the local authorities.

It is very welcome to hear the news that the National Transport Authority, NTA, is prepared to fund either Fingal County Council of Dublin City Council, subject to the details of an application. Oscar Traynor Road has been in the news for many other reasons, not least because of the new housing project that Dublin City Council will construct on the site for affordable, social and cost-rental housing involving up to 800 homes. Those homes, and additional new homes built in Santry village, put extra demand on the area. There is real frustration that the infrastructure is not keeping up with the homes are coming on stream. This roundabout is a classic example of how we can easily demonstrate how we are going to invest in infrastructure as much as in housing.

We have heard in the news about lots of controversial cycling projects. They often involve politicians being climate-brave and communities being climate-brave as well and rewarding people who are willing to take difficult decisions and compromises to tackle climate action. This roundabout does not involve us being climate-brave. This interchange involves applying a bit of logic. No one is objecting to the facilities here. I encourage the chief executives of the two local authorities involved to take up the offer outlined by the Minister of State that the NTA will fund a project of this nature and that it will have a real benefit for the residents I spoke about in Santry, in Oak Park and Royal Oak, and in the Coolock area. I thank the Minister of State. I very much appreciate his response.

Deputy McAuliffe has an offer to bring back to the chief executives. It is on the record of the House that the offer of support is there and we need them to drive on the project now. I thank the Deputy for raising the matter and making his contribution to the discussion today. It is great to see investment in active travel starting to bear fruit.

The Government is keen to accelerate the delivery of sustainable transport modes as we come out of the majority of Covid restrictions. It is vital that we do not allow a return to gridlock as we come out of the pandemic.

Deputy McAuliffe referred to politicians needing to be climate-brave. This is a quality-of-life issue. It is about us making a modal shift. According to the Central Statistics Office, CSO, 29% of trips currently are less than 2 km, and 57% of those are made by car. Moreover, of trips up to 6 km, 79% are made by car. Local authorities and the NTA have been provided with an unprecedented increase in funding for additional staff for active travel to help deliver all the necessary infrastructure to enable more of the longer journeys to be made by walking and cycling, in particular in heavily populated urban areas such as the one highlighted by Deputy McAuliffe today.

The increase in the number of people opting to make journeys by walking or cycling during the period of Covid-19 restrictions shows the potential to make real strides in a modal shift away from fossil-fuelled vehicles and towards more sustainable modes of transport. The funding committed to in budget 2022 for investment in sustainable transport projects is proof of the Government’s commitment to active travel. I look forward to the development of active travel plans that will promote sustainable transport options for people across the country and in the area of Coolock Lane highlighted by the Deputy today.