Dublin Port Transport Umbrella Group, the Irish Road Haulage Association and Irish Exporters’ Association: Presentation.

With regard to privilege, I draw attention to the fact that members of this committee have absolute privilege but this same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before the committee. I also wish to remind members of long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House, or an official by name, in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Before us today we have the Transport Umbrella Group, the Irish Road Haulage Association and the Irish Exporters' Association. Each group has a maximum of five minutes to make their case to the committee. We will call either Mr. Jerry Kiersey, chairman of the Transport Umbrella Group, or Mr. Cormac Rabbitt. Who will make your presentation?

Mr. Jerry Kiersey

I will make the opening statement and Mr. Rabbitt will make the main submission.

You have a maximum of five minutes.

Mr. Kiersey

Thank you, Chairman, for welcoming us to the committee. The most important thing we can do today is present our solutions rather than discuss any of the other submissions we made. I will pass over to Mr. Rabbitt.

Mr. Cormac Rabbitt

The members have a set of overheads before them which outline the engineering case for the tunnel. A number of issues arise and I will go through them one by one. The reason for the tunnel, according to the DTO and the EIS, was specifically to remove trucks from the city quays, complement the development of port activities and to serve EC assisted port facilities investment. That is a hierarchy that is given in all submissions. It is a port tunnel for trucks and it is a strategic EU primary route.

I would like to emphasise that nobody is looking for extra height in trucks and anybody who puts out that rumour is wrong. The purpose is to accommodate existing trucks. Legislation from the early 1960s refers to a height of 4.25 metres. The height of the tunnel which will accommodate trucks has been endorsed and licensed by the Departments of the Environment and Transport over the past 20 years. No increase was sought. We are saying that the NRA or Dublin City Council has no right to dictate national policy and the roads are a strategic national policy.

The directive does not deal with height, despite the fact that we were told it does. The EU Commission does not deal with height issues. We were told that tunnels throughout Europe are built smaller than the one in Dublin. They are not. The space is available. The carriageways are 3.5 metres wide - two of them measure 7 metres, which I emphasise - but members can see on the slides the tunnels in Germany and Switzerland. The one in Switzerland is particularly interesting because it links Zurich with Berne and Lucene in Italy and Chur in Austria. It is transcontinental; it links countries. The tunnel on the right in Spain is 5.29 metres. That is the height of tunnels throughout Spain. They can take a 4.8 metre truck.

On the relevant HGV survey, the only survey that has any relevance is one done on national routes or within the port. If they had done that ten years ago, when all our exports went through Larne and Belfast, they would have got nothing. The NRA has no database on it, which is like a hospital not having a database on patients or health care.

They say it is best practice but I outline five reasons it is not best practice. Members can see the ducts on top, the under-floor and so on. While there are many best practice features in the tunnel, not all of them are contained in it.

On the horizontal design standards, what are the standards? What are the standards here? What are the British standards or the standards adopted in other countries? The standards are that the verges need to be 1 metre wide, but they are not. On "Morning Ireland" this morning they said we had difficulty with safety issues because we are compromising the width of the footpath. I am on slide 9 now. The width of the footpath has to be 1 metre; we are complying with the Irish standard. If members refer to slide 10, they will see the existing position and the solution - NRA standard dual carriageway. On page 11 members will see a diagram taken from the NRA's own handbook - Standard Dual Carriageway, D2AP. That shows a width of 7 metres. It also shows the hard strip and members will see that the distance from the hard strip on the carriageway is 1 metre. That is the verge or the footpath width. That is acceptable. These are motorways that are being built in Ireland. There are motorways throughout France to this standard and with this width of carriageway. It is an international carriageway width standard and what is being said is not correct.

I will move on now to slide 13, which contains a summary. Extending the existing verges/footpaths to 1.15 or 1.05 will provide the extra height of 5.3 metres. There is also another section on the tunnel, the cover section, which is just north of the tunnel-boring machine where they are digging a big trench to put in the tunnel. I have already made that 0.5 of a metre wider. The other tunnel is 9.5 metres. This one is 10 metres, so they have an extra half metre. Also, by bringing in the verges there will be more than enough height.

I have looked at the calculations, the heights and diagrams and it can be fitted in to standard. We are bringing it up to the international standards and what we are asking for is within the framework. This is like providing a swimming pool of 49 metres when it should be 50 metres. All the road bridges in Ireland are built to a certain standard height. The investment in existing bridges and infrastructure must be down the drain.

On the cost aspect, which is an important issue, as we are not recommending the change of floor height, I do not know where cost comes into this at all. It would be possible to lower the floor, if that was necessary, but that would entail an extra cost.

Mr. Kiersey

Chairman, I have one final point. In the National Roads Authority's own report, published last week, one would think it was designing roads specifically for trucks. In the report there are three photographs of different trucks that are on our national motorways, designed by the NRA, which will not get through the port tunnel. They are all licensed by this State and carry Irish registrations. This morning, on RTE, they stated there was a European ban on supertrucks. We have no knowledge of a ban on trucks anywhere. It is more of the spin.

Thank you, Mr. Kiersey and Mr. Rabbitt. I now call Mr. Eamonn Morrissey, President of the Irish Road Haulage Association.

Thank you, Chairman. Thirty years ago Ireland joined the EEC. In the same year, the IRHA was formed. Also in 1973, John Sheridan, then President of the SIMI, said that the cost to the nation of the traffic congestion in our cities and approach roads was far too great to allow the present state of affairs to continue. Could the same comments ring true today?

As transport operators, we must consult with and provide modern, up-to-date solutions in order to fulfil the customers' requirements. It is not enough that we meet the requirements of today. We must look to the future and be prepared to change and develop our industry to meet the customers' demands in the future.

The Irish road haulage industry is among the most progressive in Europe and has developed without any support or grant aid from either Government or the EC. Our contribution to revenue goes unnoticed. Our contribution to society goes unanswered but we dare not raise any issues that are relevant to our industry. Why should we worry about the height of the port tunnel? Why should we worry about what is even now being called the "mad cow" roundabout? Why should we worry when we hear that traffic congestion on the M50 is so bad that it would block the proposed exit from the tunnel to the M50? That can happen today without any of the 9,000 heavy goods vehicles that are due to exit the port through the tunnel. Should we bring our concerns to the attention of the relevant authorities and in doing so, will we be listened to, or will our concerns about the results of bad planning once more fall on deaf ears? While it appears to us that planners and the statutory authorities are not prepared to listen, these same bodies portray us through the media as a self-interested group, apparently trying to further the cause for our own gain.

It should be noted that because of the competitive nature of our business, road transport costs are cheaper today than they were 20 years ago. Can the same be said of other professions? The people represented by the IRHA are the people who service the country seven days per week, 24 hours per day, travelling the roads of Ireland, the United Kingdom and Europe. Would anyone consider the experience gained by the haulage industry could be of benefit to planners in their endeavours to overcome potential traffic problems?

We are not looking to score points. We merely hope for co-operation and, most importantly, compromise so that we may fulfil our customers' demands. Are we not entitled to ask the authorities to listen to and be prepared to plan for their customers' demands? Is it not in everybody's interest that we plan for our country's industry now and for the future?

The NRA and the DTO may not regard us as customers but we are paying customers and they are service providers. Remarks such as those made last week in the Dáil worry me and the industry regarding what we are to expect. If this is this the attitude that is to be taken by the authorities, let us ignore the progress that has been made by our transport industry to fulfil the requirements of industry. If 4.65 metres is the height of the port tunnel, why introduce the limit nationwide where there is no height limitation today? Let us increase the number of vehicles needed in order to service industry and the country. Let us burn more fuel and increase greenhouse gases. Let the politicians explain to the consumer why the cost of everyday items in shops is increasing.

What is the reason for that? It is that someone was not prepared to listen to plain common sense. High-cube vehicles exist for a reason - they are both efficient and cost effective for carrying specific products between Ireland and the UK, our biggest trading partner, and they have been in use now for a number of years. Why is it so difficult, when the transport industry is prepared to listen, co-operate and plan with the users of transport, to have compromise in regard to allowing a small percentage of the vehicles required to service part of our country's industry transit Dublin city on a daily basis?

When did Dublin become Ireland? Dublin and its authorities cannot and must not be allowed to dictate the transport policy of the country. People in authority must listen. The haulage industry has a country to service and it must be serviced in a cost-effective manner. The port tunnel will take approximately 9,000 vehicles out of Dublin city each day. Can we not compromise by allowing the remainder of these vehicles to transit Dublin city, or are the relevant Dublin authorities to be seen as the new governors of Ireland?

Today, the bridges built on our new road infrastructure are set at 5.3 metres in height. The ferries that service the Irish Sea have an operating height of 5.1 metres. What are we to perceive as the real problem with the port tunnel? Is it change or cost? It is cost. The Government cannot and is not willing to put any more money into the port tunnel and this appears to be the case in regard to many other projects. The transport industry and the consumer must suffer and pay the price once again for bad planning. In this case, however, there is an alternative and it has been there for as long as Dublin Port. There is also a problem because somebody said that no trucks would be allowed in or through Dublin city when the tunnel is opened. Industry requires compromise, not Ian Paisley-like attitudes.

Finally, I wish to dispel any concerns with regard to the safety of high-cube trailers. These trailers are manufactured to the highest standard and fulfil the requirements of the Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I cannot be sure of the vision John Sheridan had in mind for the year 2003 but founding member and past president Sam Dix, who operated his transport business from the Dublin quays for many years, would have had a different vision from the one the transport industry is experiencing today.

I am grateful for the opportunity to address the committee.

Mr. John Whelan is chief executive officer of the Irish Exporters Association.

Mr. John Whelan

In the past ten years economic growth in Ireland has been three times that of the EU and the OECD. In the process, the country's infrastructure has been severely strained, to the point that it has become an issue for both multinational corporations and indigenous businesses. The committee will have read in the newspapers last week the strong point made by the chief executive of Dell about the logistical efficiency of operating out of Ireland. It is not surprising, therefore, that the recently published IMD international competitiveness directory shows logistical efficiency in Ireland at 46th out of 100 OECD countries. We have a problem and it must be confronted.

As 98% of all merchandise exports and imports move through seaports and two-thirds of this is through Dublin Port, a significant focus of logistical inefficiency is the access to Dublin Port. The Dublin Port tunnel is a key element of the national development plan's strategy to deliver a more efficient transport system for Ireland. The tunnel was planned to take 9,000 heavy goods vehicles off the congested city centre roads every day and, in the process, save exporters an estimated €1.65 million in logistical costs per week. Even more importantly, however, it would enable a return to known-time definite delivery schedules by exporters to reach key customers and for imported goods to meet production schedules. These are critical items.

The Irish Exporters Association position on port access for the past decade was to accelerate the commencement of the project in the first instance and, since then, the completion of the Dublin Port tunnel on schedule. However, there has been a significant lack of consultation by the NRA and the traffic section of Dublin City Council on the specific requirements of those moving goods to and from the port of Dublin and the changing nature of our trading and competitive position.

The particular concerns of port users are as follows. First, there is the difficulty of the operating height being restricted to 4.65 metres. More important, and a problem that is likely to emerge much sooner, is the ability of the access and exit facilities at both ends of the port tunnel efficiently to handle 9,000 trucks a day. There is no indication on the NRA's plans on how that will be managed. The regulations for moving hazardous and dangerous goods through the tunnel have not been handled and, if they are barred, what are the alternative transit routes through Dublin? The facilities for allowing a free run for the trucks down the tunnel also need to be discussed to ensure efficient handling of trucks through the tunnel. The arrangement for heavy goods vehicles which are barred from using the tunnel have not been discussed or handled in a businesslike manner with the organisations involved. Efficient transit through Dublin for HGVs which cannot or in certain instances logistically should not use the tunnel is essential to the competitiveness of the Irish export industry. This matter must be taken seriously. It is an important competitiveness issue for exporters, not a bandwagon to deal with the issue of truck height. There is a competitiveness issue across the board for exporters. With two-thirds of all trade going through Dublin it must be taken seriously.

There is overwhelming evidence that an operator clearance height of 5.1 metres is the new standard for accepting HGVs onto ships. The Irish FerriesUlysses has a deck clearance of 5.1 metres, as has the Stena Line Challenger and the P&O European Ferries Ambassador. These vessels carry approximately 75% of all ro/ro traffic out of Dublin. Road developers in western Europe and the UK have all accepted the new standard of 5.3 metres for motorway bridge heights. HGV manufacturers, particularly those in the UK, are increasingly taking advantage of the higher operating height to build large-cube vehicles with a height of 4.88 metres. It is a competitiveness issue. If one can build it and it can move goods more competitively, that is the way to go.

It would be economic folly to ignore the trends in goods movement in our largest trading partner, the UK, which last year accounted for 23% of total exports and 35% of total imports. There is clear evidence in the UK of a growing trend to large-cube vehicles which have the advantage of few trucks per load, lower cost per journey and better efficiencies in low-cost vital goods movements. We must embrace new logistical trends. We cannot allow ourselves to fall behind in the international logistical efficiency tables. Ranking is carried out by multinationals when deciding where to make their investments and we must ensure that exporters can be competitive from Ireland. If we cannot accommodate or do not wish to accommodate large-cube vehicles through the port tunnel, we must provide efficient, alternative routes through the city to the port.

The ostrich approach will not work. The problem is here and must be confronted. Export logistical efficiency is the bedrock of an island economy with its major markets overseas.

The objective of constructing the Dublin Port tunnel was to remove heavy goods vehicles from the city centre. That is the reason the tunnel was constructed and it was the basis on which the funding was provided. It seems farcical now to have to discuss allowing heavy goods vehicles to go through the city and clog the streets again.

There seem to be many disputed figures about the number of five metre high vehicles expected to use the port tunnel now and in the future. There is much debate about this so perhaps the delegates would give their opinion on it and on the estimated numbers. Perhaps they would also elaborate on the number of smaller vehicles that will have to be used if the high vehicles are banned from Irish roads, the impact that will have on costs for exporters and its environmental impact. In addition, what impact will it have on the export of computer goods and other such materials from Dell and Gateway, or food imports? Given rising inflation, competitiveness is an issue for the Government at the moment and, because the UK is our biggest import and export market, it will have an impact upon us.

Regarding the Minister's proposal on tolls, is it envisaged to toll heavy goods vehicles going through the port tunnel? If that is the case, is there not an EU directive which requires an alternative non-toll route to be put in place?

What is the projected cost of changing the specification of the tunnel to the NRA standard? Will it mean that new contracts will have to be negotiated? If so, there will be an additional cost. We have heard that it could cost up to €100 million or more to change the port tunnel. What are your estimates on that? I understand that the actual bore of the two tunnels is in excess of 10 metres in diameter. What is the average height of tunnels in the rest of Europe compared to the port tunnel under construction here?

The transport of hazardous chemicals is a topical issue given the number of recent incidents in west Dublin. Will such transports have to go through the city centre after the port tunnel is opened? Is there any logical reason they cannot go through the port tunnel? Will additional measures have to be put in place to address that?

When we met the port tunnel representatives, it was clarified for us that heavy goods vehicles or HGVs would not be tolled.

The Minister has made a subsequent announcement about that.

I have not heard that one.

I welcome the delegation here today.

I concur with what Deputy Naughten has said. In the last few weeks, the Minister announced his intention to sell the port tunnel; the deal would be that tolls would be introduced for trucks. I know it makes no sense, but that is what he announced. I have been closely involved in the Dublin Port tunnel project from the early to mid-1990s through my membership of Dublin City Council because a large part of the tunnel is to be located in my own constituency. It is incredible that it is only at this stage that they are coming forward to talk about height restrictions. The height of the tunnel was set in the mid-1990s and the construction was based on that, as was the EIS, but no one came forward at that time. It is literally only in the past few months that the matter has been raised. I cannot understand that. Were you caught napping or have things changed so much?

Mr. Whelan

Can we respond at this stage? I am not quite sure what the format is.

No, I am sorry, you cannot.

It is expected that you will respond at the end.

I just cannot understand it. Even if the height was to be increased now, will you come back in five years time looking for it to be increased again? It does not seem a very efficient way in which to work. I have been closely involved in the project and never once has the height issue arisen up to this year. There is probably too much emphasis on the port tunnel in respect of the height of trucks. Apart from the physical barrier to the increased height of trucks that the tunnel would represent, by and large, people are not comfortable with the idea of super-trucks travelling through their streets. Whether it is in towns, villages or even on motorways, they are not comfortable with that.

Is it not the case that in most other European countries there are height restrictions? Is it not the case that height restrictions here were in line with Europe up to the year 2000? The Minister has belatedly announced his intention of reintroducing those restrictions, which would be welcomed on environmental and safety grounds by most people. It might have been better if you had presented us with the facts this morning and told us what the practice is in other countries. We do not have any kind of table on that, however. Are you claiming that the intended height restrictions are out of line with other European countries? If so, with which countries are they out of line?

Apart from the tunnel's safety concerns, there remains the issue of the very large number of bridges. What information have you got on the height of those bridges? Are you looking for all those to be raised too? Where is this discussion going? That is what I do not understand. We would all be keen to hear the implications for the industry of the reintroduction of the height limits. The Minister has announced his intention to reintroduce the height limits some time this summer. What alternative approaches can be taken by the industry? Is there a potential to increase the capacity of trucks by length or width rather than height? What are the arguments for one over the other?

I join my colleagues in welcoming the presentations we have heard. The Irish Road Haulage Association and the Irish Exporters Association, who are ultimately the main customers of the port tunnel, have made a case that deserves to be examined by us in some detail.

Mr. Rabbitt may not have had enough time to outline his presentation. I am not an engineer, so could he explain simply what exactly he is proposing as a solution? I have looked though the documentation which is useful but perhaps he could outline his proposal in a nutshell. He might also indicate if he has had any contact with the NRA on this matter. If not, we might invite representatives from the NRA to appear before the committee together with Mr. Rabbitt, who is the person who seems to be suggesting a solution. The other gentlemen have made their case clearly but I propose that we should invite the NRA, if some other information is not already available based on what might be explained following any contacts Mr. Rabbitt has had to date. The matter certainly warrants further examination. Today's has been something of an introductory approach.

I might not necessarily agree with everything that has been said by my colleague regarding what is currently happening but the reality is that, regardless of whether you were caught napping on this matter, the situation is being presented to us now. It is therefore incumbent on all of us to work towards a solution that will not come back to haunt us in five or ten years. I understand the port tunnel has an expected life span of 100 years so obviously whatever decisions are taken at this point will be critical. From a rural perspective it is not so much an issue for me but I clearly understand that the transportation of goods is a national issue rather than one of getting goods to and from the port of Dublin.

We do not have much information on supercube trucks but I am familiar with what they do. I would prefer to see the supercube approach rather than what has become commonplace in the US regarding transportation of goods, which is two articulated trailers. The use of two trailers attached to one tractor unit is a far more intimidating prospect for people using motorways and dual carriageways than one supercube with a single unit attached. I would be anxious to try to accommodate that solution in whatever way we can rather than going down the US route.

I thank the delegations for their excellent presentations. Members of the committee have visited the port tunnel site. How long have these cube trucks been on Irish roads? Deputy Shortall and others appear to think it is a new phenomenon. Would you also verify that you do not seek increased heights? The Transport Umbrella Group has outlined the proportion of trucks that will not fit through the tunnel. We hear a different figure every day. NITL was commissioned to undertake a complete survey of the port, including all points of exit and egress. When will the result of the survey be made public? When members of the committee visited the port tunnel site we were given some figures but were told they were premature. I was told by NITL that they would be completed today for this meeting and I understood it would release them to the committee. We would then know and clarify once and for all the number of trucks surveyed. On a radio programme last night, a person mentioned that 500,000 trucks had been surveyed. It transpires that this figure included oil carriers and covered only one of the four points of entry.

What are the growth trends for the sector? Presumably these can be extrapolated from what has happened over the past five or ten years. Is there a move to using larger trucks? If they are to be used, what will it mean in terms of reduced frequency of trips? What effects will this have on the environment and those aspects of the Kyoto Protocol dealing with emissions?

It is suggested that when the port tunnel is operational all trucks will be removed from the quays. I understand that will not be the case. What are your figures in this regard? The NRA has advised me it does not know how it will cater for trucks on the M50 if and when it is being upgraded in three to five years. When the port tunnel is operational, as many as 9,000 additional trucks will have to use the M50, which may at that time be an upgrading building site. Have you discussed the implications of this with the NRA? If it transpires, truckers and their agencies will have a reduced incentive to use the M50 and the port tunnel. You may end up seeking alternative routes around the city.

I listened carefully to Mr. Whelan's presentation on the competitiveness aspect of the debate. The country faces a number of competitiveness issues in terms of getting goods in and out, including wage costs and inflation. As an island nation this is the last problem we need. In view of this, the issues raised by Mr. Whelan are important, not only for the port tunnel but also for other transport issues.

We in Limerick will shortly embark on building a tunnel under the River Shannon and in view of this, I would like to know how we are to bring closure to this saga concerning heights. Members of the committee have visited the port tunnel site and this relatively minor issue has detracted from a fantastic infrastructure project. An enormous feat of engineering is under way beneath the city. In this respect, the debate surrounding the tunnel is a little disappointing. Who must make the decisions and make the necessary compromises to bring closure to this issue?

The committee needs hard information on the situation in mainland regarding regulations. What types of truck will be allowed to travel on European roads and tunnels in the years ahead? I am not an expert in this area but I would like information to ensure that we are complying with European standards.

Mr. Morrissey of the Irish Road Haulage Association made an interesting point that compromise should be possible by taking on board the concerns of the industry and hauliers by allowing the remainder of vehicles not capable of entering the tunnel to transit Dublin city. He went on to ask if the relevant Dublin authorities are to be seen as the new governors of Ireland. I ask Mr. Morrissey to elaborate on the kind of compromise he has in mind. If it is not technically possible to get over this difficulty and if Mr.Rabbitt's proposal is not to be taken on board by the NRA engineers, I would like to consider the other alternatives.

It seems incredible that the NRA and the local authorities would not hold a fair amount of consultation with at least the Irish Road Haulage Association and the exporters' association to determine their requirements given that this infrastructure project is being built solely for their benefit. When were you consulted and this issue considered? When did it come to your notice? This is fundamental to this debate.

It is amazing that when a body is asked to design a port tunnel it would not consult properly with those using it. Who do the delegations consider to be ultimately responsible for the height restrictions and the associated problems? What percentage of trucks will be able to use the tunnel? The Minister of State, Deputy McDaid, advised the Seanad last week that 99.2% of trucks will be able to use it. As far as I am aware, that is incorrect and you might clarify this.

What are your views on the rail freight area and how do you consider a proper transport system could include the rail freight option? It would continue to involve hauliers transporting goods from train stations. If we transport all goods on roads that will have dangerous consequences. How do you consider you could work with rail freight to the benefit of consumers and businesses?

What percentage of trucks are classed as cubed trucks and what is the estimate for the percentage in ten years' time? The reason I ask this is that what we are putting in place will be around for the next 100 years. What is the cost to industry of being forced to use the lower-capacity vehicles? The costs will be higher in some industries than in others, presumably depending on the goods concerned. Although we do not expect exact figures, you might have an idea of the costs.

On the vertical solution, No. 14 in Mr.Rabbitte's presentation, how will the suggested increase of 0.3 metres affect the carriageway for vehicles travelling on it? It will reduce the overall width of the two lanes by 0.6 metres. Where is it envisaged that that will have an effect? Is the carriageway which will be left on both lanes suitable and will there be no major problems for vehicles travelling on it at reasonably high speeds? We can take it this will be a reasonably high-speed tunnel whether we like it or not.

Mr. Whelan

First, I apologise to the females present. I was addressing my comments to the panel here and I did not realise that when I was addressing the audience, or the other people attending, I was also addressing people sitting elsewhere. It is due to my inexperience of these scenarios.

We are members of the committee. We are not an audience.

Mr. Whelan

In my inexperience of the situation, I thought this was the panel. I was not aware of the set-up. I apologise for that. I was really addressing the three gentlemen, which was obviously not correct.

The questions on why we were not consulted by the NRA and on the lateness of this are valid. The position was that we were not consulted by the NRA on the height. I did raise it with them some time ago and they did not deny the fact that we were not consulted. That is the nub of the difficulty.

The second scenario we should identify with regard to the height is that about 18 months ago a figure got bandied about by the Department, and the Minister responsible, that only 2% of trucks would not fit into the tunnel. There was no apparent evidence to back that up. That is where the difficulty rolled forward as opposed to having a positive closure.

We commissioned the NITL to do an independent study of vehicles going through the port tunnel from the four exits as opposed to the one exit through which, apparently, the 2% mentioned came. The consultants proceeded to do that study. It ran into various difficulties associated with measuring devices and support for people in the port who had to work with them. As of yesterday, the NITL had almost concluded a revamp of figures on a refreshed start with additional monitors put in place, but was not ready to publish.

However, there still could be questions raised with regard to NITL by certain parties. The crunch issue here, which has been raised by many Deputies, is what the facts are. The position is that we have attempted to establish the facts. The facts would defuse many of these issues.

Back in December, Mr. Owen Keegan, the director of traffic, gave an undertaking to ourselves and various other groups, including Dublin Chamber of Commerce, as Peter Webster, the then president, has advised me. Mr. Webster said that he was pleased to hear that Dublin City Council, and specifically Mr. Keegan, had undertaken to carry out a comprehensive survey of vehicle heights at the entrance and exit of the port which were not included in any earlier surveys, mentioning the P&O ferry and the MTL terminal. Dublin City Council has not produced that report and this is at the core of the difficulties in this regard.

To move on to a few of the other issues before my colleagues enter into responses, we are obviously working on the basis that trucks will have toll-free access to the tunnel. We received a commitment on that and it is our understanding that that will hold. From the point of view of ensuring best use of the tunnel, we believe that should be the case.

Have there been clarifications from the Minister?

Mr. Whelan

There have been numerous announcements from the Minister, including that he was going to try to sell off the port tunnel or privatise it in some way, which does not fit with giving toll-free access to trucks. I do not understand where the Minister is coming from on this particular issue.

Is Mr. Whelan saying that if the Minister was to sell it off, he would envisage that trucks would be tolled?

Mr. Whelan

It would be difficult for a private firm to operate a tunnel which is primarily geared for trucks at a cost to the State. It does not make sense to sell an asset to a private operator and then not give it the income to pay for it. It is not a logical route down which to proceed. However, we will assume the Minister will stick to his original agreement, which was that trucks will have toll free access.

Competitiveness is the main issue for Irish exporters. The port tunnel was supposed to start in 1990. We lobbied very hard because various local groups wished to stop the tunnel. Following a tremendous amount of lobbying, we finally got it through and it commenced at the end of 1999. As far as we were concerned, this was a project which should have been completed ten years ago. However, circumstances were different ten years ago and that is why I stated in my presentation that we must take account of today's trading situation. If supercubes are the trend, and that is the logistically efficient way in which other trading nations are going, then we cannot be left behind and we really must take account of the changing circumstances.

As we stated in our submission, however, a key issue is that we have not had discussions with the NRA as to how it will handle the exit and entrance for 9,000 trucks to and from the Dublin Port tunnel. We know that this is a key area for all users, including the city port management. We urgently need major consideration and discussions with the NRA and Dublin City Council on how they handle the maximum number of trucks which can use the tunnel and those which cannot use the tunnel for logistical reasons. If a truck is coming into Dublin from the south, it will not necessarily always make sense for it to go all the way around Dublin, through Whitehall and into the tunnel. Logistically it makes no sense for Dublin City Council or anybody else to head across to the tunnel. The second leg is the big issue that was killed. We need that to come back into it for fuller logistical efficiency.

We need the NRA and Dublin City Council to sit down with the various parties and ensure that there is a sensible plan. The tunnel is only part of the issue and not everything will, can or should use the tunnel. Therefore we need a firm arrangement with all the parties concerned as to exactly how it will be handled.

On the effect on industry, we can get Forfás to carry out a logistical efficiency study. There have been various such studies conducted but the fact that we are 46th in the table of logistical efficiency speaks for itself. We have regularly done detailed studies in different sectors with Forfás and if we want a more detailed study we can move on that. However, I do not think such a study would massively change the broad block figures. We are 46th in logistical efficiency and two-thirds of our trade goes through Dublin. We must sort out the Dublin Port access. It has to be good, it has to be smart and it has to be efficient.

A member of the committee raised a question on rail freight. We have downgraded the rail freight connections to Dublin Port. There is nothing in the recent Booz Allen report to indicate that we will reverse that in the short-term. That is another key inefficient move. It forces us as exporters to use more road haulage companies and they must plough through the city. Most major international cities have upgraded their rail freight connections. The European Union from an environmental point of view has pushed for all countries to move in this direction. We, however, are dismantling rail freight. The Waterford connection, which removed huge volumes to Waterford by rail, is being closed as of 1 January. This is nonsensical. These are the issues the country faces in exporting as it tries to stay competitive.

Regarding Mr. Whelan's reply concerning the National Roads Authority, did he seek a meeting with the NRA regarding how it would operate the 9,000 vehicles at both ends of the tunnel?

Mr. Whelan

Yes, I did.

What was the reply?

Mr. Whelan

They said they looked forward to having a meeting.

How long ago was that?

Mr. Whelan

That was about a month or two ago.

Do we take it that Mr. Whelan will be writing to them again soon to know when it will take place?

Mr. Whelan

Absolutely. We usually expect the body concerned to be proactive. As it was not in this case, it appears we will have to be more proactive.

Mr. Whelan will have to take the initiative.

Does Mr. Whelan feel with the benefit of hindsight that, if this were being undertaken again, he would initiate contact with some authorities to point out that his organisation is a stakeholder and to request an opportunity to discuss the issues involved? Does it occur to Mr. Whelan that he should have made contact in this case?

Mr. Whelan

We were in contact and we made a strong case. Originally there was a single bore arrangement and we pushed hard for a dual-bore arrangement. From early to final plans, traffic volumes outstripped all forecasts. We made those inputs and those issues were tackled. The height issue is a more recent event that reflects trading and transport patterns which have emerged.

Mr. Whelan said he was involved in a significant amount of lobbying for ten years. In all that time - the same question could be posed to Mr. Morrissey - did it occur to him to say that, in building the tunnel, account should be taken of the new trend in England for high-cube trucks and that the tunnel should be built at a sufficient height to accommodate them? Did that arise at some stage?

Mr. Whelan

It is a question of working out exactly how many trucks will not be able to enter the tunnel. We do not have a full-stop dead objection to 4.65 metres. It became obvious as we moved towards final completion - the long time scale should be borne in mind - that the height of vehicles had changed and there was talk of 2% of trucks posing a problem. From an exporter's point of view, we would not have an issue with that figure. If it were massively higher than that and there were no accurate figures to prove whether it was, and that is where the heat is——

Does Mr. Whelan not have those figures?

Mr. Whelan

It is a moving target and we do not have such statistics immediately to hand. Perhaps the Irish Road Haulage Association has exact figures for the number of high-cube trucks. If that is the trend——

Perhaps Mr. Morrissey, as president of the Irish Road Haulage Association, could inform us of the percentage of high-cube trucks.

We are conducting a survey of the number of vehicles in the country because the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has no way of including a vehicle's height when it is registered. The best scenario I can come up with is that shipping companies coming to Ireland have estimated that between 5% and 10% of vehicles on ferries are over height for the port tunnel. That is a fact coming from the ferry companies.

When figures become available perhaps they could be furnished to the committee. We would at least have an accurate idea then of what is happening.

One company, Gwynedd Shipping, gave accurate figures for one customer which had 100 trailers delivering to the factory. That has been reduced to 57 by using high-cube vehicles, and that is only delivering paper tissue. That is the type of reduction that can be seen by using a high cube vehicle.

Mr. Kiersey

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government does not state in its registration details whether a truck is articulated or rigid. It does not distinguish between a 44-tonne truck or a seven-tonne truck. They are all trucks, and that has been the way since time immemorial. None of us can extract or extrapolate anything from that other than by the attempts we have made to date which are by observation and discussion with people in the port.

Mr. Rabbitt

I will deal with the Chairman's question about how it will affect the carriageway and if it will be suitable if it is reduced to 7 metres. A seven-metre carriageway is an acceptable standard in Ireland for 120 km design motorways. If one has driven in France, one has probably driven 140 km to 150 km on roads that are seven metres wide with a barrier offset 1 metre from the edge. As this is the case in the port tunnel, it is eminently suitable for an 80 km to 85 km speed limit.

It is stated that departures from standards that would normally be adopted for comparable sections of open road could be considered and that the tunnel should be of the same standard as the bridges on the open road in its vicinity. This will answer some questions Deputy Shortall had. This should be done to meet our own safety standards. It is recommended that the minimum verge be 100 cm. That is a safety requirement. At present, it is 85 cm, but it should be 100 cm. It should be the Irish standard. The footpath, verge or hard shoulder are all the same in the tunnel. There is no distinction between them. By increasing them, it would move the carriageway to the centre of the tunnel, thus increasing the potential height. Not only that, but safety requirements would be met as well.

Is Mr. Rabbitt saying that, by increasing the width of the footpath, the issue of the port tunnel can be resolved?

Mr. Rabbitt

That is correct. Someone said yesterday that it would cost nothing if cones were placed down the side of the tunnel. It is that basic. It is a simple solution and I do not see why it cannot be done. That answers the questions about changing the specifications. My estimate is that the cost would be small. However, even if it cost €1 million or €20 million, it was seen fit to raise the height of the bridge in Sheriff Street. Is that more important than the port tunnel?

I thought I had answered the questionabout the average height of trucks in Europe. There is no set height standard because the European Union does not have a directive in this regard.

Will Mr. Rabbitt give us some idea about other European countries?

Mr. Rabbitt

I drove through Spain three weeks ago and went through 20 tunnels that could all take the 4.8 metre and 4.9 metre trucks.

It would be helpful if we had a table outlining the restrictions.

It would be more constructive if we were to allow Mr. Rabbitt to finish and then ask any questions we have about his reply.

Mr. Rabbitt

If low road bridges are at each side of a tunnel, there will be a tendency to build the tunnel at a lower height. One can obtain a great deal of wrong information if one does not go into this issue in more detail. This has happened in a number of instances. Bridge height in Ireland is 5.3 metres. Conwy tunnel is our strategic link, despite the fact that people think of it as Cork, Dublin or Belfast. Our strategic link is Cork-Dublin-Holyhead-London-Europe where there are standard types. Northern Ireland has a standard type. Our trucks were going to Larne and Belfast in the 1990s when this tunnel was designed - in fact it was designed in the 1980s at 4.25 m. Because it could not take double-decker buses it had to be higher. There was legislation for truck height but the EU did away with it instantly. The reason it gave was the consultations it carried out: that was the reason as the committee and I saw it. If it has decided already it is going to be lower, why waste everyone's time with consultation?

We met the Minister at his instigation and he suggested going to the NRA, which I did the following day. The NRA did not have the details so I met all the engineers and the relevant people at the Dublin Port tunnel. However, when I asked them to move the dual carriageway everything was very difficult and they could not do anything. There was no give anywhere. It was all impossible. I threw my hands in the air saying I did not believe it. I asked about the diameter of the fans as I had heard about these fans on "Morning Ireland" that day. I asked four times for the information but I got nothing. They did not know. I said I had seen fans and asked if they were 800 mm, 1 m, 1.2 m or 1.5 m. I looked up the standards which said that ventilation can be accommodated within tunnels. If there is less height space it will not be as aerodynamic and there will be higher operational costs, but they can be accommodated according to the standards. In Europe underfloor fans are used for the operator or air in, so there are solutions.

Regarding contact with the NRA, I have heard numerous questions about the height of the trucks and whether I know the height of the trucks. I know the height of trucks. Deputy Naughten will be interested to hear I drove through Loughrea yesterday and there were four trucks on that short main street, all of which were well over 4.65 m in height. I drove down the quays this morning and there were also trucks up by Heuston Station well over that height. The NRA does not know. This is not an issue about the height of super cubes - it has nothing to do with that. It is about implementing safety standards and standard carriageway widths. The standards even state that we should not deviate from standard carriageway width.

I will give the Chairman this document.

Pass it over if you wish.

Mr. Rabbitt

I will open a page and there are two other pages marked. On that page you will see a truck with agricultural machinery. Is it over the height? The NRA does not know because it does not have a database. Where was the database when it did the CPO and EIS? The NRA should have all that information. It is like a hospital with no information on its patients or a supermarket that does not know its customers. Why build a supermarket if you do not know the height of those coming through the doors?

That is an incredible fact - that the NRA does not have this database and built the tunnel without it. Now it is quoting one survey in court for one location of the port which was not set up for height. As a transport planner I would not be interested in the heights of those trucks using the port but the height of those using the national roads where trucks carry agricultural machinery, prefabricated buildings and so on. Above all that, nobody is asking for higher trucks.

I have covered the main points on ventilation and standards.

How do we wrap up allthis?

Mr. Whelan

We have to bear in mind that we are a relatively small trading partner in the bigger international field. We are basically price takers and we take the logistical scenarios that develop. To give an example, about half the current pool of containers in Ireland are 45 feet long. The standard in the 1961 Act for Ireland is 40 feet. However, internationally everyone has moved to 45 feet and because we trade internationally we take 45 feet containers. A substantial number of trucks coming into the country are foreign owned which have moved to the new scenario. If we are to stay efficient on exports we must move with international trends.

Closure will come when we recognise we must move with international trends on road and sea transport. If we cannot handle this in the tunnel we must have smooth and efficient ways of handling this through the city. It is not helpful for the Taoiseach to make comments such as he did last week in the Dail, where he said if people do not like to come to Ireland they could bugger off. We need those people.

That is not appropriate. Did Mr. Whelan hear what we said at the start?

Mr. Whelan

It does not matter one jot if they ever came in——

The position is that one cannot name someone at a committee who is not in a position to defend him or herself.

How many years have some of these supercubes been in Ireland? The Luas bridges around Dublin are all 5.3 m. Why have we made those bridges, including the one in Dundrum village, 5.3 m if we do not need to? Has the NRA been asked those questions? Why is the Luas, which was introduced later than the tunnel, being dealt with in tandem with the port tunnel, and why were its bridges built to 5.3 m when that was probably not necessary? Have we "over-speced" in some cases at a greater cost than necessary?

We will ask Mr. Kiersey to make his final comment and then we will move to Mr. Morrissey and Mr. Murtagh for their final comments.

Mr. Rabbitt

May l wrap up on two points?

I can tell you now that from the photo this is not over the height limit.

Mr. Rabbitt

But the NRA does not know that; they have not carried out a survey on it.

I can tell that now as the owner of one of these machines. I know from the height of the machine itself and I know the height of a truck trailer.

Mr. Rabbitt

They carry other machinery from the same manufacturer.

The company shown in the picture is in Senator Browne's area.

Mr. Rabbitt

Something was brought up about this being a wonderful, great engineering project, which it is, but it is also a business project which is there to function and to serve the nation, and to forget it is a business project is a serious omission. We are saying this should be brought back to the reality of business and the customer.

Mr. Kiersey

I will take the questions chronologically rather than in order of priority.

Regarding Deputy Naughten's question, I cannot name people but a person in high office in Dublin Port and I sat down in 1998 and carried out a non-scientific study of information gathered from ringing the ferry and container operators and we came up with a figure of 5% to 10%. We visited the port tunnel engineer at that time and he said he felt 10% to 15% of trucks would not fit through. The subdivision and the number of smaller vehicles is something the IRHA has worked on and it can answer that.

Regarding a welcome for the tunnel, we have lobbied for the tunnel for 20 years. There have been various estimates of the cost of increasing the size of the tunnel, all from Dublin City Council, ranging from €20 million to €147 million, according to a letter I have from Mr. OwenKeegan. As for tolls and the cost of using the tunnel, what few people seem to realise is that our vehicles travelling to the port up and down the quays do so untolled. When we go through the port tunnel we will be automatically tolled at the West Link bridge, which will put €27,000 onto my company's running costs. That is an additional €27,000 in tax, and no one knows how long it will take us to get on or off the M50.

Deputy Shortall is correct. The Taoiseach and the public are browned off with this debate and do not want these supertrucks. With all due respect, the Deputy or the Taoiseach could not distinguish one from the other. We have photographs of these trucks which indicate that the increase in height is minimal. They will run up and down.

In response to the question on why we have not lobbied before, we have been lobbying for information since 1998 and we were given the same misleading information recently on the Shannon port crossing. When buying a vehicle, one buys a vehicle that works within the environment in which it is meant to work and within the rules and rigours that exist. More than 230 pieces of infrastructure have been built to a specific gauge by the NRA in the last ten years. Why should I believe that it will at any stage build a bridge across the M50, or anywhere else, which is lower than all the other bridges? The port tunnel is a continuation of the M50 whether we like it or not. It is part of the motorway system. I did not know that. Why should I question it? I am in the business of trying to stay alive, make a profit, queue with my trucks and pay tolls.

On environmental issues, statistics from the Freight Transport Association in the UK, quoted in the House of Commons, which I will forward to everyone here, show a reduction of 20% in approximately ten years in the number of HGVs running to slightly larger trucks. The reason trucks are larger is that manufacturing methodology has improved. These have become more used in Ireland - even though they have been here for 20 years - because our road quality has improved. The older types of constructions simply fell apart on our roads. Comparisons were made with the length of trucks in Sweden, which is arguably the most environmentally friendly country in Europe. These trucks are 50% heavier and 50% longer than those on Irish roads. However, it is a matter of subsidiarity. Their roadways were built to that gauge for a long time. In my view Irish roads simply could not take the weight or the length.

What we have arrived at today under the principle of subsidiarity is what has been customer practice in the UK and Ireland for a long time. Spain has its own customer practice, the Nordic countries have their own customer practice, and so on. Germany, for instance, has special weight limits between ports for containers they do not allow to run anywhere else in Germany.

I think I have answered most questions.

What about existing bridges?

Mr. Kiersey

The existing bridges referred to by a number of public bodies over the last few weeks were primarily built in the 19th century, before the internal combustion engine was invented, and none of them is on national primary routes. If they exist currently on a national primary route, a by-pass is planned for it. It is reasonable, but perhaps unfortunate, that the bridges exist. The bridge hits have been recorded by Johnny Haystacks, JCBs and so on. Suddenly the supertruck, a term coined by DCC and which has become common parlance in the last six to nine months, is not used anywhere else. Supertrucks, as such, do not exist in the UK. They do not know what we are talking about.

I have already answered Senator Morrissey's question. These trucks have been on the road for up to 20 years. There have been various misquotes of the NITL's findings. I cannot elaborate on what the NITL will find out - we figure between 5% and 10%. There are number of statements from important people involved in Dublin Port who state that the percentage of traffic will grow. We have no idea of the number of trucks using city streets and it appears that the M50 upgrade will be a disaster.

Deputy Power referred to the Limerick tunnel. The Limerick county manager, in response to a question from the IRHA on the height of the Shannon crossing, was told clearly that the height was 4.9 metres. That is exactly the information we received on Dublin Port when we inquired about the height of the tunnel. What they did not say is that the operating height is 4.65 metres. If a haulier such as Dell has a letter indicating a height of 4.9 metres, that is what it will go under; it does not say one will only be allowed to go in at 4.65 metres and that is what we are dealing with. I believe it is subterfuge.

Who will make the decision? Ultimately, the Government will make the decision. The NRA will do what the Government tells it and it is down to the members to influence the Government. When were we consulted? Probably never. We are not part of the State sector, therefore, we were not consulted. Senator Browne asked who is responsible for the mistake - the well-paid people who failed to consult. The Minister of State, Deputy McDaid, said that 99.2% of trucks will not fit in; that simply does not add up. That is the information he has been given - I do not blame him for relying on the information - but it simply does not add up.

We issued a press release on what will happen if high-cube vehicles are taken out of the scenario. I will ensure members receive a copy of the press release. This is a table of multiples. If one takes out high-cube vehicles which may be delivering to Marks and Spencer or other shops in the city centre, one will have to use 16 vans to make the same delivery. This will means 16 extra drivers, 16 extra vehicles and so on.

It has been said that the port tunnel has a lifespan of 100 years. A great piece of engineering carried out in my area in 1923 was the Ardnacrusha power plant, which was designed by Siemens in Germany. The recommendation at the time was to put dual-carriageway bridges over the river. The authorities replied, "No, we have only ass and carts in Ireland. We will never go over with anything else". If we had taken on board the plans at the time, there would be no need to by-pass Limerick city because we would have dual carriageway bridges over the river. However, we took the easy and cheap option. If the same option is taken with the port tunnel, what will people say in 100 years' time?

Mr. Murtagh

There are a couple of questions to the Irish Road Haulage Association. Deputy Shortall mentioned bridges. I want to assure people that there is no question of road safety being compromised. We sit on a committee with the railway inspectorate and we are conscious of any bridge strikes. We are fully aware of any difficulty or concerns Iarnród Éireann may have in regard to railway bridges. We will not ask for bridges to be raised.

The implications for industry have been dealt with by the Irish Exporters Association. Deputy Shortall asked about the capacity to increase the length and width of trucks. We are generally governed by manufacturers. Trucks are generally manufactured to European specifications. Therefore, it is not currently an option. However, we should never dismiss a potential option. In 1983, the total weight limit in this country was 32 tonnes gross vehicle weight; it is now 44 tonnes. At the time trailers were 12 metres and they are now 13.5 metres. We cannot legislate for what may happen in the future.

On the question of whether we were caught napping, around the time the Dublin Port tunnel was announced we were one of the few organisations who came out in favour of it. We were very excited about the prospect. At the same time, there were many genuine concerns by residents in the area. We were afraid that if we made too much noise, we might add to the debate and make it worse. When the Portlaoise by-pass was announced, we did not measure every bridge on the by-pass because we assumed it would be built to a certain height. It was only in the last four years that rumours began to emanate that the tunnel might not be high enough. In the beginning it was taken as a practical joke but it then became an issue.

Deputy Naughten referred to tolling the tunnel. We met with the Minister, Deputy Brennan, around the time the rumour and press report issued that the tunnel would be tolled. We have serious concerns about tolling on the tunnel and tolling in general. Perhaps we can discuss road tolling at another time.

Regarding the Shannon tunnel, because people said we were caught napping on the Dublin Port tunnel, we decided to be ahead in this instance. We wrote to Limerick County Council and, as was pointed out earlier, we were told it would measure 4.9 metres but we are now told it will measure 4.65 metres. It is not so much the Limerick port tunnel, but people in Limerick will be very conscious of the new Sligo-Cork corridor. People in Limerick will be conscious of this new corridor and what happens in that regard will have a major effect in other areas.

A large number of regulations are in place covering the transportation of hazardous chemicals and goods. We are confident in this respect but would like established routes and decisions on what is and is not considered safe to transport through the tunnel.

Senator Dooley stated this issue may not affect him as he is from a rural area. It will affect everyone because anyone trying to operate in a rural area will realise that capacity and productivity are important. As most products are coming down in price, the pressure comes on transport, either in price or productivity. It is essential, therefore, to carry extra freight in a truck. If the height limit is reduced to coincide with the height limit of the Dublin Port tunnel, it will have major implications for factories in more rural parts.

Senator Browne referred to rail freight. This is a separate mode of transport. Businesses are discerning and if it is more efficient to use railways, freight will shift to rail. Government inducements or additional income are not required. It is not a question of railway versus road because freight is suited to transportation either by rail or road. This is a policy decision for Government rather than the road haulage industry.

On the question of the number of trucks more than 4.65 metres in height, the Irish Road Haulage Association is currently surveying its members and expects to have an indication of the number of such vehicles in five to six weeks. The survey includes a question to operators who do not transport goods into Dublin on the number of trailers which would be made illegal by the introduction of legislation reducing the height of vehicles to Dublin Port.

Deputy Powers asked a straight question on closure on this issue. The Irish Road Haulage Association has been accused of being a vested interest in representing its members. Originally we tried to represent the people for whom our members worked but encountered a certain reluctance on their part. We even received letters from two fairly high-profile companies asking us to avoid inadvertently using their names as firms which would benefit from high-cube trailers. While we understand that some people might be afraid of the public relations impact of being associated with our position, unfortunately, we were left hung out to dry and took much of the media flak in that we were accused of profiteering and standing to gain significant benefits.

In 1985 Eamonn Morrissey, who spoke last night, was getting the same price to run a truck to Germany as he is now, yet we now carry considerably more freight. We are not asking for our money back. We are saying, however, that our offering to the Celtic tiger is the additional productivity we are delivering to Irish industry. We are not prepared to take abuse for making a contribution to the economy. That said, we have to represent our members.

When noise abatement plans were introduced in various airports in Europe, companies such as Boeing were not told they could not operate 747s from the following week onwards, but were given a five year wash-out period. In the same way, our members will expect that if a height limit of two metres is introduced next week, we will be given a ten or 15 year period to wash our old equipment out of the system. Introducing a new limit will not eliminate the problem overnight.

What would be the effect of a new, lower limit on competitiveness? I believe it would have serious consequences on Irish industry in general. From a lay point of view, if we took a decision to reduce the height to, say, 4.6 metres, the consequences for Irish industry and exports would be phenomenal.

In addition, Chairman, you and I would have to overtake many more heavy goods vehicles travelling to and from Dublin. This would have a major impact on road safety.

Mr. Murtagh

We have been surprised that one group, namely, the Dublin Port Company, which is the biggest potential loser or gainer from the proposal, has not been vocal on this issue. We have heard little from that quarter. A week does not pass that one does not hear a spokesperson for the ports of Foynes, Limerick, Waterford or Sligo trying to advance the interests of his or her port and industry. We seldom hear the Dublin Port Company ask the Taoiseach to reconsider the height of the Dublin Port tunnel. The editorial writer in our journal,Knights of the Road, mentioned this month that the silence from the Dublin Port Company was stunning. The reason, he stated, was that perhaps it is looking at the tunnel from a different angle, namely, from the perspective of the development potential of Dublin Port land. It might suit the company to close Dublin Port and move its business elsewhere. I could imagine property companies encouraging people to live on the seafront and link to the national motorway through the tunnel. Dublin Port would be saleable property. We are disappointed the company has not been more vocal. One would expect it to be a real vested interest, yet it has not been forthcoming.

Perhaps it has become complacent because its business has increased to such an extent in the past ten years and it expects that to continue apace.

Mr. Murtagh

We would not be allowed to say something like that. The Irish Road Haulage Association issued a statement on Sunday which was not greeted with much enthusiasm from wider industry. We proposed a 2% tax on profits to pay for infrastructure. We would have expected the Minister for Finance to dance up and down when he heard an industry proposing to pay more tax to pay the cost of infrastructure.

We used the services of an eminent financial consultant, Dr. Frank Brennan, to provide us with figures. The road haulage industry alone will not be able to pay for the mortgage arising from the costs of the tunnel. It would be akin to a person leaving school, taking a job at a filling station and buying a €500,000 house - he would not be able to pay for it.

Operators with one or two trucks make up 50% of our industry. In our company the potential costs of road tolling are enormous. The IRHA is solidly opposed to road tolling, as distinct from paying for the use of roads. We do not want to be fleeced for using roads. If the country is to be mortgaged to the hilt to pay for infrastructure, our industry will not be in a position to meet the repayments on its own. While we accept that the development of infrastructure, railways and roads, is essential, our pockets are not deep enough to pay for it all.

The Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy McDaid, has announced his intention to introduce new height limits. These were supposed to be announced in May and are now overdue.

The Clerk has sought clarification on the issue.

The Minister stated the reason for the delay is that he is engaged in consultation. Has the delegation been involved in consultations with him on the issue?

Mr. Murtagh

Last October, the Department of Transport contacted us and we made a submission to it. Later, following media reports we contacted the Minister to ask him to confirm we were still in a consultation process, to which he responded positively. That is the current position. We have not been called back for a second opinion. We are nervous because many people's voices drop when they start to talk about the height limit. We do not know what is happening.

Mr. Rabbitt

Railways were raised a number of times. We had a presentation from James Nix about load heights on trains which carry higher containers. These containers will not fit in the tunnel. If one wants to develop the railways as a competitive entity, one will have to lower the floors of the rolling stock carriages Iarnród Éireann has bought. If we do not increase the height of Dublin Port tunnel, we are prejudicing the potential to move goods on railways in the future.

Now that we have had submissions from all the relevant parties, I propose we take up the matter with the relevant authorities and ascertain their views. We need to pursue the question of the height of the Dublin Port tunnel as a matter of urgency. If the solution is as simple as Mr. Rabbitt has indicated, something will need to be done urgently before the matter gets out of hand. Failing that, we will have to create a system which would allow high vehicles to use a centre lane in the tunnel. A mechanism will have to be found to allow the tunnel to be used by super trucks.

Centre lanes may be the answer.

A centre lane may be the ultimate solution. They have been used in one-way systems elsewhere. This could be done because only a small minority of vehicles would use a centre lane.

I remember we used to use a centre lane to get through the Blackwall tunnel, one of the oldest tunnels in England, which was very low because it was built so long ago. All the trucks were directed to its highest point in the centre of the road. There were two lanes for cars and anyone who was caught behind had to stay behind.

We have already learned that as we are used to going under some narrow railway bridges.

Mr. Kiersey

I have just one final comment in response to what the Chairman said. I direct this point to any competent engineer; the tunnel boring machine is putting a 12 metre bore hole into the ground. Half of what is coming out is being recycled and put back in on a bed in which a tunnel, 5m in height, is being laid. Five from 12leaves seven. Some 7m are available and we arelooking for a quarter of metre. We have put men on the moon; we can find a quarter of a metre in the remaining 7m. It is not engineering rocketscience.

On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank Mr. Kiersey, Mr. Rabbitt, Mr.Morrissey, Mr. Murtagh, Mr. Whelan and Mr. Dodd for attending the committee and making their submissions. As we have said, we will endeavour to see what can be done to solve this problem. Although it might not be immediately apparent, this affects us all at some level. The matter has to be resolved now before it goes beyond resolution.

The joint committee adjourned at 11.15 a.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 19 June 2003.