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Joint Committee on Transport and Communications debate -
Wednesday, 26 Jan 2022

National Investment Framework for Transport in Ireland: Discussion

On behalf of the committee I welcome the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and his officials. You are all very welcome.

On privilege, all witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity.

If their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identified person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Members are now once more permitted to participate in meetings from the committee room, which is a welcome development and we welcome the Minister in that regard today.

I remind any member who wishes to participate remotely of the constitutional requirement that members must be physically present within the confines of the Leinster House complex in order to participate in public meetings. Reluctantly, I will not permit a member to participate where they are not adhering to this constitutional requirement. Therefore, any member who attempts to participate from outside the precincts will be asked to leave the meeting. In this regard, I ask members participating via Microsoft Teams that, prior to making their contribution, they confirm they are on the grounds of the Leinster House campus.

I call on the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to make his opening statement.

I am glad to be here. Our officials were here yesterday for a good productive session. I hope I can add to that and look forward to our wider discussion on the National Investment Framework for Transport in Ireland, or NIFTI as it is commonly called. It is the Department's new framework for supporting the consideration and prioritisation of future investment in the national land transport network. It is our response to the national planning framework and the projections for population growth and settlement patterns we will have to 2040. It is key to underpinning the strategic outcomes of the national planning framework. It is critical so that investment in the transport sector is underpinned by and supports the delivery of the national strategic objectives in that framework.

NIFTI sets out the transport sector’s strategic priorities to deliver on that 2040 vision. It does not identify specific projects for investment, determine the total amount of transport funding available or decide upon the allocation of funding to different areas. Its role is to act as a common lens through which to consider potential investment at an individual project level.

Decisions on investment in transport continue primarily to be shaped by programme for Government priorities, including a commitment to invest 2:1 in favour of public transport compared to road projects and to invest €360 million each year in active travel. It is not just the national planning framework we have to adhere to, but also critical project plans such as the climate action plan, Our Rural Future, the metropolitan area transport strategies and the soon to be agreed, subject to Government approval, sustainable mobility policy. There is a variety of policy objectives that NIFTI sits within.

NIFTI sets out four priorities of the national strategic outcomes. They are decarbonisation, protection and renewal of existing assets, promotion of sustainable mobility of people and goods in urban areas and enhancement of regional and rural accessibility. They are the key objectives of transport investment. One is not prioritised over the other. They may combine and be met in different ways.

Beneath that there are hierarchies. To deliver the most appropriate solution, the investment priorities are set out in modal and intervention hierarchies. Modal refers to promoting active travel first and promoting public transport before private transport because that meets a variety of other policy goals I mentioned earlier. Similarly, when it comes to investment in the intervention hierarchy, it is far better to repair, manage, use or upgrade an existing asset before we look to build new. That is a better use of space and resources and provides a better emissions profile when we have that investment hierarchy as well as the modal hierarchy.

As I am sure members would agree, getting assessment of all the complex arrangements we have around approval of public capital projects, in particular, is complicated. We have in the last decade put in place new structures in government to guide investment projects, particularly large capital projects, in the public spending code, which has to be adhered to. In our Department, transport-specific guidance has been put in place in the common appraisal framework, CAF. That will be updated later this year. It is also being reviewed on an ongoing basis, for example, as we learn more about the real cost of carbon dioxide and the need to price and cost that properly and to look at the broader planning and other gains we need to get from our investment decisions.

The existing requirements cover consideration of a range of factors, including strategic alignment with sectoral and Government policy, economic and financial appraisal, as well as feasibility and deliverability. It is noted that existing requirements under the public spending code, which was updated in 2019, include the need to set out and demonstrate the strategic and policy alignment of any proposal being submitted, such as alignment with the national planning framework. Both the public spending code and the 2016 common appraisal framework transport appraisal guidance already include requirements to develop and consider a range of possible options and a variety of types of interventions, for example, different modes or network management as opposed to investment options.

The National Investment Framework for Transport in Ireland has been developed to better serve and support our agencies and local authorities to demonstrate strategic alignment with the national planning framework through the NIFTI transport priorities. They will assist in the process of picking the right options by re-emphasising the need for a variety of options to be developed, and for this to be done with reference to sustainability and value for money. An interim update of the guidance to account for NIFTI at the project level will be published shortly and in advance of a revised and updated common appraisal framework, which will be published later this year. That is the broad outline. I look forward to the variety of questions members may have and to our engagement.

I thank the Minister and the officials. The Minister will be pleased to know that the briefing we got the other day dealt with a number of questions.

My understanding is NIFTI is ensuring that the national strategic objectives are being adhered to and that, when anything is being assessed, all other factors need to be taken into account, including the national planning framework and anything that has been determined in relation to rural living or climate action goals. That makes complete sense. Will the Minister walk us through the process in relation to how that is happening? He spoke on the radio about the fact that planning is complicated and can be incredibly difficult and trying to get anything done in transport takes too long. What are the pieces of work being done to deal with that? Some of that might be what the Attorney General is looking at as regards the overall system of planning. That is two questions in one.

I think it is true that it takes too long. O'Devaney Gardens is one example. That is in the housing area but it has taken 17 years. The metro has taken 23 years, at least, from when I saw it as a fairly advanced project. BusConnects in my constituency in Dublin has been five years in consultation. We need to speed up the delivery of projects because the public get rightly angry at the uncertainty around that.

Planning is one element of this and the planning review by the Attorney General that the Deputy referred to is important. His assessment and that of a number of people is that the Planning and Development Act 2000, while well intended at the start, has been amended so often that it is difficult to assess the law. It is so complicated.

One of the reasons we have so many judicial reviews is that planning is so complex and people can query facets. That is deeply frustrating for all concerned, be it those interested in developing a project or those opposing it. That very critical fundamental review will be central. Included in that, we need to look at the regulations with regard to the likes of environmental impact assessments and when we need those. We need to be really clear in terms of what the regulations are in order that clarity is brought. That is one element of the acceleration we will need.

A second element will be important in the lifetime of the Government. We have three remaining years in government, all going well. That three-year timeframe brings us to 2025, halfway through this critical decade for meeting the challenge of climate change. I have said to my officials that, in working with the agencies, we now need to accelerate progress in the area of sustainable mobility and support investments that support our climate action plan and national planning framework objectives.

Transport will be the hardest area in meeting our climate targets. Everyone believes agriculture is the hardest area but I believe transport is the hardest. There are certain areas, such as haulage, where it is very difficult to get solutions. In other areas, we have embedded a dispersed population model, which requires people to have very long commutes and promotes private car use rather than other more sustainable modes. In truth, the NIFTI is based on a national planning framework. My assessment is to ask whether we are delivering on the objectives of the national planning framework. If I were to summarise and reduce this to key areas, it is primarily centred on better balanced regional development, compact development and low-carbon development.

We are not delivering better balanced regional development. According to the latest analysis, 74% of new housing is in the greater Dublin, eastern and midlands regional area. Counties Meath, Kildare and Fingal are booming and going beyond meeting targets but Dublin city is not. In truth, it seems that in the rest of the country we are not delivering better balanced regional development. We need to make an urgent change to start seeing development in counties Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick and towns and villages around the country.

Second, in terms of compact development, again, while we are seeing many planning approvals for apartments and other developments in the city centres, they are not moving to activation. Most of the development is still occurring in a further dispersed development model. We are not delivering compact development. We have an urgent need, particularly coming out of Covid-19, to bring life back into the centres of our cities. We should use this moment, in Covid, when we do not have so much commuter traffic. We should not allow that to return but instead try to get space to improve the local environment and make it attractive to live in the centre of a town, village or city and thereby meet our second objective.

Third, in terms of the climate side, as I said, all the modelling is showing that even with all the electric vehicles we may deliver and all the public transport projects that are in the plans, they will not, on their own, deliver the level of emissions reduction we need to achieve. For this reason, we need to do more faster. That applies in particular to sustainable mobility. On Monday last, we announced funding for every county, town and city in the country to improve the local environment and sustainable mobility. One simple example is that when I was young 20% of children were driven to school, whereas now that figure is 60%. Could we reverse that? That would be good for parents and everyone else because there would be less traffic at rush hour. It would be good for health and emissions. That is one example of how we need to change.

The NIFTI helps us and gives guidance. It states that we should promote active travel first, if we can, and use existing assets rather than always building new because the latter is very expensive and takes time. That is a useful part of the overall jigsaw. My job, more than anything else, is to advance the acceleration of real projects in the next three years. That includes roads projects.

Deputy Lowry has spoken to me many times about Tipperary town. This is an example of where some roads investment can support sustainable mobility and remove traffic from the centres of towns. Some 30% of retail in Tipperary town is not open. The figure in Dublin city centre is not too far off that. I do not know if anyone has done a survey. We need to urgently restore the high street. We do that by removing as much traffic as we can and bringing life back into the centre of our towns and cities. We need to do that quickly in the next three years.

In fairness, I can see the logic of NIFTI and making sure all this is happening. I accept the difficulties and also that part of the Minister's job is to look at means of speeding this up. When the Minister appeared before the committee previously he spoke of a survival of the fittest scenario almost with regard to planning applications. We probably need a planning process that takes away from that. The Minister indicated that the Department had put some sort of elements on transport with regard to speeding up the process. It is just a case of how and when all this can be done. It needs to be done, however, because we cannot work on the basis of who can get through the planning process based on skill, luck or whatever else.

With the Chairman's permission, I will discuss Limerick as an example. If I understand Deputy Ó Murchú correctly, there is to a certain extent an element of competition between local authorities and cities. I will give Limerick as example. I opened The Irish Times a few months ago and read a full-page advertisement stating that Limerick was going green. It was great; I was thrilled. That is absolutely right for Limerick, the city and various other places around the country. If Limerick is to do this, it must now deliver on the sorts of projects that would actually make that vision real, for example, connecting the University of Limerick, UL, the Technological University of the Shannon, formerly LIT Tipperary, and MaREI. That would transform the centre of Limerick.

Only 3% of the population of Limerick live in the historic core. It is a stunning Georgian city with a beautiful river and King John's Castle. It has everything anyone would want. It is a dramatic, beautiful, fantastic city with history, culture and a good economy. However, this process cannot be forced. We cannot say to Limerick City and County Council and its executive that they have to do it. If they do not want to do it, it is very hard to push it through, particularly when it comes to delivering at a local level on the street. If Limerick is not willing or interested in doing it, we will go to Galway and say that if Galway wants to go down that route, it will get funding first. It is not saying "No" to any one council; it is recognising that there are limited resources and if cities, towns or counties are not looking to be progressive in that way, the funding will naturally go elsewhere.

It seems unusual that the Minister picked Limerick as the example. Is he telling us something here?

The Minister should be careful with the examples he chooses. Limerick is a very progressive city-----

-----with a very progressive local authority. I do not want a message to go out today that Limerick is not very much on the cusp of looking to go green. That is being rolled out on the ground in a very positive way with the Limerick Shannon metropolitan area transport strategy, LSMATS, plan which is about to be published. I will engage with the Minister on it in my own time but I would not want any misunderstanding to come from our meeting. I assume the Minister is very supportive of the work Limerick is doing.

To paraphrase the song, Limerick, she is my lady as well. I do not have anything but love for the city.

That is good to hear.

The Minister is very welcome. Planning is something with which we have had constant problems but one of the great examples of planning is the Luas line. As somebody asked me on the first day the Luas opened, is it not great that they have kept the old Harcourt Street line? Officials have been great down the years in that they recognised the line might have been needed again at some stage in the future.

That brings me to the issue of Galway and the Salmon Weir Bridge, the proposed footbridge from the Woodquay side to the National University of Ireland Galway, NUIG. We are looking at this issue and the Minister's officials met the Gluas very light rail committee in Galway. One of the issues is that any development should be done with a view to providing very light rail at some stage, hopefully in the not-too-distant future. This brings me to the planning for the bridge that is to cross the River Corrib. It would be the ideal route for any very light rail system coming from Oranmore and heading to Barna. It would link up Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, GMIT, University Hospital Galway, Merlin Park University Hospital and the whole lot. It would create a tremendous commute across the city.

I would be interested in whether the Minister is willing to take something like that on board at this stage, even though the project itself might not happen for years to come. I am mindful of what happened with Dundrum shopping centre and the cost to the Exchequer for that tiny piece of road that bypasses Dundrum. I forget how much it was at the time but it was the most expensive piece of real estate in Europe, if I am not mistaken.

That brings me to the matter of engaging with local representatives and the county councillors on the ground. We had a meeting here some time ago at which I raised the bus stop in Corrandulla, which is 10 km from Corrandulla. On the same route there was another bus stop that was 2.5 km from the local population density area. That suggests that planning is being done on maps rather than on the ground. We do not have a Google car driving around to see what is the ideal place for bus stops and the like.

The Minister brought up the issue of judicial reviews. I have no difficulty with people objecting to planning on reasonable grounds but surely to God they should be local and living in the area, not people from outside the jurisdiction and in some cases outside the country. That causes great problems. I am mindful of the loss of the data centre in Athenry in Galway. We could argue about data centres all day long and I would do that with the Minister quite happily but that was an industry that was coming to Athenry and it was lost and that created bad blood.

There was a very interesting piece on Pat Kenny's show yesterday about electric vehicle charging points around the country. Dungarvan has one and they were talking about the scenic routes around the Waterford coastline, which is very short on charging points. Visitors coming to the country will not be able to rent electric cars because of the lack of charging points. On the other side of it, I know a couple of people who have bought electric cars recently and all of them are horrified with the electricity bills they have received this last month. Maybe it is just a case of getting used to it but there seems to be a huge issue of electricity charges now with electric vehicles.

I walked to school as a child and frequently walked home for lunch and back to school in the afternoon. We would love to see that happening but we are living in a very different society now. It is not just an issue for the Department and its planning; it is a societal issue that will require the policing of safe routes to school for kids. I do not know how the Government will do that. It has been done in some continental countries where children can leave their homes and we know they will be safe the whole way to school and back but in the current environment in this country, I think there would be huge resistance to children being let out on their own, even at secondary school level. These are issues that the Minister and his Department will have to confront in the near future. I thank him for his time.

I will try to address the Senator's points as best I can and discuss the specifics of the different areas but I do not have knowledge of everything because we have so many projects. On Galway, I agree with the Senator about the cross-city link project. It will run from Barna through to the hospital, NUIG, over the Salmon Weir Bridge, and through the centre out towards Parkmore. This is something Galway fundamentally needs because so much of the population is living on one side of the city and working on the other. This will give them an effective crossover point and access to the college, the hospital and the city centre. The Salmon Weir Bridge project is part of that. It has been funded this year and is going to construction. It will allow much safer active travel and is right in the centre of a beautiful part of the city. That will allow us to put in really high-quality public transport infrastructure on the bridge.

We have committed to doing further research on the light rail but I see it working in a similar way to what I think might happen in Cork and Dublin. There are similar plans for each of those three cities. Limerick is different because it has so much existing rail line, but for those three cities we will build high-quality bus corridors, get the patronage up and get the transport-led development. That will give us a signal as to where to put the housing and then we can upgrade it to light rail. The housing has to be connected to the transport planning.

If we were to look at accelerating things, there are various projects in Galway. The development of Oranmore railway station is funded in my mind and can be done by 2025. There is also the likes of the Dublin Road and other key projects. I am encouraged by what I see happening in Galway City Council and the fact that it is looking again at Salthill. It is willing to test different ways of doing things to see if we can change the sense of place and come out of Covid by holding onto some of the public space and using it in a different way from in the past. That cross-city link with a view to getting a quality bus corridor and making a safe active travel space is the way to go.

On electric vehicles, we have a real timeline challenge here because electric vehicles are coming at huge scale, beyond what anyone can expect. All the motor companies are starting to realise that if they do not provide electric vehicles and if they do not have the range capabilities of the cars that are now selling out, they will fall behind. Electric vehicles will be particularly useful for rural Ireland because there are not as many charging complications as in the city. In my constituency there is a real problem with charging cars in rows of terraced houses or apartments. It is not easy. In rural Ireland, it is much easier because the connection point is not a difficulty for a one-off house in the country. People also tend to do more miles because of the more dispersed settlement model and that is where electric cars come into their own because they are cheaper. Even with the current high electricity prices which, please God, will be a temporary phenomenon, electricity is still a fraction of the cost of petrol and diesel. That is before taking into account that the maintenance cost of an electric vehicle is also a fraction of that of a vehicle with a combustion engine.

Our Department is engaging on the issue of charging points. We have taken this responsibility from the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications because it is a transport project. We are looking at a range of initiatives. The high-speed chargers at the motorway stations and interchanges are starting to be effective. From my own personal experience using the 50 kW chargers, they give you the capability of covering the country because you can stop for half an hour, have a coffee and quick read of the paper and that will get you to Cork, stopping halfway. I agree with the Senator that we need to scale that up.

With regard to the destination points, it is not just an issue in Dungarvan. It is the same right around the country for endpoints like Clifden or Dingle. I hate to call them that but this is a real issue when people get to the end of a peninsula or a popular tourist route. We will have to roll out a range of chargers. There is a role here for the market as well as the State. The State is supporting the ESB to provide some of these motorway and other stations but there are also other providers like Ionity in urban petrol stations. That competition helps because hotels, retail outlets and shopping centres in those locations have an opportunity to gain business if they have good infrastructure. The challenge is the distribution grid. We need a strong grid in order to power these things and it is not always easy or popular to build a grid. People in Waterford will know that that has been a contentious issue in recent years but we need the grid. We are aware of the challenge of getting all those charging points in place because the cars are coming.

On the charging points at hotels and the like, tourism is a major industry in this country. The Minister might look at grant-aiding to ensure that hotels in places like Clifden, Dingle, Dungarvan or west Cork have the wherewithal to put in charging points because it would be a huge advantage with regard to electric car rental for tourists and so on. I ask the Minister to look at that.

That makes sense.

I now call Senator Dooley.

Apologies for not being here; I was speaking in the Seanad on broadband, another important issue that falls within the Minister's remit. We have had discussions with the Department recently about the framework that is supposedly under discussion and how we can plan for the future of transport from a climate change perspective. I know that others have spoken about electric vehicles, EVs. I am concerned about that issue on two fronts. First, it seems that while we expect to have around 1 million EVs on the roads by the end of the decade, from talking to people in the industry, it seems that Ireland is competing with other countries and will be under enormous pressure to get the number of vehicles required. I know there has been relatively good uptake to date. The range anxiety issue that others have talked about is still an issue. I spoke to people in the ESB the other day. They are looking at this purely from a commercial point of view. In my view, there is a lack of ambition on the part of a State company that should be rolling out that service much more aggressively.

I welcome the Minister's recent announcement on funding for cycle and active travel, including walkways and footpaths. That is very important. Lighting will need to be installed as part of that. For some time, local authorities have shown a lack of interest in extending the lighting system around some of our villages. Most smaller towns and villages are looking at developing walkways and footpaths that run around their curtilage. The village that I live in, Tulla, is a perfect example. Part of a road was upgraded several years ago and a footpath was extended to effectively form a looped walk. Around one quarter of it is unlit, and at this time of the year it is dangerous. I know why the local authority does not want to extend the lighting, but is going to have to do so. It is part of getting people into that way of life. I know it will create additional pressure on the grid but it would be relatively small in real terms.

In addition to funding for footpaths and cycleways, we need to provide for lighting. It is like getting people to make a big spend on an EV. They are then captured as climate change ambassadors and from then on, they start to change other aspects of their lives to achieve carbon reduction. It is the same when we get people out walking. They do it at this time of the year, from a health perspective, to work off the pounds gained over Christmas. However, if people get into walking for that purpose, they also become active travel enthusiasts thereafter. We must make it as easy as possible for them to do so.

The other issue that has been a bugbear of mine, and I have raised it with this Minister and his predecessors, is school transport. I have argued for a long time that we should not restrict children who live within two miles or a mile and a half of their school, or whatever the distance is, from school transport based on their postcode, etc. If there is a bus passing, it should be big enough to take them. While dropping my kids to school for the past 15 years, I have seen people driving to the schools who, frankly, do not need to drive. They may live only a mile or a mile and a half away from the school. We would like to get them cycling and walking, but the first thing we need to do is to get them out of the pattern of dropping their children off every morning. The best way to do that is to give every kid access to a bus, which would mean having a few bigger buses. The buses are there anyway. As I said previously, we would get champions and ambassadors based on attracting them in. Where we would really attract young people is by getting them to use public transport. Is it any wonder that the first thing young people want to do when they get a job is to buy a car when they have been driven everywhere, particularly those living in rural Ireland? If we can get kids on buses from the start, we will go a long way towards making that modal shift and changing behaviour because it will become second nature to them as they progress through life. As an initiative from a climate change perspective, we should look at providing access to a school bus service for every child.

Perhaps the Minister will comment on that interesting proposal.

As Senator Dooley said previously, this Government has three years to deliver. We have all the plans we need, including the national climate plan, the national development plan and very good rural development plans. It is delivery that we have to accelerate and be good at now. If I were to pick various projects, and I am trying to do that in each city, one of the key ones is probably the Connecting Ireland rural mobility plan. I do not know if the Senator has had a chance to look at it. It came out of the National Transport Authority, NTA, consultation with councils around the country. It is really good and gives local authorities real flexibility to come back to us with route alignments that they are considering. The experience has been really positive. In Dingle, a new regular loop service around the peninsula was introduced. The service used to run once a day. Whether someone got a bus depended on the lunar schedule but the service is now regular and has recorded a 25-fold increase in patronage. It is not only tourists but also young local people who find it a godsend. It is a similar story in County Leitrim where a new service is being tested and trialled.

The interesting issue here is looking at how to integrate other public transport services that we need, whether they are services for local health authorities, social welfare offices or Local Link services. That can also apply to school transport where, as part of rolling out Connecting Ireland, we can look at whether connections can be made with the school bus fleet transport mode. We have an advantage in that a review of the school bus transport system is being undertaken by the Minister for Education. Everyone in the political system is aware that the issue is a real bugbear for our constituents. As part of that review, there is an opportunity to look at integrating school transport and a revived and new Connecting Ireland rural bus service system. There are clear plans in place. If I recall correctly, they would need approximately €57 million in the next three years. We may get savings if we used some of that service to help us on the school bus service. That is exactly where we should be going.

I keep coming back to the point that we need to show the same urgency with some of these measures that we did during Covid. We were able to do things that the public service never thought we would be able to do in the testing and vaccination programmes and so on. We need the same urgency and can-do attitude towards turning things around in the housing and climate crises, particularly in transport. There were not many good things about Covid, but one of them was that people got to know their local environment. I bet the loop walk in Tulla the Senator mentioned was busy.

You would nearly have to step off the footpath there were so many people on it.

Such walkways are social, healthy and more secure, which is important in light of recent events, God help us. The Senator is right. LED lighting could be a way of delivering on that. It uses a fraction of the energy and has a lower operation and installation cost. The lights are smaller but provide strong, downward light. They do not cause a serious light pollution issue. As the Senator said, we should look at solutions like that to promote walking in every way. The key point in respect of both greenways and those routes is that they should not just be for power walking. They should be used for kids to get to school. We should design them in ways that allow people to get to the shops and meet neighbours, thereby joining up communities. They should not just be leisure routes.

On the issue of EVs, this is a challenging and interesting project. I keep coming back to the point I made earlier that the grid is the key in an urban context, for example, where there is an apartment block or a row of houses. If every house gets a heat pump and an EV, there is a challenge as to how we manage the local distribution grid. Also, for more interurban and rural journeys, the big challenge with turning what are currently petrol stations into charging stations is the grid. To do this quickly, we need a lot of power. One of the innovations we may start looking at is aligning our parking with where the power is. For example, if there is a local authority location, perhaps in a town, we would think about putting the parking close to the ESB substation. Rather than bringing the power to where the parking is, we would start parking close to where the power is. The grid is the key constraint. There is an issue with getting the power if there is distance involved. With some of the interurban motorway petrol stations, the difficulty is being close enough to the grid to get real power. We need to start designating, designing and looking for places in the grid where we can put the parking, rather than bringing the grid to the parking.

I welcome the Minister and his officials to the meeting. Yesterday we had a very good presentation on NIFTI. That gave us a clear understanding of the framework for the future of planning, investment and infrastructure, and how that can be compatible with environmental objectives. From that perspective, we understand the role and importance of it.

A couple of issues have been raised. I refer to the planning laws and the review thereof. What participation does the Minister have in that? How has it progressed? How quickly will we have new planning laws? There is a significant concern in respect of serial planning objectors in particular. These are vexatious objectors who hold up developments for an inordinate length of time for spurious reasons. They have no familiarity with the location or development to which they are objecting. Effectively, the same objectors appear in every county and there needs to be a curb on that activity.

I am a firm believer in the town centre first philosophy and principle since the Minister explained it to us and because Tipperary town has been a beneficiary of it. All towns have suffered dramatically in recent years, mainly because of planning decisions that were taken 20 years ago. Towns are bereft of shopping opportunities because the big supermarkets and outlets were positioned on the outskirts of towns at the request of the planning authorities at the time. The heart was torn out of every town in Ireland. As the Minister stated, it has even gone to the cities now. In my county of Tipperary there are Thurles, Clonmel, Nenagh, Cashel and Tipperary town. Each of them has so many outlets that are locked up. We need to restore town centres and make them places of living again. We need to bring families back into them and make them living centres, as they were before. There are so many derelict buildings. There are unoccupied pubs and shops. I know the Government has recently taken an initiative to address this issue but it is absolutely essential if we are to return some vibrancy and activity - commercial, living and day-to-day - in town centres.

From what I heard on NIFTI, I presume the agreement to proceed with the bypass of Tipperary town is compatible with the NIFTI objectives. Obviously, there is a significant environmental dimension to the bypass in that it will alleviate traffic congestion, noise pollution and pollution from vehicles. In general, it will open up the town, take the traffic out of it and allow people to come back into the town to trade with local shopkeepers and do business in a normal way. Is the Minister satisfied that plan is in line with NIFTI? I ask him to reiterate his commitment to the bypass and its funding.

As an aside, since that progress was made and the Minister committed to the bypass of Tipperary town, the route process has been expedited. We are nearing completion in that regard and will shortly have the preferred route identified. In that context, many local farmers and people with land and properties in the area are concerned with regard to the compulsory acquisition of their lands and what have you. That certainly needs to be upgraded. The compensation must reflect the current value of the land. The compensatory measures that are in place at the moment are outdated and not in keeping with modern costs and values. They certainly need to be reviewed.

If the Minister were to address those few issues, I would be happy.

First, I still stand up for the right of people to make objections and even judicial challenges. It is a cornerstone of environmental good practice that people have the ability to use the law to question process or policy objectives or individual projects. Although these cases may cause hindrance and discomfort to many people, in many instances the objectors are often proven right. I do not think a curtailment of the right to challenge is the key approach here. Part of the problem is that, as I stated, the legal structures are so complicated that it is very hard to know in many instances what is the right process or project and that, in itself, is leading to many challenges. The Attorney General and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage recognise that. The Attorney General came to the Government and committed to providing that kind of review, update, modernisation and consolidation, more than anything else, of what is a very complex area. The Attorney General is a person who, when he sets himself a goal, you can have faith he will deliver on it in that timeframe. This is part of the acceleration of projects we need to do. I meet him regularly to get an update and an assessment and to feed in my own thoughts on what we need to do. I recently had a meeting with the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and Niall Cussen, the Planning Regulator, and both said they think it provides the opportunity for us to deliver the national planning framework objectives, as does NIFTI, to try to provide support as we update and modernise the law to provide for or support more compact development. They have a good stakeholders process through which organisations like that can give their input. I am confident it will be delivered in time and will be transformative.

As regards town centres, I will take Tipperary town as an example. One could take the example of Castlemartyr or another village. I could not have been more clear publicly and privately with TII and others that I think this is the priority. Mr. Ebrill may be tired of hearing me constantly saying to do the relief roads, bypasses and town centre first projects first and give them the greatest priority. We are at a critical moment, particularly as rural Ireland could benefit significantly, coming out of Covid, from people remote working and not necessarily having to live in a city. In fact, it is happening. We can see it happening. House prices are going up outside the main cities in a way that has not happened previously. The house price is higher there, which is indicative of a pattern of people deciding they will not have to live so close to their work. That is happening. It is critical that we get this moment of transformation right. To my mind, it is critical that we get as many people as possible living in the centre of towns because that is fulfilling the NIFTI principles in a sense. It is using existing assets. We do not have to build new assets everywhere. It means people living within walking distance of schools, churches, pubs, community centres and football pitches so that we can move away from a car-based system and we, as a state, do not have to provide ever-outwards development, which would be extremely expensive. In addition, you get the benefit of a very strong sense of community life.

We are not going to get all retail back, to be honest. I refer to this process of development outside towns in the context of retail. There was a case in the High Court before Christmas regarding an out-of-town retail unit that still got approval. That makes me scratch my head wondering how it is in tune with the latest planning thinking. The decision surprised me. We will have a review and update of the Housing for All strategy later this afternoon with the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

What I am also hearing in the context of town retail that is not being utilised - it could be an old pub or a shop - is that we are going to look at innovation around whether planning permission or whatever is needed for it to be reintroduced as a domestic dwelling. My view is that we need to look at bank lending rules around that and some of the access, egress and insurance rules in respect of fire safety and so on. We do not want to take any chances but we have to consider the obstacles to living above the shop and the conversion of some of those properties to residential use, particularly at a time when house prices are rising and there is a housing crisis. We need to amend a variety of those regulations to bring people back into the centre. One of the advantages of that is that when it starts to happen, local retailers start to gain and benefit. It can be done at scale - Tipperary town is big enough to do it at scale there - in terms of putting a large population in.

As for the nature of that road, I do not know the alignments and I would be keen to see them. In any event, it does not need to be a motorway. In fact, it cannot be a motorway because there are so many other towns and villages we need to bypass. We cannot do this at a scale of four-lane highways everywhere. It will also be better for the town if it is not an impassable barrier. At the same time, we should use this as an opportunity to take out the through traffic, particularly freight traffic in the likes of Tipperary town, which is on a major freight route from Limerick to Waterford. I think we should be bold. My advice, which I will be making clear, is we should use this opportunity to stop the through traffic, make the town accessible and create a civic space in the centre. Some towns have done that and shown it works. If we do not do that, traffic will always flow through and we may miss that opportunity. Let us make Tipperary town centre a spectacularly attractive place to walk through and to have a child. A colleague of mine says a town centre should be a place where you can let go of the hand of a five-year-old and not be terrified that he or she will get injured. That is what we need to do.

The Deputy might remind me of his final question.

Our understanding is that in Tipperary town, the bypass will form a link with the new N24 and will be the first part of the new N24 to be built. Will the Minister clarify whether that is the case?

Yes, that model has been used elsewhere. As for whether the N24, when it has been upgraded, although it will take time, will be a dual carriageway end to end, I do not believe it needs to be.

I am satisfied once the town has been bypassed and the N24 route forms a link to the town as the first part of the new route.

It will be a good investment because we will not have to go back to it again.

I thank the Minister and his officials, who gave us a briefing yesterday on NIFTI and how it works and operates. I found it very informative and we now have a better understanding of how it works and what investment will be needed into the future. I support the contribution made by Deputy Lowry regarding the town centre first initiative and building up our town centres to deal with dereliction and get people back living in our towns and villages. There is a tie-in here in regard to Government policy. There are major investments in rural regeneration projects, town and village schemes and repair and lease schemes operated by county councils and supported by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The Department of Transport and the Minister have a role in trying to make it easier and more attractive to live in towns. I very much welcome the package that was recently announced for Clare, with €5.3 million for the active travel programme, including to upgrade footpaths that have not been upgraded for decades. It is really good news and I compliment the area engineers, the road engineers and the design office of Clare County Council on the work, dedication and time and effort they put into making those applications.

The fear in respect of NIFTI or any other framework that will be used to evaluate programmes is that some key projects might not get through the loop. For example, in the case of the northern distributor road in Limerick, the first phase is under construction, which is really welcome, although there is an issue with it that I wish to raise relating to the section from Coonagh to Knockalisheen in Meelick. There is provision in the scheme for a walking and cycling route from Knockalisheen centre to Watch House Cross in Limerick, which is welcome, but there is currently no provision for walking and cycling infrastructure into the village of Meelick, which is very concerning. There will be much more traffic on this road once the project has finished and we would be able to encourage people from Meelick village to walk or cycle into and out of Limerick. Will the Minister put me in touch with an official in the Department of Transport to whom I can speak? I have raised the matter with Clare County Council, which has acknowledged it is an issue that needs to be dealt with. It would be beneficial if we were to tie in that work with the other ongoing work.

Turning to the second phase of the Limerick northern distributor road, is that project viewed positively by NIFTI? It is a key strategic project for the mid-west, whether Clare, Limerick or north Tipperary, and it will provide much-needed better access to Limerick and the University of Limerick, UL, campus. It is a key priority for the county councils of Clare, Limerick and Tipperary and an important component of the spatial plan the southern assembly has compiled. It ticks all the boxes and we need to see progress on it. Will the Minister come back to me on that?

Finally, he might also give us an update on the national aviation policy. Has there been any work on that? Will there be an opportunity for stakeholders to have input into that critical policy?

Yes, there will definitely be an opportunity for stakeholders to have input to the policy.

I might focus on the Deputy's first set of questions. If we are going to differ on this, we might as well be honest, upfront and clear on why there are differences. It is not anything ideological but I have clear views. The potential for Limerick is huge, but I think that potential will be best met with the development of public and sustainable transport, particularly using the existing rail network as the centre for development. It is encouraging that the NTA's work in Colbert Station provides a model for transformation of the city, addressing the housing crisis and providing economic development, which should be one of the first parts of the good work the authority is going to do.

If I were to look for a second example in Limerick, there are many examples I could highlight. I will be pushing for, and hope to deliver within this three-year timeframe I mentioned, plans, funding and everything to be agreed and in development for a railway station in Moyross. The reason behind that is there is a huge area of land, relatively underdeveloped, close to the city and within five minutes' walk of Thomond Park and Limerick Institute of Technology, and on a sustainable public transport route, which would be the epitome of good transport-led development. I could go on with other examples, particularly in Limerick, where there is real opportunity.

My clear view is that the northern distributor road would take Limerick in a completely different direction, into Clare. I acknowledge the college and the businesses upstream along the River Shannon will want to do that and will see that as an appropriate development, but the problem is we cannot do both. We cannot say we will build back the centre of the core of Limerick and build around public transport and, at the same time, say we will extend into Clare on a roads-based system, which can only accentuate or continue a dispersed, unsustainable development model. I have made that clear publicly before this committee and I will make it clear to the NTA and the council. I could not have been clearer with the council manager and will say the same to the councillors with great respect. I am clear in my view and I am not alone in that view. TII, which I have asked about it, clearly feels it is not the right road project, although the agency may be influenced by the fact, as was said at a previous meeting, that there would be a huge contractual cost to the existing owners of the tunnel under the River Shannon if we built a further crossing over it, which would be a result of that northern distributor road project. In a sense, it would go against NIFTI because, according to that framework, we should take into account what we have already built.

By going with the northern distributor road, we would completely undermine what was done in Limerick over the last ten or 20 years. More importantly, it undermines what could be done in terms of bringing life back into the centre and creating a really attractive urban core. The fact is that 3% of the population in Limerick is living in the historic core. What I would prefer to do, as I said earlier, is deliver the example of the BusConnects projects for Limerick. We are starting by including that funding this week for O'Connell Street. One could argue whether we want that cross-city route through O'Connell Street or via the bus station, which would be a good connection point. However, the NTA and others would come back and say that O'Connell Street and Limerick retail need a lift and that Limerick needs to create that special sense of place. I believe that is the way to go. Taking an alternative route on an unsustainable, uneconomic basis, without good transport planning in regard to the roads into County Clare, would be the last thing we should do in Limerick.

I am very disappointed with the Minister's approach. This is shocking news for the region. I am disappointed with the attitude to this road. It is a key objective of Clare County Council and of the local authorities in the region and has been for years. Would this be a case where the Minister is interfering, on a personal level, because he thinks Limerick should develop in a certain way? I look at Dublin and I see the Luas, heavy rail, light rail, roads and major investment. Why can Dublin have both yet the Minister is saying the mid-west region cannot have both? There has to be equity. This is a key piece of infrastructure not just for County Clare but for the whole region. It will open up UL and access to Shannon Airport and get things moving. I absolutely agree that rail should be looked at and invested in, but why can we not do both? Why can we not have this major investment in the mid-west just like we see in places like Dublin?

I am shocked. I have said the same thing three or four times now in this committee and it is not particularly new. Yes, I have a role as the Minister responsible and included in that is my role around funding. Limerick needs more investment in public transport, and that is my clear view. We need to invest in the Ballybrophy line, which is being retracked at present and we are going to put extra funding into that. The strategic rail review will, in regard to that line and the Waterford to Limerick line, ask the question as to what those lines are for. Do we let them just chug along at bare minimum use or do we want to make strategic use of them? I think we should make strategic use of them. I think we should build new stations along that line. It is not just that we have the stations in Nenagh and Castleconnell, but we need additional stations and we need to build around that and have the industrial estates served by that.

The Deputy knows that the Limerick to Ennis line lay unused for years. It was then proposed 25 years ago that some money would be spent on it and everyone said it would never be used, but it has been hugely successful, to my mind. I would like to see us putting in the stations, doubling down and going further. Similarly, the existing rail line to Foynes has not been used but we will open it up for freight and for commuters. I see no reason we should not do a spur to Mungret as well and put stations in at Dooradoyle, Crescent and Adare, and start creating that metropolitan rail network for Limerick. Why is it that we have to change at Limerick Junction when going to Limerick? Every time, people have to get out of the bloody train and get on a different one. Why is it a single track from Limerick Junction to Colbert Station when we could twin-track that relatively easily and cheaply, for a fraction of what the road would cost, then put a station in at Ballysimon and watch that area bloom.

Yes, I think that is what we should be doing in Limerick. I am unequivocal in my view that Limerick has been starved of good public transport options. We put a lot of money into road and we built the bridge under the Shannon. Another road and another bridge would undermine that first investment so let us build the public transport. More than anything else, in the three-year timeframe in which we could do it, let us build BusConnects and the active travel that we are going to do in Dublin and Limerick as well. I said to the city manager at the time we approved that road, which the people of Moyross really needed and wanted, that it was fine but on one condition. The condition was that we open up and take down the walls in Moyross that separate it from the rest of the city and its communities, and build the active travel and BusConnects connection between UL, LIT and Mary Immaculate College. I think that will transform the city in three years.

With due respect, the Minister is goading.

With due respect, you are. The Minister interfered in a process in Limerick. The people of Moyross were entitled to it but the Minister created chaos. The Coonagh-Knockalisheen route was to go in, but the Minister did everything possible to ensure it did not go through. It has now gone through and it is going to make an enormous difference to people's lives. Everyone agrees about the double line between Limerick Junction and Limerick. We have all been proposing that for the last two years. The Minister was not listening, although he is now listening. To be honest, we agree with an awful lot of this stuff. We agree with a rail system in Limerick. The initial LSMATS plan did not have it and I put forward that it should use the existing rail lines. That is not exclusive to the Minister. We all proposed that. The issues are not mutually exclusive. We need to put a rail station into Moyross but, equally, we need to have connection into the area as well. They are not mutually exclusive. We need to put extra stations along the rail line and, in time, to have a spur to Shannon Airport off the Ennis rail line. None of these are exclusive. It is about that integrated model. Limerick needs to progress across a range of areas, including the northern spur. I will hand back to Deputy Carey. I did not wish to interfere.

I do not intend to goad but I am passionate about this.

We are all passionate.

That is fair enough and I agree, but the Chairman can allow me to be passionate too. We built a station at Pelletstown recently which would be similar to the type of station to be put into Moyross, and it cost about €12 million. Could we build that in three years? Could we get it through planning and get it constructed? If we went about this climate crisis in the same way we went about the Covid crisis, could we do that? I think we could. I think the people in Moyross would see that as a hugely positive development.

There is a lot of work done, a lot of the network is already there and it is a matter of joining it up. Would the Chairman or Deputy Carey agree that the sustainable transport route connecting UL, and I pick these iconic routes because they show intention to where we are going-----

I am a Deputy for the area and I know all of those routes.

We could connect UL to LIT to Mary Immaculate College. Would that or would that not transform the city centre, as well as connecting those three colleges and benefiting the community?

Using the existing rail lines is a no-brainer.

That is not the rail lines. That is on the road and on the riverfront. I think it could be done in three years. That is why I am talking about acceleration. We need to look at that level of acceleration.

The Minister is missing the point. I will go back to Deputy Carey.

I met the Minister, the Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, and Deputy Brian Leddin about the Limerick to Ennis railway line a few weeks ago. There is a long-standing issue that has been going on for 20 or 30 years in that the railway line floods annually. I did not get a commitment from the Minister that he was going to sort that out. Suddenly, now, we are going to have train stations everywhere and a spur to Shannon that has been talked about for 30 or 40 years. I would greatly welcome that. I would love to see the work starting tomorrow. I would love to see a rail station in Moyross and stations throughout Limerick. It makes sense. The Ryder Cup is coming to our part of the world in a number of years and it would make an awful lot of sense to have that connectivity there. However, I am talking about the here and now. The Minister needs to bring people with him. He needs to bring the region with him. He needs to have another look at his policy in regard to the mid-west region. He needs to ask why can our region not have both rail and road as alternatives. The Minister needs to have another look at that. The Minister needs to take that on board.

I will. The committee knows my views. I prefer to be honest and upfront.

The LMATS plan is due to come out and that will obviously be the blueprint for looking at Limerick.

I welcome the Minister and his officials. I will surprise him by not being as parochial as I usually am. I have a few national issues to raise. I am worried about NIFTI because I feel it is another fence in a process that could outdo the Grand National when it comes to building infrastructure. I have been through this with the Minister before, particularly at the meeting in October. It takes between eight and 15 years to build a road in this country. To answer some of the questions the Minister put to my colleagues a few minutes ago about building rail lines, the problem is similar if not worse in rail.

There are many things we do right in Ireland. It is a fantastic country to live in and I often think we put ourselves down too often. However, here is one area we are not doing enough on, as I know the Minister will acknowledge. That is investment in public transport. It has been a problem historically. I note Mr. Ebrill is here. What we did with roads from the 1990s until 2010 was transformative. Much of that was under Fianna Fáil Governments and that is something our party holds dear and proud. When it comes to the transitional or modal shift we require for investing in public transport, we are nowhere near where we should be in a country as developed as ours. Given the wealth of the State in comparison with many countries, it could be strongly argued we are not doing enough.

I think it is sinful that, although the all-Ireland rail review is ongoing, we are not entertaining the proposal for high-speed rail in excess of 300 km/h. It is daft. I often hear many of the Minister's colleagues in the Green Party speaking about higher speed rail. We need to look at that area. I would almost disregard the transition to electric vehicles and put full focus on the electrification of intercity lines. It is possible to travel from Cork to Dublin using technology that is already used in France, Belgium, the UK, Germany and China, for example. This existing technology can be bought and implemented in Ireland and could provide journey times between our big cities of, in some cases, under an hour. That would transform every part of rural Ireland, particularly on the existing Cork-Dublin, Dublin-Belfast and Limerick-Dublin lines. I want to see the Minister, as a Green Party Minister who cares deeply about public transport, put a degree of focus on that. This is not a bypass that will cost €50 million; it is a multibillion euro investment that the Department should be looking at.

Is NIFTI just another analysis and another step to interrupt a process that is already highly complex? I was delighted to hear Deputy Lowry refer to the planning process, which I have raised with the Minister already. It is a disgrace as it stands. The damage serial blockers are able to do to a process where there should be alternative ways for making representations when issues exist around planning is a huge concern to development in Ireland. We know it has cost us billions of euro of potential investment. The Minister made his point on the democratic process and I appreciate where he is coming from, but not to acknowledge that is an issue is a cause of serious concern. The Minister needs to take that on board because walking the streets of rural Ireland, I find that it is an issue everywhere. People come from far and wide to object to projects in towns. Public transport is an area where that has been a huge hindrance. Will the Minister reply on those points? I will contribute again if the Chair gives me some time.

I am glad the Deputy is looking at the big picture and thinking long term. Hopefully that thinking goes into his submission to the strategic rail review, which is ongoing. The specific opening requirement was to look at high-speed rail, originally on the Dublin-Belfast-Cork line but subsequently extended to other cities. We are not ignoring it. The interim funding done in the last year will shave something like ten minutes off the Dublin-Cork journey time.

The Deputy is looking at a bigger, bolder initiative. I will give two or three personal thoughts in that regard. First, I was at a conference in Cork about ten years ago attended by a leading academic from the UK. I cannot remember his name but he was very impressive. He made a point concerning other cities, particularly in a country as lopsided as ours with so much development in Dublin. It was that investment in Cork, Limerick, Galway or Waterford does not undermine Dublin. It is not either-or but that we need to invest in the regional cities at scale. The real priority is building out as quickly as we can. That is why we put the European recovery funding into Cork metropolitan rail.

I want to stop the Minister. I want to be very focused. I appreciate the European relief funding is being directed towards the metropolitan rail network in Cork. That is €184.7 million, if my memory serves me. I am talking about a multibillion euro investment in a Cork- Belfast line. Joining up the network would involve tunneling under Dublin, the electrification of the entire line and dealing with getting from Heuston to Connolly. There is no plan or discussion about that. I know he Minister is doing the all-Ireland rail review but the public consultation for that closed on Friday so I cannot feed into that process.

The reason-----

With the protection of the Chair, I ask the Minister to hang on for a second, please. It is an area we should look at and I say that because of the congestion coming into Dublin. At the moment, for somebody living in Cork who wants to drive to Dublin, and there are thousands of such journeys every day, the rail journey time does not compete with the road journey time. That is also the case for Limerick and Galway. If the Minister wants to get cars off the road, we should not be talking about congestion charges or ways to fine and tax people; we should be looking at investing in alternative and more appropriate forms of transport over the next ten to 20 years. It is a horrendous failure of investment that we have not connected the largest airport in the State to our rail network. I think we can all accept that but it is up to us to fix it. That is why I put these points forward to the Minister as part of this new NIFTI process.

I have no objection to the idea of a really good high-speed connection but what needs to come first is investment in the regional cities. The fear I have if we did it the other way-----

How does investing in those cities----

If I could finish, with the protection of the Chair.

It is a point that needs to be made. I have limited time, and the Minister knows that.

Let the Minister finish and I will give you latitude, Deputy.

I have interrupted the Minister on this point already. I want to add one sentence.

We will let the Deputy clarify.

When the Minister refers to investing in cities, what does that mean? Does he mean doubling the size of train stations? I cannot see how that relates to a high-speed network between cities.

I fear if all rail and all roads lead to Dublin, Dublin will continue to boom.

That is not what I am saying. I am talking about connecting up-----

No, but that is my fear. If everything is about getting to Dublin quickly-----

If the Minister is trying to tell me that investing in high-speed rail will hurt Tipperary, Limerick, Cork or the rural areas between them that would be serviced by the line, that is outrageous. Come on.

It will not stop in Tipperary; it will be straight to Dublin and out to the airport. We need to build the metropolitan rail network in Limerick-----

Could we not put three stops on a Cork-Dublin line?

We could. The point I am making is-----

That is the point you are making.

No, the point I am making is------

We are getting away from ourselves a little bit.

-----when it comes to the electrification and investment of rail infrastructure, the first priority is metropolitan rail in Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway. Others are Oranmore station, the twin-tracking of Limerick, building out the metropolitan rail network, building Moyross station and moving the train station in Waterford. These are all achievable, deliverable, immediate priorities.

It is not a case of saying "No" to a high-speed, 300 km/h, several billion euro line from Dublin to Cork. However, there is risk. Everyone says it is great that we have all the motorways going to Dublin. What has happened? Currently, 75% of new housing is in Dublin and the surrounding counties. We have to start delivering better balanced regional development. That is at the centre of the national planning framework. The way to do that is light rail for Cork and Galway, as we discussed earlier, and metropolitan rail systems. The Limerick rail network and the Cork metropolitan rail network will be perfect for the new battery electric trains we have bought, which could charge in Mallow and run to Midleton on that charge, or charge in Nenagh or Ballybrophy and run to Shannon on the other side.

That is excellent but I-----

I think the Deputy is making a different point.

They are two separate issues.

They are not separate.

Hang on a second. I was crystal clear in what I was saying. I am talking about what will happen in ten years' time. The Minister will be instrumental during the potentially three years and one month he has left in office, under the rules we all have to abide by in the Constitution around elections, as regards the impact he can have. The point I want to make is whether we are doing enough to increase the speed of the services provided by rail. At the moment, in my view, even the metropolitan lines that exist are not quick enough.

We need to look at faster trains and shorter journey times, which will drive the modal shift to get cars off the road.

At the moment, we are not doing enough in that area.

I will come back to the question of which we should do first. We should invest in this-----

The Minister can do both in tandem.

There is a limited amount in the budget. We have €35 billion but when we look at all the projects and add them up, it is not a bottomless pit. We could even double that €35 million for the projects for 2040. We had a €75 billion ask when we went into the national development plan and that is just for existing projects. That is before we consider the Waterford-Limerick rail line which is underutilised. In fact, we could reopen it to Rosslare if we were investing in rail or look at the Ballybrophy line, which is also underutilised. To add another one to the mix, the small investment in the western rail corridor between Claremorris and Athenry is relatively inexpensive. Which should we invest in first - a 300 km/h rail line to Dublin, the western rail corridor or the Waterford-Limerick rail line?

I think the Minister should-----

I will be interested in reading what the strategic rail review says on this.

The Minister should be aware that the Deputy has limited time

The Minister should be looking at a plan for it because in five years' time, he does not know what the European investment frameworks will be for rail. It is obviously an area that is set to grow. The Minister must admit that is what is happening at European level.

I agree with the Deputy.

It would be prudent for the Minister to look at this issue further.

I agree and I will tell the Deputy one thing that will happen in five years' time, as sure as eggs are eggs. Further investment in public transport will be accentuated because of the urgency and need to meet our climate targets in transport, which will be the hardest to achieve. It will drive further investment into public transport as the solution to that issue.

I thank the Minister. I call Deputy Duncan Smith.

It is nice to see good robust discussion about ideas and policies in the committee. We do not see enough of it in the big Chamber so it is nice to see it in this room.

I will scale through a couple of issues on NIFTI. Have any projects gone ahead over the past 20 years that the Minister believes would not have fallen within the framework of NIFTI as it has been constructed? By the way, I think is a fantastic framework. It is good and I welcome it.

What progress will be made on the Rosslare line? One of the objectives of the Government, which the Labour Party supports, is increasing freight by rail. A number of areas are booming in Ireland, one of which is Rosslare Europort, which has seen a 400% increase in traffic since Brexit. However, everything that comes off those boats goes onto the roads. What is the Minister's plan with regard to reopening the rail line there?

Another objective of the Government which everyone supports is the rolling out of greenways. They are a success no matter where they are. Are there any regions or areas in which there are competing priorities with regard to providing a greenway and also getting a rail line back into use for either a metropolitan line or the use of freight? Can the Minister shed any light on that?

While I am discussing that area of the country, I will mention the Barrow Bridge that links counties Wexford and Kilkenny. What are the plans regarding the future of that bridge? Will it be left in the open position for navigation? Are there any plans with regard to that? One of the points of NIFTI is sustainability, protection and renewal. This bridge, for example, is vulnerable to damage from storms such as the recent Storm Barra. I am interested in hearing the Minister's thoughts on that.

Greater balanced regional development is something we all want to see and to which we all aspire. There is a big debate about flexible work this week, which we have touched on in this debate. Is the Minister satisfied with the Government's plans with regard to people being able to work from home and having a guarantee that they can do so? This will be key. We are already seeing the fruits of it in the property market and people's desire to go back and work in the communities in which they grew up or perhaps in a new community. There is a desire to live in rural Ireland but it needs to be backed up with a workers first approach so that people can have certainty that if they are resettling or want to resettle, their jobs can go with them and decentralisation can happen, be it in the private or public sector. It can happen now by people working from home as opposed to trying to move a whole Department and all the rest, as happened 20 years ago. There are huge opportunities here. I would be interested in the Minister's thoughts on that debate as it relates to regional development.

On town centres, I spoke to a woman before Christmas as she moved into an apartment in a town in my constituency. It is not above a shop; it is in an apartment block. It is adjacent to being above a shop, however. She commented how positive that was and how she felt she was right in the centre of things near the shops and coffee shops she goes to. Above-shop living is actually quite desirable to people. When does the Minister believe changes will be made in our planning legislation and planning objectives to promote that? We saw it on a grand scale when we had the lockdowns in Dublin and the major cities in 2020. They were deserted because people were no longer living in them.

My dad met his brother and his best friend in the centre of Dublin where they grew up. He commented on how Thomas Street is just not the vibrant street it used to be when he grew up. I replied that neither he, his brother or his best friend live there any more. They went back because that is their home. They go back for a pint and all the rest but how do we ensure the next generation of people who are growing up there will stay in the city and that we can return people to the centre of our cities in a very real way? We know that developments are coming through. I am not someone who likes to object to development because at the coalface of advice clinics, I see people who need roofs over their heads. As patchy as our current social housing framework is at the moment, a portion of anything that is built will go to our local authorities for allocation. That is still a driving force, however broken our system may be.

When will we really and truly deliver public and affordable housing in communities, be it above a shop or a one, two or three-bedroom dwelling? Whatever the units may be or however they look, when are we going to deliver to the extent that we will really regenerate Dublin, Galway or anywhere in between?

The Deputy raised a few different issues.

Yes, there are a few different issues there. I will not contribute again.

If I may have a little time, I will go full steam at all of them.

I will give one example of a regret, or perhaps where NIFTI would have been useful. I will go right back to when I was involved in the Dublin transportation advisory committee in the mid-1990s. I was very involved in the development of the Platform for Change plan, which was really the best plan, one which we rooted in good, deep, sustainable planning concepts. I will always remember when - it must have been in 1999 or 2000 - the engineers and all the brains behind that plan gave us a presentation with a slide that read whatever we do, build the metro first and do not widen the M50 first. What did we do? We widened the M50 first and did not do the metro. As a result, Dublin has now developed as a doughnut city. That is not blaming anyone but that was a fundamental mistake. In setting a strategic direction for the city, it is going to very hard to recreate a sustainable model. We will do it but that is an example.

The Deputy is correct about freight. Again, included in that is this idea of Dublin being at the centre of everything. I believe 95% of roll-on roll-off freight comes through Dublin Port. Roll-on roll-off is our main freight and haulage mode. Everything comes into Dublin Port, drives through the Dublin Port tunnel and down the country to drop off stuff before going out through Dublin Port again. It is the biggest challenge when it comes to climate. We have a real issue with how we are going to address this. The haulage business is not making money out of it. The rail review includes looking at freight. We are looking at a wider haulage strategy. That will require a whole range of different solutions such as how we fit the circular economy into it, among other things.

To give an example of greenways competing against other public priorities, I will perhaps take Rosslare Port which, again, is developing, particularly for roll-on roll-off freight. With Brexit, the land bridge is less attractive so we are seeing much more going through Rosslare.

On the issue of the rail line, the Deputy mentioned the Barrow Bridge. It is being kept in the position that it can be opened until after the rail review. We await the findings of that. Some people are saying that rail line could be turned into a lovely greenway while others want it to be connected to the port. With Rosslare set to become more strategically important for the State, some ask why we would get rid of that rail connection. That is an example.

The western rail corridor was mentioned previously. If members want to get into a civil war, as Senator Dooley might know, his friends further along the western coast - Deputies from counties Mayo and Galway - have very different views on whether we should develop that line as a rail corridor or as a greenway. I dare not even mention the subject because it is so sensitive. There are examples like that.

On the issue of remote working, it is full of real benefits and potential. It has the potential for us to revitalise rural Ireland, develop hubs and towns across the country and transform how the country works for the better. For many people, working form home is going to be very attractive. They have found over Covid that it works. There are some risks to it. First, we need to avoid the risk of not taking the road space while we have it. Going back to what I said earlier about the much reduced level of commuting, we should quickly and urgently, in the next two to three years, make sure we do not return to having every distributor road going into the city full of traffic, which will inexorably happen. Traffic fills the road space, so we need to take some of that space, particularly in the city centres.

Working from home could also accentuate what we have seen in the hollowing-out of some areas. In my constituency of Dublin Bay South, the south inner city suffered particularly during Covid. While the north inner city at least had a large number of people living in it, in the south inner city, where there is a large number of offices, hotels and retail spaces, it did not have enough people in it. We need to bring people back in to Thomas Street and elsewhere. We have been trying to do it and talking about it for decades, but it is time for us to do it. The point I made earlier in respect of Tipperary town applies just as much to Thomas Street.

The provision of public land is also an issue. Our Department has responsibility for Dublin Port. We are going to take land from Dublin Port and give it over for housing. As we build the DART+ out west to Maynooth and the need for the storage of trains is moved beyond Maynooth, we can then take the incredible storage site in Inchicore which is a massive centre for potential development. We can and will turn Cathal Brugha Barracks into a new living quarter close to the centre of the city where residents will not need a car. One of the questions being raised is how to bring down the cost of apartments and provide affordable cost-rental housing in the likes of Cathal Brugha Barracks. People can walk from that location into town. It is close to good public transport infrastructure. People in that area will often be working perhaps five or ten minutes down the road. As is happening in cities right across Europe, where there are sustainable zones, we could put 1,000 homes in there and car parking would not be required. We would save a fortune because the land is very valuable. We could create really high-quality development in that location, which is beside the canal.

We will take the through traffic out of Rathmines main street, which was designed as a stunning boulevard. Let us bring that back and put the housing in with it. That is utterly doable. There is a clear commitment in Government to housing. It is our first priority. Young people will continue to be priced out of our State unless we take these bold measures. It will not be easy for the Army, but we can build new, better, high-quality barracks, whether it is at Baldonnel, Gormanston or McKee Barracks. They need modernisation. At the same time, we could use the land at the Cathal Brugha Barracks for sustainable communities close to the centre. We need to get people back in the centre of our cities, particularly in south Dublin and Dublin city. The area is hugely successful but it cannot just be a financial services and tourism centre and not be our town where we live.

I agree. The same goes for towns in my own constituency, such as Swords and Balbriggan, and even villages like Lusk and Balrothery. The closer people can live to the centre, the better. I thank the Minister for his response. I want it noted that I did not bring up MetroLink. It can happen, when the Minister is in front of me, that I do not mention MetroLink. That is not to say it is still not my priority. I was happy to hear the Minister mention it in the context of what we could have done 20 years ago and state that he is supporting the strategic objectives we have.

I thank the Minister for attending and taking questions on such a wide range of issues. I will focus on a few areas, one of which is active travel. The Government has made a significant commitment on this issue and there was a launch earlier this week. The bike-to-work scheme excludes large numbers of people. Should it be expanded? Should we have a central plan for our cycle network? We can look at a roads map or a rail infrastructure map but we cannot look at a map or plan for our cycling network. That is a difficulty when these projects are being delivered locally. There is sometimes significant resistance to projects and arguments that we are building cycle paths to nowhere. For example, I can look at the Project Ireland 2040 plan and every project that TII is delivering. I can see at what stage of development it is, for example, if it is at design stage, and a number of key indicators in relation to that. I think we should have the same for our cycle network. We should also have champions. I know there are various programmes, but there is not enough there yet in terms of local champions and leadership in relation to it. Those are the points I wish to raise on delivering active travel. I agree there is ambition there from Government. However, while the Climate Advisory Council also agreed there is ambition, it asserted that there is a deficit in implementation.

The other issue I wish to raise is accessibility and affordability of public transport, whether in school transport in our urban centres or in our rural communities and villages. There is a significant opportunity to enhance that. Again, the Government has plans but I am raising the delivery of those plans. Like other members who have spoken, I can give the Minister multiple examples of people in new communities in my constituency who have told me they were thankful their son or daughter had passed the driving test and is ready to go on the road because there is no public transport to the train station and the price of the train ticket is extortionate, particularly in areas outside the greater Dublin area. While there is positive policy intent, we are a long way off in terms of practical delivery. How does the Minister intend to address the accessibility and affordability of public transport, principally public bus transport?

On active travel, the Deputy is absolutely right. We need a national network. A company called Sustrans was involved initially in delivering the UK model and developed a national cycle network. Such networks work for a variety of different reasons, particularly in relation to tourism. We can sell Ireland abroad as a place to come and cycle or walk, activities which are hugely popular and will grow. Critically, we must ensure that these are not seen as just leisure and tourist routes. The network should be seen as bringing people into and through the town or city. That is why we have amended the mandate for TII to give it the job in that area. TII is an incredibly effective delivery agency. It has good engineering and contracting experience. It is good at dealing with landowners in respect of compulsory purchase orders. That national network is key.

The position is similar when it comes to the cities, although it is not only TII that is involved. The NTA is working on these metropolitan area transport plans on a statutory basis in Dublin and on an advisory basis in the other cities.

Included within that are the cycling plans, and even down beneath that. Again, I am able to pick Dublin as an example. What I have seen in the four Dublin councils is that they are evolving and developing really good progressive cycling plans. They have to be rolled out in an integrated way, so it is not a case of having bits here and there. We are doing the Royal Canal at the moment, and we do need to complete the entire route. It will be politically difficult because I know there are some sensitive areas along the route. Similarly on the south side, we have done some really good bits on the Grand Canal between Portobello and Baggot Street, but we have not linked it up to Inchicore and further out. We have also done really good work on the north quays of the Liffey, but the south quays are horrific. This year we are building a really good cycle route from Clontarf into the city centre, but there is no point if it gets to Beresford Place or to the Millennium Bridge and we are into the horrible multi-lane car dominated transport system on Pearse Street or Tara Street. It does have to be part of an integrated network. What I am saying to the NTA in particular, and I will say it to local authorities – I had a meeting with 350 engineers on Zoom this morning – is to do the co-ordinated bit first. The same thing applies to Limerick. Routes must be coherent and not stop-start. They should not have a pole in the middle of the route or throw people out into the traffic in an unsafe way and promise them safety.

Coherent city and national networks are what we have to do in active travel. We will do this. We are only warming up. The level of spend has been slow to date – it was €45 million four years ago and it will be up to €289 million this year. That is not a small increase. It took time to get the engineers in the offices. It is still taking time. Dublin City Council has been unconscionably slow in getting some of the staff in, but they are coming. The key issue is the councillors. They must buy into the vision. For example, in Dublin city centre, councillors in Dublin City Council must decide if it is their view to stop the city being dominated by cars as part of the revival of the city.

In terms of accessibility and the cost of transport – I also include disability access as a key element in this, and the availability of public transport - one of the key issues in the Connecting Ireland public transport project is that it provides public transport to the people with the least public transport, who are often in the villages in rural areas. That is key. We have a number of initiatives in Dublin city, for example, the 90-minute fare and improvements to the Leap card as part of the BusConnects project. It is a significant benefit to be able to hop from the DART to the bus or the Luas to the bus and so on. We are extending a lot of the Leap zones. In Cork, Mallow, for example, is being included. I remember Deputy Sherlock was always pushing for that and I am glad we are delivering it. We will have a youth fare this spring, initially on the public transport routes but also on private routes, although that will take a little bit longer. That halving of the fares for people in their early 20s is important to get them into the habit of using public transport.

As I said, I was at a meeting the NTA organised with engineers around the country. There was a simple slide put up which I will share subsequently with the committee as it is something that I have always held to be true. Again, I am looking at Dublin city, because it is my city. Most households in Dublin city do not have a car. The biggest accessibility problem we have is that historically we were always investing in the private transport system and ignoring the fact that anyone with a disability or a low income who could not afford a car were not benefitting from that. In fact, they were often the people who suffered most from the air pollution and from the unsafe road conditions. The first key social justice aspect of transport to my mind is to switch towards active travel and public transport because that benefits the poorest in society disproportionately. I do not think that is a bad thing for us to do. That is the key.

I agree with some of the points made about pricing. It is very expensive on some of the routes. We will systematically address it. It is not easy. There are so many different calls on the money. It is not like a magic wand, but the first principle is to support those less well-off in society by investing in public transport and active travel.

I will come back and give an alternative view. I agree with what the Minister said about the city. Many people living in rural and regional areas, who are not serviced by good public transport and in some cases none at all, are forced into car ownership. We heard from Dr. Hannah Daly and others at the climate committee about long-term affordability. I have lived that experience myself when I was commuting in and out of Dublin. On a point of principle, I was taking public transport because it was part time, but the minute I moved to the car I was saving time and saving money. That is not the way it is supposed to be. We need to build a system that improves on that.

I wish to raise with the Minister a couple of points relating to projects in my county. We have the Boyne greenway which is proceeding at a frustratingly slow pace. The initial feasibility study on it was done in 2011. I met with the Navan cycling initiative last night. It raised its frustrations in terms of the practical delivery of the project. In the first instance, we need to expand the greenway from Navan to Trim and while it should be, it is not on the radar at all. I know projects of that type and scale have been progressed in other areas in a more efficient way.

I also wish to pick up on the Government's initiative for students commuting to college. Is there an indicative timeline for the new scheme? How will it apply to public transport and also to private operators?

I am conscious there are other members who wish to ask questions so I ask the Minister to be as concise as he can.

The cost of living is a big issue at the moment, so I am pushing to do it as quickly as possible. It will be a couple of months because we have to update all the systems, but we are on track to deliver it according to the timeframe set out. I do not have the details on the Boyne greenway but I will have a look at it. I would be interested in getting Deputy O'Rourke's views on the extension from Navan to Trim. We were asked earlier about examples of old railway lines, which could be greenways or could be reintroduced as rail, and it is one of those examples. Is part of that the old Kingscourt line or is it separate?

No, it is separate. There are particular issues at the Navan to Drogheda end because there is an old navigation pathway along the Boyne, which is a complication in terms of development, but there are not the same constraints on the Navan to Trim section. However, that is not proceeding and it is something we would like to see progress at a pace.

We must be careful here in that we must provide good quality greenways, but we also have a very extensive network to build. What I am saying to TII is that we must be careful we do not over-engineer. We learnt during Covid that we could do things very quickly. The critical political decision is for there to be a good surface and to provide the space. Does it have to be the mother of all engineering solutions with all the bells and whistles? Greenways in particular do not carry heavy weight. More than anything else, it is a matter of reallocating space. TII must be careful not to over-engineer in some of the solutions. We can always go back and re-engineer if there is a particular problem. Speed is of the essence now. We can test it, and it is great if it works, we can double down on the investment and if it does not, we can take it out. A lot of the time now, it is all about the speed of delivery. We must give the same message to TII and councils; to build quickly here. I know that is not easy sometimes because of the planning system but the public will be supportive of these new services because they really want them.

I thank the Minister's officials for the briefing yesterday on NIFTI. It was very clear and concise and explained to a lot of people what NIFTI does and does not do. My understanding is that it does not choose projects, but it was described as a lens through which to assess a project and how it fits with national strategic objectives in terms of planning and other infrastructure.

It is important when we are spending large amounts of public money that they comply with those overall strategic objectives.

I am getting a bit of stick over the N11 in my constituency. I am reassuring people that we will continue with the safety improvement works that need to be done on the N11. We need to maintain our roads to ensure they are safe. We will continue to improve those access points for that roadway to improve safety and help people get on and off that road. There are too many exit points onto it as well.

In tandem we will still proceed with providing express bus routes along that road, which is key. We cannot continue to spend billions of euro on roads and then be expected to spend billions of euro on public transport where they are running beside each other creating competition. We need to be careful about how we spend the money. The N11 has sufficient capacity. If we can get people onto express bus routes and invest in the rail line which is running parallel to and which serves all those population centres down the east coast of Wicklow, that is a smart way to do it. I hope I am right in assuring people that we will proceed with those kinds of measures. The initial plan of six or seven different selected routes across greenfield sites, sensitive environmental areas, third lanes and talks of tunnels was just crazy and created considerable concern among residents. I think we have achieved the right balance there.

I was delighted to hear so much discussion on rail earlier. As the Minister knows, it is an issue close to my heart. I have never heard so much discussion on investment and support for investment in rail infrastructure throughout the country. However, we need to be clear on it. We need to sweat the existing assets. When people talk about high-speed rail, I do not think they understand that to put high-speed rail in place would probably require having four tracks between Cork and Dublin which would cost billions of euro. We should use the existing infrastructure, and ensure those trains run at good frequency at good speeds and serve the population centres along the way.

The key to sustainable public transport is that it must serve populations. I think of stations such as Avoca, Geashill in Offaly and even Castlebellingham in Louth. They are areas where for a small amount of money we could open a station and bring a bit of life and vibrancy back into those towns and build sustainability into them. A lot of life was brought to towns by bringing the railways to them, and a lot of life was taken away from towns by closing railways and depending on cars for getting around the place. That did enormous damage from the 1960s onwards and we need to reverse that trend.

The southern arch route from Wexford to Waterford and on to Limerick could bring that connectivity back. It would cost a small amount by comparison with road investment. I believe the electrification of the rail line from Greystones to Wicklow town could be done for about €20 million, which is small when compared with the price tag on road investment. NIFTI provides a good opportunity for us to do that. Is it meeting a strategic objective? Does it support compact growth? Does it support decarbonisation? It is a helpful tool to have for that.

The Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage recently discussed transport-oriented development, TOD, with representatives of the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, who produced an excellent report on TOD about two years ago. Is there enough collaboration and discussion involving the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Department of Transport and agencies such as the Land Development Agency, LDA, and the CIÉ group to identify an area where, if we provide more trains or buses, we could increase the population to make it a self-sustaining town where those other services follow because there is a population of scale there? Is there enough of that TOD discussion going on involving the Department of Transport, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the LDA and Irish Rail? Irish Rail can develop a railway station pretty simply. It has been doing so for years and has off-the-shelf designs that would fit perfectly. It can do it pretty quickly and it might be worth looking at towns, especially those with closed stations. I ask the Minister to consider all those points.

No doubt that is music to the Minister's ears.

The Deputy is a very good railway engineer with specialist knowledge in signalling and systems and so I listened with real intent. I would love to know his views on what we do with the Wexford line. It is a stunning rail line. It passes through Avoca and Rathdrum and is probably one of the most spectacular rail journeys in the world. Do we use it effectively? I come back to asking this fundamental question in the national rail review particularly because it is subject to coastal erosion. We will need to invest a lot of money to just maintain the existing line. As we are doing that, I agree with the Deputy about a bus corridor on the N11 and the electrification of the rail line as far south as Wicklow. I would be interested to hear in the Deputy's views. I said earlier that some of these new battery electric trains can sometimes extend the electrification. The advantage with that is they involve a quicker pick-up. They are in and out of the station in less time. They are much cheaper and cleaner to run. There are many benefits. I would be interested to hear the Deputy's views.

There is real co-ordination coming between the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Department of Transport. As I said earlier, we need to accelerate to meet our climate objectives. We need to show the same urgency we showed in dealing with Brexit and Covid to deliver because otherwise we will not meet our climate targets. Looking at various Departments in detail, transport is the biggest challenge by far. We need the same urgency and the same can-do approach to turn things around. That will require teams in the public service that pull all our agencies together. We have done that with the Covid pandemic, with Ministers meeting officials every week to ask if it is happening. We need that level of engagement to drive change at the scale and speed we need.

The Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage has a critical role in this. As I mentioned at the start of my presentation, I would love to see better analysis of actual outcomes with the national planning framework. My sense is that we are not actually delivering that. The truth is that there is still concentrated development on the east coast and a dispersed development model which is very hard to service with public transport. Some good things are happening and it is not all bad.

Part of the problem is that we do not have good data. The data system the Dublin local authorities have is different from Cork's which is different from the rest of the country when it comes to assessing what is happening on the ground with planning and housing. We can get aggregate information for a county, but that does not give the granularity of detail we need to ensure that we are getting sustainable compact low-carbon balanced regional development. Perhaps the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage might look at what is happening today. Are the transport policies we are introducing today delivering the outcomes we want?

I agree with the Deputy that NIFTI is this lens. It is all about the national planning framework. If we are not meeting the objectives, we should be clear about that. As well as meeting climate plans we also need to meet those planning objectives, including town centre first. I am terrified that we will end up with local authority housing in the centres of cities and towns with still a mass evacuation of the better-off outside leaving us without the sustainable mass we need to make attractive vibrant communities using existing infrastructure and assets. While there is good co-operation between our Departments, we have a lot of work to do to get a detailed analysis of what is happening on the ground, not just at county level but down to the district electoral divisions. We will need to work on that project jointly.

I call Deputy Cathal Crowe who has approximately seven minutes.

The great thing about this committee is that approximately seven minutes is always loose, which is to the credit of the Chairman because he is very good at giving latitude. It also allows the Minister to have an exchange with us. It is always appreciated.

We had a very good briefing session with departmental officials yesterday. It is a very good idea because it short-circuits some of the stuff and answers many of the questions we may have. A colleague of mine from the time I was on Clare County Council, P.J. Kelly, has been a Fianna Fáil councillor for a long time; I think he is Ireland's longest serving councillor and is a really talented person. He once referred to our county development plan as the refusal kit because he said there were many good policies there but there also were many policies that automatically shut down or refuse development. None of us wants NIFTI to become the same over the lifetime of this Government.

Yesterday, we were briefed on the hierarchy of the options and how everything works. However, that needs to work positively. The Minister and the officials who are present need to work through that menu of options. When a road or other infrastructure is involved, of course, we first need to remediate it and bring it up to modern standards before building something new.

I get all of that requirement for value for money and meeting public needs, but please do not allow it to become the "refusal kit", as P.J. Kelly would have called it. We spoke in the Chamber some months ago about the Limerick northern distributor road, phase 1 of which is progressing fantastically down along the Clare-Limerick border area. The Chairman can attest to that. Phase 2, however, remains in a state of limbo.

I have been watching this whole debate from my office. Reference was made to a lot of rail projects, which again I am very enthusiastic about. A few months ago all of us in our constituencies went onto media, social media and the airwaves to talk about the national planning framework and all of the very positive projects that were going to happen including rail spurs out to Shannon Airport with many stops along the way in suburban Limerick, north Clare and on up to Ennis. There was a mixed review from people. Many people were as delighted and enthused as I am, while many others felt that it was pie in the sky. I do not want to put words in the Minister's mouth but earlier he touched on this. These projects must go through a lot of hoops and are often delayed by many years. That concerns me. I hope the Minister will champion moving things quickly through all of those realms so they become shovel-ready projects that are actually going to be delivered. I believe the Minister and his officials want to see this. However, I do not believe we can have a scenario where a metro north delay happens with every nice project that we now look forward to and anticipate around the country.

I happened to be in Beijing in the year it hosted the Olympic Games. That was a worst-case scenario because they brought bulldozers through parts of the old town to clear it for fancy shiny stadiums. That is not where we want to be at. Equally, we cannot have environmental lobbyists who are based in the heart of Dublin city objecting time and again to projects in Clare. I will not name this person because that would be an abuse of the committee, but it has happened time and again. It has held up key projects such as the Killaloe bypass that are now happening. There must be some entry threshold or pre-qualification for someone to object. I would not, in a month of Sundays, object to a project in the Minister's constituency, elsewhere in Dublin or in Wicklow. I would not do so because what does it matter to me? I am at the other side of the country. There are, however, people who meddle continually in what is happening in County Clare and in the mid-west. We must have some pre-qualifiers to ensure we do not see all of these projects fall off the cliff because of vexatious and interfering objections.

I have some questions, and I want to leave time for the Minister to respond. I believe the Minister will have to grasp the issue of rail ticket pricing. I have some real-time information. I have been fiddling around on my phone here on the Irish Rail app. I travelled with Irish Rail this morning and I use it as many days as I can to get to Dáil Éireann. We are a family with three children and it is a rite of passage for every Irish family have a day out at Dublin Zoo and go home again. Today it will cost a family of five €182.57 for a return train journey with Irish Rail from Limerick Station to Dublin's Heuston Station and back in the evening. By contrast, the same family of two adults and three children could today take an overnight sleeper train from Amsterdam to Vienna for €75.80, with bed and board and everything going on that train. It is wrong. It is more than double-fold a journey. As another contrast, I could mention the little holiday that my family have already booked this year. In August, we will fly from Shannon Airport to Edinburgh with Ryanair for approximately €120. It is ludicrous. I love the train and train journeys. I am a huge advocate for getting on the train and using it, as much as Deputy Matthews is. It is absolutely insane to think that one can go from Amsterdam to Munich, or from Shannon to Edinburgh, more cheaply than one can travel to Dublin by train, which is a journey of one hour and 55 minutes. It is crazy and it is deterring people from using the train. We want to see modal shifts and new attitudes, but it will not happen unless the price is right. I really want the Minister to grasp that.

My final point to the Minister is school transportation. We can talk time and again about decarbonising our economy, putting more trains on and opening new stations but the answer is to consider what happens in July and August. When the schools are closed, it is easier to get from one side of Dublin to the other or from one side of Ennis to the other. Even in Limerick city, where the Chairman is from, or in any other town in Ireland, one can get from one side to the other with relative ease because the schools are closed and there are not 1.8 million cars making school journeys in the mornings. It will take some devising, but the answer is for the Minister and his Department to seize control of school bus transportation from the Department of Education, take it over and put bus after bus on the road. I imagine that the Department of Education would be glad to offload it.

The Minister was already hinting at going in that direction.

I believe it needs to happen.

I will conclude by saying to Deputy Matthews that I absolutely love the train and I would love to see more rail lines opening up. I have often said in this committee that we need to advance a lot of projects in the Clare area and in the west of Ireland. Reopening a train line is fine but building a new rail line takes many years of procurement and different stages, which are arduous and costly. A new hydrogen-powered Scania bus for €100,000 would bring people every half hour on an existing road network, and that makes a huge difference. In my neighbourhood we have a very enhanced bus service into Limerick city from south Clare. It was approved and then six or seven weeks later it was functional. This should also be in the nexus of solutions. I have thrown a lot at the Minister, but I know as always he will have plenty to say, and I thank him in advance.

I agree with the Deputy that we need to make public transport cheaper. It is a difficult balancing act because there is a whole variety of ways in which we need to make it cheaper. As I mentioned earlier, the Connecting Ireland new public transport service for rural Ireland is a hugely progressive development. That needs new money and additional public service obligation, PSO, subvention. It needs the Exchequer to be able to provide. We are already very tight on the PSO. How exactly we make the finances work and how we do this is a critical issue. I would be arguing that we should do this. The Deputy can mention it to the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, in his conversations in advance of the budget later this year. I would be very happy to support it.

There is one thing to flag among all the difficulties. I have been one of the first to be upfront in saying that we are not going fast enough and that things are not working as well as I would like. One thing we should not ignore is that prior to the Covid pandemic, public transport numbers were going up steeply. There was a huge demand, despite the price problems that do exist and particularly for families in the circumstances like that. While I do not have the exact figures here, across the board Irish Rail numbers were increasing in almost double digits per year. It was the same in the bus services. The more this gets better, the better the chance of bringing down public transport fares. We want to build a virtual circle of success.

Irish Rail at the time was very competitive on price if people booked online. We all use rail. Punctuality on Irish Rail is very good and the staff are very good, but the broadband is very poor and mobile coverage is non-existent. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. The Minister should be going back to Irish Rail to ask what it can do to enhance broadband, to get mobile coverage and to enhance the range of customers who would use it. I can get from Limerick city to Leinster House quicker by train than by driving. It is not the exclusive of any particular group who are pro-rail. I want both rail and road. I do not wish to digress but I get frustrated when people speak about rail. There are fundamental issues at the moment. There are a lot of positives but the two major negatives are broadband coverage and mobile coverage. The broadband is not great and the mobile coverage is a complete and utter disaster. In this modern day and age that should not be the case. If we want people to travel by train and encourage them to travel by train, they will do so. A business person will drive because he or she will want to have mobile coverage in the car. One cannot take that risk in a train. These are basic things that can be done.

Taking Clare for example, I agree with what was said about the bus service. We need rail and it is important, but I recall some years ago Ennistymon was served by just one or two buses a day. I agree about the costs, and the ability for us to double or triple that, and then the response when there is a reliable service is transformational. There are incredible towns and beautiful villages in Clare, right across the county. Reference was made earlier to Tulla. In Kilrush, Kilkee and right up to Lisdoonvarna, my sense is that a lot of them are starting to revive. People are thinking that they can raise a family and work remotely in County Clare, in a really attractive local environment with a strong culture. Some places are doing more than others. I will not give names here but everyone knows that certain villages are holding up while others are not. What is it? Why is it that one revives but not the other?

This might go back to the projects we fund. Connecting Ireland is critical because we could design a route in County Clare, as is starting to happen, where there are Local Link services. Previously, the Loop Head peninsula had a system whereby the post delivery was also a bus system. We need that sort of integrated transport planning that kills two birds with one stone and provides a regular service. Those towns and villages in County Clare in particular - not just Ennis, but all the towns and villages in the county- could really boom if they were on that bus service route. They will always be served by bus rather than by rail.

As regards the important review of the school bus transport system by the Minister for Education, I was merely saying we have to wait and see what it says in respect of the right way to go about it. If the Department of Transport has a greater role, then we should not shy away from that, particularly if it can provide some of that interconnectivity such that the bus transport for schools is connected to the wider enhancement of public transport systems. We will not be shy if that is the right thing to do, but that will be a matter for the Minister for Education and the Government to call.

I thank the Minister. I suppose the green way of life is how he has lived all of his life but, ideologically, many people did not buy into the greening of Ireland until recently. Far more people will not make the modal shift until it makes sense for their pocket. I get what he is saying about the PSO but, unfortunately, people will not make the modal shift to rail if a journey costs €182 for a family. I can raise the issue with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, but I hope the Cabinet will look at it holistically because it is simple. If there was a maximum price limit on rail travel such that you could take a family of five up to Dublin and back for €30, suddenly it would be more competitive and more efficient than going by car and it would make far more sense for the Department to acquire additional carriages and have longer trains that get to Dublin more quickly, as well as for all the other good reasons.

In conclusion, I mentioned the concern that many of these projects to which we look forward could be delayed. Can the Minister give any hope of indication in respect of the line of stops from Limerick city to various locations in south Clare and out to Shannon airport? When or how might that be progressed?

I referred to this earlier. As Deputy Matthews stated, we could build stations on existing lines relatively cheaply. Irish Rail has project plans it could take off the shelf that are not hugely expensive. I would start with Moyross in the next three years and then build out from there. We can do it and the council can help by doing the planning around it with the Land Development Agency so that we get housing benefit as well as transport development. I see no reason we should not start building out the network in the next three years.

I have a timing difficulty as I have to join the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste at a press conference at 4.15 p.m.

I thank the Minister for being very engaging, as always. I hope that when we have another meeting such as this in the coming months, I will be able to tell him in real time that it is now cheaper to travel by train in Ireland than it is to go to Amsterdam or Scotland.

I have three members and one non-member waiting to contribute, so I ask speakers to try to keep within the seven minutes. I know it is a hard ask.

I will do my best. I was due on at 2.57 p.m. but it is now 3.53 p.m. I wish the Minister had said that an hour ago or after I finished speaking. Not to worry. I will do my best. There is a lot in NIFTI but, although it is a new name, there were programmes and structures before. I again thank the officials for the presentation yesterday. There was previously the strategic investment framework for land transport, which considered projects. NIFTI makes sense. There is a lot of jargon in it. There are investment priorities, modal hierarchies and intervention hierarchies.

Deputy Crowe spoke about moving people from private to public transport. I will try to develop that point and ask how we get people from private and even public transport to active travel, with a particular emphasis on people in the school scenario, at both primary and secondary levels. The Minister knows Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown particularly well. The safe routes to school programme and many other initiatives are happening there, though not all of it has total buy-in yet. Some projects will get such buy-in but others will not. We have to get people early. I would nearly say we should be giving every primary school person the option of having a bike for a year for free and seeing how that works out. They would not be given a bike but allowed to hire it free of charge and asked to use it for a year to see if it will work. If they are using the bike, it can be sold to them. We need to get people trying to travel by bicycle.

The Minister and I are very familiar with the Goatstown Road-Clonskeagh Road. It is a great road but it is now almost over capacity in terms of bikes. It is difficult to get past people cycling more slowly than you are. A person may be cycling behind me and want to get past but will have to try to negotiate the wands and everything else. It is better than it was but we need to encourage people who have never cycled or who have not cycled in 20 or 30 years to say they actually do not need that. There are barriers. Those barriers are not just the provision of showering facilities at workplaces and that kind of thing. Leinster House is, by a significant margin, the safest place in Dublin to park a bicycle, although I suppose the Government Buildings complex is probably just as safe. However, there are many places in the city where you would not park a bicycle with the confidence that it will still be there when you return two or three hours later having gone for a meal or to the cinema or something. That is a significant barrier.

As a Government and as a State, we need to see what is stopping people from trying to cycle or walk. What is stopping them from moving up that modal hierarchy? The most reliable way in terms of time for me to get to Leinster House is by bicycle. If I can travel by bike, I do so. There are many people, however, who have never tried it. They do not have a bicycle, have not thought about it and may not qualify for the bike-to-work scheme. They would need to make an investment to get going. I refer to the motor tax pricing system. People are charged a significant amount of motor tax upfront. They pay a large amount in motor tax and car insurance and may have already outlaid €1,000 or €1,500 of a fixed cost. Even with fuel at its current price, that is a difficulty because people have already shelled out all that money. Although it may be difficult to do and account would need to be taken of people who have to travel long distances, we should consider whether motor tax should be based on usage rather than on the type of car. Under the current system, once the motorist has paid the tax on the car, there is an incentive to drive it, rather than it being the other way around.

Much of what I intended to raise has been covered. Last week, you could fly with Ryanair to Cyprus for €7.99. You certainly cannot get to Killarney by train for €7.99 at any time of the day or year. I am sure that not everybody on that plane was travelling for €7.99 but Irish Rail may need to get more competitive. Maybe it needs to run offers, such as a €10 or €5 fare to Killarney on Tuesday mornings, for example. That would ensure the train is full. I can drive to Killarney, although it would take me a while. However, it would also take me a significant amount of time to drive to Heuston Station and find parking, or even to get their by train, bus or bicycle. There would then be the issue of finding a safe space to park the bike or maybe take it on the train. Much of the time, issues such getting into town and getting out of town at the other end, such as if you are not travelling to Killarney town itself, for example, are the barriers that prevent people from moving up the hierarchy.

I welcome NIFTI as a concept. I understand we are relatively short on time and I want to allow time for the Minister to respond. We need to keep as many people as possible remote working. The Goatstown Road-Drumartin Link Road was mentioned this morning on AA Roadwatch. Many people who did not have to travel previously are now travelling again. They may feel they ought to travel into work or maybe they are being asked to do so. There are many people in back-office operations who have been able to work successfully from home and, as such, have not had to travel to work. Employers and employees, together with the Government, should try to ensure that people can continue to do so. Part of that relates to improving the provision of broadband, which the committee will discuss tomorrow.

We need to keep people off the roads if they do not have to be on them and ensure that people make shorter journeys as high up the hierarchy as possible. Sometimes motorists - I am a motorist too - forget that every single cyclist or person on public transport would, most likely, otherwise be travelling by car; either getting a lift or driving themselves. Their choice to cycle or use public transport frees up the roads for those who do need to drive and are not in a position to use alternatives. I welcome it. It is positive but there is a lot to do to get people out of their cars and onto public transport and, in addition, off public transport and onto bikes in particular. The more we can do in that regard, the better. It is to the benefit of everybody's health and, in particular, the Minister's priority in terms of decarbonisation. There is also the fact that catering for active travel is far cheaper than building a new road or railway line. Let us do as much of that as we can.

I hope the Chairman will not mind if Senator Horkan and I go very local. I am a constituent of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, where he was formerly a councillor. We have a long history. The Clonskeagh Road is very familiar to me. I live off it. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown has done the best in terms of advancing new active travel. It is very difficult. The proposal for Deansgrange is very contentious. Clonskeagh Road is next up or one of the routes into the city centre at which we are looking. It is a major cycling artery through Ranelagh and into the city centre.

It is not designed to be safe at the moment. The junction at the bottom of Clonskeagh Road and Clonskeagh Bridge is a controversial spot. There is a pinch point where there is a right turn onto Beaver Row. There is a question of whether it should be reallocated to be a single carriageway, with space to make it really safe to cycle on, which engineers are recommending. That is a very difficult decision. Many people use this as a commuting route or for local access. It changes. It is contentious and difficult. It might be helped by the fact that I understand the council will look at Beaver Row. I think it is Dublin City Council.

It is half and half.

It has been recommended that it be a one-way road. As we all know, the current patterns on the road are atrociously inappropriate. The use of the road is not good for anyone. It is not safe or easy to navigate. Could we decide, on that road, to take that space? That would change how we use Clonskeagh Road. That is a local government political decision. These are difficult political decisions. They are the hardest decisions of all because people's everyday lives are affected.

The Minister set a parameter of 4.15 p.m. A number of members need to get in. I would not want the clock to run down.

Very briefly, we should be making those brave decisions now. The public will respond with a massive increase in the number of people using the system in a sustainable way, which would prove that this is a traffic system for everyone. The Senator referred to the morning news about the Drummartin Link Road. That will happen everywhere unless we act fast to make sure that we do not just return to gridlock. That would be a real missed opportunity.

I thank the Minister.

I thank Senator Horkan for his indulgence.

I was the first person to get it in within the time.

I applaud the Senator for that.

Given that the Minister has another engagement, I will not belabour any points with him, because in fairness to him, he needs to go to a press conference. We need a further strong conversation. Councillor Pat Dunphy has raised with me the Waterford to Cahir N24 scheme. I will defer because the Minister has to be gone by 4.15 p.m.

In fairness, Minister, I think the Estimates are coming in on 9 February, so we will have a chance to go through them.

I will be there for the Estimates, but I hope the Minister might give me a one-to-one meeting, given that I gave him a free pass today.

Does Senator Buttimer wish to pose a question to the Minister?

I am quite happy to meet Senator Buttimer.

I will be glad to meet the Minister one-to-one. He has to go to a press conference.

Well done. There is €360 million for active travel. The programme for Government refers to a 2:1 ratio between public transport and roads. Is that both the revenue and capital budget or just the capital budget?

Is the €360 million part of that 2:1 or outside of it?

With due respect, public transport versus roads is well above 2:1 in reality. Some €360 million a year brings it well above 2:1 overall. In one way, I am surprised that €360 million is not included in the 2:1 because the bulk of it is capital. Many projects have very little headroom, especially roads. I want to deal with roads. We have dealt with rail. We have very poor rail. Roads are equally important. That €360 million is on top of the 2:1.

The Minister has name-checked the national planning framework at length today. I have looked at the national planning framework. The two top ones are compact growth, which we all agree with, and enhanced regional accessibility. It refers to all regions in the country having a high degree of access to Dublin as well as to each other. Not every route has to look east. Accessibility can involve places like Cork and Limerick, to give one example, and the Atlantic corridor from Cork to Galway, as well as access to the north west. That is the number two objective of the national planning framework. We have the Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy, LSMATS, which I hope will address rail, because it was not in the original plan, and will address issues like the northern distributor road. We got a good briefing yesterday from the Minister's officials about NIFTI. It goes maintain, optimise, improve, new. When it goes down to new, it refers to major road capacity upgrades, including upgrades from single to dual carriageways.

The N20-M20 project is currently out for public consultation. They are coming back in with route selection shortly. Does NIFTI's structure in any way prevent a motorway from coming through the TII process?

NIFTI is not the decision gate. It has to inform. It has to state that one has to look at the rail option as well as the motorway option.

I accept that.

It would say that one has to look at upgrading the existing road rather than building a new road. It would say that one has to make sure one is doing a certain thing and is supporting active travel and other arrangements, but it is not the decision gate.

What is the Minister's view at this stage on the M20 project?

The Chair knows my view. I said this earlier. I think we should prioritise bypasses and likes of the bypass at Charleville and Buttevant and do that in the same way that we are talking about Tipperary town. That does not preclude the upgrade of the road. Do I believe a full motorway makes sense in this instance? I do not.

A dual carriageway?

I believe we should address safety issues first. I do not think that has to be through motorway design.

What about dual carriageways? The second objective under the national planning framework is to connect cities. The Minister speaks about the cities growing. Cork, Limerick and Galway must be accounted for. Many of the areas on the route from Limerick to Cork are treacherous, particularly between Charleville and Mallow. Bypasses are needed, but equally we have to address travel time and deal with sections of the road. Is the Minister ideologically opposed to roads? I am trying to understand.

There is no ideology. It is good engineering and good outcomes. I do not think NIFTI indicates that there is a first priority and then a second priority. It is about better-balanced regional development. I summarised it. It is also about compact development and low-carbon development. That third one is also critical.

If TII comes up with a proposal and is talking about a motorway or dual carriageway, will the Minister oppose that?

I would look at the engineering and economic case. As I said, we have an existing project pipeline requiring €70 billion. Much of that is in Limerick, Cork and Galway. If there is one thing that I want to make clear here, it is that I think we need to invest in Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick in particular, because we are not seeing them develop quickly enough.

The Minister said that already. The national planning framework, which he has quoted, specifically addresses enhanced regional accessibility and specifically mentions linking Cork and Limerick. Ultimately, if we are to have proper balanced regional development, we must connect the cities. I accept that we must have compact growth within the cities.

I will quote someone from outside. I hope he does not mind. Professor Edgar Morgenroth is an economist from DCU who was involved, as I understand, in the drafting of the national planning framework. I heard him say one thing that is simple but true. If we really want to see Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick develop, we must invest in the cites. That is the big plan.

Those aspects are not mutually exclusive.

No, but there is-----

We cannot have a situation where cities are operating in isolation.

If I can return to-----

The Minister spoke about Dublin. The only situations where we can have regions that would be competitive outside of Dublin is if we can achieve the synergies between the cities located right up along the Atlantic economic corridor. Has the Minister driven the N20 from Limerick to Cork?

I have driven it hundreds of times.

Does the Minister know how bad that road is?

I have driven it hundreds of times.

That road has the highest rate of fatalities. It is a lethal road and it has stopped economic development in that area.

I know it very well. That is why I think safety is a real issue.

We all agree with that.

There is also a real issue with those towns, in addition to Mallow.

Once again, I am coming a distance with the Minister, which is that I agreed to the bypass. I am also coming a distance with him in that we need to build up the cities, but for whatever reason the Minister has an ideological position whereby he will come out against something that might be good. He deliberately did so on the northern distributor road earlier. The LSMATS plan may show that it will be required. What the Minister is forgetting is that the northern distributor road could have buses and public transport on it, which would make the lives of people living in the area infinitely better. The fundamental point is that I do not see rail, public transport and roads as being mutually exclusive.

I will make a couple of points. If we build the motorway, it arrives at Blackpool in Cork. We will then have to build a motorway to the Dunkettle roundabout and northern ring road around Cork. That then undermines the rail investment we are making in the Cork metropolitan area. It is also incredibly expensive. We have an issue in that while €35 billion is a lot of funding, the truth is we will have an incredible challenge in meeting the existing road projects and public transport projects, in particular. It will be an incredible challenge. That means we then come to some investment decisions in the context of climate and sustainable compact development, which both influence me, in addition to budget matters. I know we have discussed this and have different views-----

I am a Deputy in Limerick city. I know that route intimately and grew up along it. We have a once in a lifetime chance and you are the Minister. TII is doing its work. I hope the Minister will have an open mind on what the professionals come forward with, whatever that is. I want to see a dual carriageway and motorway along that route. I want to see Charleville, Mallow and Buttevant bypassed. It stands to reason. If we are serious about policy, that project must go ahead. I want to let non-members in for a minute.

We agree to differ on that issue.

We will let the process decide. I will give strictly two minutes each to Senator Carrigy and Deputy Ó Cuív. I suggest a question and a response.

A couple of comments have been made on the national planning framework priority, access to the north west and balanced regional development. I will talk about roads and the recent announcement by TII that a number of projects have been pushed off funding for 2022, namely, the N4 from Mullingar to Roosky. This affects Longford, Westmeath, Leitrim, Roscommon, Sligo and south Donegal. Looking at a map of Ireland, and we can picture one in our heads, the north west is the one region that is not properly serviced with access to our capital city. That has to be a priority. The Industrial Development Authority was before the enterprise committee earlier today and its representatives spoke about the fact that accessibility to Dublin is needed for all regions. Our region has no such access.

We are weeks away from an identified preferred route after more than two years of consultation and the design office will now close down. That is not acceptable. Funding needs to be put in place to keep that process going until we identify the route instead of pushing it back until 2026 because what will then happen is the entire process will have to start again. Four years of work has now been done. We already wasted four years of work in 2006 and 2007. I ask the Minister to make a comment on this issue. On balanced regional development, we have to be fair to all those counties in the north west from Longford onwards.

The Chairman mentioned a 2:1 ratio. We are not meeting that yet and we will have a real challenge to do so. The reality on the roads side is that we have many roads in planning and incredible capability in road-building. TII and the local authorities are superb at building roads. They have endless numbers of projects. It is very difficult. We cannot give false promises and say that every single road will be developed now. It is not ruling them out. It is not saying that at some point in the future they will come in as a development possibility, but there is a budget limitation. We have got so many different projects, all of which were being developed. We do not have enough engineers to do all the planning and design of all the roads that were being planned. I had to give direction to TII to say, "Hold on a second here; we have to prioritise", and the prioritisation is along the lines I mentioned earlier.

The priority should be balanced regional development. An entire region of the country will not be serviced and other projects are going ahead. I honestly do not think that is fair. It is very unfair and if we want to get investment into where I am from, Longford, and the entire north-west region, we need that accessibility to the capital. That should be prioritised over any other road projects. Every region, including Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Belfast, has good road accessibility. The north-west region does not have that. That has to be a priority.

I will make an observation. The Department did a report on the ratio of spending between roads and public transport. I have statistics and I am wondering if they relate just to the capital budget or to the entire budget. In 2018, the ratio was 55% on roads and 42% on public transport projects. It was the same in 2019. In 2020, it went to 53% on roads and 45% on public transport. Is that just the capital budget?

To be clear on that, the ratio also relates to new investment infrastructure. We also have an ongoing-----

No. I have a point I want to make. In 2020, 53% of the budget was for roads and 45% of it was for public transport. Am I correct in saying that since 2021, the budget has been 67% on public transport and 33% on roads? Am I correct in that?

No. As I said, we have to look at road maintenance. We spend a major amount of money-----

No. Are the statistics I quoted for capital only or for all?

That is new, plus maintenance. The maintenance is not included in the ratio.

If the ratio in 2020 was 53% to 45%, what will the figures be in 2021 and 2022 for the breakdown between roads and public transport?

I will get my officials to come back to the Chairman.

Roughly, what is it?

It is not 2:1 in favour of public transport.

I would like us to get that statistic because this is coming directly from-----

I have a real issue because it takes so long and is so difficult to build public transport. We do not have the same pipeline. We do not have the same as Finland-----

I just deal in facts. Our problem at present is that there is a funding issue with many of the roads. It is coming down. That project is not going ahead because the money was not there.

Just in the past year, we have never spent more on roads in the history of the State. It is more than ever before.

The Minister has a lot of projects in the pipeline. The budget is €360 million on its own, outside of the 2:1 on active travel. I am not questioning the benefit of active travel. It is very important, but it is a significant amount of money.

I signed off on it.

Many members of the public would be under the impression that the €360 million included the 2:1 ratio. It does not.

I will make a point on the north west. We are spending €250 million upgrading the road from Castlebar to Westport. We are spending the same amount on the Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge road.

I apologise. I do not mean to cut across the Minister, but someone driving from those brand-new investment, top-of-the-range roads then hits the section at Longford. People coming from Mayo will meet the N4 in Longford. They will have a brilliant road the whole way to Mullingar, but from there to Roosky that 50 km road is not fit for purpose. We are then spending hundreds of millions on the far side of it. In between, there is a road that has a capacity for 11,000 cars but 18,000 cars are on it. It does not make sense. As I said, we have to have balanced regional development and we are not getting our fair share.

There are eight designed routes at present that went out for public consultation. People that I know, who live in my area and are neighbours, are on those routes. They now do not know what the preferred route will be because the process has stalled. What will happen is that all the routes will be stalled with regard to planning, etc. We have to provide the funding to at least get to a situation where a designated final route is decided on. We will then know how to go forward.

I heard Members on that issue and it is a valid point. I will be engaging with TII to make sure we can resolve some of that uncertainty, but it will not necessarily result in the advancement of all the projects. That is something that would be fundamentally dishonest because the truth is we do not have the funding to build them all. We could give false promises saying that everything will go ahead. We do not have €70 billion; we have €35 billion.

Under the national development plan, the Government specifically included a new objective that it would plan projects in advance.

I am in serious trouble with the Taoiseach.

I will allow Deputy Ó Cuív in for a minute.

The Minister would hate to go without-----

I could not fail to recognise my former colleague and mate.

I noticed two things under the investment priorities, namely, enhanced regional rural accessibility and decarbonisation. As the Minister knows, in Connemara, we probably produce more renewable energy, by a mile, than we consume in fossil fuels because we have some of the biggest wind farms in the country.

We are doing our bit. When I did an analysis of where the job is getting done with regard to renewable energy, I saw that it is getting done in places like Connemara. When we need something, however, it becomes something different.

Will the Minister explain two things to me? The Minister knows the Maam Cross to Clifden road very well. It was to be developed online up to a uniform national standard, which is quite modest. In other words, it was to be the same as the new bit at Derrylea. That is what was to happen and nothing more. Why has the planning of that been stopped? It is just about making it safe.

My second question is very pertinent and simple. Public transport funding will have a ratio of 2:1 against road funding. There is no railway in Connemara, except for a little bit at Maam Cross. I take it we will not reinstate the railway line.

For us, public transport does consist and will consist of buses. A train would go on railway tracks. Is rail taken into consideration as an absolute requirement for public transport in areas where the road is the only place where we can put public transport? These are areas where we cannot put it on the railway line because there is no railway line. Can I take it that the 2:1 ratio will include an input for roads to accommodate buses?

The option is not there for rail.

There is not a snowball's chance in hell. It closed in 1935.

Will the Minister consider that?

"No" is the answer. If we did, the ratio would become meaningless because every project would be a public transport project. The Deputy's point is well made.

The Minister is saying that we cannot get any of the "2" in the 2:1 ratio in the west of the county.

The problem is there has been an imbalance and a lack of investment in public transport, in Connemara as well as everywhere else, although it has improved. Those Citylink and other buses have allowed Bus Éireann-----

If I might say so, we had to pull the NTA screaming and kicking to get any buses to go west of Barna after 6 p.m. It has been dragged screaming and kicking.

I can come back to what I heard you saying earlier.

I waged a lone campaign and I eventually wore it down. There is the idea that there was investment but that is not the case. The NTA did it despite itself.

I will finish on a positive note. I can come back with a specific answer in written form on that road because the Deputy's point is well made. Deputies were saying earlier that public transport is more expensive, and it is in many cases. The Deputy knows that I can get from here to Cleggan within four hours for €30 or €35.

That is going through Corr na Móna.

I am not talking about going through Corr na Móna.

How does the Minister get there?

I go to Galway and-----

It would take an hour and a half to get through Galway.

Therein lies the problem.

Perhaps not by bike.

We have created a system that is gridlocked and for all our sakes we must get rid of that gridlock.

Everything is diverted over by Corr na Móna.

I will lose my job if I say much more.

As somebody who lives and works in the region-----

Everyone accepts that public transport is underfunded. Such a seismic shift may have the unintended consequence of stopping vital road projects that are part of balanced regional development.

I am meant to be on stage in two minutes.

I thank the Minister for attending. We look forward to speaking to him about the Estimates.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.25 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on Thursday, 27 January 2022.