I remind Senators that the proposer of the motion will have 12 minutes.
National Roads Authority: Motion.
That Seanad Éireann calls on the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to urgently review the necessity for the National Roads Authority and the effectiveness of that organisation.
I welcome the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to the House. I am grateful for his presence. I have been trying to raise this motion in the House for six years so the Minister will appreciate the importance I attach to it.
If the Minister does not mind I will speak in stronger terms than those of the motion. I do not intend to be critical of him. I want him to consider disbanding the NRA on the grounds that it has focused on certain areas of the country at the expense of others, including my county and other areas of the west. We are almost at the end of 1997 but the NRA has not published its report for 1996. Its 1995 annual report is the latest available; this is a clear indication of its inefficiency.
I read a statement recently by the chairman of the NRA, Mr. Liam Connellan, in which he indicated that over £0.25 billion is to be invested in the national primary and secondary roads this year. It was his opinion that this level of investment was vital to underpin economic development, to improve the prospects of social cohesion, to reduce transport costs and to improve safety and security. He is right to claim that the NRA has made a major contribution to certain areas but it has been at the expense of certain rural areas which are lagging behind in their potential for development.
It is unfair and undemocratic for a few fat cats to take the glory at the opening of major by-passes. There is a major bottleneck at Ballybofey and Stranorlar in County Donegal and all the traffic from the North going west must pass through Ballybofey and Stranorlar. We have sought a modest sum to relieve traffic congestion in the area but we have been offered a by-pass in six years time at a cost of £30 million, although at that stage it may cost twice as much. That is not a solution to the problem.
The Minister should consider allocating money on the basis of consultations between senior inspectors in the Department and the engineers in county councils so that counties such as Donegal might get their fair share. That would be the proper way to proceed. The present allocations are selective. About 73 per cent of all funding is being spent in Dublin and Cork. I do not question the need to spend money in those cities. However, if I drive to Stillorgan there are cut stone walls on either side of the dual carriageway and a central reservation planted with flowers, yet towns and villages in the west need lights. That is unfair and I ask the Minister to review the system.
We cannot continue to accept funding for the fortunate few. If the NRA decides to by-pass a town, roads, bridges and overpasses will be built. County Donegal gets £3,215,000 overall; £950,000 goes to the construction of the Donegal by-pass and £200,000 for the design — small fractions of the total cost. However, the county spends 29 per cent of funds on general road maintenance and 42 per cent on pothole repairs. Obviously, these amounts limit the amount of road development we can carry out. We can spend nothing on road marking which is vital for road safety and hedge cutting has almost stopped.
Ireland will shortly face reductions in receipts from EU funds. A recent newspaper article indicated that, according to a new report, Ireland's days as a top aid recipient are drawing to a close. The study which reviews EU grant aid programmes points out that Ireland has by far the highest aid allocation per head of population. Unfortunately, this is true. It will be believed that Ireland is no longer in need of EU aid. What has happened to rural Ireland and the regions that have not benefited? This is of major concern to everyone living in rural Ireland. This is not a political motion. I have tried unsuccessfully in the past to table such a motion and I would be surprised if there is not unanimity on this issue.
I ask the Minister to consider disbanding the National Roads Authority. The authority distributes money unfairly, at the expense of many parts of rural Ireland. The Minister's reply will be of major interest to those of us who are members of local authorities in rural Ireland.
I call on Senator Walsh to second the motion.
I second the motion. I welcome the Minister to the House and welcome the emphasis he has placed on efficiency and cost-effectiveness in our various public institutions. That criterion should apply to all public services.
Regarding the motion before us, we must remember that the National Roads Authority is charged specifically with the improvement of our national routes. That is a very important function. Roads are the arteries of our transport infrastructure, and when one considers that transport is the lifeblood of the economy generally, improvement of our roads is very important. Some 90 per cent of goods are carried on national primary or secondary routes. When one considers the impact that the roads network has on costs generally in our economy, including the costs of trucks, spare parts, fuel, tyres and so on, anything that goes towards reducing those costs is in the national interest.
To some extent the National Roads Authority is another layer of bureaucracy imposed between councils and the Department. While I would not be over-critical of its performance, I admit, as do many others who are charged at local authority level with administering road improvements, that the fact that we have a national roads authority has not made any difference. This begs the question as to why this layer of bureaucracy was imposed. There is a general trend in that direction. I know the Minister will have the courage of his convictions and take responsibility in this area. There was a tendency on the part of the Minister's predecessors, and others, to put some of these decisions at arm's length. That is not what we are elected to do. An example of that would be the new arrangements regarding urban renewal where there is now a proposal to set up a national body that will adjudicate on applications from the various local authorities.
Urban renewal has operated very effectively over the past decade or more. I see no good reason it should be changed. This is another example of duplicating staff and technical expertise. The question is whether we are achieving value for money which is a criterion laid down by the Minister's Department. The motion asks that we look again at the necessity for having a body like the National Roads Authority. I have had complaints regarding the schemes put forward where one ends up dealing with technical people from the local authority. They in turn speak with their counterparts in the National Roads Authority, and in some instances have had to call on technical expertise from the Department. It is almost symptomatic of the system of local authority housing where local engineers look at design schemes, one must then go to the NBA or another consultant and eventually the Department engineers become involved. I know of nobody who would consider building a house if they had to engage three separate groupings of that type of expertise. The system needs to be simplified and the motion before us is a step in that direction.
I welcome examination of the management system within the NRA. A fundamental review of the body is most important. This should be done in an objective way and I would be surprised if it did not illustrate that reverting to the system of the Department dealing directly with the local authority is a better solution to improving our road networking.
I would like to have the matter regarding the motion clarified.
The motion calls on the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to urgently review the necessity for the NRA and the effectiveness of that organisation. Senator Walsh clearly outlined the fact that he wished to have the review and the necessity for it and Senator McGowan wants it to be disbanded. I am interested in hearing what the Minister has to say on this matter because I am a little bemused and mystified. We are talking about 1994-99 which is the five year programme within which the NRA would be working. It is not very long ago since Fianna Fáil, in Government, established the National Roads Authority. I am surprised the motion asks for the axing of the National Roads Authority because in fairness to any authority or organisation it is extremely important that there be a review. The effectiveness of the organisation should be assessed. The call for the axing of it has taken me aback. If it is to be axed, what will replace it? The National Roads Authority was set up specifically to ensure that primary and secondary routes would be improved to give value for money. When it was set up I thought it would remove funding for roads from what had been seen as the largesse of the Minister for the Environment. That system worked to the distinct disadvantage of anyone living outside the region the Minister of the day lived in. The former Minister, Mr. Flynn, was always complimented on the exceptional network of roads that were built in the north west.
Only in Mayo.
When Deputy Smith was Minister for the Environment, I selfishly expected the same attention to be paid to the mid west, but sadly we did not get that funding. It would be easy to be parochial and say that if somehow we got rid of the National Roads Authority, anything and everything would be given to each one of us in our respective areas. Would it revert, however, to the old system of a Minister reigning supreme over national roads funding?
The responsibilities of the National Roads Authority do not just relate to funding — they are tied in with the operational programme for transport. I wonder whether the Minister could take that power within the 1994-99 period, considering that funding and structure were hammered out with the European Commission. When we question the NRA about funding we are specifically told that it is tied in with agreements hammered out between the Commission and the Government to ensure funds are prioritised during the 1994-99 period. Perhaps Senator McGowan has the post-1999 period in mind for axing the NRA or maybe he wants to do it immediately, but I am not sure whether legally that can be done.
It is interesting to look at the National Road Authority's remit from a national perspective. Our national routes account for 6 per cent of total road mileage, yet carry 38 per cent of traffic. That figure is not broken down between freight and passengers but freight accounts for over 90 per cent of road traffic, which is greater than in any other EU country. It is the biggest problem we have in this regard.
We must address the issue of whether we should have turned our back on a good rail network. Apart from LUAS, or whatever else will be in the Dublin area, we should revitalise the railways. Recently, I was waiting for a speaker to attend a trades council meeting. She was travelling from Dublin to Limerick by train and eventually turned up at the station half an hour later than scheduled. In seeking greater funding for the railways, I hope they will be able to deliver their passengers on time. I am glad to say that travelling by Iarnród Éireann this morning from Limerick I arrived at 10.30 a.m. to the second, something one would associate with the punctuality of Japanese railways.
The NRA's functions also include maintenance, traffic design and research. We cannot accuse its 14 board members, including the chairperson, of bias. As ministerial appointees they are selected. I find that interesting as far as axing the authority is concerned because it is more or less saying that one does not have much trust in the Minister's appointees to the National Roads Authority. Is the Minister happy with the representation of the 13 board members and the chairperson, Mr. Liam Connellan? If he is not happy, he should tell us.
While there is not an exact gender balance on the authority, there are at least some women who have a practical expertise of transport, although I may be accused of sexism for saying so. They represent a good cross-section of life, including those whom I hope have a major understanding of transport problems.
If the National Roads Authority is to continue I would like to see more transparency and consultation with local councillors who have much to say about the consultative process of which they are not a part. We should not have to beg the authority to come to our areas.
What has happened to a city like Limerick when last Thursday it took me an hour and 40 minutes to travel two miles from the University of Limerick to attend a meeting of Limerick County Council in the city centre? We do not have funding for the southern ring road. When I moved to Castletroy in 1973 we were ready to roll, but we are now told it will not be completed until well into the next century. At the end of this debate the Minister may well tell me that the funding will be forthcoming and that I will be able to get from Castletroy to Limerick in ten minutes. Then I would be quite happy with the National Roads Authority. All we want is value for money and the efficient delivery of services so that people can go about their daily work. The money should be spent fruitfully, effectively and efficiently.
To take Senator Jackman out of her suspense, the easy answer is that I have no function in deciding when the Castletroy-Limerick road will be completed. It is a matter for the National Roads Authority.
The Minister has the responsibility.
I welcome my first opportunity as Minister for the Environment and Local Government to address Seanad Éireann. I wish to advise Senators in advance that I am due to leave the House at 7 o'clock to attend a European Council meeting in Luxembourg. I have arranged for the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, to cover for me. I apologise to Members but it is due to circumstances outside my control.
In responding to the motion, I would like first to acknowledge the right and duty of the Oireachtas to review the adequacy of public service institutional arrangements under whatever Department is involved. This Government is strongly committed to the strategic management initiative. At its core, that initiative is about supporting a process which will make public bodies more critical and more ambitious in relation to their performance, and more responsive to the needs of their customers.
As Minister, I am determined to promote and intensify these principles of quality service in my Department and among local authorities and other bodies within my remit. I hold no brief for complacency about institutional arrangements or performance and in that spirit I welcome debates of the kind in which we are now engaged.
I have no difficulty coming to the Seanad to listen to, and take note of, the concerns, views and constructive criticism which I know will come from this House for either my Department or the bodies under my remit. I have no difficulty with this type of motion. I am surprised, having regard with what Senator McGowan said, that it has taken six years for a Minister to appear in the House to address a motion in this regard.
As regards the specific focus of the present motion, I will recall very briefly the background to the setting up of the National Roads Authority and the reasons for its establishment. There were two broad aspects to this. On the domestic front, there was a perceived need to provide for better co-ordination of the national roads programme which, from the foundation of the State, had been implemented through local road authorities. These arrangements had served the country well, but there was consensus that the time had come for a new structure and associated mechanisms which would facilitate better arrangements for planning and constructing national roads, greater concentration of effort and the most efficient use of resources.
In addition to that perceived internal need, external factors also supported this approach. The European Commission, and the contributory member states, were looking to the member states who were benefiting substantially from EU structural resources to adopt a new approach to the management of the co-financed public investment programmes. This focus involved the establishment of clear priorities for programmes, taking account of factors of community as well as national importance, the making of multi-annual funding commitments, both nationally and at EU level and the putting in place of appropriate arrangements for implementation, monitoring and review.
In line with these EU guidelines, the focus of the Operational Programme for Transport, 1994-99, is on four key corridors to which at least 70 per cent of total expenditure on national primary roads must be devoted. When Senator McGowan made that point and said 73 per cent of the money was being sent on two different areas, he was not quite accurate, but the thrust his argument in this regard is accurate. That is a stricture which is imposed on us by the EU rather than a decision specifically made by the NRA to deprive any particular area of funding, and it should be seen against that background.
The EU concern for action in priority areas requires that all Cohesion Fund aided roads expenditure be on routes that are part of the designated trans-European road network as determined at EU level. To a certain extent, the problem arises because of European strictures rather than decisions of the NRA.
Having regard to these various factors, the NRA was given overall responsibility for planning and supervising the construction and maintenance of national roads. The intention always was, however, that it would work in partnership with local authorities which would continue to carry out their traditional functions — acquiring land, designing roads and entering into and overseeing contracts.
In mobilising the NRA, a great deal of effort was put into achieving a balance between its role and that of individual local authorities. This local input would ensure that the resources, skills and experience of local authorities continued to be applied to the national road programme, in addition to their important and continuing work on their individual non-national roads programmes. I would encourage as much interaction between the local authorities and the NRA because that local input is vitally important.
Senator Jackman referred to the composition of the board of the NRA and it also reflects this concept of partnership about which we are talking. The Roads Act, 1993, required members of the NRA board to have wide experience and competence in relation to roads, transport, industrial, commercial, financial or environmental matters, local government and the organisation of workers or administration. This requirement was designed to ensure a balanced approach to complex issues of national road planning and construction.
In establishing the NRA on a statutory basis in 1994, the Oireachtas entrusted it with the general duty of securing the provision of a safe and efficient network of national roads. Good progress has been made in relation to both these objectives. Although the overall level of accidents on our roads is still unacceptably high, the work of the NRA has improved the safety of our roads. For example, it is generally recognised that the "black spots" programme instituted by the NRA in 1994 has helped prevent more accidents and the associated injuries and loss of life on our roads. Under this programme, action is taken to improve the safety of individual roads in areas such as signage, road markings and alignment.
The 1997 programme allows for expenditure of £1 million on 95 projects in 15 counties. Even with that programme in place, it is indisputable that the number of people killed and injured on the roads is increasing. While we cannot take comfort in the statistics which show that there more cars and more miles being travelled, it is only fair to give credit to the NRA and say that those figures, unacceptable as they are, would be much higher if such programmes were not in place. It is clear, and everybody in this House would agree, that that work needs to be stepped up and we need to look at our road safety programmes. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, who sought a particular responsibility in that area, will have an opportunity to address this with the House at a later date.
The national road network has become more efficient. Research carried out by the NRA has demonstrated the savings in journey times, and the reduced uncertainty about journey times, which improvements to the network have brought about. For example, average time savings of 32 minutes have been achieved on the N4 Dublin-Sligo road following the completion of three major projects. I am sure that, as Senator Jackman said, when they get down to Limerick it will take her ten minutes to travel from Castletroy to Limerick rather than an hour and a half as at present.
The Operational Programme for Transport, 1994-99, agreed between the Government and the European Commission, set the NRA the task of achieving completion of 53 per cent of the national primary road network, included in the four key corridors, by 1999 and of commencing work on a further 11 per cent. Good progress is being made towards meeting these targets.
By the end of this year, the NRA will have allocated since its establishment about £800 million for improvement works on national roads and a further £95 million for maintaining the network. Every Member will be familiar with some of the flagship projects resulting from that investment, but smaller scale projects have been implemented too, bringing welcome benefits to particular areas.
In considering this motion it is right that we should acknowledge the achievements of the NRA in getting the organisation up and running and in working with local authorities and others to develop the national road network. However, I agree with Senators McGowan, Walsh and Jackman that it is also timely to take stock. The creation of a new public service organisation, such as the NRA, inevitably brings with it difficulties in terms of new relationships and new ways of doing business.
It has been accepted in recent times that aspects of the management systems in operation in the NRA need to be reviewed and improvements made in certain areas. I am pleased to tell the House that the board and management of the NRA have recognised this and taken appropriate action. Last August the authority appointed management consultants to examine its internal management structure and to report with recommendations for improvement. I understand this report is near conclusion and when ready it will be considered by the NRA board.
There is also a wider issue. This Government, like its predecessor, is committed to public service reform and renewal. Central to this is the belief that all public service organisations must engage in a continuous process of self-evaluation, constantly searching for better ways to do things. A particular focus of this approach is the need to ensure all public service organisations are alive to the concerns of their customers and are responsive to their needs.
The customers of the NRA include Members of the Oireachtas, local authority elected members and officials, local people affected by particular projects, the European Commission, Government Departments and the construction industry. It is not easy to strike the right balance all the time, especially when, as in the case of the national roads programme, difficult choices have to be made, sometimes between bona fide local concerns and broader national policy objectives. However, all public service organisations have a particular duty to listen to and take account of the views of their customers, especially the views of those who are elected by the people to represent their interests. If the message from this House tonight is that the NRA may have lost sight of the genuine needs of some of its customers, I am sure that is something the authority will take note of and act upon, as will I.
When I was in Opposition, I criticised the lack of response to representations and queries made by public representatives to the NRA and I expressed that directly to the authority. I understand the NRA is putting arrangements in place to ensure that the genuine concerns and queries of public representatives about various projects are met and given an adequate response. If I am informed that this is not happening, I will take the matter up with the authority.
My priority as Minister for the Environment and Local Government is the development of the national road network in accordance with the needs of the economy and of the people we are all here to serve. This is the crucial yardstick which must guide all our decisions and actions in this area. I have a general responsibility to promote sound organisational arrangements in the areas of public service activity for which I am responsible and for that reason I regard the debate tonight as particularly valuable. Senators may be assured that their views and concerns will not go unheeded as we work to build up and complete the national road network so essential for Ireland in the new millennium.
I congratulate the Minister on his appointment.
I am delighted to contribute to the debate. I have criticisms of the NRA but I do not think the House should call for its abolition. In the last Dáil the Minister and I were Members of the Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs and one person who gave evidence to that committee was Mr. Michael Tobin, the chief executive of the NRA. He told us the authority operated under the 1993 Act, which was first introduced to the Dáil in 1991, and that he was fully answerable to the Minister and the Government. In effect, he carries out Government policy on transport and road matters. The NRA is not over-staffed — it has no more than 50 employees, most of whom are technical staff, and the Minister has outlined what they do.
The problem with our roads policy is that while we are spending a lot of money — some £2 billion is to be spent under the current programme relating to peripherality, which runs until 1999 — we do not have enough. In recent years we spent a great deal of money on road improvements and increasing the capacity of the major national routes and arteries. However, road traffic has increased by about 30 per cent in the last three to four years. As anyone travelling to our capital city on a weekly basis can testify, the additional capacity, good as it may be, is being swallowed by this huge amount of additional traffic.
I come from the west and the best access road into Dublin is the new motorway by-passing Maynooth, Kilcock and Leixlip, where there used to be terrible bottlenecks. That road is built to the best international standards but beyond it, from Kilcock through Enfield as far as Kinnegad, there is a stretch of sub-standard national primary road which is positively dangerous. It was the subject of much recent publicity because while it meets the width standards of approximately 8 metres per carriageway, it does not meet standards of sight distance for overtaking freight traffic — motor car traffic naturally moves faster than freight traffic and overtaking is a great hazard because of the hills and bends in this area. Some 90 per cent of our freight travels on our roads. Two-thirds of traffic on our national primary is work-related and the other third is recreational and other traffic, which shows how important this is.
We are unique in Europe in that less than 10 per cent of our freight traffic goes by rail, despite our railway network still being among the best in Europe. In the early part of the century ours was the most dense railway network in Europe but now the tracks to the more remote areas have gone. Our railways are totally under-used. Our culture of road dependence means that while improvements have been made to our railways, these have not been anything like enough. We need a culture change to direct freight transport away from roads and on to railways. In every other developed country a huge amount of freight traffic is carried by railways, which are much cheaper to maintain than roads.
The country is doing well at present and in the next budget the Minister should fight for a greater amount of our own resources to be devoted to road development. No major national road project enjoys EU grants of less than 60 to 70 per cent. Because of the problems created by our success, we need to spend far more of our resources on our national primary and secondary roads, especially the latter. The Cathaoirleach and I live on a national primary route, the N5, which runs from Longford to Westport. There are about 30 miles of it in County Roscommon. It is the worst stretch of national primary road in the country.
The Senator should try the N52.
No other stretch of national road of that length is as deficient. As Senator Jackman said, I do not want this matter to revert to ministerial largesse. My county suffered more than most when it was within the power of the Minister for the Environment to allocate road funding.
When Padraig Flynn was Minister for the Environment in the 1980s, at a time when much additional funding was available, he gave more to his own constituency. He lived on the N5, which is a magnificent highway in County Mayo. The five miles of it in County Longford are a fine highway but the part in County Roscommon, where there was insufficient political clout, is the most deficient in the country. People may smile at that but it is a fact. When he was asked to justify giving extra funding to Mayo and disadvantaging Roscommon, he replied that a man has to christen his own child first. He made no apology for that.
Senator McGowan and I fully respect the National Roads Authority's commonsense and wisdom in these matters and we would be very reluctant to ask for it to be axed. We should be very reluctant to return this funding to the gift of the Minister. I say that, bearing in mind the fact that I might be supporting a future Minister in this or the other House.
We need to spend more of our own resources on road improvement. More of the extra wealth which has been generated by taxpayers needs to be spent on roads, such as the stretch of road between Kilcock and Kinnegad, some of which is in the Minister's constituency. As far as I know, there are no plans in this programme to build a bypass at Enfield or Kinnegad or to continue on to Mullingar. These programmes must be started as soon as possible.
I understand Senator Quill wishes to share her time.
Yes. When I was a Member of the other House I tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to have a debate on the national roads programme, as the Minister, whose presence I welcome, will testify. It is highly ironic that I had to lose my seat in order to say anything about the National Roads Authority in either House.
There is nothing new under the sun. I remember the frustration of trying to frame parliamentary questions to the Minister of the day on matters relating to the National Roads Authority, only to be told that those matters were for the authority and were not a ministerial responsibility. I note the new Minister has given us the same answer this evening. I feel frustrated——
I say it much more nicely.
That may be so — there is more adagio in his voice — but the import is just the same.
I find it frustrating to deal with bodies, such as the National Roads Authority and the Arts Council, which are held at arm's length. Although they spend huge amounts of public money, we are precluded from asking any questions about what priorities determine how those moneys are spent. However, that is a wider issue which perhaps we can revisit.
It would not be possible for me to discuss any road related matter without commenting on the appalling number of road deaths week after week, month after month, year after year. I must express my outrage at our failure to effect any significant reduction in the number of road deaths, despite the good efforts of this Government since last July. We are not yet half way through the tenth month of this year and already 352 people have been killed on our roads. I fear we have been far too complacent about that outrageous figure. Will the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, immediately establish an executive agency to put in place a comprehensive, integrated plan to tackle the whole area of road accidents and deaths?
Such a plan will have to be based on the three E's. First, the rigid, relentless enforcement of existing laws by the Garda. Second, we need better education of drivers and to alter drivers' attitudes to the responsibility they take when they handle the wheel of a moving vehicle. Third, engineering, by which I do not just mean better road surfaces but also better signposting and road marking. Our directional signposting has been the subject of music hall jokes, and not without reason.
Chief Superintendent John O'Brien said today that the main factor in road deaths is the driver behind the wheel. However, as that is not exactly what we are talking about in this debate, I will confine my comments to the engineering aspects.
All progressive countries now make extensive use of photo radar equipment. In 1989, 400 permanent cameras were installed on the M25, which is the ring road around London. Since then, there has been a 41 per cent reduction in the number of fatal accidents. Australia has had enormously good results from a similar programme based on radar equipment.
I remind the Senator that if she wishes to share her time, she is already a fair bit down the road.
It is not a national road.
We have spent billions of pounds on upgrading our national primary roads and I cannot understand why road safety is not given sufficient priority. I do not understand why we did not simultaneously build the infrastructure which would have enabled the Garda to implement that system.
The national roads programme has been patchy, at best. There are too many very black spots. For example, the road from Cork to Dublin is as bad as ever. The problem with that road, which I travel more than any other Member, is that after a very good stretch of road one is funnelled into a mid 17th century road. That is very bad overall planning. I hope we can revisit this issue.
I need to be parochial in regard to this issue. The town of Carlow is an incredible bottleneck and badly needs a bypass. It is a main artery servicing Kilkenny, south Tipperary and the port of Waterford. The volume of traffic through Carlow each day is in the region of 25,000 vehicles, a very high proportion of which are heavy goods vehicles.
The safety aspect is very important because a large number of schoolchildren must cross that road a number of times every day. The sugar beet campaign, which runs for four months of the year, means there is an unsafe level of heavy goods vehicles on the road. The expected capacity of the road will double over the next ten years, and we will then have a crisis. We need action at this stage to alleviate the problem.
The proposed eastern bypass needs money, which should be immediately released by the National Roads Authority to complete its design and planning phase. In the words of the former Minister for the Environment, Mr. Flynn, "it is now time to christen Carlow".
I am pleased the Minister has attended the House to debate this issue. The motion calls for a review of the necessity for the National Roads Authority and its effectiveness as an organisation. While it is important to critically examines such bodies, we must be clear about its replacement should it be abolished.
Whether we like it or not, there is a legal agreement between the Irish and EU authorities for a £1.1 billion programme of investment in transport infrastructure. This is being assisted by EU Structural Funds. The investment must be made in a co-ordinated way. For too long the quality of the roads network depended on the efficiency of local authorities and the constituency of the Minister for the Environment. This meant that often on either side of county boundaries some stretches of road were good while others were bad.
The accountability of the National Roads Authority is important. Councillors complain that the authority is almost a mystical body with which it is difficult to communicate.
There are 2,700 kilometres of national primary roads, 2,700 kilometres of national secondary roads and 89,452 kilometres of non-national roads. This represents a substantial roads network which must be maintained at a specific standard.
We have been told that improvements to the roads would reduce the annual carnage on them. However, there were 404 deaths in 1994; 437 in 1995; 453 in 1996 and 358 to date this year. We should reflect on the position of the surviving spouses and families.
While we should not stop improving the roads network because of this carnage we must endeavour to change the attitude of the public, especially motorists, to safe driving and speeding. For example, on one stretch of the airport bypass there are four different speed zones ranging from 70 miles per hour down to 40 miles per hour. In the interest of conveying the message on speeding I have endeavoured to adhere to these limits and have been hooted at by motorists who, in addition to flashing their lights, drive carelessly onto the outer lanes to overtake at speeds faster than the permitted limit. Until there is a change in attitude by motorists these difficulties on the roads will continue, regardless of their state of maintenance.
More money should be provided for public transport. In my constituency it is impossible to get a seat on trains travelling on the Balbriggan to city centre line at peak times. In addition, some of the trains have safety problems. We know from the investment made in the DART system that if a comprehensive and reliable service is provided people will leave their cars at home and use public transport. I am delighted that under the current EU programme much more finance is made available for public transport. More trains should be provided, especially in the Dublin area.
Over the past two years I have been in contact with the National Roads Authority regarding a stretch on the N1 from Balrothery village to Balbriggan. There are no public lights, despite the growth of a new community in the area. Children must travel to and from school in darkness. It is a dangerous stretch of road yet we are unable to get the authority to provide funding for public lighting. Will the Minister take up this matter? In recent correspondence with Mr. Tobin I advised that this year's programme provided for the dualing of the N1 from the Coachman's Inn to Swords at a cost of £1 million. That is not being proceeded with and Fingal County Council could easily divert the money to looking after the safety of the people of Balrothery.
I welcome the Minister of State. The Minister's contribution was excellent, demonstrating that he will keep an open mind on this debate which is concerned with a review of the National Roads Authority and its effectiveness. As I knew nothing about the NRA, I rang the Department and asked for the booklet on the authority. I would not know whether it was effective until I knew what it did. The authority provides money for and manages the national road network. It also ensures that the national road network is safe and reliable. Another important aspect is that the authority must make the roads environmentally acceptable. However, I wonder what that means because I deal with the public and nobody mentions it in relation to the NRA.
Local authorities deal with roads so is the NRA effective? It must be because it liaises with local authorities and deals with them in terms of the money available for the construction and maintenance of roads, identifying the location of accident black spots and providing lighting, markings and signs. However, I also learned that the NRA deals with traffic management in that it monitors the time it takes to make certain journeys. On that basis, I decided the authority was ineffective.
I wish to make a parochial point, although I am aware parochialism may not be the solution to matters raised in the Chamber. However, as a politician once said, all politics is local. If all Members carried out their business in a local manner, nationally we would be most effective. There is a problem in relation to traffic management in south Dublin. I receive many telephone calls about the length of time it takes to get off the M50. People say they start their journeys on that road at 7 a.m. but still are not at their desks by 9.30 a.m. I do not know if the NRA has a role in that matter or if it is up to the local authority to solve the problem. However, people telephone their representatives on local authorities because they operate at the grassroots. They must deal with the complaints. I cannot tell the public to contact the NRA although it provides the money for the maintenance of such routes and supervises traffic management. There is something wrong with the current position.
The southern cross route which is an extension of the M50 is being built in my area. Councillors seek a new concept for the free flow of traffic which would involve the Garda Síochána, the local authority, local schools and public representatives. The idea is that all these groups could collectively and effectively in conjunction with the NRA, which has a role in such matters, introduce a traffic management plan to ensure that people can get off the M50 in time for work in the morning. Is the National Roads Authority effective? It may do a great job in a national sense but I do not know if it is sensitive to the needs of my local authority. Is it sensitive to the needs of all local authorities? Ultimately, the public does not know what the NRA does.
I understand the authority has researchers and specialists dealing with the texture of roads, new machinery and equipment for remedial works on deteriorating surfaces. That is welcome and I hope they work with the specialists employed by local authorities. People want to be able to get up in the morning, travel from one place to another safely and reach their offices in time. That is not happening at present in south Dublin because people have problems getting off the M50. This is a national route which is about to be extended through the southern cross link. However, no preparations have been made in terms of traffic management and I do not think the NRA is effective in that regard.
I would welcome a review of the authority. I am sure it has done good work and that it has a relationship with local authorities. However, I do not know much about the NRA. When I attend council meetings and discuss road issues, I am not aware of the role of the NRA. Perhaps I should not know about it because it is a cog in a machine in which I have no involvement. However, I must deal with the public and explain the NRA is involved in road matters, though it will not be available to take telephone calls from disgruntled motorists in the frost and snow on a morning in January. Local representatives must take the calls, pass on the complaints to the local authority and ask what they should do next.
I wish power was given to local representatives because they are the local pulse and reflect the needs of the locality. I agree there should be a monitoring body but power should be returned to local authorities and public representatives. A review of the future role of the National Roads Authority is necessary in terms of how best it can complement local authorities. It should not be a distant body about which people know nothing.
I understand Senator Ridge wishes to share her time.
I have sympathy for the National Roads Authority because it has been overtaken to some extent by the increased number of new cars on our roads as a result of the Celtic tiger. The M50 was designed to cater for developments in the new millennium but it is already suffering traffic congestion. The NRA must work with the transport authorities with regard to how roads are used because the congestion to which Senator Ormonde referred is extremely frustrating. While one cannot excuse road rage, one can appreciate why it happens when one sees signs on relief roads around the city that people should expect a delay of 20 minutes at peak periods. Sensible people leave the city before 4 p.m. if possible to avoid delays but I have noticed in the last year travelling on the M50 from Palmerstown to Tallaght that the traffic starts to build up from 3.30 p.m. I would not accuse the NRA of not preparing well but many people realised that increased prosperity would bring increased car ownership and that this would create problems for the authority.
It is nice to have new roads through local authority areas but maintenance and the lighting required create another problem for the local body. The NRA should consider a new direction at this stage and take on board the concerns of Senators and members of local authorities in terms of looking after the needs of constituents. The lack of consultation with local authorities is amazing on simple issues such as the famous proposal to toll the M50 at 14 different intersections. Any sane person could have told the authority instantly that people would use the first exit and travel through housing estates. I do not object to tolling per se. It is sensible and could raise revenue. However, the NRA has not kept to its brief in seeking to toll some routes.
Part of the conditions for receiving Cohesion Funds is that projects cannot be revenue raising; perhaps tolls are not regarded as such. The lack of local authority membership on such bodies is clear from the obvious breakdown in communication over simple matters, such as lighting, to which Senator Ryan referred. At one time the former Dublin County Council could not use the lights on the motorway because it did not have any money.
The NRA must take on board our concerns which are illustrated by long tailbacks and the problem with lights. It is incredible that we do not have a proper lighting problem. Maintenance should not be the responsibility of the local authority. Tolling, if handled properly, could work to everybody's advantage. Without having control over cars with one passenger taking up four lanes on the N50, we will face permanent traffic jams and relief roads will provide anything but relief. I deplore the fact the NRA is an unelected body and its accountability must be queried in that regard. By and large, I sympathise with the NRA. Local authority members with experience of problems in their areas would be happy to assist it.
County Louth has the highest incidence of road traffic deaths in the country. I welcome the significant amount of money which the National Roads Authority has and will spend in the county up to the year 2000. I welcome in particular the NRA's commitment to the Drogheda by-pass. There have been difficulties with by-passes in terms of environmental impact studies. When the Drogheda by-pass was proposed I raised the question of the impact the by-pass would have on the town of Drogheda in the context of the new approach roads which would be used with the local authority. I was told that matter could not be addressed by the NRA or the consultants. By-passes, while they are excellent in that they improve the economic corridor and make it more efficient to travel between two locations, impact on towns, particularly where roads, which were not previously main roads, become such.
Having travelled around the country in recent months, I found the roads fantastic, particularly the rural roads. I did not see too much evidence of potholes, etc., but I am concerned that major urban centres like Drogheda are losing out because they are not getting the funding from the NRA. Traffic calming measures, which are essential in towns, are absent in Drogheda and on the approach roads. If we pass a resolution to have traffic lights at particular estates because they are at major intersections, we are told that it is a matter for the NRA.
We need to tighten up the situation and make clear the connection between the local authorities and the NRA. The wishes of the people of a town must be paramount and if they need traffic lights on a major national primary route for safety purposes, they must have them. By saying it is a matter for the NRA, we are washing our hands of this problem. We cannot spend enough money on our roads.
For many years I have spoken about the role of the NRA, of which I have been critical. That criticism stems from my belief that there was no need to set up the NRA. This evening the Minister suggested it was set up because of lack of co-ordination between local authorities and counties. In the past that may have been a reasonable argument. However, anybody could feed a computer with the various routes which could be taken to avoid obstruction. A single shot from a satellite could identify houses, land and water and could co-ordinate the work of local authorities for which the NRA was set up. I will not suggest the Minister of the day made a mistake but if the technology which is now available had been used at the time, there would have been no need to set up the NRA. Co-ordination between the Department and local authorities, using today's technology, would have been sufficient and there would have been no need to add another level of bureaucracy.
When travelling to Dublin, one sees a plethora of new roads. The M50 is clogged at certain exits and will soon be like the M25, which was supposed to be a lung for London — there was a nine hour back up on the M25 out of London the other day. At present there is gridlock on the road between Kilkenny and Waterford which is of concern to those travelling to work in Waterford and trying to get goods in and out of Waterford or from the west to Waterford but the NRA does not seem to give two hoots.
Belview, which has the potential to become the largest port in Ireland over the next four or five years, is located in County Kilkenny, although many people believe it does not have a port. No further land is available in Ringaskiddy where heavy industry is located, and the port has reached the maximum potential for development. Mulhuddart has also reached its full potential for development. The IDA, Forbairt and others have acknowledged that the only place available for development is the port of Belview, which is called the port of Waterford but is located in County Kilkenny. I read reports which state that access from that port, around which industries are developing, is superb. Access to the port from New Ross and areas further up the coast is good. However, there is no co-ordination among bodies if we want to develop the port to transport goods from Sligo or to Portlaoise.
There will be a new mine in Senator Hayes' constituency and it is likely that extractions from it will have to be transported through County Kilkenny to get to the port of New Ross or the port of Waterford. The Arcon mine is located in County Kilkenny on the border with County Laois and a decision was made that it could not use secondary roads to get to the ports, in other words, it had to use primary roads. Unfortunately, secondary roads are being used because the primary roads are blocked. When I had a two-cylinder Prinz II in 1957 I could get to Waterford in half an hour. Now I have a two litre car but it takes me at least an hour to get to Waterford. If one wants to get to a hospital in Waterford, there is one bridge and no road network. The NRA has ignored the fact that Waterford is a premier port. Approximately £56 million has been invested in Belview by local authorities and the Government, and new industries have been set up there, but one cannot get to the port. The NRA seems to think that putting roundabouts in Dublin will solve problems in every county. It is no good pretending that Ireland is an organisation linked to Dublin. If a Minister puts pressure on the NRA, a roundabout may be erected in a small town in the west, but the entire south-east is totally neglected by the NRA. One aerial photograph would tell them where gridlocks occur.
There are plans for a bypass in Thomastown, which is fine, but if one gets off that bypass it will still take an hour to get to Waterford. The airport in Waterford is on the wrong side of the river given the road infrastructure and rail links, and one bridge connects Wexford, Waterford and south Tipperary. The NRA has not yet grasped the nettle and put a proper road infrastructure in place. A major road has been made into a bottleneck which is like a pippette that water might pass through, but not traffic.
Kilkenny City is one of the nicest places in the world to live, but because of the lack of co-ordination in the NRA it is totally gridlocked. There is no roundabout there. The NRA has been successful in certain areas, but it has been atrociously advised in regard to others.
Mr. Liam Connellan has spoken of the money the NRA is spending. Huge amounts of money have been thrown at health boards, but the best service is still not being provided to people. An increasing amount of money is being thrown at the NRA but we still do not have the roads necessary to transport goods across Ireland and into ports. We are getting roundabouts and "spaghetti junctions" in Dublin where people are going nowhere. How long has it taken the Minister of State to get a tunnel under the river Lee for access to west Cork? There are more roads in Dublin than there are people to travel them. There is no co-ordination. The Minister of State should approach the NRA so that, with the Department of the Environment and the county councils, a satellite photograph can be taken to show where new roads are needed. I have been fighting for this for many years.
I do not want the NRA abolished, but it must realise that it will not solve problems by throwing money at areas where problems do not exist. The south-east should be given a reasonable amount of the moneys available for the real, and not perceived, needs of the area. The Minister of State should propose proper co-ordination of local authorities, the Government and the NRA to provide the infrastructure necessary for industry and commerce.