Public Transport: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to implement a major investment programme in public transport, both with immediate effect and as a significant part of the National Development Plan 2000-2006 to specifically provide the following measures:

(a) a 40 per cent increase in the capacity of Dublin Bus, with particular emphasis on fleet expansion and daily peak travel demand;

(b) the upgrading of the railway network to ensure that passenger safety is not compromised and that the recommendations from the two recent consultants reports relating to investment in track, signalling, equipment and rolling stock are implemented, and

(c) the construction of the LUAS project with light rail provision for the first three routes as proposed in the Government decision earlier this year.

I welcome the Minister to the House for this important debate. The motion relates to investment in a major programme to improve public transport with immediate and long-term effect. We are particularly concerned about the fact that the transport system is grinding to a halt. In the cities, towns and villages and, indeed, everywhere transport and traffic are a major issue. This motion is an attempt by Fine Gael to address the issue in a practical and positive way and my colleagues will deal with aspects of it. We suggest in the motion where the Government ought to spend extra money and what it ought to be doing. The bottom line is this, that the public is deeply concerned about traffic management.

I was told recently by a person in a rural village that it is now impossible to walk the roads in the evening because of traffic. We must deal with the monopoly of the motor car in our lives and its interference with the basic privileges to which people are entitled. It is increasingly difficult to cross the streets because money has not been provided to build ramps to slow down traffic. We should consider pedestrianising our streets as part of traffic management in urban areas.

Paragraph (b) of the motion states: "the upgrading of the railway network to ensure that passenger safety is not compromised and that the recommendations from the two recent consultants reports relating to investment in track, signalling, equipment and rolling stock are implemented". On 9 November the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, published the strategic review of railway safety, which she commissioned with Government approval earlier in the year. While the report is extremely detailed, the Department only published a summary of it. I welcome the Minister's decision to debate it last week.

I am concerned that the summary is different from the report. We are talking about investing in our railways to make them safer and our rolling stock better, so the document must be credible. The report drafted by the consultants, IRMS, states in its conclusions and recommendations that there has been a "lack of implementation of the recently developed safety management system throughout the system so that it affects the behaviour and attitudes of all employees". That has been changed in the document to read: "the recently developed SMS needs to be fully implemented throughout the railway". It does not state there has been a failure to implement it.

The phrase, "the absence or poor quality of engineering management standards, maintenance procedures and their documentation and the inability to meet or match resource requirements and their departments", has been changed to "the quality of engineering management standards, maintenance procedures and their documentation needs to be improved". The phrase, "poor occupational safety culture, particularly lack of real staff involvement and feedback", has been changed to "sufficient and correctly deployed resources need to be provided". Reference is also made to the absence of effective databases, but the report states that effective databases must be acquired.

The summary is not based on what the consultants said but on changes suggested by the Department. As a result, it lacks detail and the consultants' condemnation of some activities.

The Minister said this is an independent report and I accept she did not interfere with it in any way.

I only met the consultants last week.

However, people in the Department made recommendations to change this report and that is wrong. We must have credibility in our system. If a Department, not just the Department of Public Enterprise, commissions a report, it must be independent. It is a significant problem that someone changed this report.

As regards safety review under the DART, the Department's written script states that "overall the condition was fair but there were numerous examples of poor condition. Discussion revealed that the assessment of condition was in fact good not ‘fair' in the Irish sense". However, the final report states that "overall the condition was good but there were numerous examples of poor condition". This highlights the contradictions in the report.

The consultants must be totally involved in this process and we must hear exactly what they have to say. The Minister has a responsibility to ensure that what the consultant recommended in the report is what appears before us, which has not happened. I ask the Minister to respond specifically to that point. There is at least one major change in the report.

The public is concerned about transparency in Government and openness in our reporting system. When a report is commissioned, it must be independent. I regret that is not the case on this occasion. I do not doubt the Minister's sincerity in commissioning consultants to carry out the report. It was also important that she introduce it to this House. We would have had a different debate here last week if we had had more time to consider it.

The Government is paralysed in its actions. The city will also be paralysed over the next month if something is not done to resolve this problem. Like everyone else, I am fed up travelling for hours in and out of the city by car or train. Last week I sat for a half an hour at one traffic light in Whitehall. Thousands of Dublin citizens are affected in this way. Hundreds of people must stand on the 5.15 p.m. train from Tara Street to Balbriggan. It is incredible that this is happening and we must address it from the point of view of safety. I am worried about what could happen if there is an accident. It is totally unacceptable that people are packed into trains like sardines. We want the Minister to invest more money in rolling stock so that our trains and platforms are longer and safer. These safety issues must be addressed.

I question the Minister's credibility in this matter. I ask her to bring all the documentation in the Department to our attention. We want to know if the original report, the corrected original report or the summary, is the true report. This issue is so important and fundamental it must be brought before the Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport.

We must reconsider the safety report commissioned by the Minister. It should not just be debated here but also in the Dáil. We must have all the facts and true starting dates.

Is the Senator referring to the rail safety study?

We had a debate on that last week.

Yes, but which study did we debate?

The Senator is referring to the draft.

This is a copy of the consultants report before the mandarins in the Minister's Department changed it. That is a matter of record. It was changed and we are entitled to have all the facts.

Acting Chairman

It might help to clarify matters if the Senator could give the title of the report to the House.

This is a report prepared by International Risk Management Services on behalf of the Department of Public Enterprise and Transport.

I have pleasure in seconding this motion. We are all fed up discussing this issue and are interested in seeing action. The motion seeks that the Government make more money available for this area.

Everyone is concerned about what is happening in public transport in Ireland. I will not repeat what my esteemed colleague had to say about the national rail line other than to add a small anecdote. I attended a communications course yesterday at which I was told one should always use anecdotes to illustrate a point. Everyone has been praising the Cork train service. I recently travelled on an early train on which full breakfast was available for all commuters. Unfortunately nobody got to eat it because the train was so packed the staff were unable to serve it. We should count the number of passengers purchasing tickets for each train service. Such matters are best left to Iarnród Éireann.

I would like to be helpful in trying to arrive at workable conclusions even if they are only an interim solution to the problem. We had an unofficial rail strike yesterday at a time when everyone is mentally geared up to experience delays. Traffic flow problems have eased greatly in recent days as a result of the presence of the Garda at crossroads. It is nice to see man and woman winning out over machines.

We have two ridiculous shuttle bridges in my area which is hugely populated. The Garda have provided great ease in that area over the last month. I do not know if it is right to deploy members of the force for traffic duties per se but I am old enough to remember a very good relationship between traffic police and native Dubliners. It would be nice to see traffic control police around. Garda involvedment with communities can be enhanced in this way. Some motorists have fallen in love with the Garda all over again because they are helping them in a very visible fashion.

It is worth considering the cost of this operation. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government said yesterday that we cannot afford free-flow operations all year. We are not looking for that; I appreciate we could not use up that manpower just to control traffic but surely we could have a pilot scheme on using manpower in traffic control.

Not being wealthy and living along the eastern seaboard we do not have a DART service. We had nothing until about four years ago when the Arrow was introduced. I do not know if it has ever been on time. It is a beautiful train but unfortunately it is very rarely on time. It is practically always full and only at two stations are parking facilities available. We are talking about a railway line which was built in the 1850s when the carriage met the gentry and the peasants walked up to the station. One cannot have a commuter service to the train because there are no car parking facilities. I would love to see rail travel developed, it is a great way to travel. Those of us living in west county Dublin, from Hazelhatch to town, experience real difficulties. I am advised that even if we succeed in strengthening the line under the park to take commuter traffic to link up with the DART at Connolly Station there is no available space at that station to take the commuter train. I would be very happy to be proved wrong on that point because that seems to me to be one way of solving one of the traffic problems. If one travels by train to Heuston Station with small children and, perhaps, a buggy shuttle busing down to the Quays and O'Connell Street is not the most desirable way of travelling. We will leave people with mobility problems out of this argument as we discussed that issue before.

I am genuinely concerned about the rail line safety. We are using these lines for commuter and mainline travel. We cannot shift the new population of approximately 70,000 people by way of a line already dedicated to mainline travel and that is why many of the delays occur. The commuter train is unable to leave until the mainline train leaves and if that is late so then is the commuter train.

Perhaps, there is a need, with no disrespect to the Minister or the Minister of State Deputy Dempsey, to have a Minister for public transport per se. There seems to be a mish-mash of different agencies involved. I am a member of the steering committee of the Dublin Transportation Office. I have seen many excellent and well researched plans for traffic city and countrywide.

I did not know the Senator was a member of that committee.

Yes, I am. I have seen many plans fail because too many Departments and agencies are involved. It is time we decided to appoint a Minister for public transport with power and an agency that will get funding to put into operation what I know the Minister and we in Fine Gael have at heart — a much enhanced safe public transport system.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after Seanad Éireann and insert the following:

"(a) welcomes the Government's speedy decision to provide additional transport funding in response to the Dublin Transportation Office's Short Term Action Plan, thereby increasing peak hour bus capacity by 20 per cent by the end of 1999 and peak hour rail capacity by 60 per cent by the year 2000;

(b) welcomes the Government's decision to appoint a High Level Task Force on Railway Safety to report by end January, 1999 with prioritised recommendations to address the railway safety issues identified in a Review of Railway Safety in Ireland;

(c) notes that the planning of the extended and re-energised Luas project approved by Government is proceeding on target;

(d) notes that CIE, at the request of the Minister for Public Enterprise, has prepared a series of medium term investment reviews as an input into the Government's planning for the next round of EU Structural and Cohesion Fund assistance.".

I seek approval for this amendment.

I mean no disrespect to Senator O'Dowd and I defend with vigour his right to table a motion on public transport or any motion which can be legitimately debated in a democratic institution. However, given the record of debates in this House relating to this issue, the timing of the motion appears curious. The only related area on which I cannot recall a specific debate in the House, or to which reference has not been made, is the internal CIE report.

In May, the House had a detailed debate on the Dublin light rail project at the request of the Minister. I am sure Senator O'Dowd was among those colleagues who asked for that debate.

We had a very good debate with the Minister.

It was debated at length and in depth. The Minister promptly asked to come into the House to debate this issue once the Government made its decision. It would have been pre-emptive to have done so prior to that decision.

On 4 November, Senator Quinn tabled a Private Members' motion on the non-Luas recommendations of the DTI in which there was wide participation. On 12 November, at the Minister's request, we had a further detailed debate on the railway safety report which is at the heart of Senator O'Dowd's motion. The debate also included the Government's decisions relating to the report which were made a few days after its publication.

I am not doing an academic analysis of the motion, but when one looks at the text one must ask oneself what is left to say? Having listened to Senator O'Dowd's eloquent contribution, the only conclusion I can come to is that there is some kind of conspiracy theory in the background. This theory seems to insinuate that this draft report was transformed into a final report by some sleight of hand or subterfuge by a conspiratorial Minister or Department.

On a point of order, it is an independent report.

Acting Chairman

That is not a point of order, that is a point of information.

I do not want to drag down this debate.

It is an independent report which should not be interfered with, good, bad or indifferent.

Acting Chairman

The Senator knows he will have five minutes at the end of the debate to respond.

I am not detracting from the Minister by confessing that, if I wanted to select a conspiratorial Minister who would like to engage in subterfuge, I would not pick her. However, if I were to pick a Minister who could stand on her own two feet and take on subterfuge or conspiratorial charges, I would say "over to you Minister".

This motion seems to insinuate that, in some way, the response of the Minister, the Department and the Government was tardy as regards a number of recent reports. Every part of the original motion is being addressed. Work on the expansion of the Dublin Bus fleet is well under way and we have covered this in the Government amendment. The upgrading of the rail network is also in progress.

When the Minister received the independent railway safety report, she immediately went to Government and obtained approval for its implementation. Approval was given immediately. I am repeating what I said in the previous debate, but I have to say these things because the motion suggests that, in some way, in an irresponsible fashion the Minister did not seek to implement the recommendations immediately and professionally through tardiness or whatever. The contrary is the truth. On receipt of that report she went to Cabinet and obtained approval to implement the report and then sought a meeting of this House. We did not have to go looking for the Minister; she came looking for us. This is not behaviour associated with a conspirator.

The Minister has been in office for almost 18 months and has acted professionally and promptly. In that period, as regards Luas, she fulfilled a commitment in the programme for Government to obtain an independent report to deal with the public debate at the time on the underground and overground options. It was a heated debate to which I was party. As soon as she received that report she considered it with her Cabinet colleagues. It was decided to adopt the report with some extensions, such as the inner city underground option which I support; anything else would be illogical. Irrespective of some airy-fairy foreign references, it would be illogical for Dublin——

What is wrong with fairies or foreigners?

I am referring to inner city Dublin——

Acting Chairman

The Senator's train is running out of track.

It is difficult to develop a road traffic policy for Dublin because the inner city is almost completely surrounded by canals and bridges. That will be confirmed by engineers with a knowledge of the geography of inner city Dublin. The Minister understood that an overground light rail in the inner city would have been daft in the extreme. She decided that she was going to do what was right, sensible and feasible in the long term, regardless of whether it hurt or offended political or media egos. She took her courage in her hands and put this option to Government, received approval and came back to the House to outline the details.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be in the House for the fourth time since last May or June, and to take part in this debate. I thank those Senators who tabled this motion. I do not wait to be called. I could not devise this motion — it was devised by the Opposition. However, I sought to come into the House regarding all the reports I received.

I wish to deal with the serious matter of the probity of the Civil Service. I received the report four days before I brought it to Cabinet. Last week I met the independent consultants who expressed themselves, happy with the manner in which the report was issued. In the past few days, Senator O'Dowd sought letters and documentation from my Department which were freely given. There was no need for the Freedom of Information Act——

I am entitled to this documentation. It is not in anyone's gift to refuse me.

The Senator has forgotten about the Freedom of Information Act under which he is entitled to a reply.

I have not forgotten about it.

I request that Robin McKay, the civil servant with whom the Senator dealt and who is in the House this evening, the Secretary General of the Department and the consultant arrange an immediate meeting with Senator O'Dowd who has, under parliamentary privilege, impugned their integrity.

May I make a point of order? The Minister has made a very serious allegation.

It is very serious.

I would never do such a thing. I would not wish anything I said to be interpreted as questioning the integrity of a civil servant. I wish to make that very clear. I drew attention to the fact that the Minister's independent report was changed in her Department so that it was no longer independent. That is a fact.

In that case it is essential that a meeting be arranged with the Robin McKay, the civil servant who dealt with this matter, the Secretary General of my Department, the independent consultant who prepared the report, Senator O'Dowd and anyone else who wishes to attend. When I received the final copy of the report I gave it to the Cabinet and came, at my own request, to the House. Textual changes will be made in any report before the final draft is produced. Robin McKay will report tomorrow morning to the Secretary General and to the consultant and arrange the meeting.

I rise on a point of order. I sympathise with the Minister's position but I believe it is against the rules of procedure of the House to name a civil servant and for precisely the reason the Minister has indicated. The civil servant, although present, is not in a position to defend him or herself. The fact that a name is on the record is regrettable. I am sure the Minister did not intend to embarrass the civil servant.

The charges were so serious that I was obliged to do it.

The naming is the problem.

It is the practice of the House that public servants are not named.

In that case I withdraw the name.

Acting Chairman

However, the Minister is not a Member of the House.

That is correct.

She may be, if she is lucky, eventually.

I began my life here.

The Minister means her political life.

My political life, not my real life.

Acting Chairman

However, I am sure the Minister will observe the courtesies.

I will use the term "the civil servant in question" and ask the House scribes to amend the record accordingly. Is that in order?

Acting Chairman

It is in order to ask.

The civil servant in question is with me in the House and I will ask him, the Secretary General of the Department and the assistant secretary in charge of transport to meet Senator O'Dowd tomorrow to arrange a meeting with the consultants so that the matter can be clarified and the honesty and integrity of people is protected.

May I make a point of order? My honesty and integrity are also important. I am doing my job and doing it properly. I respect the integrity of all officials in the Department and I ask the Minister to respect mine as a Member of this House.

Acting Chairman

The House accepts you credentials, Senator, but that is not a point of order.

It is my duty to draw to public attention facts which should be made public but which are not in the report.

Acting Chairman

Senator, you will have five minutes at the end of the debate to reply to all points made by the Minister.

As I have accepted the integrity of the Minister's officials I ask her to accept mine and to place her acceptance on the record of the House.

I will arrange that meeting tomorrow.

May I——

Acting Chairman

You must not interrupt the Minister. If you do I will be obliged to adjourn the proceedings.

May I make this point?

Acting Chairman

You may make your points when you reply to the debate.

Is this discussion taking place in my time?

Senator Ridge, who is a member of the steering group, will know that all the DTO short-term plan is being put into effect immediately. This is a most remarkable outcome. This year, for the first time, there is a subhead in my Department's Estimate for public transport investment. That investment will amount to £56 million. This is an indication of my commitment to public transport.

The Opposition motion calls for a 40 per cent increase in the capacity of Dublin Bus with particular emphasis on fleet expansion and daily peak travel demand. In 1999, the Dublin Bus fleet will be increased by 150 buses which will be paid for by the State. This never happened before. Dublin Bus has always had to use its own resources to increase its fleet. There will be a huge increase in peak time daily travel.

The Opposition calls for the upgrading of the railway network to ensure that passenger safety is not compromised and for the recommendations in the two recent consultants' reports relating to investment in track, signalling, equipment and rolling stock to be implemented. I discussed the safety report in the House ten days ago and I laid out the Government's plans to deal with safety matters. I said then that the report was the most sobering document I had ever read. However, I commissioned the report. I could have sat in my Department and not tackled this problem.

Mr. Ryan

The Minister would never do such a thing.

I commissioned the report, published it and brought it to the Dáil and Seanad. It lays out a 15 year programme which will cost £590 million. The second Opposition recommendation is, therefore, attended to.

The Opposition recommends the construction of the Luas project with light rail provision for the first three routes as proposed in the Government decision earlier this year. That is exactly what is happening. Public hearings chaired by Judge O'Leary are being held. Money for Luas has been allocated in this year's Estimates. Everything the motion calls for is being done and when I read it my first reaction was to agree with it and save ourselves the inconvenience of having a debate.

Mr. Fitzgerald

It was last year's motion.

Things are being done on the east coast; nothing is being done in the west.

Acting Chairman

May we hear the Minister without interruption?

You have a noisy lot, Sir.

Acting Chairman

There is something in the air this evening.

We are disorderly pupils.

It is the way of Government to move amendments and this amendment welcomes the Government's speedy decision to provide additional public transport funding, welcomes the Government's decision to appoint a high level task force on railway safety and notes that the planning of Luas is proceeding on target and that CIE has prepared a series of medium-term investment reviews as an input into the Government's planning for the next round of EU Structural and Cohesion Fund assistance.

I am always happy to speak to Seanad Éireann but the amendment is the same as the motion and I am at a loss to know how to debate it.

I was going to say that in my speech.

Senator Norris may say it again.

Good news is well reported twice. I have nothing new to say this evening. The contents of my speech are the same as my speeches of last week and the week before. It would be silly to repeat myself constantly.

We would like to hear the Minister say something. She should not be reticent.

My script is available to anyone who wants it.

The independent safety report stated that a salient factor was that in the mid-1980s a decision was taken that all rail investment would stop and a period of uncertainty ensued for both Governments. When the Fine Gael Party was in power Garret FitzGerald published a document entitled Building on Reality which stated that all rail investment must stop. I do not know why he did that.

What did Charles Haughey do then?

Fianna Fáil came to power and followed the same principle.

That was an amazing statement for both those Governments to make in 1985. Clearly, this Government is not imbued with the same sadistic thoughts about the railways.

This year £56 million will be invested in the Luas system. There is a new subhead for public transport investment. There will also be 27 new DART carriages with 20 extra suburban rail cars, a doubling of the rail line and the opening of new DART stations at Malahide and Greystones. Implementation of all those rail measures will increase morning peak hour capacity by 11,300. There will be 150 new buses. I wish more people would take the bus, particularly as there will be an increased fleet and a more effective use of bus corridors. An inquiry into the light rail project is currently taking place.

In relation to the public-private partnership for Luas, I have already met two or three groups which are eager to develop this project and a competition will take place. Luas has been accepted by the Department of Finance and the Cabinet as being suitable for a public private partnership approach. The consultants will report early in the new year. I have established a small advisory group on Luas which will be chaired by Mr. Padraic White. The 15 year safety investment programme will cost £590 million, £23 million of which will be spent immediately.

Progress has already been made because the task force has met and it will meet again next week. As part of the allocation for Luas, additional investment for track renewal amounting to £24 million was approved, concentrating on the sections from Mullingar to Carrick-on-Shannon, Mallow to Killarney and Cherryville to Kilkenny. For the first time we are not asking CIE to cofinance this project with the EU because the Exchequer will cofinance it instead.

I asked CIE to prepare a series of reviews of its medium-term investment needs for bus and rail. We have made our first application for the next round of EU Structural and Cohesion Funds. This submission will be considered by Government in the spring of 1999 which will lead to the preparation of a national development plan which, in turn, will form the basis for negotiation with the EU Commission for funding in the post-1999 period. I will make a strong case for public transport.

I am also considering other possible funding options. One of the key objectives of the current restructuring negotiations in the CIE companies is the reduction of costs and the release of additional resources for investment. I am looking forward to receiving a report from the CIE board on the disposal of property surplus to its public transport requirements. This will release cash for investment. The Government will not be found wanting. The 15 year safety plan will be the responsibility of all future governments. I hope the same eagerness will be expressed and manifested in future governments.

There has to be a partnership between CIE, the EU, the Government and possibly private interests. There is a great future for public transport, but I cannot do the job on my own. That is why I am glad to have the opportunity to address this very important issue here today.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I agree with the sentiments she expressed. When I read the motion I thought it was odd because it encourages the Minister to do certain things and it was amended by the Government, which is trying to show how well she is taking care of the issue.

It was last year's motion.

The Minister has been fulfilling her commitments to this House. She is a very competent person. She is clearly in charge of her brief, she knows what it is about and she has the guts to take on an establishment. She also has the political savvy to know in what circumstances and under what conditions to be firm with her advisers. I was very impressed by the way she handled an interviewer on the radio a few days ago who attempted to stir up relations between her and Mr. Joyce, a representative for CIE. She told the interviewer she would not denigrate or fight with public officials in public, that she made her views known in private. That is the right way to do it, that is the way to get things done.

If I had an opportunity to vote I would side with the Government, but I have commitments to Trinity which I have brought forward.

I have a Fianna Fáil membership form for the Senator.

I have changed the timings to accommodate the vote. Unfortunately, however, I may not be able to vote because of delays in finalising this debate. The Government has my support on this issue, at least ideologically.

The Minister is very clear and specific about what is being done. I listened to discussions in the lead-up to yesterday's regrettable rail stoppage. People talked about the necessity to get extra rolling stock, extend platforms, etc. I am glad the Minister acted on this. People asked why it was not done earlier. That question cannot be directed exclusively at one side of the House. Every Government has allowed the transport system, in particular rail transport, to slide. There are very large amounts of mined ore that should be transported by rail, but because of a lack of rolling stock and contracts being tendered the mined ores have to be transported by road. This is absolute madness. It is important to invest in rail for commercial as well as safety reasons.

The Minister mentioned the quality bus corridors. Perhaps she could appoint someone to analyse what happened yesterday in Dublin city. It would seem traffic moved a hell of a lot freer because the bus corridors were open to everybody. I am sure she is aware that one will not find a bus in a bus corridor. They are all over the place. They travel on the middle of the road or park at bus stops with their backsides sticking out at right angles so that nothing can get passed them.

Middle Abbey Street is a prime example. It is a disgrace.

Yes, it is appalling. There also seems to be no regulation governing the open top tour buses. I accept they are good for tourism, but they travel in the middle of the road, crawl around and clog up traffic. In my opinion they are a disaster.

I also welcome what the Minister said about the Luas project. I will talk about it later if I have enough time.

I wish to talk about the very important point she made about public-private partnership. This was one of the issues in the original Bill with which we disagreed because it looked like there was a shift away from the European model, which allows private partnership, towards a State interventionist idea. CIE was the only named element in the Bill. It was given an automatic right to build all these systems.

The Minister has had a meeting, or meetings, with the Mitsuo Corporation who have expressed a wish to install the Luas system. Perhaps she would confirm if she has had these meetings. The corporation has offered to do it with no capital outlay on behalf of the State. In other words, it will do it at no cost to the Exchequer. That defeats the economic argument. It simply wants the opportunity to run the project at a profit. It would run it efficiently for a period of 35 years. I think that is the answer to all the faint hearted nay Sayers who said we could not have an underground for economic reasons.

I wish to raise the issue of burying reports. I am not aware of the circumstances surrounding the matter which has given rise to a dispute between the Minister and Members on this side, and I will not comment on it. However, there seems to be something curious about the atmosphere in the Department because reports sometimes emerge from it in a slightly different form from that in which they were received by it. The Minister looks startled, but it must be said.

The Atkins report on the underground option for Luas is a good example. Every single argument in it favoured the underground option. It stated the surface scheme was likely to have a general impact over a wider area of the city centre with lane closures and increased delays. In financial terms, it stated that, over the life of the scheme, the underground option would provide net benefits of £1,136 million compared with £980 million, so it would be a better service economically. It also stated the underground option would provide beneficial impacts for land use development and small numbers of commercial property sites and would allow higher density developments to take place. It stated it would be able to carry more people in greater comfort than the surface scheme and that, because of the benefits it would bring to road users, the underground system would almost certainly provide a better rate of return in terms of wider social costs and benefits. It stated the level of impact the on-street Luas would have on the general city centre road traffic would be broadly similar to the scheme in operation. In other words, everything we have been agonising over, such as digging up the centre of the city and creating gridlock on a temporary, basis, would be nothing compared with what would happen if we were stuck with it permanently. The report stated the underground option would offer faster journey speeds in the city centre than the surface option and, as a higher capacity option, would potentially offer a higher level of travel comfort. It also stated the case for the surface system rested upon the implementation of measures proposed by Dublin Corporation, which we do not know will happen, and that the underground option would provide a generally higher level of accessibility, particularly for the car market. I could go on about this ad nauseam. Finally, the report recommended the on-street option. That is astonishing.

I understand there was an interim report. As the Minister has been open and honest with the House and has made documents available without people resorting to the Freedom of Information Act, would it be possible to make available to the House the interim report, so that we could compare the two? It would be a valuable exercise.

I spoke yesterday at the Luas inquiry and found it interesting and useful. I noted some absences, specifically the assistant secretary with responsibility for this area who I will not name, but I am sure the Minister knows to whom I refer. He has had a huge role to play in this and I was surprised he was not present to be examined or to give evidence.

I think he did.

The Minister and the Government have agreed that the north-south axis of the Luas will go underground. If that is true, it must also be true for the east-west axis. Putting the entire city centre element underground must be examined. Otherwise, it will be six of one and a half dozen of the other. It will be neither fish, flesh nor good red herring.

Is the Senator aware there is a tunnel between Heuston Station and the port?

Yes, but I am talking about the east-west axis being put underground and I understand plans of this nature have been submitted to the Department. The whole of the inner city network must be put underground and public-private partnership opens up the possibility to do so.

This is the third time we have discussed this issue. I welcome the Minister who is doing a good job. I am more confident about the future of public transport than I have been for a long time. That said, I have often had great expectations of public transport which were seldom met.

Listening to this, the third debate on the matter, one would imagine the only part of the country underfunded or underserviced was Dublin city. Some fine branch lines leading to my city of Cork, from places such as Youghal, Bantry and Blarney were closed down to the detriment of the city and of commuters in the area. I could also speak of the disastrous decision to close the line to Kenmare and Parknasilla, one of the best tourist routes in the country, not to mention the crime of closing the magnificent rail line around the head of Caherciveen and into Glenbeigh and Rossbeigh. If that were in operation today, it would be one of the best tourism assets a country in the western world could have. These issues never seem to be mentioned when the deficiencies in public transport are discussed.

The lack of a decent public rail transport to the west is an indictment of successive Governments. I do not mean only the east-west corridor, but also the north-south corridor along the western seaboard. It is 100 miles from Ennis to Galway and thousands of people live along that line who travel every day by car. They would travel by rail if they had that alternative. There are whole stretches of the country where rail lines have been let go by default or neglect or not developed. This should form part of an overall discussion on the development of transport policy.

I take heart from what is happening now and from the attention and enhanced budget given by the Minister to this area. I also take heart from the fact that she is trying to create public-private partnerships because that is the way forward. It is sad that public transport, especially the railway, has been the victim of either active neglect or downright complacency for almost half a century.

While there has been underfunding and lack of investment, there is more to it than that. There are some good services. The inter city service between Cork and Dublin is for the most part excellent, one could find few faults with it. However, the same cannot be said for other train services on the Cork to Dublin line. They are like third world services and it is as much a matter of management and attitude as it is funding.

In other cities there is co-ordination between rail and tram services. One can buy a single ticket to take one from the train, to the bus, to the tram and on to one's destination. Services are efficiently co-ordinated, but we are far behind in that respect. There is great scope for improvement in the management of our services. We are a clever people and pride ourselves on being such, but we do not manage our public transport cleverly. We are still handing out the same old tickets in the same old way we did 25 years ago. If we were like that in every other respect, where would we be today? We would not be the envy of Europe if that was the way every other element of the public service operated. Look at the changes that have been made in Telecom Éireann, for example. Look at the improvements that have been made in An Post. There is room for a lot more investment as well as upgrading and modernising the management of how the service is delivered to commuters or consumers generally. There is great scope for that.

I was highly amused this morning when the Leader of the Opposition raised a trivial issue concerning Ryanair's advertising. As someone who wanted to come from Cork to Dublin by train yesterday morning, I would have been glad of a Ryanair alternative to the train. Part of our problem is that we have the worst effects of monopoly. There was no alternative yesterday to the trains that were on strike.

We must take our public transport seriously; there is no doubt about that. Gridlock has been identified as one of the great scourges in the country and the only way to confront, surmount and defeat it is by offering a decent, reliable and cost effective public transport system for consumers. It is lyrical and fanciful to think we can all take to our bikes in our climate. The Dutch do so and their climate is not much better than ours, but they have done it for so long that it is second nature to them. I cannot see us cycling to work in large numbers, although some people do so. Therefore, there is only one way we can rid our cities of gridlock, and this is not just a feature of Dublin.

It takes a certain amount of initiative and innovation to tackle these issues. I am happy to say, and the Acting Chairman will agree with me, that for the second year we have initiated a successful park and ride system in Cork city for the pre-Christmas shopping period.

I was on it.

The Minister knows what I am speaking about. Not everyone in this House was on it, although I would invite them to see how it operates. It worked very successfully last year when it was kept in service for a month, both before and after Christmas. As a result, city centre trade was kept alive because people could come into Cork to shop rather than taking their cars to some hypermarket in the suburbs. If commercial life in city centres is to survive and thrive, we will have to think of similar innovative ways of providing public transport and linking up its component parts. In that way, shoppers and commuters will have enough confidence in the system to leave their cars at home when they travel to the city centre. That will only happen, however, if we can demonstrate that the system is reliable, effective, clean and efficient. That is a big task because not only will we have to change the attitudes of people who have traditionally been forced to use their cars, but the Minister will also have to change the attitude of transport providers. If providers were hungry for business we would have a better public transport service.

I am glad to hear that the Minister is contemplating a mix of public and private transport. The private sector will be the engine that will drive it. I wish the Minister well in what she is undertaking. It is a hefty task, but if well done — and I believe the Minister will do it well — it will make a huge difference. The Minister should not allow herself to be focused, either by those in the House or outside it, so totally on Dublin that she will not see the potential in Cork, Waterford, Limerick and all along the western seaboard.

And Athlone.

And Athlone. That is the criss-cross line I mentioned when I spoke of the radial route across the country.

At what time will the debate finish?

At 8.15 p.m; it is a two hour debate.

Can it end earlier?

Acting Chairman

Of course, if Senators agree.

Is that what the Minister wants?

Not particularly.

The Minister is back in the House because we feel that this area needs further debate. We are trying to help her to extract extra funding from the Minister for Finance to put our rail service and public transport system generally into a good state. There is no reason we should not have the best public transport in Europe, but we are lagging behind all the EU countries. The Minister has had a few golden opportunities over the last year and a half but she let them slip from her grasp. When the £114 million Luas funding became available she let it all go, with the exception of £23 million which she put into Mullingar and Maynooth. We were very disappointed by that.

The Minister needs a lot of funding in the short term. The report on rail safety said the Minister needs £600 million immediately in order to put a proper rail service in place. There is no reason Athlone, Mullingar, Longford, Westmeath, Dundalk and Wexford should not have efficient train services to Dublin so that people can commute daily. That is not the case at the moment, however, on the majority of those routes. A proper rail service would help to greatly alleviate the vast volumes of traffic on our roads. The average number of cars per 100 people has increased significantly in the last two or three years.

There is no reason we should not have a fast, efficient, cheap, safe and comfortable daily rail service from our major towns to the capital but to do that the Minister needs a large sum of money. It is not good enough to give £23 million or £30 million annually over the next 20 years.

It is £56 million.

In 15 or 20 years time that will only be equivalent to someone winning the lottery. From what we have seen in the report on rail safety, £30 million in 20 years time will go nowhere. It would hardly be enough to erect a signal box. Senator Norris spoke about the many things the Minister has done for the rail service and I give her credit for them. However, very little has been done for County Mayo where no funding has been put in place for the Westport to Dublin or the Ballina to Dublin lines.

The report on rail safety said that trains go through the old station at Athlone at 25 miles per hour.

I know; I went on it.

Twenty five miles per hour in this day and age; yet that is what happens on the way from Athlone to Westport.

That is the service we have and the Minister has no plans to improve it. During the last debate on this issue, I spoke about an early bird train system. I asked the Minister if she could look into the possibility of having an early train one day a week, on Monday mornings, from Mayo and Roscommon to get students and others to work in Dublin; so that they would not have to leave on Sunday evening. At current travelling speeds such a train would have to leave at 3 o'clock in the morning to get people to work on time in Dublin. The reality is that we cannot have an early bird service. The Minister missed a golden opportunity when she had £114 million of Luas funding. She could have put £40 million in place to start such a service.

On a point of information, I did not take the decision, the EU did.

We are well aware of who makes the decisions. The EU makes them on the recommendation of the Government or the Minister for Finance.

It is obvious that the Minister must not have put it forward, or if she did——

——nobody was listening.

I put forward £100 million.

It is pity because we need, and are entitled to, a better service than we have at present. Senator Norris spoke about the fine service in Dublin but we cannot share his sentiments. Passengers who travel by train to Dublin arrive at Heuston Station and must find their way into the city. I cannot travel to or from Dublin by train.

I was sorry to hear the Minister say Senator O'Dowd had impugned the integrity of her staff.

He did. I have his words at hand.

That is a serious allegation. The Minister is responsible for her Department——

He said it was not me.

——and the buck stops with her. If the report or its recommendations were altered, it was not done by Senator O'Dowd.

The Minister told the House on a previous occasion that this is an independent report. I wish to draw attention to a point it makes about platforms. I take a serious view of this because statistics on fatalities at railway stations show that the highest number are caused by slips, trips or falls on platforms. The report states, "Many platforms have surfaces which are not very level and there is a danger of tripping. This can result in a minor injury." Invalids and persons with a handicap or a disability use the platforms at stations.

The summary to which Senator O'Dowd referred states that many station platforms are outside the required tolerance for safe stepping distances and many platforms have significant trip hazards present. On the other hand, the report states there is a danger of tripping. If there is a tripping hazard at railway stations, it has been significantly watered down in the summary. If there are tripping hazards at these stations, it is priority that they be removed. Somebody changed the report and watered it down.

It is de-emphasised.

It has a different significance.

I assure the Senator that it will be reconciled tomorrow. Neither I nor my Department will accept that.

I am only reading from the report. The buck stops with the Minister.

On a point of information, Senator O'Dowd said he was not impugning me.

On a further point of information, I said I was impugning nobody.

Acting Chairman

Senator Burke is in order.

I impugned nobody.

I am simply pointing out that the buck stops with the Minister, not Senator O'Dowd or anybody else. I have simply put on record what is in the report.

The Senator will not make a fool of me.

I hope the Minister will deal with it because she assured the House that it was an independent report. The report also states——

Tripping and hazard.

——that legislation is required to deal with some of the recommendations. However, the Minister has not alluded to that in any of her speeches. I hope she introduces the necessary legislation.

I am sorry I was sidetracked on this matter. I urge the Minister to look seriously at providing funding in the short term for the rail service from Athlone to Westport and Ballina. If something is not done soon, that line will close like other lines such as the Youghal and Clifden lines. There is an ongoing campaign for a line from Sligo to Ennis and on to Limerick and Waterford. I hope the Minister examines the possibility of directing funding for that line.

This is the third time the House has debated public transport in the last month. It is indicative of the fine performance of the Government that the Opposition is reduced to regurgitating the same topic for debate.

I have some sympathy with the motion. Senator O'Dowd said that transport in every town and village is virtually grinding to a halt and that people cannot go for walks in the evening. That is obviously an exaggeration, but sometimes that is necessary to get a point across. Undoubtedly, there are traffic problems throughout the country. What is causing them? They are a product of the strong economic growth the country has experienced in recent years.

That growth is the result of the farseeing fiscal policies and planning during the past decade. It started in 1987. The Government at that time must be forever thanked for the manner in which it tackled the difficulties that confronted it. The Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, was one of the team and also deserves credit. It had to overcome the profligacy of the LabourFine Gael Government of 1982-7 which doubled the national debt from £12 billion to £24 billion.

What is needed now in the transport sector is investment. The Minister would be extremely pleased if the £12 billion that was squandered in those years was available for such investment or if that coalition Government had had the foresight to invest the money in infrastructure. At least there would have been a return for the increase in the national debt. Unfortunately, that did not happen.

I am not trying to make a political point.

The Senator could have fooled me.

He could have fooled everybody over here.

I also wish to give credit to Deputy Dukes, who was the then Leader of the Opposition. He deserves tremendous credit for the Tallaght strategy under which he supported the minority Fianna Fáil Government.

Obviously, his party did not appreciate the Deputy putting the national interest before narrow political interest and, as a consequence, replaced him. That was tantamount to replacing a BMW with a landrover. In fairness to Fine Gael, many of its members regret the mistake of not continuing the Tallaght strategy and of changing strategy through a change in leadership. It did not yield the fruits the party expected.

Senator O'Dowd referred to the rail safety report. Since that report focuses on improving safety standards and eradicating risk in the rail service, it is important the factual position emerges. The Senator said he would not impugn the Minister for the changes that took place, but that they did take place after the arrival of the report in the Department, at the behest of what he called "the mandarins" in the Department. That assertion should be corrected. If Senator O'Dowd is correct — I hope I am paraphrasing his comments accurately — somebody must be held to account. If he is wrong, he said he would acknowledge it and withdraw the comment.

There has not been so much emphasis placed on investment in the public transport system for many years. That investment is necessary. Never in so many years has so much emphasis been placed on investment in the public transport system. That investment is necessary. The Minister came before the House in recent weeks to announce that she intends to assist CIE to acquire a further 150 buses. I understand that the company will acquire a further 50 to 60 buses in its own right. Therefore, 200 additional buses will soon be on our roads, a necessary and overdue development. The Minister indicated earlier that £26 million will be invested to assist in the provision of buses and that £63 million will be invested in the suburban rail network, which will yield a 30 per cent increase in carrying capacity and it will also increase the number of carriages from 80 to 106. These are welcome developments.

I welcome the Minister's proposals regarding running part of the Luas underground. I suggest that she consider increasing the portion of the line to be constructed in this way. If we had a choice, I believe we would not have put in place the type of infrastructure which obtains at present. We should make plans to construct more roads, motorways and dual carriageways. Our thinking in terms of road and rail infrastructure is geared too much toward the short term. I suggest that the position be reconsidered.

With regard to yesterday's rail dispute, for a long time I have been concerned about the capacity of the management and staff of CIE to respond to the challenge the company faces to provide a modern, efficient transport service which will meet people's needs and which will encourage them to switch from private to public transport. The attitude displayed yesterday showed a despicable disregard for the needs of people who use rail services. The dispute was unnecessary, unofficial and it should not have taken place. Yesterday's stoppage must raise questions about future investment in this area. There is a need for payback. If the management, staff and unions in CIE cannot get their act together, no amount of investment will solve the problem. I agree with Senator Quill's assertion that competition is needed in this area, just as it was needed in the airline industry where it has yielded good results.

The way in which yesterday's dispute affected traffic flows provided a blueprint for the future. Traffic flowed better yesterday as a consequence some of the changes which were made. Yesterday's events highlighted the fact that, while it may be cost effective, the traffic lighting system governing traffic flows in inner city areas is inefficient. In my opinion two factors contribute to improved traffic flows. First, as happened yesterday, motor cars should be given permission to use bus corridors. For example, to encourage car pooling, it might be useful to allow cars containing two or more people to use bus corridors. Second, as stated previously, local authorities must be allowed to appoint traffic police to regulate the management and control of traffic. A certain level of competition appears to exist within the Garda Síochána in terms of priorities. It is unfair to be diverting the attention of the Force towards traffic problems when the major issue of crime must also be addressed. I suggest that consideration be given to separating the two functions.

A more integrated and innovative approach will be required to meet the increasing demands of traffic on our roads in the future. I am confident that the Minister has a good knowledge of her portfolio and that she has the ability and determination to deliver such an approach, not only to our capital but to the country as a whole.

Mr. Ryan

I am intrigued by the fact that the House appears to be continuously debating issues relating to transport. To be positive, we have a transport problem because the country is undergoing a period of economic growth the likes of which none of us, including the most optimistic and I count the Minister among their number — imagined would ever be possible. The economy has reached twice what most economists estimated would be the upper limit of its growth capacity. Most economists continue to argue, even though the evidence contradicts them, that the economy's natural upper level of economic growth is approximately 4.5 per cent to 5 per cent. We have succeeded in doubling that figure in successive years but economists continue to search for evidence to suggest that the economy is not really performing as well as it appears to be and to seek signs that it is about to collapse.

I am tired of economists' suggestions that there are similarities between this country and countries in south-east Asia with former tiger economies. There are a number of factors which distinguish Ireland from those countries. First, it is a genuine democracy and, second, regardless of what I might say about the party opposite and some of its cronies, Ireland does not have the same level of cronyism which exists in those countries. Ireland will not undergo an economic collapse of the type which occurred in south-east Asia.

A great deal of what has happened to our economy in recent years is permanent in nature and there are good reasons for this. One of these is that the profligate Government Senator Walsh insisted on attacking was prepared to continue to fund education during the 1980s when it was difficult and painful to do so. That Government was criticised for educating young people who were going to emigrate and take the skills they had developed with them.

That process began in the 1960s with Donogh O'Malley.

Mr. Ryan

In a previous debate I paid tribute to the former President, Dr. Patrick Hillery, who, with one exception, was perhaps the most visionary Minister for Education in the history of the State.

He introduced the regional colleges.

Mr. Ryan

I must be careful not to upset the Minister for Public Enterprise when listing a pecking order of former Ministers for Education. Dr. Hillery displayed extraordinary vision in many of the ministerial positions he held and has not received the credit he deserves for his contribution to Irish life.

I referred to economists and the growth of the economy because reports and studies by economists are again doing the rounds which suggest that we should not spend money improving rail services. They also suggest that only the Dublin-Cork and Dublin-Belfast lines are viable. From what I have read, these reports are among the most classic examples of non sequiturs that I have ever seen. They state that only 3 per cent of the travelling public travel on trains. Does this mean 3 per cent of those who travel each day, the vast majority of whom live in this city and who do not use rail transport to a great degree? Only 3 per cent of the travelling public use trains because the rail network is so ramshackle that people with an urgent need to reach their destination will not travel on it.

People have no problem using trains on the Dublin-Cork and Dublin-Belfast lines because the services provided are decent and they can travel from one place to another in a reasonable amount of time. To be able to travel from Cork to Dublin in two and a half hours is good by anyone's standards. Therefore, these services are used by so many people that the trains are almost overcrowded. Those people would use other services if they were of a similar standard.

The Minister is will be obliged to battle with the Department of Finance which I will gladly impugn as being gripped by an ideology which has more to do with the 19th century than with the reality of a late 20th century European social democracy. Anyone who wishes to see what can be achieved in terms of public transport should consider Denmark, a small country like Ireland with a number of similar problems, namely, the heavy concentration of its population around Copenhagen. Denmark has spent enormous amounts of money putting in place a modern, sophisticated public transport system which is based largely on railways in order to maximise efficiency. Denmark used the wealth it accrued in the 1960s to put in place a wonderful public transport system, based on the fact that it contributes to economic efficiency.

Let us not forget the other great benefit of public transport, namely, that it is extremely beneficial in an environmental sense. The greater use of railways produces a real economic bonus in terms of the quality of the environment. If the Government wants to meet its Kyoto targets on greenhouse emissions, it will have to persuade the public to stop using cars. There is no way we will meet the targets if car usage, not so much car ownership, continues on this scale. The Danes own more cars per capita than we do. The fact that they do not use them a great deal travelling to and from work means their greenhouse emissions, along with those of the Swedes, will be significantly lower than ours in four or five years. This is because people own cars but do not feel they must use them every time they have to go somewhere, because of their decent public transport system.

In any European city one does not feel the need to bring one's car everywhere because there is a rapid, reliable, efficient and republic transport system. The Department which I choose to impugn is the cause of the extraordinary decision in the 1980s to which the Minister referred, to end investment in railways. That Department believes the cost benefits according to their sums did not add up and therefore we should not have any railways.

I believe that all the people who have written cost benefit analyses to prove that railways do not work live in Dublin and therefore do not need to use them. If they had to face the option of travelling from Cork to Dublin by coach on a regular basis or if they had to fly from Cork to Dublin, as I did this week, and had to pay the magnificent amount of £134 return, they would soon get over their hostility to railways.

The Fine Gael motion is ridiculous. Their financial spokesman in the other House has been criticising the Government for exceeding public spending targets with considerable vigour. Yet they table a motion demanding more money from the Minister. I believe in increased public expenditure and that we should spend our wealth through the public sector on infrastructural investment.

I wish the Minister well in her battle with the Department of Finance because she has to persuade that most recalcitrant of Departments that public transport needs huge investment. I do not think it believes that yet and it will need to be heavily lobbied by the Minister. Unfortunately it is now headed by a man who shares the peculiar ideology of the Department itself.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

On behalf of the House, I wish to say that I, like others, was disturbed that this debate started quite late due to no fault of the Minister. I discussed the matter with the Government and Fine Gael Whips and some logical agreement will have to be reached. I do not know whether there is a problem with the Government Whip or the Opposition Whip in the Dáil. If a Minister is coming to the House at a certain time, he or she should be facilitated. What happened this evening is inexcusable because it affects other Members of the House, staff of the Seanad office, reporting staff and press and party staff. I will ask for this matter to be referred to both Committees on Procedure and Privileges to ensure it does not happen again.

I left the Department at 5.50 p.m. to meet with my officials before I came in. I have been around long enough around to know that one is paired in the other House. When I came into the hall an usher told me I was required to vote. I told him I was not as I was due in the Seanad. He said he had been told to intercept me and tell me to vote. I did so as that is what I was told. I also have an important dinner to attend tonight, like everyone else. It seems I will not get to it, which does not matter, I do not care if I am here until 12 o'clock. However, when I came into the House, I explained my position immediately and made a profuse apology. A schoolteacher is never late because the bell rings and one has to be there. I welcome the referral of the matter to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges who perhaps can make recommendations on it.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

No criticism of the Minister was intended. Whatever time she has to be in the House, she should be given a pairing arrangement before the debate to enable her to prepare.

I was paired.

The Minister is not at fault.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I appreciate that. Perhaps Senator Burke will take up the matter with his Opposition and Government colleagues.

I propose to share my time with Senator Dan Kiely. When listening to this and other debates on transport, I cannot help but reflect that we have been badly served by our transport planners. Post-war Irish history shows that successive Governments relied on predictions, vision and economic planners to foresee the future who then recommended how they should implement policy. They dropped a clanger on us and we have lived with the legacy ever since.

Let us start with the decision to take trams off the streets of Dublin and other cities in the early 1950s — for what reason? Economic efficiency, which was to be the way of the future. Since cheap fossil fuel would be with us forever and a day why should we bother cluttering up our streets with antiquated and quaint old machines? As other speakers said, apart from being efficient they would be a great tourist attraction today.

Then, seven or eight years later — and I appreciate he was the man appointed by the Government to implement Government policy but who has been pilloried ever since — Todd Andrews spoke about the buck stopping. The buck stopped in CIE when it was decided to close branch lines around the country. We have lived with that legacy ever since. We were told the way of the future was road freight and that the car would be king. I was in short trousers at the time but I remember the impact of that decision and the passion and emotion of the time when people attempted to have even the most minimal of rail services retained.

Even when they lost that battle they asked CIE to allow the permanent way to be retained across the country for possible future usage. Within 24 hours, on the Cavan-Leitrim railway — and the same happened everywhere else — they had lifted the sleepers and within a week they were in Africa and the rolling stock was in America.

I am going back over history because I am now extremely wary of any transport planner saying what their vision of the future should or should not be. However, we must live with the practical realities and in the present day. In that context the huge amounts promised towards transport infrastructure are welcome. However, all I hope is that the planners do not mess it up this time and that they get it right to some degree.

I saw what happened yesterday when public transport shut down and yet there was no gridlock. People were terrified they were going to be late for work. My wife travelled from home for our child's hospital appointment and left an hour early. Yet, when she reached Dublin at 10 o'clock it had been clear the whole way. This happened to people in a variety of ways. What happened yesterday is a watershed and strengthens the Minister's hand in her dealings with CIE and the unions and in the area of industrial relations.

If there is a message in what happened yesterday it is that no longer do the unions, or whoever is, and has been, responsible for the disruption of transport in this country going back over decades, hold the whip hand. People say they can do without public transport because they drive cars and have other means of transport. The Minister will be aware of a very critical article in one of the national newspapers a few days ago in which an economist said it was time the taxpayers stopped paying money to CIE. He said they had been pouring money into CIE which had mounted a successful lobbying campaign for decades, crying to successive Governments that it was not receiving enough money. It was getting a lot of money, but it was the manner in which it managed it that was in question.

Yesterday was a watershed. I would like to think we are entering a new era in terms of trying to get the whole transport system sorted out. The Minister is more aware than anyone in this House or the other House that until industrial relations and management practices in CIE are sorted out, all the money in the world will not make a difference.

I suggest to the Minister that when she gets the rail infrastructure sorted out in relation to the rail safety plan, she should consider partial privatisation of the railways. She should consider the possibility of partially privatising some of the lines referred to by Senator Burke and others. It is envisaged that approximately ten million people will travel through Dublin Airport in the next five years. Therefore, I strongly urge the Minister to give priority to a rail link to the airport.

Will the Minister put in place a mechanism whereby she will get regular progress reports on the money being given to CIE. She should be in a position to come back to the House, or some other forum, every six or 12 months to inform us of the position in this regard. It is the first time anyone has experienced this amount of structural investment into such a wide area. Progress reports should be submitted on this massive infrastructural investment.

I, too, welcome the Minister to the House. The national development plan being drawn up by the Government must be closely monitored. If the plan is not put in place properly the country will go further down the tubes.

When I returned to this country some years ago the main rail lines were in a deplorable condition and they have been on a downward slope ever since. It is only in the last couple of years that we seem to be getting our act together. When I was in business in Kerry some years ago and had to order parts from a company in Dublin, I would have to wait two or three weeks for them to be delivered by train. Those parts might go to Westport or some place other than to Kerry. Suddenly private enterprise got involved and one can now order a part in the morning and have it delivered that evening. Competition and value for money is very important.

In the 1980s Garret FitzGerald, as Taoiseach, visited Kerry. The McKenzie report, which was published at that time, proposed closing down the railway line between Tralee and Mallow as well as other rural lines. Those lines were very important to the people living in those areas and from a tourism point of view. Trains are grossly overcrowded. If Iarnród Éireann is not making money, the Minister would need to examine the economics and management structure of the company.

The Minister should consider the River Liffey could be utilised as far as transport is concerned.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I would ask Members to appreciate the Minister's position given the night that it is.

I do not understand the difficulties that arise for the Minister and some Opposition colleagues in relation to this motion, given that President Santer stated here last week that there was a question mark over Structural Funds for the year 2000-2006. The motion is extremely appropriate in the circumstances. It would be useful if Ireland put on record what has been put on record here this evening in relation to Structural Funds in the years 2000-2006.

My colleague, Senator O'Dowd, proposed the motion. In proposing it he brought to the Minister's attention specific information of extreme importance. The Minister might be in a position to answer a number of questions. When the Department employs consultants to do a particular job, do they do just the job or is there constant interaction between them and the Department? If there is constant interaction, how independent is the report? Is there constant verbal or written communication between people in the Department and the consultants? If so, could one conclude that a report presented is independent of the Department? If there is constant communication and interaction between the Department and the independent consultants who are supposed to be specialised in a specific area and employed to pursue a particular job, what is the point of employing them? Why does the Department not do the work itself if it has a huge input into the report? These fundamental questions need to be asked and Senator O'Dowd has done this very competently this evening.

I am sorry the Minister responded in such a manner to Senator O'Dowd's queries. He proposed the motion in a responsible fashion, placed information on the record and highlighted the discrepancies that have arisen regarding various submissions between the Department and the consultants and the variations that resulted in the document that was published. He put on record the substantial differences between the original and final drafts. I am sure he could elaborate further in this regard.

The Minister has a specific responsibility to see all drafts, the changes that were brought about at various stages and the change in emphasis on specifics that resulted from the various interactions between the consultants and the Department. Senator O'Dowd acted in a responsible manner and it was unfair of the Minister to respond in the way she did. He acted in good faith by putting this information on the record. The responsibility rests with the Minister to find out why these changes were made. She should return to the House to give an explanation on this matter.

The motion begins: "That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to implement a major investment programme in public transport.".

The Minister agreed with that statement. No one disagrees that a major investment in our infrastructure is needed, both in railways and roads if our booming economy is to continue. Reference was also made to previous Governments not investing in our public transport system. We must remember that for years Governments borrowed money on a huge scale for the day to day running of this country. All our capital investment had to be borrowed. It is only ten years since major cuts were introduced to try to bring public expenditure down. We are only emerging into this new era.

The Celtic tiger is the metaphor or symbol we use to describe our booming economic and commercial activity. However side by side with that is the Celtic tortoise which is our public transport system. There is no doubt that the Celtic tortoise will trip up the Celtic tiger. Our infrastructure does not match the pace of our other commercial and economic activity. We see it every day in gridlock in Dublin; we cannot get through.

Yesterday when the trains stopped we could get through easily enough. The law of opposites applies to our public transport. It would be interesting to get a definition of what is happening. It was interesting to note the ease with which we could get through the city yesterday. One of the contributing factors was extra manpower. There were more gardaí on intersections and this contributed to the ease in getting through. The issue of traffic lights needs to be examined. They are a serious imposition on the free movement of traffic in our cities.

This is the first year we have a £1,000 million surplus on our current account. I ask the Minister to press the Government to get some of this money. Heretofore we borrowed. Now we have some of our own money to invest.

I wish to make the following final points. First, this is an important and timely debate. The fact that the Minister has been here four times recently has been very helpful to us in these debates. On those occasions I acknowledged, and I again acknowledge, her willingness to appear in the House to discuss these matters. The safety of our rail network is of utmost importance. Following the derailment of a train at Knockroghery, County Roscommon, Fine Gael and other Opposition Members demanded, and the Minister agreed, to commission a comprehensive study on the condition of our rail network. At that time she was at pains to point out that it would be a totally independent review. I have acknowledged that was always her intention. I have never said anything other that.

From documents made available to me from her Department, it appears that the findings and recommendations of the consultants have been down played and diluted by suggestions made in the Department. I want to get this right as I do not wish it to be taken the wrong way. Suggestions for changes were made. Obviously the changes would have been made by the consultants. Changes suggested by the Department were incorporated into the report. I only received the documentation this morning but in every case I examined, the suggestions from the Department to the consultants were incorporated in the consultants' final report. There is a significant difference between the contents of the consultants' draft report and their final report. I draw attention to this.

It is clear that the wording of the findings and recommendations put forward in the executive summary proposed by the consultants was changed as a result of suggestions made by the Department. The effect of these suggested changes was to reduce the severity of the criticisms of the system which the consultants discovered.

The Minister cannot run away from this issue. She personally initiated the study and continuously stressed its independence. Now, however, we discover that the draft form of consultants' report is significantly different from the final version. I acknowledge this is a major and important issue. The Minister must acknowledge that there are differences in the two reports. I am bringing this to her attention as it is a matter of public importance.

I speak as an elected Member of the Seanad. My electorate elect me to act in the public interest. Everything I have said this evening is in the public interest. I have no qualms about that. I suggest the Minister meets Deputy Yates, our spokesperson on these matters, and me tomorrow. I would be happy to go through the report with her.

In over 20 years in public life, I have never impugned the integrity of any official or politician. I was at pains today to say to Senator Liam Fitzgerald — and he will acknowledge this — that my statement tonight was not personal.

The Senator did say that.

It was important and had to be said. When the Minister approached me today during lunch I told her I have a job to do, she has a job to do and we must do it. There was nothing personal in my statement. I am a member of a party with a dynamic role to play in the future of this country. We have the right to put forward and bring to the attention of the public, discrepancies between draft reports and final reports. We have no apology to make for that. As Senator Taylor-Quinn stated, this discussion should clarify what is and is not an independent report. There is a difference between the two things. The documentation clearly shows there is a significant difference and it is right and proper to bring this to the attention of the public.

May I reply so that everybody is clear.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

It is not in order but I will allow a brief statement.

I approached Senator O'Dowd today to discover whether he had received everything he wanted. We did not want him to use the Freedom of Information Act. We wanted to give everything to him today. He looked for them this morning and received them this afternoon.

I looked for them last Monday.

Whenever it was, he received them all. I did not want the bother of him using the Freedom of Information Act. I wanted him to have everything he wanted.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

That concludes the debate.

On a point of order, the Minister has been attacked and she wanted a brief moment to respond to the motion and the Leas-Chathaoirleach is not allowing her.

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 11.

  • Bohan, Eddie.
  • Bonner, Enda.
  • Chambers, Frank.
  • Cox, Margaret.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Farrell, Willie.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Fitzgerald, Tom.
  • Gibbons, Jim.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Kiely, Daniel.
  • Lanigan, Mick.
  • Leonard, Ann.
  • Lydon, Don.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Moylan, Pat.
  • O'Brien, Francis.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Walsh, Jim.

Níl

  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Caffrey, Ernie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Coogan, Fintan.
  • Cregan, Denis (Dino).
  • Gallagher, Pat.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • McDonagh, Jarlath.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • Ridge, Thére se.
  • Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons; Níl, Senators Burke and Coogan.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 2 p.m. tomorrow.