Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) Bill 2004: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The origins of this Bill were established with the passing in the Dáil on 25 November last of a financial resolution which essentially amended the Finance (Excise Duties) (Vehicles) Act 1952 and the Finance No. 2 Act 1992 on rates of motor taxation and trade plate licences. The resolution has, however, only a limited life and to continue in effect it needs to be replaced by an Act of the Oireachtas, which provides it with a permanent legal basis.

The primary purpose of this Bill is to give a permanent legislative basis to the new motor tax rates set out in the resolution. These rates apply to tax discs taken out for periods commencing on or after 1 January 2004. The new rates, therefore, have already been in place since the beginning of the year and no increases over and above these rates are provided for in the Bill. A standard across the board increase of 5% has been applied to the old rates.

The primary consideration in making the decision to increase motor tax rates was the need to provide adequate funding for the non-national roads programme. In this regard, it is important to underline the fact that all of the estimated extra revenue generated by the increases in rates will be spent on non-national roads.

Unlike other taxes, motor tax is not paid into the Exchequer but instead is paid directly into the local government fund established under the Local Government Act 1998. The money in the fund is ring-fenced specifically for local government. This means it can only be spent on local government and cannot be dipped into and used by the Exchequer for other purposes. To underline the independence of the fund of the Exchequer, the Department maintains the fund bank account in a local bank close to the Custom House. In addition to motor taxation, the fund is augmented by an annual contribution from the Exchequer. The fund is used primarily for two purposes: first, to finance non-national road grants to local authorities and, second, to finance the general purpose block grants allocated to local authorities each year to assist them in their day to day current expenditure.

With the additional motor tax revenue which will accrue to the local government fund as a result of the 5% increase provided for in this Bill, combined with a significant additional Exchequer contribution to the fund, we have been able to increase the amount available in general purpose grants to local authorities in 2004 and to increase the amount of funding for non-national roads to record levels. What this means in money terms is that the 2004 general purpose grants funding package is €752 million, an increase of €92.2 million on last year. Since 1997 the level of general purpose grant aid to local authorities has increased on average by 122%, which represents an average annual increase of some 17% over the past seven years. This year's allocation for non-national roads is €477 million, which is more than double the 1997 expenditure. It is almost 10% more than last year's expenditure and the highest in the history of the State.

This allocation of €477 million for non-national roads is made up of €428 million from the local government fund and €48.8 million from the Exchequer. The 2004 Exchequer allocation shows an increase of approximately €8.8 million or 22% over the initial 2003 provision. This increase in the Exchequer provision will provide funding towards the increased costs of key strategic non-national road projects, which will assist housing, commercial and industrial development. The additional funds being provided in 2004 will enable local authorities to progress work on these critically important schemes situated on the country's regional roads network.

The channelling of motor tax receipts into the local government fund and the use of this fund for non-national road grants has created an important link between the amount of tax paid by motorists and the service they get for that tax in terms of better roads. I hope the House will acknowledge that the motoring public is seeing the benefits of this spending on non-national roads. More work remains to be done, but an objective assessment would show that we have made huge strides in upgrading our non-national roads during the past seven years or so.

The national development plan provides for investment of €2.43 billion in the non-national road network from 2000 to 2006. This is a significant amount of money and I am especially pleased to see it is being spent well. As I mentioned in the Dáil recently, the non-national roads programme is one of the major success stories of the NDP. It continues to be one of the best performing measures under both the south and east and BMW regional operational programmes. As the continuation of this work by local authorities is dependent on adequate resources, we are increasing the rates of motor tax and trade plate licences. The proposed 5% increase in motor tax rates will raise some €34 million extra for the fund and the entire sum will be invested directly in our non-national road network.

Last year, RPS-MCOS Limited, consulting engineers, was appointed to carry out the second ever pavement condition study on non-national roads. The study is combined with a review of pavement management systems. The study forms part of the Government's ongoing commitment to restoring the network of regional and county roads to a satisfactory condition over the ten year period from 1996 to 2005. Its results will determine what progress has been made since 1996 and record the extent of remaining deficiencies in the non-national road network. The results will also inform the prioritisation of investment in the non-national road network over the coming years and help to ensure value for money. On completion of the study, local authorities will be asked to examine and submit revised multi-annual restoration programmes for 2005 onwards.

The review of pavement management systems is a first. The consultants have been asked to review existing systems and recommend a single mechanism for use by local authorities on the non-national road network. This process is intended to assist local authorities in prioritising schemes for inclusion in the restoration programme. The study and review are due to be completed by August 2004.

As I indicated at the outset, standard increases of 5% are being applied to the old rates of motor tax. The new rates for all vehicles are set out in the Schedule to the Bill. Rather than take up the valuable time of the House by listing each and every new tax rate, I will make better use of our time by highlighting just a few details of what the proposed changes will mean in money terms for the private cars and goods vehicles which make up 91% of the national fleet. For the smallest private car engine size, which is under 1000cc, the annual rate increase is €7. For cars in the 1001cc to 1300cc range, the annual increase is between €11 and €13 while for cars in the 1301cc to 1400cc range, the additional annual increase is €14. As 60% of the national car fleet consists of cars under 1400cc, the extra costs for most motorists will be between €7 and €14 a year or 13 cent and 27 cent a week. For the remaining cars, the increases will range from €15 for cars above 1400cc to €64 for cars over 3001cc. Less than 0.5% of cars in the national fleet are in the 3001cc plus category.

As with private cars, the effect of the 5% increase on goods vehicles will vary depending on size. Where the rate for a private car will depend on the cubic capacity of the engine, the rate for a goods vehicle will be based on its unladen weight. Some 85% of goods vehicles qualify for the lowest level of charge and will pay an annual increase of €12 per annum or 23 cent per week. A 5% increase also applies to trade licences which are also known as trade plates. As the House may be aware, these are the green registration plates used by motor traders in lieu of taxation on vehicles which are temporarily in their possession. While there are strict restrictions on the use of such plates, they are transferable between vehicles. The increase for a pair of trade plates will be €13.

This is a short Bill. Its purpose is simply to give permanent, legal effect to the changes in motor tax rates and trade plate licences. These increases are being introduced with the single purpose of funding the non-national road programme to ensure that local authorities can continue the great progress which has been made in rehabilitating our non-national road network. The legislation is worthy of support from all sides of this House.

While I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, to the House, I must ask why the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, is running for cover. We have not seen him in this House since well before Christmas.

He is a busy man.

As Minister, he should show a little more courtesy to the House. Hopefully, a message to that effect will be conveyed to him.

I am here to oppose this Bill in the strongest possible terms on behalf of my party and, indeed, the people I represent. The main purpose of the Bill is to give legislative form to the huge increases in motor taxation and trade plate licences which were contained in the budget. The increases represent a further stealth tax to make up for the financial shortfalls which are the direct result of poor management by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government. The Bill provides for another across-the-board tax increase of 5% which comes on top of last year's 12% increase in motor tax and trade plate licences. It adds to the string of stealth taxes and other increases imposed by an uncaring Government since the last general election. As we speak, local authorities around the country are being forced by the Government to introduce development charges ranging from €7,000 to €30,000 to develop infrastructure within their counties. This is fact.

Stealth taxes, including insurance and other levies, are the largest single contributor to high business costs and increased inflation. Increased Government charges of this kind are a key factor in the decisions of many companies to reduce costs by cutting their workforces. We have seen plenty of evidence of this even since Christmas. Companies, including one two weeks ago in my county, have abandoned Ireland due to the high cost of levies imposed by the Government. The massive increases in stealth taxes and charges imposed on industry by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government since the election less than two years ago are making it exceedingly difficult for companies to trade successfully in Ireland.

The Irish vehicle owner pays at least six fixed charges before he or she turns the key in the ignition. According to the representative organisation of European motor manufacturers, Ireland has the second highest vehicle registration tax in Europe after Denmark. From time to time, the Minister of State has had the neck to encourage car owners to use unreliable public transport for traffic and environmental reasons. How can the public be expected to fork out extra money for public transport when they have been expected by the Government to bear an extra motor tax burden of 17% over the past year or so? The implementation of cut after cut by this ruthless Government continues to affect the welfare of citizens. We need only examine what has happened in our health services. Health jobs have been cut, resulting in more people spending their hospital stays on trolleys. There are longer queues at accident and emergency units throughout the country and funding for carers and home helps has been cut — I have plenty evidence of this in my constituency of Longford-Roscommon. VHI charges have been increased by double figures and doctors have been forced to increase fees by this incompetent Government.

Free third level education has, effectively, been scrapped with the increase in college registration fees and other charges. There have been major cuts in funding for schemes designed to tackle educational disadvantage. The FÁS budget is almost eliminated. This afternoon we are debating another increase in taxation through stealth measures on top of the sneaking in last week of additional taxes on credit cards and passports. Where will this stop? Every area, including the most vulnerable, has been hit, with the exception of the betting tax. This is one of the few indirect taxes that the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, reduced in recent budgets. He gave further tax relief to the fat cats involved in the racehorse industry, many of whom are his friends. This sticks in the throats of the public and hard-pressed taxpayers.

The Bill is a further example of the Government's arrogance. It is a further increase in taxes on motor vehicles from a Government made up of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats which promised not to increase these taxes in order to encourage more people to use public transport. It has further lost the trust and confidence of the electorate by failing to honour its many promises.

In addition to taxing motorists to the hilt, the Government has dismally failed to provide a good public transport infrastructure. The Luas project is behind time, the Dublin metro system is still a dream, the rail network is one of the most backward in Europe, including the EU applicant nations, the rural bus network is poor and the rural transport initiative for the elderly is being cut by 40%. I have an Adjournment motion on this issue this evening.

There are enormous overruns in the cost of the M4 Kilcock-Enfield-Kinnegad motorway, from €203 million to almost €300 million, a jump from €78 million to €112 million in plans for the Knock-Claremorris road and a doubling of the cost of the Nenagh-Limerick scheme, to name just a few. In certain other areas there have been considerable overruns also. The Government's transport policy is a shambles and money is being wasted with no accountability or justification. Rather than getting our road and rail infrastructure in order, the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, and the Government are preparing to introduce a carbon tax to raise a further €500 million annually to squander or to prop up the Government's mismanagement and incompetence.

I warn the public to be aware of this mistrustful Government on the carbon tax issue. We in Fine Gael have called on the Government to bring forward guidelines and a Green Paper on the issue, but little has happened to date. Due to this new stealth tax Bill, motorists with one litre cars will have their motor tax increased to €151, while those with 1.4 litre cars will be charged €292 per year with corresponding increases for larger cars — so much for encouraging people to use smaller cars and cut down on energy use. Those are unfair increases for citizens who have had to put up with at least 30 tax increases in other areas and bear the brunt of savage cutbacks in areas such as health, education, housing, social welfare, agriculture, FÁS schemes, youth schemes and so on. I could go on until teatime if time permitted. All of this has happened since the last general election.

The private sector does not have the public interest in mind when it gets involved in infrastructural public private partnerships. I realise they are in the business to make money. If I was in that area of business, I would have the same attitude.

I am surprised the Senator is not in it.

Private enterprise will get involved only to make profits. Private sector roads mean more tolls and more rip offs for Irish motorists. There has been a substantial hike in toll bridge charges in recent months, from €1.30 to €1.50. The manner in which the Government sneaked in those increases was very annoying for motorists. When one looks around the country and particularly at this city, it is clear that an enormous amount of public money is wasted and squandered by this incompetent Government.

In rural areas, motorists have had to meet heavy burdens in the past given the amount of damage caused to their cars by poor quality roads. The Minister spoke earlier about the amount of funding being allocated to county roads. It is only a pittance because it will repair only 10% of the roads in need of work. There are shortfalls in each local authority throughout the country for funding for local improvement schemes. I ask the Minister to look at that area urgently.

The public has been misled several times during the past two years by this dishonest Government. The proposed increase in motor taxation hopes to darn another hole in the Minister for Finance's mismanagement of the economy. In the absence of motor tax reform, the Bill is a crude measure of robbing Peter to pay Paul. My party is opposed to the provisions of the Bill and is disgusted at the lies told to our citizens in the run-up to the last general election.

God Almighty.

The Bill, if passed, will amount to a tax burden of over €5 billion on Irish motorists. How much more can motorists accept before the burden becomes a political issue?

Hear, hear.

It will become a political issue.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his explanation of the Bill. The primary purpose of the Bill is to give a legislative basis to the increases in motor tax rates and trade plate licences set out in a financial resolution passed by the Dáil in November 2003. Provision has been made for an increase of 5% across the board. I was pleased to hear the Minister of State repeat what he said on a previous occasion about the local government fund established in January 1999, that all motor tax receipts, including driver licence receipts, are paid into the fund. The fund is supplemented by an Exchequer contribution. It is worth emphasising that the money is ring-fenced exclusively for local authorities and is distributed to them as discretionary grants for day to day spending requirements and grants in respect of expenditure on non-national roads. The Minister of State even told the House it was lodged in a local bank near the Customs House. That was news to me.

The Central Fund.

That shows the beady eyes of the Minister and Minister of State and that they are keeping a close watch on this money.

The Central Fund coffers.

I welcome what the Minister of State said about the new rates of motor tax, the schedule for taxation classes and the motor tax rates for vintage vehicles. The new rates took effect from 1 January 2004. Senator Bannon raised the relevant issue of public transport. I take the opportunity to raise the issue of the rail network. Fr. Micheál MacGréil, former Deputy and Senator, Martin O'Toole, and I have been on a committee for the past 20 years which is trying to get funding for the Collooney-Claremorris railway line, which is really the Sligo-Limerick railway line. I am glad the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, some weeks ago travelled from Tubercurry to Tuam, visiting the railway stations along that line. For a third of the cost of a national primary route, that railway line could be in operation. The Government should at this stage be able to have the section operable from Tuam to Athenry and Galway. It is clearly a commuter area considering the huge traffic jams on the N17 between Tuam and Galway. In fact, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, referred to surveys which suggest there are more traffic jams on that stretch of road than at any hold-up at Enfield, Moate or Kinnegad. A significant amount of money is being spent on roads which could be spent on railways.

I am glad the Minister said that funding would be ring-fenced by the Department for this purpose. I also welcome what he said in regard to the national development plan. Some €2.43 billion has been allocated for the non-national road network for the period 2000 to 2006. It is interesting that €1.08 billion is scheduled for the Border, midlands and west region and €1.35 million for the south and east. The BMW region should get more. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Ahern, told the Dáil that funding for non-national roads is allocated on the basis of population. However, the situation in the BMW region must be considered in order that extra funding can be obtained, as it is important for the future prosperity and improved social life of the region. I would like to hear the Minister's views in this regard because, as a former representative for Connacht-Ulster, he has pushed hard on behalf of the region.

The increase this year of €34 million in the take from motor tax will provide for improvements to the roads network, and I hope that continues. I am particularly pleased to hear the Minister's remarks on the restoration programme, which accounts for approximately half of State grants for non-national roads each year. Funding is needed in this area. Since 1996, more than €1 billion has been allocated to county councils under the ten year restoration programme and approximately 32,000 kilometres of non-national roads will be improved by the end of this year. In addition, €320 million has been allocated to county councils for maintenance work under the programme since 1996.

The pavement studies to which the Minister referred are also important. A pavement study in 1996 identified that 47,000 kilometres of the non-national roads network was deficient. Extra funding was allocated for this, and the award of the contract to RPS-MCOS Limited for the carrying out of the second pavement conditions study was important. The study is part of the Government commitment to restore the network of regional and county roads to a satisfactory condition in the period 1996 to 2005. Nonetheless, we do not want to waste too much time on studies. We must ensure that funding is available, in particular for the BMW region.

I am glad the Department has in recent years provided discretionary general purpose and other grants. There is a developing forestry industry in my constituency and funding has been obtained in recent years for forestry roads and tourism roads, particularly in west County Galway but also in the east of the county where there are lakes and rivers.

That is EU funding.

An application will also be made by the Government.

It is made by local authorities.

The Bill provides for smaller tax increases of €7 for cars under 1000cc while the increase is €14 for larger cars of 1300cc to 1400cc — these are not huge sums.

Our primary concern must be safety. Despite horrific recent crashes, the Minister for Transport is making much progress on penalty points. Figures suggest that fatalities on our roads were approximately 600 per year in the mid-1970s whereas this dropped to 330 last year. While this is still a high figure, the number of cars has increased by approximately four times over that period. Safety is a key issue and I urge the Government to continue to work to improve it.

Signage on our roads is also important and I would like the new signs to be introduced quicker. Older signs are being interfered with, leading to confusion and misdirection for drivers. The finger-post sign is the optimum and I hope it will again become available. There have been many complaints about signs on regional and county roads and this problem must be dealt with.

The Minister said an annual report on the local government fund would be presented to the Dáil and Seanad, which is important. It should be made quickly available.

On accountability, it has been suggested that without Deputies and Senators serving on local councils, local authority officials and county mangers will not have their work effectively scrutinised. I do not accept this because good councillors are currently serving and more will be elected in June. The Minister and Members should urge our colleagues on county councils, without telling them what to do, to analyse and scrutinise the different policies which come before them. Moreover, in many instances it will be the councillors who decide the policies.

On local government employment, there has not been an increase but a reduction in the numbers employed although an increase has been alleged. However, there has been criticism of the work of retired county managers who, as one Deputy said, turn up on every interview board. It is useful to have a person as experienced as a retired county manager on interview panels and I do not think this is a disease breaking out. While it is difficult to decide who should serve on employment and interview boards, those who have worked in the local government service have done a good job in this regard and I hope they will be recognised as suitable for the work.

I compliment the Minister on his earlier contribution. He has gone well beyond his brief in not only discussing the tax increase but also the increase in the roads fund and the different types of funding which are useful in the area of regional and county roads. It would also be useful to discuss primary and secondary roads, which are the responsibility of the National Roads Authority and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan. I hope the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gallagher, will bring to the attention of the Minister for Transport some of the issues raised during this debate. It would be useful if he knew of some of our debates not just on roads, but on public transport generally.

I welcome the Minister of State. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, is out of the country.

He is not.

That is according to the radio today.

The Bill gives effect to the budgetary increases in motor taxation in December's budget. An increase in motor taxation is no surprise, but it is disappointing that there is no benefit from such an increase, aside from a temporary improvement in the Government's fiscal situation. I accept, as does the vast majority of reasonable people, that we must pay more tax but motorists must see a return on the amount of motor tax, which is becoming very expensive, that they pay. Given the differences in mileage between urban and rural drivers, there is an inequality in the amount of tax each pays and those anomalies should be reflected in how the levies are set. While there are different levels of tax according to the capacity of cars, proportionately some people are paying much more than others. There should be a system in place where there is an obvious benefit in paying that amount of motor tax.

When one sees the number of increases which have been introduced across the board since the general election, it is no surprise that this is another stealth tax. Television licences were increased by 40%, a huge increase by any standard, while VAT increases have also hit people. The way these stealth taxes are affecting households is to push people closer and closer to the poverty trap. Those amounts might not be much to have, but it is a sizeable amount of money to give away when one is on a tight budget.

It would be interesting if the Minister for Transport came to a Seanad debate on transport policy as that area is nothing short of a mess. Every time we hear something it is drip-fed from the media and most announcements are made outside the House. With all due respect, we cannot have a proper debate on transport with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or the Minister of State at that Department. We need the Minister of Transport in the House for such a debate.

Motorists should have value for the money they pay in motor taxation. For example, although road safety is a huge element of driving now, in the past many motorists were not fully cognisant of their actions on the road. It is sad that some people still have not got the message on road safety. After the introduction of the penalty points system we expected a consistent decline in road offences, but, unfortunately, that is not the case. Road deaths for the first part of this year have increased in comparison to the same period last year, which is very sad. Some people still have not got the message and are still speeding, overtaking dangerously and neglecting to wear their seat belts. That results in loss of life and very few of us have not been affected by road traffic accidents. It is absolutely heart-rending to see a family ripped apart by road carnage.

This weekend I will attend an anniversary mass for a friend of mine who lost his life two years ago. My first cousin was killed 14 years ago in a road accident and another friend died a number of years ago in similar circumstances. One wonders what type of system should be in place to make people aware of the imminent dangers on the roads and the amount of revenue accrued in motor taxation that could be reinvested inroad safety. That would give motorists some satisfaction because they would see where some of that money was going, particularly as the vast majority of them are paying exorbitant rates of motor tax.

Cork County Council is the licensing authority for vehicles in Cork city and county and, as one would expect, the council gathers a handsome amount of money every year. Not one cent is retained in Cork city or county because it all goes to the Exchequer. When I was on the council we had this argument every year during the estimates, or the budget as it is known now. There is no financial autonomy for local authorities but a good way to begin it would be to allow them to retain some if not all the revenue they accrue in their administrative areas from motor taxation. The amount of money involved is substantial and given that local authorities are cash-strapped, not least due to benchmarking, it would be a good way to address this anomaly.

Verge-cutting is another example of how cash-strapped my local authority is, which might sound like an issue someone wants to raise to get on a bandwagon. However, it is a huge issue in many areas. Last year the verge-cutting machines were not out, which created employment and financial difficulties for those who own the machines. One company invested a large amount of money in designing machines that would be quicker and more cost-effective, but very few of them left the yard last year. As a result, people lost seasonal employment and one individual was threatened by the bank.

The other side of this is that tertiary roads, which can be difficult to traverse at the best of times, became quite dangerous. The old adage that the briars were shaking hands in the middle of the road was almost true in some cases and that is very dangerous. We cannot be serious about safety unless we tackle issues like this constructively. This situation arose because the council had no choice but to scale down services and this was one of the main areas that was cut.

I am aware that the local and European elections are taking place in June, as is every Member. I wrote to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on this issue last year as it is crucial both for safety and for areas which depend on tourism. The Mizen peninsula, which attracts an inordinate number of tourists, has very narrow roadways and if one wants to take the Dursey cable car, for example, one must traverse narrow roads.

My letter asked a question which was quite clear, namely, what the situation was for 2004. The reply stated that Cork County Council had a discretionary fund of €33 million this year but I am still waiting for information on how much of that fund can be used for verge-cutting. Obviously, the council had that discretionary fund last year but was unable to find money for this worthwhile project.

Senator Bannon touched on the local improvement scheme, which is a perfectly good idea. It is a very good system whereby neighbours whose road is in a bad state of disrepair can make submissions to the local authority. An engineer provides costings and the work is done through the local improvement scheme. That is a worthwhile idea but in five years on the council, I only saw one of those projects, which had been going on since the mid-1970s. As we speak this stretch of road is almost finished but my predecessor was elected to Cork County Council in 1974 and he took the issue up on his election. His predecessor joined the council many years before that and he also pursued the matter in the 1970s. It lasted from the 1970s through the 1980s, 1990s and the new millennium and eventually the road has been completed.

The situation is simple. The budget allocation for local improvement schemes is far from appropriate. The allocation for my electoral area is approximately €150,000. There are many applications to avail of the funding to repair roads, but some of those individual jobs could use the entire allocation and still not be completed. What seems a perfectly good idea is only a good idea if real and significant funding is provided by the Department to local authorities to allow them to implement these schemes. It is frustrating when people come to me about the state of the roads. I discover the background to the issue and, when I speak to the engineer about it, I am told the only option available is the LIS. It is embarrassing to say the least because it would be a perfectly good scheme if the money was allocated to it.

The move from miles per hour to kilometres per hour on signage needs to be debated at length by the Minister for Transport and other interested parties. This is a huge issue which will cause much confusion. Some of these bendy, windy tertiary roads with bad surfaces, to which I referred, have the same speed limit as, for instance, the N71 in Cork and Kerry, which is crazy and a huge imbalance. If we are to convert to kph, which is probably a sign of the way in which society has moved and which is not necessarily good or bad, it will lead to confusion. Situations will arise in which people who have been caught speeding will try to convince the garda that he or she was looking at the speedometer, attempting to convert miles per hour into kilometres per hour and other such baloney. This is a huge issue and before there is any confusion it needs to be debated so we know the system. For example, who will implement it? Local authorities will not be sufficiently resourced to change signage in their particular administrative areas from mph to kph. I do not think it is possible.

There is a legal aspect to when this can be done, whether at night, in the morning or at weekends. I assume outside contractors will be employed. Whatever the case is in this regard, the issue needs to be debated now because it has a direct effect on road safety.

One can talk about finger signposting all one wants, seek money from the engineers and so on. An interesting case involves one of the divisions of Cork County Council which has had to replace signs in a particular area in County Cork year after year and has reached the stage at which it cannot do it anymore. The area in question is the Michael Collins memorial. On every approach road to Béal na Bláth, these signs are erected to point people in the direction of the memorial. However, every year, someone who works in a bar in Boston or New York comes home and a sign is taken. The next time one finds oneself in the Shamrock Bar in Boston, one will see a sign on the wall which reads "Michael Collins Memorial — 5 kms". We cannot attempt to legislate for that element. Nonetheless, it should be a consideration.

We have made huge improvements to the condition of our roads in recent years. It is wonderful to be able to get in one's car and drive to Dublin, use the Kildare bypass and avoid the traffic black spot in good time without hitting the normal stress levels one reaches if one is stuck there at 9.30 a.m. Huge improvements have been made such as the Lee tunnel, which is one of the finest pieces of infrastructural engineering designs in the country and possibly in the UK. However, other issues need to be addressed. For example, tertiary roads are still a difficulty, about which I have made a case.

I would like to bring the Minister of State's attention to the R586, which is the main artery connecting Bandon to the other west Cork towns and villages of Enniskeane, Ballineen, Dunmanway, Drimoleague, Bantry, Glengarriff and Castletownbere. Huge amounts of money have been spent on the Castletownbere route, which is a credit to all those associated with it. However, until the very bad road from Bandon to Dunmanway is upgraded it will hinder the employment potential and economic progress of west Cork. It is sad to see the main artery into an area, which depends so much on farming, aquaculture, fishing and tourism, full of bends. There is a continuous white line for most of that road. It is a huge issue in that area. Cork County Council's western committee submitted a proposal to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government last year in regard to this section of road. It requested funding to upgrade the road. It is not necessarily an upgrade of status but certainly one which could involve the construction of two carriageways in one direction in places, the removal of ditches and rocks and the provision of a modern standard of roadway for the area which would be good for the economic progress of the region as well as for safety. I am interested to hear the Minister of State's reply in that regard.

I wish to share my time with Senators Brady and Mansergh.

I welcome the Minister of State and his address to the House which covered the vast amount of funding under the roadworks schemes.

In regard to the proposed increases in motor taxation, it must be acknowledged that the funding has been ring fenced for non-national roads, which is very important. Some €277 million has been allocated for that purpose this year. We must also realise the contributions of local authorities throughout the country working with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, particularly on lower categories of roads. The non-national roads network is very important to the population and it is vital we allocate sufficient funding to maintain those roads.

I am happy with the Minister's commitment to allocate extra funding in the next ten years. The roads study is also important because it is essential to evaluate the value for money aspect of the work carried out in the past seven years, during which funding has been increased by 122%. We can identify the roads in need of attention. Certain categories of county roads are well maintained but lower category roads which serve low population densities are losing out. It is important they get a fair crack at the whip.

It is important that safety is number one, particularly in regard to the review of speed limits. I agree with Senator McCarthy that more thought will have to go into the introduction of speed limit signs in order for them to be legally acceptable. We must also examine the reduction of speed limits where the condition of roads plays an important role.

I welcome the additional funding for the coming year and wish the Bill every success.

I welcome the Minister of State. He has given greatly of his time in the past few weeks, which is appreciated by Members. I agree with Senator McCarthy that people do not like having to pay extra charges, particularly motorists, as most of us are these days. When the local government fund was established in 1999, it was specifically ring-fenced to subsidise local authorities, specifically for non-national roads and the day-to-day spending requirements of the authorities. The fund has increased greatly since then and in 2004 will amount to €1.148 billion. That is a massive increase. This is as a result of a commitment given by this and previous Governments to improving a number of aspects of life.

The money spent by local authorities affects every aspect of our lives. The operations of local authorities include the maintenance and development of the non-national road network, the management of the planning system, the upkeep of social housing, the operation and maintenance of public water and sewerage systems, waste management, the care of the natural environment, running fire services and community development — that is only a short list.

I looked at my area in Dublin and was amazed at the amount of facilities and services Dublin City Council provides. There are 1,400 hectares of parks and open spaces comprising 35 major parks and 760 public open spaces. This year, which is the year of sport and education, we have 36 playgrounds, 170 tennis courts, 265 playing pitches, basketball courts, sports halls and swimming pools. Those services are all provided as a result of the fund, and they affect every facet of our lives.

Last year, 99,956 fire and ambulance calls were responded to in Dublin city alone. The 5% increase in motor vehicle tax will work out as 27 cent for most drivers, and, given that more than 60% of our cars will fall into the lower category, it is good value for money. The Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, pointed that out in his speech.

It is 3.2% above the rate of inflation.

When I drive around the country, I am amazed at the changes in the non-national roads that have occurred over the past six to seven years. We have heard from commentators over the years that not enough was done and that certain areas of the country were being ignored, but the change is country wide.

I looked back over the speeches of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen. He said: "The flyover has replaced the pothole as a symbol of Irish roads." That is a direct result of the investment that has taken place.

The only statistics available for the volume of cars on the road are up to 2002. In 1985, there were 914,758 licensed cars on the road and in 2002, there were 1.85 million. We had 2.1 million licensed drivers. That is a massive increase, and the investment must be continued to maintain that. The 5% increase will assist with that and I, therefore, welcome the Bill.

I would like to share my time with Senator Mansergh.

Is Senator Mooney sharing with Senator Brady?

Yes. I am grateful not only to Senator Brady but also to Senator Mansergh. That my daughter and some of the students from my local school in Drumshanbo are in the Visitors Gallery might have some bearing on the fact that I am able to make a speech at this time.

I welcome the Minister of State, who knows Drumshanbo vocational school well, as he was there in another capacity in the past few months when he presented the green flag award to the school. I congratulate the school on that award.

Is Senator Mooney apologising to the school students for the division of Leitrim?

Indeed. They are here on a lobby to ensure that the county will not be divided. Who better to do that than members of the young generation from Roscommon and Leitrim who are present?

I am pleased indeed that the Minister of State has announced that a review is under way. He will be aware from his time as a Member of the European Parliament that a regional approach to the standardisation of road surfaces and networks is lacking. I refer particularly to the manner in which money is spent.

The Minister of State and those of us from the Border counties are familiar with the INTERREG IIIA programme, which has been of tremendous benefit, especially in Leitrim. I know I am being parochial, but I praise the outstanding work of the engineering staff of Leitrim County Council, who have ensured that, despite the fact that Leitrim is the smallest county and that attempts are being made to split it in two, I can stand on the statement that we have one of the finest non-national road networks in the country. As anybody who goes into the county will testify, practically all of our non-national regional roads, as they are now called, are black-topped. Sadly, that is not the case in the neighbouring counties, and I wonder why. Is it to do with funding, prioritisation or a lack of co-ordination between the various engineering staffs in the surrounding counties? I state, not as a criticism but as an observation, that it is possible to notice a change in the road surfaces when one goes into the counties that surround Leitrim, which I will not name and shame. The road surfaces go from black-topping into chips, for example. I wonder whether the Minister of State might have some comment to make on that.

My second point relates to the ongoing arguments and criticisms concerning the alleged shortfall in the BMW region. It has become something of a canard now; it is a political football that has been kicked around by non-Government people although I do not include Senator Bannon in that. The lead-up to the European elections is an opportune time for the Minister of State to nail that canard. There is no shortfall in the sense that some have alleged — that the Government is somehow neglecting the west and north-west of Ireland. In his speech, the Minister of State referred to the expenditure in that region, and his reply to the debate might be an opportunity for him to nail the allegation.

The ring-fencing of motor tax revenue is one of the best initiatives any Government has introduced since the foundation of the State. For years and years, we kept hearing about that money going into a Government black hole, and since 1997, as Senator Brady described in positive detail, marvellous benefits have accrued from ring-fencing that money, which increases yearly and is unquestionably proving to be beneficial to local authorities.

As Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson, I welcome the Bill. The 5% increase in motor vehicle tax was included in the budget and is moderate. I can remember discussions in the tax strategy group apropos of green taxation in which there would have been advocates for a much a greater increase.

Motor tax is a highly progressive system of taxation. The poorest in our society do not own cars and therefore do not pay the tax. Someone who has a small car pays a small amount of tax. Anyone who has a car of more than 3001cc is unlikely to be in the social welfare system unless he or she is the sort of person in whom the Criminal Assets Bureau takes an interest.

Senator Bannon referred to many things that need to be done. It is necessary to raise tax and raise revenue, but the real point——

We cannot fleece the motorists.

Allow Senator Mansergh to continue, without interruption.

The real point about the budget, including increases such as the 5% on motor vehicle tax and various other charges that have been mentioned, is how little, not how much, was added to the tax burden. The Opposition has been trying to sell the argument of stealth taxes, but that is a phrase that has been brought in from another jurisdiction.

Senator Mansergh has supported the fleecing of the motorists.

The real achievement of the budget was that there was negligible increase in taxes. There is every sign that the people appreciate that and, what is more, as we can see from yesterday's figures, revenue is clearly buoyant.

On the source of the problem on non-national roads, we came from a base in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s of many non-national roads not being tarred at all, which I remember from my childhood. They were tarred, and many improvements were made, but then policy shifted, particularly in the 1980s, to concentrating only on national roads.

The bible of the Fine Gael-Labour Government in the mid-1980s, Building on Reality, states that approximately €210 million was spent on roads, in addition to some local authority resources. This was to be spent almost entirely on the national road network. As a consequence, from the mid-1980s and for several years afterwards, non-national roads were severely neglected. I heard moving pleas about the western railway. The same document indicated there would be a sharp cutback in railway investment. In fact, it stated there would be no investment in railways.

Obviously the country had very few resources compared to today. I calculated that approximately €210 million was spent on roads in 1986, plus some money from local authorities. Today €1,900 million is spent on roads, including approximately €1,200 million on national roads and an extra €700 million on other roads. It is a transformation. In my area, potholes which started to appear in January and February have now been filled in over a stretch of approximately five miles of country road.

As Senator Mooney and others stated, it was a transformation of local government to have a ring-fenced fund — in European terms it is referred to as "own resources"— and a reasonably buoyant form of "own resources" connected to the degree of buoyancy in the economy. If the economic signs we are witnessing are correct, there will be a bit of buoyancy in the fund this year. I accept it is the duty of the Opposition to play devil's advocate, but we should not crib about a minimal increase of 5%. One can argue that some aspects of motoring are quite heavily taxed here compared to other countries. However, that is not true of petrol and dieselvis-à-vis the North of Ireland, Britain and many other European countries. On the other hand, we have a lot of congestion which the road investment programme is trying to improve. It is difficult to make the case at this time, leaving aside the Government’s need for revenue, that we should substantially cut motor taxation because our roads are barely able to cope with the current traffic levels, and we must bear in mind commitments such as those under Kyoto.

Senator Bannon is always strong in his opposition. However, the opposition has been very measured, particularly from Senator McCarthy. This is an entirely reasonable and non-controversial Bill but I understand the Opposition must do its duty.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on the Bill. While 5% does not appear a huge increase, when added to the other 5% increases across the board, it amounts to a large amount of money for people throughout the country.

Tax on the majority of cars nowadays costs from €500 or €600 to almost €1,000. This is a fairly hefty sum of money, particularly if one has to pay it all at once. In most cases, tax and insurance fall due at the same time, therefore, there should be some system of easy payment in place whereby people could pay their tax over a ten month or 12 month period. People should be able to ring up, give their credit card number and the local authority should be able to deduct the necessary charge over the telephone. Given the technology available in this day and age, these facilities should be in place. One can now buy goods on line by way of credit card from all over the world. Local authorities should be able to operate an easy pay system on a nine month, ten month or 12 month basis. Insurance companies operate this type of system whereby repayments on loans are spread over a nine or ten month period.

The BMW region was referred to. I have been seeking a debate in this Chamber on how funding to the BMW region has been allocated since it was put in place. I believe strongly that the region is not getting its fair share of funding and I ask the Minister of State to look again at the issue. The Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy McDaid, acknowledged during Private Members' business that there is no funding in place, bar a minimum amount for mapping and so on, for the road from Castlebar to Westport, the busiest stretch of national primary route from Westport to Kinnegad. He acknowledged that funding will not become available for these roads until the bigger projects in Dublin such as Luas and the Dublin Port tunnel are completed. We have heard on numerous occasions that there will be a new rail track from Dublin Airport to Dublin city. If this goes ahead it will delay further projects in the BMW region, the west of Ireland and the rural areas. If the bigger projects go ahead first, there is no hope for the other regions. I ask the Minister of State present, who was an MEP for the area and knows exactly what I am talking about, to reconsider this issue.

I am concerned about signposting, even though this issue may not come within the Minister of State's remit. The traffic corps now monitors speed on a daily basis. If one leaves Dublin and drives along the western route, one will see 60 mph, 70 mph, 40 mph, 30 mph and 50 mph speed limits. There is no consistent speed limit. In many instances people do not know what the speed limit is in a particular area, and something should be done about this. The 60 mph and 70 mph speed limit should be increased in some instances. There is no reason the speed limit on the Mullingar by-pass, which is a brand new road, cannot be increased from 60 mph to 70 mph. The speed limit on another section of the national primary route between Dublin to Naas is 40 mph and 60 mph. If the National Roads Authority and the Department of Transport are building brand new roads on which the speed limit is 60 mph, then there is something radically wrong. In most cases there is no access onto the roads, and if the maximum speed limit is not increased on these stretches of road, then we are going nowhere.

There is a need for a radical overhaul of the speed limits throughout the country. I know the Minister for Transport indicated that he would like to see that undertaken. There are country roads where the maximum speed of 60 mph applies, which is too fast. There should perhaps be 40 mph or 50 mph zones in those areas. I ask the Minister of State to consider that suggestion.

We should also bring in a better signposting system for towns and other areas. When driving through most towns en route to somewhere else, proper signage is very scarce. A national signage overhaul is due. The main points of destination should be better signposted. I welcome the opportunity to raise these points and I ask the Minister to consider them.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I thank him, his Department officials and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for the work and improvements on our non-national roads. I came through the county council system and served for many years on a county council. Having listened to some of today's contributions, I wondered if I was in the same county or country, or driving the same roads.

I look at the situation as a county council member. Not very many years ago, before the system was changed so that motor tax goes solely to the local authorities for the purpose of improving road surfaces, I recall that the surface dressing rate in my county was once every 65 years. Had we continued with such a situation, I wonder where we might now be. We now see excellent road surfaces being applied. Great value is got for the money spent. We should consider the blacktop, the surface dressing, the improvements in roads and in bridges and culverts on those roads, as well as the removal of bends. Years ago we did not have a hope of doing anything like that. I recall in the past putting notices of motion to the council and questions to the country engineer and getting replies to the effect that, unfortunately, because of financial constraints, they could do nothing in that regard. That is not the current situation. We have improved our road structure substantially. I compliment the Minister and the Department in that regard.

One must have annual tax increases if one wants to keep up and make improvements. The motor tax income is the only fund over which local authority members have a real say in deciding how it is spent in their own counties. They can make the decisions and see the improvements. When one looks at increases averaging over 17% annually to the local authorities, with inflation at less than 5%, even at 2%, 3% or 4%, there have been improvements, which we welcome.

As Senator Burke suggested, one can talk to local authorities about signposting. I am aware that the Department is making major changes regarding the display of speed limits in kilometres rather than miles. It is difficult to ask a local authority to begin spending money and changing signs when many of those signs are already due to change later this year. We will improve the signposting of our towns and villages, in particular the advance signposting of junctions, because of the level of traffic on the roads and the traffic that is likely to turn into minor roads.

Regarding the Bill before us, the moneys given by the Department to local authorities constitute the best move made by the Department during my time as an Offaly County Council member. I spent 27 years as a councillor there and saw good, middling and very bad days. As I noted, there was a time when we were not able to fill the potholes. I remember a former Deputy from Laois-Offaly talking about us moving around with our kettle of tar. That is all we had. Now we look at the modern plant and machinery we have for surface dressing. We see how much work we can get through when the weather is suitable. We also note the training the Department and local authorities have given to their workforce to enable them to get the maximum value out of the money that is available. I foresee local authorities getting even better value. More of the work may perhaps be done by private enterprise because at certain times of the year one can get much more work done by private enterprise, so that one is not then depending on one's own maintenance staff to do that work when they are required for other pressing local authority work.

I welcome the Bill. I compliment the Minister of State and his Department. There have been substantial improvements around the country, particularly in the midlands from where I come, and we are very happy with what has happened.

I thank all the Senators who contributed to this important debate. Like all of them, I am glad when the issue of local government is subjected in most cases to detailed and rigorous debate and examination. Local government is a key element of our democratic system and it is important to keep it at the centre of the political agenda.

The contributions were wide-ranging and covered many of the functions of local authorities. This is appropriate, having regard to the purpose of the Bill, which is essentially about funding local authorities. References were made to other taxes but my brief is in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and we are pleased and proud that, during our term in Government, we have established record levels of funding. This is in sharp contrast to the level of funding available in the mid-1980s, which Senator Mansergh referred to when he mentioned the Building on Reality programme.

A reference was made to the Minister not being in the House. That is not important. The Minister has other duties and functions. He is in the country. I am dealing with the Motor Vehicles (Duties and Licences) Bill on behalf of the Department and it is no reflection on the House that the Minister is not here. It was important that the Minister was there while we were negotiating with the Department of Finance regarding the additional Exchequer funding. As Senators are aware, the funding for the non-national roads does not all come from the local government fund. There was additional funding from the Exchequer. It was important we were there when that was being decided.

I am pleased that Senator Mansergh and Senator Moylan referred to the mid-1980s. I had the honour of being chairman of Donegal County Council in 1985-6 at a time when there was a fund of about £210 million nationally for roads, both national and local. I always recall the proposal made in the summer of 1986 that we should abandon half the roads in Donegal and simply try to maintain the remainder. We have come a long way from that situation. Senator Bannon is perhaps fortunate that the Minister is not in the House because he might have a better memory than me. There is no point saying we do not look back. The commitment I mentioned was the one given at the time.

I will also deal with Objective One status and with the BMW region issue. The Fianna Fáil Party negotiated Objective One and got no assistance from the other side of the House at the time. I was standing for election to the European Parliament and it was very much a part of my election manifesto at that time. The outcome was thanks to the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, leader of the Fianna Fáil Party at that time, who, in commemorating the 1400th anniversary of the death of St. Columcille, in Gartan in the middle of Donegal, gave a commitment while in Opposition. More importantly, he followed through on that commitment to ensure that there was, and continues to be, positive discrimination in the BMW region. I will deal with the amounts as we progress.

As I said, the primary consideration in making the decision to increase motor tax rates was the need to provide adequate funding for the non-national roads programme, important roads throughout the country. In this regard, and because it is central to the debate, I reiterate that the extra revenue generated by the increases in motor tax estimated at €34 million will be spent on non-national roads. Every last cent of the increases will be spent on these roads. In the 1980s, it was recommended not only in Donegal, but, I am sure, in other parts of the country that half the roads should be abandoned, but that is not our policy. Rural Ireland and regional development are very much part of our policy. Over the years, as Senator Mansergh said, the sum has increased to almost €1.8 billion. We would like to think regional roads will get additional funding but they receive a fair and equitable share now. We will maintain that momentum and progress in the years ahead despite some pressures on the public finances. In 2004, there have been increases in the level of funding for the non-national road network which has brought it to new heights. This year the Government will invest €4,610 on every kilometre of non-national road in every county. This is 10% more than last year and more than double the 1997 figure.

On a general note, I refer to the local government fund into which motor tax receipts are paid. There have been substantial improvements in the overall funding of local authorities. I wish to send a clear message to local authorities. We should have the policy and philosophy of helping those who are prepared to help themselves. We are looking closely at local authorities' own resources. The €477 million is provided by the Exchequer and the local government fund. This year local authorities will provide €150 million from their own resources. It is a major contribution but one must remember that the funding from the local government fund and the Exchequer supplements their own resources. It is a factor which may be taken into consideration next year when we are allocating funds. There can be shortfalls. There are counties, however, that religiously and progressively increase their contributions, but that is a debate for another day. We will write to each local authority indicating our intentions as far as 2005 is concerned.

The 2004 general purpose allocation of €752 million, to which I referred, represents an increase of 14% over the 2003 allocation and 122% more than the corresponding allocation in 1997. We made that allocation because we realised the pressure local authorities were under in regard to benchmarking. This was one of the primary objectives of increasing the fund substantially this year and we are all aware of the parallel benchmarking in regard to roads.

The current system of funding has served local authorities well. However, with a view to further reform and improvement in the system, the House will be interested to know that the Minister, Deputy Cullen, recently commissioned a major investment review of the whole area of local government funding to meet the challenges. We hope to have a report by August of this year. It will look back to see if we got value for money. The results will form an important part in prioritising investment in the non-national road network over the coming years and in ensuring value for money. On completion of that study, local authorities will be asked to examine and submit revised multi-annual restoration programmes for 2005 onwards. Undertaking this important study may be costly, but it is well worthwhile. The consultants will review best international practice and interested parties will be given an opportunity to make their views known. It is estimated that the study will take approximately one year to complete and we all look forward to the outcome.

In addition to the €477 million available from the local government fund and the Exchequer, last week I, in conjunction with the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, announced funding of €6 million — an increase on €4 million — for the CLÁR area. I do not need to define for the House the reason for establishing such an area given the decline from 1926 to 1996. Much reference was made to class two and class three roads, the tertiary roads, and it was said that they are ignored. This year we advised local authorities that the funding of €6 million is for class two and class three roads. Each county is aware of that and it brings me to Senator McCarthy's point about these roads. I understand Cork will receive an additional €0.5 million. This funding is provided on a fair and equitable basis, namely, on the basis of population. Cork will receive €576 million while Longford, because of its population and the CLÁR area, will receive €154 million. It is a substantial amount. It is a new initiative and I hope we will be able to continue it.

While it is not relevant to this debate, I take the opportunity to respond to the development charges issue raised by Senator Bannon. I think I am quoting him correctly that he said we are forcing councillors and local authorities. We are not forcing them; it is a matter for the local authorities. Having listened to Senator Bannon, one would get the impression there were never development charges. However, development charges have been in place since their introduction in 1964. These charges pay for local authority infrastructure which is necessary to facilitate new development. Over the years, there was widespread inconsistency in their application. The Planning and Development Act 2000 merely introduced new provisions requiring local authorities to prepare schemes on how development contributions would apply in their areas. It is a matter for each local authority. If local authorities decide there will be no development charges, it is a matter for them but they will have to explain to their constituents why they cannot draw down additional funding, which will be because they are not prepared to levy charges. To put paid to that issue, they are not being forced and development charges have been in place since 1964. I hope most local authorities have these in place by the deadline——

Fianna Fáil councillors are telling people they are being forced on them.

The Minister of State to continue.

We cannot all be responsible for what our colleagues may say. The Senator's leader says he favours Internet voting, but the Senator does not. I am not critical of him. Ours is a broadly based party and we are not into hacking. The Senator's party leader obviously is and he must know more than I do. He is prepared to bring in Internet voting and to have it in the supermarkets.

We need a trustworthy system and not what is being concocted by Fianna Fáil, the Progressive Democrats and the Minister in regard to e-voting. The public does not trust them on the issue.

I rest my case. We need a trustworthy system——

I agree.

——and not the type of system the Senator's party recommends. We will leave it at that. Ours is a broadly based party and we are entitled to express views at all levels. We are not finished with the expenditure. We gave €6 million this week and I look forward in the next few weeks to making another announcement which may not be welcomed by Senator Bannon's party. Senator McCarthy's contribution was measured and realistic, and I appreciate that. The problem with Fine Gael is the sharp contrast between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s and the high level of investment which is difficult for it to stomach. The answer, therefore, is not to concentrate on the debate before us today but on another one. They say in Irish — tá an fhírinne searbh. It will be more searbh because we will announce a record €12 million for local authority schemes over 2004, an increase of 10% on last year.

The Minister of State is fleecing motorists to pay for e-voting. The reality is that what he will take in as a result of this Bill will be less than half what e-voting will cost.

I remind the House that 60% of the national fleet comprises cars whose engines are less than 1400cc. An increase of up to 1000cc would amount to €7 per year, while 1400cc would be in the region of €14, which is not fleecing. When motorists see tangible evidence of improvements in the road system, they will be prepared to make that small contribution.

The Minister of State should look at the wastage throughout the city, to which I referred in my speech. He did not answer that point.

The Minister of State without interruption.

A number of Senators referred to signage. The programme for Government commits the Department to an expenditure of €25 million on non-national roads signage, over the five-year period of the Government, which is almost €5.1 million per year. I will not go into the details concerning the various counties because we cannot do them all in one year, but they will be done over a period. We are working closely with the Department of Transport, the National Roads Authority, and Roinn Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta to ensure that when the new signs are erected Irish will be given equal prominence. It may cause confusion at times but, by the same token, we cannot forget our Irishness.

The Minister of State forgot our heritage in the European Elections (Amendment) Bill.

The annual report will be laid before both Houses. I will convey Senator Kitt's views to my colleagues, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, and the Minister of State, Deputy McDaid, concerning the Sligo-Limerick proposal. In order to familiarise himself with that issue, the Minister spent a day examining the Killarney-Claremorris proposal, which incorporates Tuam, Athenry and Galway. Overall, however, the Galway-Limerick route is a matter to which the Minister will respond.

It is worth reiterating my comments about the BMW region. Senator Bannon is a rural Senator for whom I have great respect, as I do for all his colleagues in the west. However, when my party in the last Government wanted to regionalise the country we did so, but for some particular reason no support was forthcoming at that time from Fine Gael.

That is nonsense.

It is not nonsense. It is a fact.

It is nonsense. The Minister of State is talking from both sides of his mouth.

I defy anyone in Fine Gael to confirm that the party was in favour of the regionalisation of the country — in other words, positive discrimination for the Border, midlands and west region. We delivered on that with expenditure reaching €2.3 billion. In both the BMW and south east regions, we are wellahead of our projections and profiles. Actual expenditure for the BMW region last year was €960 million compared to a profiled figure of €622 million. That is almost €70 million, or 11%, ahead of what was profiled for the area. Actual expenditure for the south east region last year was €930 million compared to a profiled expenditure of €787 million. That expenditure is way ahead of the profiles and it reflects our commitment.

We are being short-changed. Look at what we received from the National Roads Authority compared to the rest of the country.

The Minister of State without interruption.

Look at the condition of the road from Longford to Westport.

If we were depending on Senator Bannon's policies, including positive discrimination, there would be very little going into the west.

The signage changeover from miles to kilometres is a matter for the Department of Transport, with which we are working closely. All the funding is being ring-fenced. We will see tremendous progress in the coming years. I look forward to the report from the consultants, which will help us in the Department. It will also help local authorities to prepare a revised multi-annual programme. Senator Mansergh described it as a progressive tax and it certainly is. It represents a reasonable increase of 5%. Senator Moylan said it was sensible to have an increase each year. While there may have been an increase of 12% last year, there was no increase in the preceding year.

I am pleased to present the Bill to the House. I am also happy to respond to the issues that have been raised by Senators. More importantly, I am proud of our record in Government and I look forward to substantial improvements in the years ahead. Hopefully, we will never return to the Building on Reality proposals of the mid-1980s. My memory is good enough to recall who was in Government then. It was almost a case of building on quicksand at that time and we did not even have sand to fill the potholes.

Building on Reality sounds like an election speech.

It was, although the Senator may be too young to remember it. I suggest to Senator Brian Hayes that he should not get too involved. I wish to thank everybody who contributed to the debate. I have great respect for Senator Bannon and I know he has to make the case, ach tá an fhírinne searbh agus táimid iontach bródúil as an Rialtas agus an Rialtas roimhe as ucht an fheiste atá curtha ar fáil do na bóithre náisiúnta agus go háirithe na bóithre eile. Tá súil agam go mbeidh an Rialtas flaithiúil arís an bhliain seo chugainn. Tá na mílte bóithre againn, tá an jab á dhéanamh agus tá mé buíoch de gach duine atá ag plé leis seo.

Question put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 31; Níl, 20.

  • Bohan, Eddie.
  • Brady, Cyprian.
  • Brennan, Michael.
  • Callanan, Peter.
  • Cox, Margaret.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kett, Tony.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lydon, Donal J.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mansergh, Martin.
  • Minihan, John.
  • Mooney, Paschal C.
  • Moylan, Pat.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Rourke, Mary.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Walsh, Kate.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bannon, James.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Browne, Fergal.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Burke, Ulick.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Henry, Mary.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Minihan and Moylan; Níl, Senators Bannon and McCarthy.
Question declared carried.