Government amendments Nos. 57 and 73 to 81, inclusive, are consequential on Government amendment No. 1. Government amendments No. 1, 57 and 73 to 81, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Dublin Transport Authority Bill 2008: Committee Stage.
Before calling on the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, I congratulate him on retaining his portfolio as Minister for Transport.
Thank you very much. Amendment No. 1 is one of a series of technical amendments relating to how the National Roads Authority is referred to in the Bill. Current drafting preference is to shorten any multi-word title of a body, if it appears in several places in a Bill. We did that with CIE and the Railway Procurement Agency, RPA. This amendment inserts a definition of "National Roads Authority" as "NRA" into section 2. The other amendments grouped with this amendment, Nos. 57 and 73 to 81, inclusive, merely replace "National Roads Authority" with "NRA" wherever it is mentioned in the Bill.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 12, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:
"(c) the borough of Drogheda and”.
This matter was raised on the occasion of the Minister's last visit to the House. The purpose of the amendment is to extend the remit of the authority to the Drogheda Borough Council area. Clearly the development of an integrated transport system for Dublin is not possible without including the outlying area of Drogheda.
On the previous occasion the Minister mentioned that County Louth is in the Border, midlands and west region and that is, perhaps, a reason for not including it. If that is the Minister's reply today, I ask him to expand on it. From my knowledge of the area and that of the Minister, it is an area that should be incorporated at this stage, albeit with the power for the Minister to introduce it later.
I hesitate before disagreeing with my good colleagues in the Labour Party but I have a little concern. It is alarming if Drogheda is to become part of the greater Dublin area. I know it is in the commuter belt. The effectiveness of the Dublin transport authority would be somewhat diluted if we take this much wider view. I could be wrong on this and I will listen to the Minister with great interest, but the effectiveness of a Dublin transport authority is that it deals specifically and directly with Dublin and not with a range of satellite areas. There are many people who commute, for example, from places such as Portlaoise and Tullamore. Are such places to be included as well? Unless Senator Ryan, whom I greatly respect, is in a position to provide special reasons Drogheda has a connection with Dublin, I would take a lot of persuading to agree to the amendment.
There is a provision in section 3(c) to extend the geographical area of the greater Dublin area, GDA, by order of the Minister. The Dublin transport authority can make recommendations to me in that regard, as can other bodies such as local authorities and so on. The reason the Bill is drafted in its current form is that the GDA is a clearly defined area. It is useful to maintain the coherence between the GDA, as defined in this Bill, and not only the local authority boundaries but also the regional planning boundaries as well. It is very important that we continue to maintain that coherence. Although the boundaries of Drogheda borough encroach on the constituency of Meath East, the boundaries have been largely respected whether at regional or local authority level.
I agree with Senator Norris on this issue. The focus throughout has been on the greater Dublin area. However, leaving the text as it stands does not preclude the Dublin transport authority, once established, from deciding, for reasons of greater coherence in transport policy, to extend the greater Dublin area to include Drogheda, Mullingar, Portlaoise, Naas or other areas. At this point, it is preferable to focus on the area set out in the legislation. For this reason, I ask the Deputy to withdraw the amendment.
Senator Norris should note that the greater Dublin area, as defined in the Bill, includes counties Kildare, Wicklow and Meath. Expanding it to include the borough of Drogheda would be a logical and sensible step. As a resident of north County Dublin, it is difficult to draw a distinction between my area and Drogheda. I ask the Minister to reconsider the matter before Report Stage. I will withdraw the amendment while reserving the right to resubmit it.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 14, paragraph(a), line 11, to delete “sustains” and substitute “promotes”.
The amendment refers to the role infrastructure can play in generating economic growth. The national competitiveness strategy and the Minister's strategy statement acknowledge that in many cases the provision of transport infrastructure plays a significant role in generating economic growth. This is achieved in two ways. First, the delivery of the large infrastructural projects which form part of the national development plan will contribute towards sustaining parts of the economy when certain economic sectors are not faring as well as one would hope. Second, public transport infrastructure is a vital consideration for investors making decisions about whether to increase or maintain inward investment and, as such, sustains and accelerates investment. The rationale for the amendment is to show greater ambition in terms of the role public transport infrastructure can play in promoting, as opposed to sustaining, economic growth and competitiveness.
The amendment proposes to replace the word "sustains" in section 10(a) with “promotes”. While I would prefer to retain the current wording, I am prepared to examine the amendment before Report Stage to determine whether the proposed change would have legal implications. Pending that decision, I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment.
I will withdraw the amendment. This morning I examined the strategy statement the Minister prepared for his Department in which he makes clear the role infrastructure can play in the future of the economy. I accept the undertaking he has given and look forward to hearing his views on the amendment at a later stage.
Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 14, paragraph(b), line 13, after “system” to insert “for all users”.
The rationale for this amendment is to make explicit in the legislation the need to prioritise passengers at all times in the delivery of plans. I am sure the Minister is aware that the 16 bodies responsible for delivering transport services for Dublin city and region have at times placed their interests before those of passengers. I want to ensure in laying down the functions and objectives for the Dublin transport authority that we make it clear that the needs and interests of the users of transport services come first. The insertion of the words "for all users" would also recognise in law that some passengers using transport infrastructure have special needs. It would also ensure the decisions made by the Dublin transport authority take into account the needs of commuters.
The Dublin transport authority will have immense power. The power to step in and act as a provider of transport services of last resort is unprecedented in terms of dealing directly with consumers. In addition, the transfer of significant powers from organisations such as Dublin Bus, Iarnród Éireann and the Railway Procurement Agency is also a major development. I want to ensure the legislation provides that the new organisation will exercise its powers with the needs of passengers in mind.
I am afraid I am about to be disloyal to my colleagues again, even though I admire the work Senator Donohue has done and have told him this on a number of occasions. However, if we are required to provide a well functioning, attractive, integrated and safe public transport system, it will, by necessity, be "for all users". If the transport system is in place in this form, the phrase "for all users" becomes redundant because one will not establish a safe, well integrated system for only a few users. If the system is available in the form provided for in the legislation, it must, by logic, be available in that form for all users. For this reason, I do not see the reason for the amendment. I suppose it is rather mean-spirited of me to argue against an amendment tabled by one of my colleagues. I have done so a second time on a basis of logic and have probably lost Senator Donohue's support for my amendment. Naturally, being an egotist, I believe my amendment No. 6 is far superior in logic, although the Minister may not agree.
My amendment relates to safety. To provide that we have a well integrated and safe public transport system is aspirational and woolly. My amendment would append to this provision the words "in accordance with standards comparable to those set down by relevant bodies such as the H.S.A. and the Road Transport Authority". As this has the virtue of tying the provision with existing standards, it thereby ceases to be woolly and aspirational. The legislation will set out the actual standards by which the degree of safety, an extremely important matter, can be measured.
We, in this country, are lucky we have not had a succession of disasters in our public transport system. The reason is partly due to the efficiency and care of our public transport system and partly due to good fortune. From time to time, however, we have had unfortunate incidents involving buses, trains and so forth. If we are serious about safety, we must link it with existing, actual standards which can be measured because the wording, as it stands, is aspirational. It is akin to being in favour of virtue and good living — everybody is but there is nothing by which it can be tested.
In regard to amendment No. 5, as Senator Norris indicated, it is presumed when passing legislation that it is for everybody and that it does not need to be explicitly stated. The Senator made the point well and I do not need to elaborate on that. Nevertheless, it does not do any great damage to the Bill to include the phrase "for all users". I have no objection to that and I accept the Senator's amendment.
In regard to amendment No. 6, it is extremely important bodies like that which we are setting up have a focus on the consumer. Senator Donohoe spoke about the importance of looking after the consumer and the strength and powers this body will have. He is right that it is important it has extensive powers and that it is in a position to look after consumers.
Clearly, safety would be a major concern but I am not anxious to set up another body which sets out another set of standards for health and safety, and I agree with Senator Norris in this regard. The bodies are already in place and they have their codes of practice, guidelines and legislation to back them up. One such body is the Railway Safety Commission. I do not want the Dublin transport authority getting into this area as well.
I accept the principle behind the amendment that we should have a very safe public transport infrastructure. That should be to the forefront of not only the Dublin transport authority's mind but that of the individual organisations as well. I accept that is the spirit of the amendment but it is more than adequately addressed by leaving independent bodies to make those judgments and to inform the individual organisations or the Dublin transport authority that safety is assured.
I thank the Minister for responding in the manner he has. I take his point in regard to the language I have used. I might look at it again as we move through this process. The general objectives of the authority are vital in terms of the work it will do. With the exception of persons with disabilities, the customer, or the passenger, is not mentioned. I accept the Minister's point that there is a presumption that the passenger will be involved. However, that presumption has not carried weight in the context of some of the other organisations we will discuss later. I thank the Minister for what he said.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 14, paragraph (b), line 13, after “system” to insert the following:
"in accordance with standards comparable to those set down by relevant bodies such as the H.S.A. and the Road Transport Authority".
I am moderately happy, although not as happy as Senator Donohoe. I say well done to him. He got a goal but I appear to have missed.
The Senator hit the crossbar.
The Minister seemed to address Senator Donohoe in regard to my amendment, which was rather odd. I do not agree with the Minister and I might consider it again on Report Stage. The Minister said he was sympathetic to the intention of the amendment but did not seem to wish to be specific about it. I do not understand his hesitation because I would have thought exactly the same logic applied to the earlier amendment in that it does not do any damage but simply sets standards. I am not quite sure if the Minister is saying there is a legislative requirement on the Health and Safety Authority and the Dublin transport authority to take an interest. I am simply talking about the application of comparable standards and giving indicators.
As I said in respect of the previous amendment, although perhaps I misunderstand it, if a public transport system is provided, it cannot exclude the users. It is for the users. Although I am very happy for Senator Donohoe, it is a tautology. I believe I understand what the Minister is saying because it is, to a certain extent, a public relations gloss as it indicates to the public that the transport system desperately loves them, will cherish them and will give them the kind of transport system they want. On that basis, I do not understand his reluctance to accept an amendment, the principle of which he accepted. I will not press the amendment to a vote but I reserve the right to resubmit it on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 14, subsection (1)(d), between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
"(ix) development and implementation of a cohesive cycling strategy.".
A point I made in respect of other amendments was that this organisation will have immense power in terms of its ability to intervene and deal with transport and commuter issues in the greater Dublin area. One of the areas in which a lack of enforcement and of integration is most evident is in respect of the problem cyclists in the greater Dublin area face, especially in the city centre and the inner suburbs.
Occasionally I take my life into my hands and hop on my bicycle to get around the constituency and to come into the House. During the infrequent journeys I make I encounter at first hand the huge difficulties cyclists face in getting around, such as cycle lanes ending for no reason. There is a lack of cycle lanes on our main thoroughfares and streets, including O'Connell Street. For some people, cycling is the main way of getting around the city.
I am very conscious that a safe cycling campaign has been set up and successfully led in this region. It highlights the need for more people to hop on bicycles and for better facilities to allow them to do so. Organisations have played their part in making this happen, including the decision of Dublin City Council to prohibit heavy goods vehicles from the city centre and the quays. Therefore, it is incumbent on this authority to promote cycling as a mode of transport in the city and in the greater Dublin area and to state that it will intervene to make this happen when necessary.
Recently the Minister made a presentation at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport. He is very much aware that the work we are doing on a modal shift is blatantly inadequate to deliver the environmental and transport objectives of the Government and of all of us. We need to acknowledge cycling as playing a greater role in dealing with these issues. We need to give every encouragement to people to change and give this authority the ability to intervene to make it attractive and remove obstacles preventing people from getting out of their cars and on to their bicycles.
On this occasion I am very happy to support Senator Donohoe. This is an excellent and significant amendment. He is quite right to talk about a cohesive cycle strategy. There is a total lack of coherence in the provision of cycle lanes at present. Senator Donohoe mentioned O'Connell Street and I believe he suggested there were no cycle lanes on it. There has been a recent development because I walk up and down O'Connell Street all the time. Perhaps walking is the most environmentally friendly method of transporting oneself around. There is a cycle lane but it is only on half of O'Connell Street, which is crazy. Perhaps the council is in the process of putting in a cycle lane which would be very welcome. There are little poles sticking up which is very good but that should be done the whole length of O'Connell Street and on both sides. I say this with some strength because on several occasions I have been knocked off my bicycle on O'Connell Street due to the lack of these lanes.
Throughout the city we have cycle lanes that just disappear. In some places parts of cycle lanes form part of existing car lanes. How can they compete? How can cars drive without at least one third of the car being in the cycle lane in this situation? We need logic, coherence and consistency in the system. Cycling is environmentally friendly and will lead to a decrease in pollution, although this may be only marginal until it becomes more popular. It will also relieve congestion. If a significant number of people who routinely drive cars as single occupants transfer to bicycles, this will reduce traffic congestion.
If the Minister and the relevant city officials are actively considering the proposals put forward by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport with regard to removing private vehicles from O'Connell Street, particularly while work on the installation of the metro is being carried out, cyclists should be given privilege at that time. The metro works provide a glorious opportunity to make special provision for cyclists and to retain that privilege. We should not just allow access for public services but let them share the space in O'Connell Street with cyclists.
We should give the same consideration to the issues affecting pedestrians as we are giving to cyclists. I agree with Senator Norris that there is a problem with regard to proper walking areas, not just in Dublin, but in other urban and rural areas. People often walk on public roads at night without reflective gear and as a result we have serious problems. Cycle lanes in the city of Dublin often end suddenly and nobody knows where cyclists should be afterwards. This is wrong. We need to consider the issues affecting both cyclists and pedestrians. Currently cyclists jink in and out between traffic and are a menace to other road users. In many cases they have been the cause of accidents, in particular motor cyclists.
Will the Minister consider measures to deal with both cycling and pedestrian issues? I understand this Bill deals with Dublin, but we also need the issue of the safety of pedestrians on rural roads to be dealt with. Pedestrians take their lives in their hands on some roads. I have noticed that some towns have ring road footpaths for walkers, including Longford where there is a mile and a half-long footpath alongside the N4. Anybody passing this route will see up to 20 people using the footpath for walking. This is the sort of facility we need so that people can walk in comfort and safety.
The Minister must deal with the issues relating to cycle lanes and with the behaviour of cyclists. Some of the cycle lanes currently in Dublin city are only a joke. They exist in name, but are abused by everybody.
I thank all the Senators who contributed on this. I accept the point being made with regard to the importance of cycling and walking. It is important we keep both issues together. I accept the principle of Senator Donohoe's proposal with regard to cycling, but we need to include both issues. Section 71(7) makes provisions with regard to cycling and walking and we will consider strengthening those provisions in light of this amendment. I will also take another look at this section to see if we can strengthen it.
I am anxious not to oblige the DTA to develop a raft of different strategies. I will, therefore, see if I can consolidate the provisions on cycling and walking in either section 11 or section 71. I accept the principle of the amendment.
I thank the Minister for his response. He has acknowledged that we are providing for many different modes of transport. I want to ensure that cycling is specifically mentioned as one of these. He made a fair point that we need to ensure the new organisation is not overloaded with too many priorities that could conflict with each other. However, it is important that cycling is mentioned, particularly in light of the lack of integration in other bodies, if the strategy is to work. If the DTA is about anything, it is about integration.
Senator Donohoe is very gracious, but I am inclined to be more combative on his behalf. The Minister said he accepts the principle of the amendment, but does not want the DTA overburdened. That tells me that nothing will be done. There is a conflict between not wishing to burden the authority with extra proposals and saying he will consider strengthening the proposals in section 11 or section 71.
The problem is that the coherence of cycle lanes has not been effectively addressed in Dublin. If the DTA will not do it, who will? Or is it the case that nobody will do it and it will remain just an aspiration? If the Minister thinks that to include this as part of the brief of the new authority would be too burdensome, this means he does not wish to burden it with the responsibility. The inevitable consequence of that is that it is unlikely to be done. It certainly will not be done with the speed or efficiency this House seems to want.
I urge the Minister, if he believes in developing this area, to include the provision in a firm manner. If to do it is considered too burdensome, it will not be done and we all know that. We should be open and honest about the issue and say we will either do it or not. If we are to do it, there is no harm in including the provision in the Bill.
Perhaps the Minister could consider dealing with this on Report Stage. There is consensus on the issue here. I know there is no amendment to cover the issues as we have raised them today. Will the Minister, therefore, consider bringing in something on Report Stage that will encompass our aspirations?
Senator Norris misinterpreted what I said about not burdening the DTA with a huge number of strategies. This does not mean I think there should not be a cycling and walking strategy, but I have reservations about including separate cycling, walking and QBC strategies and so on. If the Senator looks at section 71(1) he will see that provision is being made for agreements between local authorities for quality bus corridors, cycle lanes and so on.
The principle behind the amendment and behind the ideas put forward here is that Senators want cycling and walking to be explicitly mentioned in the Bill. I undertake, either in section 11 or section 71, to emphasise that. I accept the principle and the spirit of the amendment before us.
Could the Minister direct me to the specific provision in section 71? I am looking at it but cannot see it. I am sure the Minister is correct and it is there. Could I have his assistance because I do not see cycling mentioned there?
It is section 71(7).
I thank the Minister.
My understanding of what the Minister said is that on Report Stage he will come back and either in section 11 or section 71 make specific reference to the need to facilitate cycling and walking strategies in the greater Dublin area. If that is what the Minister is saying I am happy to withdraw this amendment.
We will have it in the Bill, although possibly in some other suitable section.
I have looked at the section to which the Minister drew my attention and 71(7)(c) refers to measures to “increase travel by public transport, bicycle or on foot as an alternative to the private car”. I would like the Minister to come back, as Senator Ellis said, on Report Stage with something that deals with one of the central points of the issue, namely, the lack of coherence in cycle lanes. That is definitely not in section 71(7)(c) at all, which refers only to increasing bicycle traffic.
One could meet the requirements of this Bill by increasing unsafe cycling. We must direct attention to the provision of fully coherent cycle lanes. Deputy Ellis emphasised my point that one often finds cycle lanes ending at a traffic light, where the road goes on. What do cyclists do? Do they get off their bicycles and get on a bus, packing up the bicycles and putting them on the roof? That is what we are getting at.
I am grateful to the Minister for his help but section 71(7)(c) just talks about an increase in cycling, not about the safety of cyclists and the coherence of cycle lanes. It must refer to these. I am happy to leave the amendment. It would be an impertinence for me to press Senator Donohoe’s amendment, but I urge the Minister to come back to me on Report Stage with an amendment that addresses the specific point of the provision, coherence and safety of cycle lanes in the city of Dublin. That is not addressed by the section to which the Minister very kindly drew my attention.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 14, subsection (1), between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
"(e) provide and issue licenses under the Road Transport Act 1932 for public transport operators operating within the GDA.”.
This is one of the most important issues related to this legislation. The amount of power this organisation will have for dealing with transport strategy and needs in Dublin will be immense. If I look at the amount of time we have spent during my short time in this House talking about organisations such as the HSE or the NRA a number of themes consistently emerge. The first theme is the lack of accountability such organisations have to Members of this House. The second theme is the non-existence of a role for elected politicians in any of these organisations. There would be much consensus among different Members on these points on accountability and the role of politicians. The third issue, which this amendment is about, is the need for competition. There will probably be much less unanimity on this point than on the other two points I have made. I will still press the amendment as it is very important to commuters in Dublin and their needs.
I propose this amendment on two grounds. The first is a very practical point. Reports that have been done on the transport needs of the greater Dublin area, whether work by the Dublin Transportation Office or the more recent draft report produced by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport which is in circulation in the media, point to the fact that an additional 350 buses are needed for the Dublin area. They also point to the fact that bus investment has been the loser in the capital investment decisions by this Government over the last number of years. Investment has gone to projects such as the Luas and metro. Despite this, bus transport is still the most popular form of transport in the area about which we are talking. The organisation that provides it, Dublin Bus, does not have Government funding to provide the additional 350 buses, at a minimum, that will be needed to deal with commuting issues in the Dublin area.
My second reason for proposing this amendment is more policy driven than the first. I strongly believe competition is needed to meet the transport issues we are dealing with. We have much bus capacity directly funded by the taxpayer. That is a good thing and should stay, although it will go out to tender based on EU law. However, the best way to ensure that capacity is well used and taxpayers' money is well spent is if the people who are spending that money and providing that service know there is an alternative out there for the passenger to use and that it is feasible that if they do not do their job well, that job will be given to somebody else. It is important we clarify that the Dublin transport authority has a role to play in introducing and leading greater competition in the bus market in the Dublin area for the policy rationale I have outlined and also on the practical grounds that the money to meet the pressing needs of Dublin's commuters does not and will not come from the Exchequer.
In making this point I do not propose complete deregulation of the bus market. I lived in London for many years and saw the mess made of the bus market there because of the decision to completely deregulate and hand it over to a number of competing companies. However, there are other models, as the Minister is aware, that allow the private sector to play a role in providing bus services in line with a public sector that also provides services. I cannot see why this organisation should not have the power to say it wants to provide new radial routes for the greater Dublin area — routes that go around the city as opposed to linear ones that go through it — and allow the private sector to put a case on why it can provide that service well. It could ask Dublin Bus to do the same and if the private sector can do a better job, it should hand that business over.
Many services in operation are provided by the private sector — the Swords route is the one with which people are most familiar. There are also services near Dublin Airport which operate in a kind of limbo as we wait for the legislation on the Road Transport Act 1932 to be cleared up. I would like this legislation to be amended to state that competition has a role to play in providing additional services and ensuring taxpayers' money is well spent.
Competition is the spur that will deliver this as opposed to the Minister, as he is doing, commissioning a report to see how taxpayers' money is being spent through Dublin Bus and other organisations. We cannot have a model that means every couple of years we commission another centralised report to see how this money is being spent. We need to allow the dynamic forces of competition to operate within a regulated model to ensure the taxpayers' money is well spent and that Dublin commuters get good, new services and better use of existing ones.
I congratulate the Minister on his reappointment. I am pleased he was reappointed to this position as he has a reputation as a reformer, which is what we need in this area. I also like it when consensus breaks out in politics, which is why I encourage the Minister to consider the point made by Senator Donohoe. One cannot argue with it. We must recognise that competition is an important factor in the development of our transport service. As Senator Donohoe eloquently explained, it is about improving commuter services to the public. The Minister himself has mentioned the urgency of the requirement to review the Road Transport Act 1932, which was, after all, established to restrict bus services in competition with the railways. That was its effect. I encourage the Minister to recognise the fact that the overhaul of the 1932 Act is a vital necessity for the development of bus services in the Dublin area and throughout the country.
I will speak further on this issue when discussing later amendments where it will be more relevant. However, it does worry me that the effect of this Bill, or sections of it, will not be fully effective in the absence of a review of the 1932 Act. This would neuter somewhat the Minister's determination to develop a good public transport sector and particularly, but not exclusively, the bus service. There are many providers who can provide services in Dublin and should be allowed to do so. Senator Donohoe's amendment recognises this. I hope that in an area such as public transport, in which we are trying — for a variety of reasons, including traffic congestion and climate change — to develop a more efficient system, we can achieve a political consensus. There is only one way to provide better services and that is to allow more buses on various routes.
I agree with Senator Donohoe's point about deregulation of markets and learning from the experiences of other jurisdictions. We should not make the same mistakes that were made in other areas. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on this issue and I hope he will consider an amendment similar to that put down by Senator Donohoe. We must aim to develop a better service for commuters and the Bill will be enforced and strengthened as a result of its inclusion.
Speaking as an old-fashioned socialist, albeit one about whom the odour of champagne and smoked salmon occasionally lingers, I was concerned about the first part of Senator Donohoe's speech. However, I rather warmed to him when he recounted his experience in London and his hesitation about deregulation. I would not like to think this Bill was the opening shot in a campaign to privatise CIE, Bus Éireann and other companies. I like the idea of public service and public utility.
We heard on the Order of Business this morning about the importance of community. I do not believe competition should be allowed to become the little tin god totem it is widely viewed as in this society. That is one of the things that is wrong with this society. It does not surprise me that my good friend Senator O'Malley, from the Progressive Democrats, should optimistically detect consensus in this area. I hope there is not too much consensus because such worship of the false god of competition is one of the problems of public life in Ireland. I am interested in the provision of good services, as is everybody else.
However, that includes a social aspect. I know in her heart Senator O'Malley also supports this.
With regard to the provision of extra buses, they may be necessary, but certainly not in O'Connell Street, as has been mentioned. One could not get another bus into O'Connell Street. The buses are end-to-end. One can hardly squeeze in a taxi. The buses are lined up on the street, they pull in to bus stops, and then they hold up an entire line of traffic.
Senator Donohoe raised a sort of false dichotomy when he invoked the various elements of public transport — buses, metro, trains and so on — and then said that buses were the most popular type of public transport. Of course they are. They are the only method available for most of the city. It is not credible to say that people have chosen bus over metro in the absence of a metro service. The metro does not exist. The population of Dublin would overwhelmingly opt for the metro if it were available. It is by far the best system.
I would like to see every bus out of O'Connell Street. They pollute the place and they make it unhealthy and dangerous for pedestrians. If we consider the way the paving and markings are laid out in the central piazza, it is a wonder nobody has been killed there by a bus. I would like to see the buses out of there. However, this will have to wait until there is a proper and full metro service.
I would not like to see a situation in which, as Senator Donohoe accepts, Bus Éireann is not given money for extra buses. I have heard the Minister speak on this issue before — I am not sure whether it was in this House or on the radio — and he gave some reasons he did not provide money to CIE for extra buses. I would not like to think that the Minister would starve CIE of buses and then undercut it through the private sector.
I want to signal that even if I am alone in this, I am against making a god out of competition. I am against deregulation and the privatisation of our public transport system. Let us make it better and more efficient and ruthlessly pare out whatever fat there may be, but I want to live in a society in which we provide services for our citizens and not one in which services are provided to allow individuals to make a profit.
They are not mutually exclusive.
As a community we should provide public services out of public funds.
We have an awkward problem here. If we have full deregulation, people will take up licences and try to run businesses on routes that are unsustainable. This is the first issue we will run into and it will cause serious problems. At present, a number of operators provide services into the city from outside. Will an operator be obliged to seek a second licence from the DTA rather than using his or her original licence under the 1932 Act? This is something we need to consider in the context of this Bill. I would not like to see the doors opened so that anybody can get a licence without giving a commitment to provide a long-term service. The provision of a short-term service might cause other operators to abandon a route, so that when the short-term operator leaves the route we will end up with no service.
We could also end up with a situation such as that which exists currently in the area of taxi licensing. We have gone from one extreme to the other. Every time one gets into a taxi the driver tells one that business has gone through the floor, and if he knows where one is going one will get twice the earful. We should err on the side of caution when it comes to the issuing of licences. There should be strict control and, if at all possible, the issuing of licences should be left to one body rather than having two or three groups involved. If it is everyone's business it will be no one's business in the end. There will be neither consistency nor viable routes.
We will not be supporting this amendment. Obviously we have differences with Fine Gael on policy matters regarding the licensing of buses and so on. It is not appropriate that policy matters as important as this should be dealt with in a Bill which is designed to set up the Dublin transport authority. By all means let us have a debate about deregulation and transport in general but let that be in an open sense rather than in one section of a Bill such as this.
I thank the Senators for their contributions to this debate. To a certain extent I echo what Senator Ryan said. Under Transport 21 we have included in the programme for Government a commitment to improving bus services by reforming the bus licensing provisions under the Road Transport Act 1932. We aim to facilitate optimum provision of services by providing a level playing field for all the market participants, public and private. It is my intention that, following the enactment of the Dublin Transport Authority Bill, the Government would bring forward a Bill on public transport regulation to reform the licensing system of 1932. If there was ever a consensus on anything, perhaps for different reasons on different sides, it is that the 1932 Act must be reformed and changed. I had to give priority to one piece of legislation and this is the one which has received it. I assure Members of the House that the Government intends to follow this with a public transport regulation Bill. In that context it would be inappropriate to pre-empt a major review of that existing legislation by giving powers to the authority at this time to issue licences under the existing arrangements. Everyone agrees that they are outdated and unresponsive and we have had some good examples of that recently.
The proposed Bill on public transport regulation will deal with the replacement of the Road Transport Act 1932 and the elements of the Transport Act 1958 that relate to the provision of bus services by State bus companies. Under that legislation the bus licensing regime will be designed in a manner consistent with the new EU public service obligations, PSO, that will come into force in December 2009. It will apply to all commercial bus services, including those provided by Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus. It will also provide new criteria regarding a system of penalties and this will offer appropriate deterrents for breaches of the licensing system by those considering application. As a replacement of the 1932 Act, the legislation put forward by Government will be, in general terms, a contract with the providers of transport. The contracts will contain certain stipulations and criteria that must be met. People will compete at that level for the business whether via funded services or commercial ones. Until that time the Bill before the House will allow contracts to be put in place over the next few years with the existing public transport providers in the greater Dublin area — Bus Éireann, Bus Átha Cliath and Iarnród Éireann — for services already in operation.
With regard to public transport I am no believer in privatisation or in competition for the sake of it. I have neither ideological hang-ups nor an agenda about this. I have said as much to unions and to the management of the companies involved. I have two responsibilities. One is to try to provide a safe, efficient, economical and good quality customer service for all consumers in the greater Dublin area who want to use public transport or transport in general. I have said to management and unions in the public transport companies — Bus Éireann and so on — that my other responsibility as Minister is to ensure we get absolute value for money for the very substantial amounts of taxpayers' money put into the system. I am not prepared to have a situation where taxpayers' money is fed into a public transport system that is inefficient, has bad work practices and which does not deliver a quality customer service. I do not say that is what we have at the moment but the reason I have asked the review to be undertaken is to see how well we are utilising the capacity we have. Are there practices and efficiencies that would improve it? Are there things that we must do regarding current routes, for instance? Might they be subvented in certain cases where at present they are not and are therefore causing problems for Bus Éireann or Bus Átha Cliath? On the other hand, might there be routes being subvented that do not require it because they are commercial? We must ensure we have all this information before we make final decisions in this regard.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by almost all speakers in the House, whether or not they advocated competition, as to the merits of having a public transport system that is efficient and effective and which gives a good quality customer service. I have read much literature since coming to this office that urged blanket privatisation and the throwing open of everything to competition. That is not the solution. There must be a balance and we intend to keep that. The existing routes that Bus Éireann and Bus Átha Cliath operate will be signed up for by contract, with criteria ordaining what must be delivered. Under EU PSO regulation that contract will be available for five years, subject to review after that period. In that way we can ensure we will get the efficiency, effectiveness and value for money. The other side of this, as I said to Senator Donohoe, is that operators can and are willing to provide services on a commercial basis in the greater Dublin area. We will encourage that and will continue to issue licences for this. We will try to ensure the situation continues in this way in the interim.
When we talk about competition, I have a concern. I know from speaking to unions and workers in Bus Éireann and Bus Átha Cliath that we must have a level playing field. I believe strongly that if we were to throw the market open completely or even move in that direction, the one thing we would have to guard against is the competition we talk about being brought about on the backs of people who work in transport. In other words, I do not want private companies coming in that will pay half wages or less than minimum wages to people if they can get away with it. Neither do I want companies that will offer inferior working conditions and so be able to compete with a public transport company on that basis.
That is the difference in their profit. It is something against which I want to guard.
I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment. It is not particularly appropriate at this stage, but I assure him that the general intent is to provide a public transport system of which we can all be proud. Where it is possible, we should provide commercial routes and competition on those routes.
I thank the Minister for his response. I will comment on some of the points made by my colleagues during the discussion on this amendment. The operation of competition and trying to advance the needs of our society are not incompatible. I make this point in some trepidation because I am clashing with my eloquent and experienced colleague, Senator Norris. However, the idea that those who sit on the left — even if it is the left that is occasionally associated with champagne and salmon, as the Senator mentioned — have a monopoly over the idea of social justice is one that I reject. I am doing this because I am trying to help people in our society who may be less well off and to ensure that the services available to everybody can be improved. I strongly believe that competition can play a role in this.
In 1997, we were spending €20 billion funding services for the taxpayer. We are now spending €54 billion, yet we are still pointing to the deficiencies within those services. We must acknowledge that our ability to deliver such quantum increases in the future will not be as great as it was in the past. In the right framework, competition is the antidote to this.
Another issue on which we will spend time talking is inflation. How will we deal with that if it is not through ensuring that competition plays a proper role in some sectors of our society? The idea that competition and social progress are contradictory or inconclusive——
It is not always, but it frequently can be so.
——is something with which I strongly disagree. Competition can play an appropriate role at times in ensuring that the needs of our entire community and society can be met. I have great respect for Senator Norris and the points that he has made about this Bill and the Seanad. If we do not make these points now about this authority and this Bill, then the train will leave the station. This organisation will have extraordinary power to deal with many of the issues we are facing here. The ability to deliver competition can and should play a role in meeting the needs of Dublin's commuters.
In saying all that, I agree entirely with the point made by the Minister a moment ago. I do not want such competition to be at the expense of people who are working in some of the organisations that might come in here in the future. I do not want to see people being paid a fraction of the wages they need to look after their families and so on. However, the Booz Allen Hamilton report on subvention payments to Dublin Bus, commissioned by the Minister, pointed out that the company and others got more than €230 million of taxpayers' money. In fairness, that report also stated that in many cases Dublin Bus is making great use of that money. From personal experience dealing with Dublin Bus in my constituency, I have found it to be a very professional and progressive organisation. None the less, the point still stands. New services will be required that cannot be provided by Dublin Bus, so we should look elsewhere for them to be provided. In the new financial environment we are facing, it is vital that we have a spur of competition to ensure taxpayers' money is well spent.
I am not advocating the kind of complete deregulation that is occasionally used to rubbish these arguments. We can see that is not working. We should set in place a framework to ensure the private sector is allowed to provide services to ensure that commuters can benefit and to ensure money is well spent. That is not tin pot competition nor does it represent an ideological approach to this issue. It is an attempt to come up with a model that will ensure our money is well spent in providing transport services and that the needs of commuters are better met than they are at the moment.
I hope I do not hinder Senator Donohoe's prospects when I say that he is a terrible loss to the Progressive Democrats Party.
There is no point wasting time in repeating what he said, because I agree with every single word of it. We do not believe in privatisation or competition for their own sake. Things naturally need to be regulated and the public interest must be uppermost when doing so. That includes providing services from a variety of sources, including the private sector. We are advocating competition for routes in transport services, not on routes. That is an important distinction and explains what has gone wrong in other jurisdictions. We do not need to repeat those mistakes.
I understand the Minister's point about the need to reform the Road Transport Act 1932. Will he consider delaying the order that brings into effect sections 47 to 56 of the Bill? These sections deal with issuing licences under the 1932 Act. Will he delay bringing these sections into effect until he has conducted this review? That is an important compromise. I accept his point that one Bill had to take priority. In our enterprising economy, we cannot have the type of statist, protectionist legislation represented by the 1932 Act. It is not viable in this day and age. By delaying these sections, we can get the effect of the positive things in this Bill while not being damaged by the restrictive practices that might be allowed to develop in enacting this section. The legislative programme for developing the transport sector might be somewhat disjointed.
Senator Donohoe pointed out that there are positive aspects to competition. He was right. It is infuriating that some people constantly have the notion that competition is always bad. It is not bad. It delivers in all areas. It would be generous of people to recognise that there are positive aspects to competition. Would the Minister be disposed to deferring the introduction of the order to give effect to this section until the review of the 1932 legislation and amendments to it have taken place?
The sections to which the Senator referred deal with the provision of public transport as it operates at present. The licensing regime for PSO regulated services does not apply to the commercial service, to which the Senator adverted, for example, in the case of an operator wishing to compete on a commercial basis. Those sections deal with the contracts that must be in place to provide largely subvented services in those areas. Therefore, it would not be practical simply to suspend that provision for whatever period would be required.
I believe the Senator is making the point that we should have competition on various routes. There will be open competition on routes other than the existing subvented routes, namely, the PSO routes, once this Bill is enacted.
Is the amendment being pressed?
- Bradford, Paul.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- O’Reilly, Joe.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Twomey, Liam.
- Ross, Shane.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Brady, Martin.
- Butler, Larry.
- White, Mary.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Cannon, Ciaran.
- Carty, John.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- Ellis, John.
- Feeney, Geraldine.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Hanafin, John.
- Hannigan, Dominic.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Norris, David.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- O’Brien, Francis.
- O’Donovan, Denis.
- O’Malley, Fiona.
- Ormonde, Ann.
- O’Toole, Joe.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Walsh, Jim.
- Ryan, Brendan.
Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 11 are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 15, subsection (5)(c), line 28, after “GDA” to insert the following: “and local authority Development Plans and Local Area Plans in force in the GDA”.
I wish to congratulate the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, on keeping his position as Minister for Transport, which I forgot to say earlier.
We are all guilty of that.
I wish the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, the best of luck for the rest of his term in office.
There are two separate issues covered by these amendments. I will deal with the work that local authorities do using local area plans and the master plans and then the issue of the jurisdiction of the greater Dublin area, GDA, and the work the authority will do.
One impressive aspect of this legislation is the way it deals with the integration of land use and planning with the provision of transport. The Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, has correctly pointed out the need for this and the legislation will allow that integration to happen. I move this amendment because many local authorities have been engaged in work on the preparation of local area plans which, as the Minister for Transport is aware, are part of the city and county development plans and make recommendations for particular areas. This legislation would be improved if we were to refer to the work and role of local area plans in the planning aspect of this legislation.
Take, for example, the work being done at the moment by Dublin City Council with the preparation of the draft Phibsborough/Mountjoy Local Area Plan. I raise this plan as it refers to the provision of additional Luas lines in future and the proposed metro north. The plan makes clear that the delivery of the objectives of the local area plan, which deals with sustainable community living and the need for good public transport, can only be realised if the public transport infrastructure is in place initially. Given that one of the reasons for this legislation is to integrate land use, planning and transport infrastructure, it would be improved if we made specific reference to the work of local authorities in developing local area plans. This applies whether the plans are placed on a statutory footing — in other words if they actually pass into law — or as in some cases, are still in draft stage and on the way to being passed. Such an improvement would deliver, on a local level, the integration the Minister for Transport seeks. This is the thinking behind the amendment.
Amendment No. 10 refers to the Grangegorman Development Agency which is the statutory body being established to deliver a new third level facility for Dublin and the country. The Bill refers to the strategic plan but the Grangegorman Development Agency will deliver both a strategic plan and a master plan. In fact, much of the work taking place in preparing the strategic plan for the delivery of the Grangegorman campus focuses on the delivery of the master plan as opposed to the strategic plan which is referred to in this legislation. My understanding is that the difference between the strategic and the master plans is that one of them looks at the area inside the cordon of the Grangegorman campus while the other is more conscious of the broader physical environment around the Grangegorman area. Just as there is reference to the Dublin Docklands Development Authority master plan, I believe the reference to the Grangegorman Development Agency would be improved if it were to say the strategic plan and the master plan, which are different instruments.
Amendment No. 11 refers to section 12(5)(h) and the trends and requirements of persons travelling from outside the greater Dublin area into the greater Dublin area. Given the amount of travel taking place inside the greater Dublin area which is the cause of many of the issues we need to deal with, this section of the Bill could be improved if the needs of people travelling within the greater Dublin area were considered as well as those of people travelling from outside the area into the area and vice versa. This is the thinking behind these amendments and I await the Minister’s response.
I thank the Senator for the points he has raised. With reference to Amendment No. 9, the preparation of a transport strategy is a high level process which covers all seven local authority areas in the greater Dublin area. In that context it is appropriate for the authority to consider the relevant development plans applicable to those areas. This is already provided for in section 12(5)(c) and is well catered for at county level. I do not think it is either feasible or a good idea to ask the authority to go dig below that, so to speak, and to have regard to each local area plan within each local authority area. I remember from my days as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that the local area plan is supposed to be taken fully into account when designing a development plan as it is a subset of the development plan. There should be no likelihood of a local area plan being in conflict with a development plan and it would not happen. The Dublin transport authority will be required to take a strategic overview of seven local authority areas. County Meath, for example, could have 20 or 30 local area plans and it would be neither feasible, practical nor a good thing for the authority to examine each one. I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment because it is not necessary. The spirit of the amendment is more than catered for in this section of the Bill.
The Grangegorman Development Agency is carrying out a master plan but it is not required by legislation to do so. The legislation requires it to carry out a strategic plan. For this reason the Bill contains a reference to the strategic plan. There is no statutory requirement for the agency to carry out a master plan but when doing the strategic plan, it will be required to take this Bill into account. I have no difficulty with the concept of the Senator's amendment No. 10 but there is no reference to a master plan so it cannot be included in this legislation. I ask the Senator to withdraw this amendment.
With regard to amendment No. 11, the purpose of section 12(5)(h) is to give effect to that recommendation of the DTA establishment team that the authority should be required to take account of longer distance travel trends in discharging its functions without being obliged to facilitate them. The shorter we can make commuting journeys and the more they can be eliminated, the better. I see the Senator’s point about internal travel. Having considered it, the Senator’s amendment would probably be better accommodated by the amendment of section 12(5)(f) to require the authority to have regard to demographic, social ,travel and social trends in the greater Dublin area. If the Senator is willing to withdraw the amendment, I will undertake to bring an amendment on Committee Stage in the Dáil that meets the intent. I propose an amendment at that time to require the authority to have regard to the demographic, economic, social, travel and transport trends in the greater Dublin area which will meet the intent of the Senator’s amendment.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I take his point regarding amendment No. 9. He is correct to say that we should not be in a situation where a local area plan would be in conflict with a city or county development plan. The thinking behind this amendment was in tandem with delivery of local area plans to try to deliver integration of land use and transport and it therefore was considered worthy of inclusion in the Bill.
With regard to the strategic and master plan point about the Grangegorman Development Agency, the important consideration for me is that the Dublin transport authority should be aware of the transport needs which the creation of this campus will place on the north side of Dublin. If that point is recognised by the wording in the Bill, then it will be acceptable to me. I hope one of the priorities of the new body will be the recognition of the issues and challenges and taking action to do something about them.
With regard to amendment No. 11, I am happy to accept the Minister's point and I look forward to his proposed modification on Report Stage.
Amendments Nos. 12 and 16 are cognate and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 16, subsection (8), line 7, after "with" to insert "and have regard to the proposals of".
This amendment refers to one of themes we discussed earlier. A recurring theme in the discussions that have taken place in the short period I have been a Member of the Seanad is the question of where all the power has gone. We are faced with very severe problems and challenges regarding the transport needs of this region and the environmental challenges for the country. Our electorate and our country is looking for us to respond to these issues and to understand them. The section currently provides that this authority shall prepare a transport strategy and consult with the specified bodies and persons.
Many of these organisations and people, particularly the local authorities and Ministers who are specified, have been elected by their constituents to perform specific roles which often include improving the transport infrastructure in an area and devising a transport strategy that tackle the issue faced by communities. I am concerned that the language in regard to consulting could get us to a point that this authority would look at the input received from the organisations, particularly that from elected representatives, and then do something completely different, which is possible, or something that does not meet the needs of the bodies specified.
My amendments Nos. 12 and 16 seek to insert the phrase "and have regard to any proposals made by" in the relevant subsections. Bodies such as the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, Grangegorman Development Agency and the local authorities have a superb grasp of the needs of the particular sectors or communities they represent. There must be some obligation on the Dublin transport authority to respond to and take account of the points made by these organisations as opposed to merely participating in a consultation process. We must not allow a situation to develop where local authorities and Members of the Oireachtas find that the Dublin transport authority is merely engaged in a sham process and is taking no account of the issues raised by them.
We always strive to ensure legislation is as accurate and precise as possible. However, there is always a danger, as much on the Government's part as on that of the Opposition, of taking an unnecessarily prescriptive approach. The entire thrust of the legislation is to ensure, via a process of consultation, that full account is taken of the various interested parties. The Senator has acknowledged that the legislation provides for a level of consultation and interplay between the various agencies. That is extremely important.
In general, bodies such as the proposed Dublin transport authority do not engage in consultation for the fun of it only to ignore the opinions furnished. I recognise this is not what Senator Donohoe implied. As I said, there is a danger of being overly prescriptive. Rather than getting into an ideological battle over this, and if the Senator is prepared to withdraw the amendments, I propose returning to this on Report Stage. I envisage an amendment to insert a wording such as "will consult with and consider the views of the various bodies and agencies". That would address Senator Donohoe's concerns.
I am prepared to withdraw these amendments on the understanding that the Minister will deal with this on Report Stage. My objective is to ensure that the consultation process between the transport authority and the various agencies is meaningful and will influence the authority's decisions. The Minister's suggestion is welcome.
Amendments Nos. 13, 17 and 61 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 16, subsection (8), line 12, after "GDA" to insert the following:
"and in particular shall invite public submissions on the transport strategy".
These amendments refer to the need for public consultation on the transport strategy, integrated implementation plan and traffic management plan, respectively. They are designed to ensure that a formal process of public submissions will occur, as currently happens with development plans, rather than selected consultations with interested parties, as set out in section 12(8). Notwithstanding the reference to local communities, I ask the Minister to accept these amendments which provide specifically for an invitation to the public for submissions on the transport strategy, integrated implementation plan and traffic management plan.
I support these amendments. Senator Ryan's proposals reflect what has already been initiated by the Department in terms of consultation on a sustainable travel strategy. It is important to listen to the views of communities and individual commuters on how the issues they face can best be tackled. The strategy document the Minister has put out for public consultation will prompt many interesting responses. It would be good to see the transport authority taking the same approach and being similarly cognisant of the needs of the people it is supposed to serve.
I agree there must be adequate and appropriate consultation on these important matters. The Bill sets out the basis for consultation by the Dublin transport authority when preparing a transport strategy, integrated implementation plan and traffic management plan. In each case, the authority is required to consult with local communities and transport users. Thus, the legislation already provides for what is sought by Senator Ryan in these amendments.
However, if the Senator is prepared to compromise, I might do likewise. I am concerned that the wording could be interpreted as allowing anyone the right to make oral submissions and so on. If the Senator is amenable, I am prepared to bring forward an amendment on Report Stage to insert the words "shall invite written public submissions" in each case.
I am willing to withdraw the amendment on that basis.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 16, lines 37 to 43, to delete subsection (12) and substitute the following:
"(12) The Minister may, in relation to a draft transport strategy submitted to him or her—
(a) approve the draft,
(b) approve it with modifications,
(c) instruct that it be resubmitted to him or her in a modified form for approval, or
(d) refuse to approve it.
In all cases the Minister shall present the draft transport strategy to a Committee of the Oireachtas for approval.".
This amendment goes to the heart of the theme I discussed earlier, which is how to make the Dublin transport authority accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas and to ensure Members have an opportunity to make their views known to the authority at a timely point in the development of the transport strategy and other work in which it will be engaged. The legislation, as it is laid out, correctly identifies the pivotal role of the Minister in reviewing the proposed transport strategy of the Dublin transport authority and in having an opportunity to amend, reject or improve it. However, it is important that Members of the Oireachtas have the opportunity to look at what the DTA proposes, to understand it, to question the DTA and to put forward their own ideas on how what it proposes should be amended or improved. I think back to the earlier discussion on the amendment about the different organisations that would be consulted. Nowhere in the list of those organisations did it mention the Members of the Oireachtas. It is Members who are elected to deal with the issues that the DTA will be a tool for dealing with.
Amendment No. 14 is about the distinction between the DTA being a powerful organisation that will make big decisions for the commuters and people of Dublin and the authority's accountability. It is about the people who are privileged enough to be elected to either the Seanad or the Dáil having an opportunity to sit down with the decision makers in the DTA and to speak to them about their views of the strategy and their experiences as elected representatives. The people who elect us expect nothing less. It is because that capacity does not exist in other issues, in health, for example, that we end up with public policy decisions not being made in a way that is beneficial to our communities and to those whom we serve.
The Minister may point to section 12(13) which refers to a copy of the transport strategy being laid before each House of the Oireachtas. We deserve far more than the strategy being laid before the Houses. We should have an opportunity to discuss it and to put our points to the people who make the decisions. That would not in any way undermine the Minister's executive power ultimately to decide on the strategy and what the DTA will do. Surely he can recognise that everyone in the Oireachtas, whether that is Senator Ellis, Senator Ryan or me, should have an opportunity to make our points of view known and to influence the strategy. We acknowledge that the Minister will ultimately decide, but there should be some recognition that other public representatives have to try to do their job on the transport needs of their communities. Amendment No. 14 would at least give them the opportunity to put their points across.
This is one amendment that I have a difficulty with, precisely for the reason that Senator Donohoe outlined — the division of responsibility between the Oireachtas and Ministers. Amendment No. 14 would transgress the boundary between the functions of Government and the oversight role of the Houses of the Oireachtas. It would step over the line.
I take Senator Donohoe's point on democratic accountability. I was criticised by a well-known columnist because the term "the Minister" is mentioned so often in the Bill, but I was very conscious of the necessity to ensure there is accountability, and at the end of the day it is the Minister who is accountable. It is up to Members of the Oireachtas, whether in this House, the other House or the committees, to hold Ministers accountable for their failures. I have never heard of anyone being hauled before a committee to praise them for any success, but we will leave that to one side.
Senator Donohoe's amendment would transgress the boundary between the two functions, but I am anxious to see whether we can accommodate such scrutiny. I agree with him that a high level of scrutiny should be prepared. I am not sure whether we need to amend the legislation to do that, but I will consider the point. However, the Senator should remember that the Minister and the DTA are accountable to the House and the DTA is fully accountable to the Minister. The Bill incorporates an elaborate and detailed framework that is designed to ensure maximum democratic accountability. I could give Members a list of those provisions, including the appointment of chairpersons and so on.
Senator Donohoe could resubmit the amendment, but through the Joint Committee on Transport, the Houses of the Oireachtas will have the power to summon the DTA. As individual public representatives, Senators and Deputies will have the right also to make their views known as the strategy is developed, although I know this is not quite what the Senator is getting at with the amendment. His concern is to make the authority accountable to the House.
I will consider whether it is necessary to include in the Bill a provision that the draft strategy should be brought before the Joint Committee on Transport for its observations or views as the strategy is prepared or finalised. That might meet Senator Donohoe's concern without breaching the boundary between the functions of Government and the oversight role of the Houses of the Oireachtas. It may be feasible as the Bill is currently drafted, but if not I will let him know we are tabling an amendment.
I thank the Minister for his response. I understand the powers of the office he is privileged to hold, and I understand the need to ensure power is sovereign and not diluted in any way. However, he outlined that the structure of the Dublin transport authority being accountable to the Minister and the Minister being accountable to the Oireachtas equalled the DTA being accountable to the Oireachtas. I wonder whether that analogy was made when, for example, the National Roads Authority or the Health Service Executive were set up and the argument was used to say that there was therefore accountability. It is apparent to everyone that that is not the case in many areas. Amendment No. 14 would provide a mechanism for those who sit on the Joint Committee on Transport or who want to attend its meetings to input contribute to the strategy and review it as it is developed and presented to the Minister.
I appreciate the Minister's comment that he will look at the legislation to see whether the role of the Oireachtas committee can be included differently from how it is at the moment. I will do the same myself because I want to press the point to ensure those who are lucky enough to be elected to the Oireachtas have an opportunity to talk in detail to the individuals in the DTA.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 18, subsection (9), line 17, after "it" to insert "with specified target timelines for delivery".
The Government, in particular, will be held to account by the Opposition in the coming years on the issue of ensuring that where large sums of taxpayers' money are spent on projects, those same projects are delivered on time and within budget. I remember clearly when the Minister launched the overview of Transport 21 that he not only acknowledged that many of the projects within it were behind target in terms of delivery, he also did not want to commit to new targets for the deliver of those projects.
Given the importance of this infrastructure, which we all acknowledge and which this Bill is designed to ensure is delivered in a more timely manner, it is imperative the DTA and the people involved be held to account for the work they seek to do. Targets and dates must be set out for the delivery of plans and strategies agreed to by the Minister. This organisation will have power in terms of making decisions on bus routes and bus fares, dealing with many of the decisions the Railway Procurement Agency has been making and so on. It will be responsible for spending billions of euros of taxpayers' money. If the DTA has all this new power, we expect it to set deadlines for the timely delivery of projects and strategies. It is imperative this legislation makes clear to the DTA our expectation that it will set targets for the delivery of major projects.
The authority is required to prepare a six-year integrated implementation plan indicating all the specific actions to be implemented over the period of the plan. Clearly that plan also will have to identify the timeframe within which those actions will be undertaken within the six-year period. Accordingly, the intent of the Senator's amendment is already met in the Bill itself.
Amendments No. 19 and 20 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 18, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) The chief executive of the Authority may attend at meetings of the Authority and speak but shall not be a member of the Authority.".
The purpose of this amendment is to ensure appropriate standards of corporate governance are maintained. It is clearly preferable that there would be a separation between the governing board and the management in the form of a chief executive to ensure proper accountability. We suggest the chief executive may attend meetings of the authority and speak but will not be a member of the authority. This would be quite common in organisations in Ireland and elsewhere and is good practice. I ask the Minister to accept it.
I cannot accept this amendment because the trend is in the opposite direction. It is standard practice in recent years that at a minimum, the chief executive of an organisation sits on the managing board, in this case on the authority itself. As often as not, several of the senior directors of the organisations also haveex officio seats on the board. That is the model we are proposing here. It is important we bring the senior decision makers onto the board and that the board has the advantage of all the information or communication. We do not want an information or communications gap between the management and the board. It also develops a clear and single viewpoint on key strategic issues which is important for an organisation such as the DTA which has a major strategic role.
The Senator's fear is that there may be a capture by the management of the authority. The effective counterbalance is to ensure there are other good strong directors with a spread of knowledge and expertise available about the business of the organisation so that they are able to maintain an independent view and engage with or challenge the management. Given that both issues are important, cohesion between management and board and countering the concern of a capture by management, it is important there would be very strong directors on the board. This is provided for in the Bill and I am wedded to this model at this stage. I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment.
Is Senator Ryan aware that amendment No. 20 is being discussed with amendment No. 19?
Yes. One follows on from the other. I thank the Minister for his comments. I have a fear of the capture of the chief executive and the management in the form of the chief executive effectively being part of a group or club or whatever. I do not understand the Minister's fears that there may be a loss of focus on the strategy if this issue were dealt with in line with our amendment. However, I will agree to withdraw the amendment on the basis that I may reintroduce it on Report Stage.
Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 18, subsection (2)(d), line 35, to delete “from” and substitute the following:
"one of whom shall be an elected member of a local authority in the GDA nominated by local authorities in the GDA acting jointly, and the others being".
I raised the issue when the Minister was in the House on the previous occasion that there is no public representative on the board of the GDA. I said I would table an amendment proposing at least one public representative on the board and this is what my amendment hopes to achieve. I ask that the Minister accept it.
I support Senator Ryan on this issue. The section will require me to table further amendments because under the Bill, as it stands, elected members of all types are forbidden from sitting on the authority. This provision is wrong and a subversion of democracy. It is important to have people on the authority who can act as a channel of communication for the feelings of the public. This is particularly important for a local Dublin body. Surely the authority should include public representatives. I strongly support Senator Ryan's amendment.
The section gives the Minister considerable power. As I recall, it was suggested the authority would have a degree of independence but the Minister will choose all its members and the section leaves significant scope for political appointments. The Minister may, under subsection (2)(d), appoint the “chairperson and 5 ordinary members, from persons who in the opinion of the Minister have wide experience in relation to transport, industrial, commercial, financial, land use planning or environmental matters, the organisation of workers or administration”. The subsection does not make a single mention of persons from existing transport organisations such as Bus Éireann, CIE and Iarnród Éireann. Surely the authority should have representatives of these bodies, given that they will deliver the service.
Unless the Minister has a reason which I would be interested to hear, it is odd that not one of the bodies charged with delivering a transport service in Dublin is specifically mentioned, although the Dublin city manager and others are mentioned. The Minister has a right to choose all other members of the authority independently. I have a high regard for the Minister's integrity and do not believe he would appoint political jobbers but it is open to him to do so. At the same time, the Bill does not include a statutory requirement to appoint a person from any of the bodies involved in transport, although it is possible to do so.
The provision that five members will be appointed from eight sectoral areas means not every sectoral interest will be represented. The legislation does not require the appointment of anybody with wide experience of transport. The Minister could appoint persons from the areas of transport, industrial, commercial, financial, land use planning or environmental matters, the organisation of workers or administration. It is astonishing that it is not necessary to appoint a single person from the service providers. If the Minister has a reason for including this provision, it is opaque. My amendment seeks to provide that persons from the public transport authorities such as CIE, Iarnród Éireann and Dublin Bus should be statutorily involved in the authority as members.
I support Senator Ryan's amendment. As I indicated, politicians must be involved in running the Dublin transport authority and holding it to account. The amendment is timely in the light of the proposals for a directly elected lord mayor of Dublin emanating from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. If it were to transpire that the people of Dublin elected a lord mayor with the expectation that he or she would be able to make decisions on transport and other matters on their behalf, they would discover that the lord mayor was not entitled to sit on the authority.
The reason the amendment is needed is to ensure members of local authorities — the people charged with dealing with many of the local transport issues the new authority is being established to address — have a role in decision making. I hope that if we have a directly elected lord mayor, he or she will be entitled to sit on the authority. If the lord mayor is prevented from sitting on the decision making body for transport, the power of the office of lord mayor will not be credible in the eyes of the electorate and it will not be worthwhile establishing the role of directly elected lord mayor.
On Senator Norris's amendment, while I await the Minister's response with interest, the reason it is not proposed to appoint persons from the transport bodies to the board is that the powers of these organisations are to be significantly reduced. Virtually all the major decision making powers of CIE, Irish Rail and Dublin Bus will transfer to the Dublin transport authority, which means that if the latter does not like any of the service proposals made by the transport providers, it can decide to provide the service itself.
The section is worse than I thought.
If Dublin Bus proposes to open a new bus route, the Dublin transport authority has the power to reject it and provide the service directly. The reason it is not proposed to appoint persons from these organisations to the board is that many of the powers they have traditionally wielded will be transferred to the Dublin transport authority. One reason for having these organisations represented on the authority is that they are about to undergo massive change which could result in the loss of staff and expertise. It is important, therefore, that the Minister and the Dublin transport authority motivate and direct these organisations.
I have been involved in many organisations which have undergone major institutional changes. One of the consequences of such change is that the expertise of such bodies is lost. In a couple of years, when I try to understand the reason certain decisions failed, we will conclude that we should have learned from the past. In the light of the imminent loss of power among the transport service providers, we must ensure they are represented on the authority. We must also ensure passengers or some of the private operators providing new services are also represented. I have tabled amendments to this end. Given that the board will make all the key decisions, surely we must examine whether it is appropriate that elected representatives and representatives of organisations providing transport services are not represented on it.
On Second Stage I expressed abhorrence of the provision precluding local authority members from sitting on the authority. It is regrettable that section 40 prevents members of local authorities or either House of the Oireachtas from being a member of the authority. It is wrong to prevent elected representatives from sitting on such boards, particularly given that they are answerable to the electorate. This provision should be removed. Appointments should not be made to the authority for the sake of it but because those appointed have a genuine interest. They must also be accountable.
The Minister has always shown a positive attitude towards members of local authorities. I suggest removing the provision precluding members of local authorities from sitting on the authority. Practically every Bill coming before the House includes a similar provision. I ask the Minister to consider introducing an amendment on Report Stage to address this issue. It would go some way towards allaying Members' fears in this regard. Local authority members who, like Oireachtas Members, are elected representatives are being excluded from a number of bodies to which they could make a constructive and positive contribution.
I am surprised Senator Norris and Senator Donohoe automatically assume that because I included the words "the Authority shall consist of a chairperson and 9 ordinary members" and that "five ordinary members, from persons who in the opinion of the Minister have wide experience in relation to transport, industrial, commercial, financial, land use planning or environmental matters, the organisation of workers or administration", it would exclude somebody from CIE or Iarnród Éireann.
That is not what we said. It does not automatically include such people.
Does Senator Norris know something about people in CIE, Iarnród Éireann and elsewhere which I do not know?
I do not. However, this does not automatically include such people.
It does not, nor should it. One should allow the maximum possible discretion to pick the very best people for a board. I acknowledge what the Senator said about my efforts to try to do that at all times. That is why this is made as wide as possible.
Making the argument on the other side of that coin, if I end up with a board which has members from Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann, Bus Átha Cliath, the private transport sector and the Railway Procurement Agency, I will not have a very effective board because there will be a continuation of the turf wars we have had down through the years. A balance needs to be struck in this regard. I know Senators on all sides would agree that one cannot allow vested interests to dominate and paralyse a body.
This is a regulatory body which will be able to step in if Bus Éireann is not doing its job properly or if the RPA is not delivering a project properly, on time or within budget, as Senators mentioned. Can one imagine trying to use those powers with a company from the CIE group of companies if there were three members from the CIE group of companies on the board? Nothing here precludes me from appointing people with expertise to the board, including people who have an interest in, and a direct knowledge of, transport. For that reason, I will not accept the amendments.
I will not dwell on the point about local authority members. I take Senator Ellis's point and section 40 deals with that. I am sympathetic to the view expressed by a number of Senators, especially Senator Ellis, on this automatic exclusion of local authority members from boards. They should be excluded from some boards but I would not have a strong view that they should be excluded from the board of this authority. Perhaps we will discuss that later when we come to section 40 rather delay the House at this point. However, I know Senator Ryan's amendment states "one of whom shall be an elected member of a local authority". There is nothing in this section to prevent that from happening. Perhaps the time to have the discussion on the amendment is when we come to section 40 where they are singled out for exclusion.
I refer to the other point made by Senator Ellis. Generally speaking, I would draw the line at local authority members being members of the boards of authorities and boards. Oireachtas Members have other pitches on which to play.
I ask the Senators to withdraw amendment No. 21, which will be dealt with when we come to section 40, and amendment No. 22, because I want the maximum freedom for whoever is Minister to appoint the best possible people rather than vested interests.
I have tabled an amendment to section 40 which essentially deals with the same issue. I will agree to the Minister's request to deal with it at that stage. The principle of having an elected member on the board is important to me and the Labour Party. I hope the Minister will be able to address it in some way either here or later on.
Senator Ryan used the word "related". The amendments are related but I am a little bit confused by the grouping because I would have thought amendment No. 20 should have been grouped with all the amendments to section 40 since they deal with membership by members of local authorities. It is very interesting that Senator Ellis, a former distinguished Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, should have made this point, although I am sure the view is widespread.
I accept there are certain situations in which it is quite right to bar elected members but I do not believe this is one of them. I do not see any reason members of the Joint Committee on Transport should be automatically barred because they would provide a direct connection and that interface would be mutually beneficial. My amendments to section 40 also remove the ban on Members of the Oireachtas. The Minister is a bit delicate about that and perhaps we will argue about it when we get to that section.
The Minister talked about the need to get the best people. I hope that is not a suggestion that we do not have the best people running Bus Éireann. I hope at least one or two of them are pretty hot. If not, who is responsible for appointing them and why do we not get rid of them and put in the best people? We are entitled to get the best people to run these companies. However, I assume the best people are running them and that they are directly engaged and properly equipped to do so. I am not sure that is a completely satisfactory answer because if they are not the best people, what are they doing in these companies?
I am fairly concerned by what Senator Donohoe said in that if, for example, the Dublin transport authority does not like the way a bus route is run, it can start one of its own. To my mind, that would make a pig's ear of the whole bloody Bill. It will be worse than the Health Service Executive. I do not see that as a runner, although perhaps it is and I am all over the place on this.
I agree with what the Minister said about the need to ensure the board is capable of overcoming any vested interests. Therefore, it is probably inappropriate that one would have chief executives from the different organisations on the board.
I did not mention chief executives. I said representatives of three of them.
This states at least three. We need to ensure we find a way to retain the expertise in these organisations and that it is not lost in the transition to the Dublin transport authority. The Minister said this was a regulatory body but a later section in the Bill illustrates the potential for conflict. Not only is this a regulatory body but it also has the potential to be the provider of last resort, as I said earlier. There is potential here for conflict because at the end of a tendering process the body in the DTA setting the criteria under which the tender process takes place has the power to step in and say, "If those criteria are not met, we will provide the service ourselves." If we want an organisation that is effective at combating the vested interests currently in Dublin transport bodies, we must ensure the DTA does not end up as a vested interest itself. I am concerned about this. It is vital, therefore, that the decisions we make with regard to who will be on the board of the DTA ensure this conflict of interest does not happen.
The best way to ensure there is no conflict of interest within the board is to appoint the best people to the board. The section we are dealing with is not the best one to start specifying this or that person or representative of an organisation. Therefore, I ask the Senators to withdraw their amendments.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 21, subsection (4), lines 3 to 8, to delete paragraphs (a) and (b) and substitute the following:
"(a) one manager of a local authority within the GDA,
(b) 2 members of local authorities within the GDA in addition to the 4 members referred to in paragraph (d),”.
This amendment relates to the advisory council and makes a point similar to the points I made with regard to representation and having more elected members. The effect of the amendment would be to reduce the number of managers from local authorities on the advisory council and increase the number of elected local authority members by the same number. The aim is to increase the number of local authority members on the advisory council. I urge the Minister to consider accepting this amendment.
It is extremely important to recognise that Dublin city is the core of the GDA and the capital city. Even as a Meath man I must recognise the pre-eminence of Dublin and its importance as a capital city. The purpose of this Bill is to ensure Dublin is a successful and accessible city, which is the key to much of the social and economic development of the wider GDA. On account of this, it is important that the manager of Dublin city should play a key role on the advisory council. Probably everyone would agree with that.
This Bill is not the sort of Bill that would deal with sharing jobs between the managers of the seven local authorities in the GDA. It is essential that the strategic importance of Dublin city and the need for it to be successful, not just for the GDA but for the country as a whole, are emphasised by having the city manager automatically a member of the authority so that his or her views can inform the thinking of the advisory council. For that reason it is also important to have the managers on the council.
I will reconsider the matter before Report Stage. In saying that, I do not foresee removing the Dublin city manager, whatever about rebalancing managers and local authority members. I will consider that and may consider extending the numbers for Report Stage. I suggest the Senator should withdraw the amendment now and resubmit it on Report Stage when I may bring forward a further proposal on the matter.
On the basis that the Minister will consider the matter and, hopefully, come back with something the Labour Party can agree with, I will withdraw the amendment. The amendment suggests one manager of a local authority within the GDA. I know this could be any manager, but it does not preclude the possibility of its being the Dublin City manager.
Amendment No. 24 has been ruled out of order.
Will the Chair verify for me that amendment No. 24 is out of order?
It is out of order because it involves a potential charge, but the Senator may raise the point when discussing the section.
Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 are related and will be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 21, subsection (5)(a), line 23, after “movement,” to insert “and representatives from the private sector”.
I am prepared to withdraw amendment No. 25 so that we can look at the language for that on the next Stage. I want to focus now on amendment No. 26, the objective of which is to find some way of ensuring the passenger has a voice on the board. The Minister has already said that the scope of the legislation provides him with the capacity to review the expertise available and to pick people who have the relevant experience in making the right decisions for the board. I put forward this amendment because it is important that we find a way of ensuring that the people who use the services are represented on the board.
Because of the Minister's bona fides in this matter, he may well seek to ensure there is a diversity of people and experience on the board. However, we have no idea who may take on the role of Minister for Transport at some point in the future ——
The Senator should not tie his own hand here.
I have many hurdles to cross before considering any such role. Currently, however, I am a passenger on many of the services represented here. I want to ensure that the Minister is obliged to consider people using the services when selecting members of the board. Many of the representatives of groups such as Platform 21 or the rail users' group have relevant experience of the services and we owe it to them to ensure they are considered for the board.
I do not disagree with the Senator, but the section as it stands does not preclude me or my successor from deciding to select a member of the advisory council from one of those consumer groups. I want to be as non-prescriptive as possible with regard to the people who will be selected for the advisory council. I want them to have expertise and to focus mainly on strategic directions. They will have a significant contribution to make to the development of the authority, the overall transport strategy, the integrated implementation plan and the strategic traffic management plan, none of which impinge directly on their rights as consumers.
I would not rule out people from the statutory consumer agencies or some members of NGOs in the area from being on the board. If one specifies particular groups, even if not by specific names, someone asks why one does not include other groups, the GEA, the ICA or whatever other group. I would prefer to leave it as open as it is for those two reasons, because when one names individual groups, people begin to ask why others were excluded, which I would not want to do, and because I will focus on people who can make a significant contribution to the development of the strategy, implementation plan and traffic management plan. Senator Donohoe has had a very good run on his amendments and I ask him not to press this one.
I will not press it but I ask that the Minister consider this point. The group that has least mention here is the passenger. I appreciate if the Minister and his Department could examine some of the provisions here on Report Stage and find a way of offering guidance to his successor that the passenger should be represented.
This is just a technical, drafting amendment. The phrase "allowances for expenses" is used on two other occasions in the Bill and is the correct term to use in this instance.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 24, subsection (3), line 10, after "shall" to insert "publicly".
Again, the motivation behind this amendment is accountability. It seeks to ensure that those using the services the DTA will co-ordinate their activities and that those involved in trying to influence it, such as Members of the Oireachtas, have access to the information the board considers when it makes decisions. Given that we have spent quite some time discussing the role of the advisory council I ask the Minister to amend it to ensure that whatever guidance the advisory council offers, we have the opportunity to understand what it is. This way members of the community and public representatives can improve the contributions they make to the DTA and the suggestions they make about strategies it might want to adopt in future.
The reality in the Bill as drafted is that the authority will first have to explain to the advisory council its reasons for refusing to accept a recommendation by the council. There is nothing to prevent the council from making that public or prevent an individual member of it from revealing the authority's explanation if he or she wishes. Senator Donohoe's interest in openness, transparency and accountability is met in the Bill. There is nothing to prevent any of that being made public. As those comprising the Joint Committee on Transport are Members of the Oireachtas they would have an opportunity to question the authority on advisory council recommendations it has not accepted.
Amendments Nos. 29 and 84 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I seek leave to withdraw both these amendments.
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 26, subsection (2), line 40, after "Authority" to insert the following:
"but shall not exceed a percentage of the annual budget of the DTA to be specified by the Minister in regulations on approval from the Houses of the Oireachtas".
We have much experience of outside bodies providing expertise and consulting services to the DTA or other bodies on how their jobs should be well performed. The thinking behind this amendment is that if we are establishing an organisation that is meant to pool the best expertise and thinking on transport and the needs of commuters in the Dublin region, there should be a similar decrease in its need to hire consultants or outside bodies to tell it what to do and how to do it. At times we have too much decision making by consultants. If we are going to establish an organisation that will have the best qualified people on the board, there should be a decrease in the amount of money that needs to be spent on consulting services this organisation will be able to procure.
This amendments seeks to give the Minister the power to cap the amount of money this organisation would spend on consulting services by expressing it as a percentage of the overall budget, which the Minister will set. If the Minister is investing the time and energy of his Department in establishing this organisation to deal with the issues of commuters in Dublin and the region, the least we can expect is that it will have the expertise to do the job well. The least taxpayers would expect is a decrease in the amount of money the organisation would need to spend on outside services.
It would be extremely difficult in most areas to establish an organisation that would have sufficient expertise to cover every eventuality the organisation might run into in the course of trying to deliver top quality, value for money services. If it were possible to do that, it would cost a fortune. One might want an expert on specific areas such as engineering, signalling, bus routes or whatever else. There would have to be a certain level of expertise in the DTA on that but there could be specific areas where one needs expertise for three or six months' work. If one has to go through a recruitment process, hire people full-time, give them salaries with pension rights and everything else, one has them for life after the specific work is finished.
I agree with Senator Donohoe that we should not go looking for consultants for everything, that we should have a certain amount of in-house expertise and experience available to us. However, I know from experience that it is not possible to cover all areas. The Senator was very measured so I do not refer to him directly, but much nonsense is spoken at various times about the amount of money spent on consultants and people ask why the Minister does not do certain jobs himself or ask his Secretary General or the chief executive to do it. It is not possible to retain all the expertise one needs in all areas, except at a high cost. It is easy to say €2 million was spent on consultancy here or €5 million there to bring forward recommendations and we should be able to do these jobs ourselves, but it is not possible. The Minister for Transport will have a fair amount of power of direction on policy and strategic issues on the DTA, but to have him or her interfering in commercial or management decisions at that level would not be a good use of public money, Ministers' time or anybody else's.
I am aware of the Senator's motivation for the amendment. However, this body will be subject to scrutiny by the Comptroller and Auditor General and also, therefore, by the Committee of Public Accounts and the Joint Committee on Transport. This is sufficient to make sure the DTA does not go wild in appointing consultants that are not absolutely necessary.
I understand the point the Minister is making about the need to avoid imposing massive restrictions on the operation of the organisation. However, this organisation will have much power based on the decisions it will be making in the greater Dublin region. It will be set up and run by good people who deserve to be paid well for the job they are doing. We in the Oireachtas must set an expectation that if the DTA has an issue it wants to resolve or something upon which it wants to improve it must first look within itself before looking outside for expertise. This body will be have many of the existing experts in this area. Although I have never been privileged to set up an organisation such as this and I have never worked in a public sector body, I have worked in other organisations and have seen the major temptation to hire consultants to advise on how to fix problems. I want to ensure this organisation will not be guilty of the same thing. Other organisations are guilty of this, which is why we see such a large amount of taxpayers' money spent on providing services that they can already do themselves.
I will not press the amendment. I have made my point and I will be returning to it on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 31:
In page 27, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following subsection:
"(5) The Authority shall be required to provide an account of the continuing necessity for the subsidiary to remain in being on the expiration of two years from the date of its establishment.".
The Fine Gael Party has over the last number of weeks pointed, correctly, to the explosion in the number of quangos operating in this country. It is not just our party. The Minister's own colleague Deputy Brian Lenihan, now the Minister for Finance, was adept at pointing out that for many of the challenges faced by our country, the default position is to set up an organisation and give it the power to tackle a certain issue. The Minister himself has an admirable track record of tackling difficult issues head-on, playing a role in resolving them, and taking political responsibility for doing so.
This amendment provides that if the DTA sets up a subsidiary organisation to perform a particular task it has the power to do so — I am not seeking to remove that — but it must every two years return to either its own board or the Houses of the Oireachtas to establish whether it is still needed. If it is, it will continue, and if it is not, it will be removed. The background to many of the issues we are facing, which contributes to the necessity of the DTA, is that at least 16 different organisations are already involved in dealing with transport issues within Dublin. The Minister has correctly pointed to the fact that we need to find a way to co-ordinate these, which is why he is introducing this legislation. I am asking that the new DTA act with the same attitude. If it is looking to set up an organisation to deal with integrated ticketing, to pick a topical example, we should ask it to confirm every two years that the organisation is still necessary, ask whether it can perform that role itself, and ensure the organisation is doing the job it is supposed to do and that costs to the taxpayer are recouped if possible.
I agree that organisations should review their operations and those of their subsidiaries. The danger is that if we put something like this into a Bill, nobody will apply for a job in one of these agencies as they will have to consider the possibility that the agency may be gone in two years. That is one difficulty with the Senator's amendment. I will not rehearse again the argument about micro-management of companies. We have to let them get on with their jobs. However, I will consider the Senator's point in general. Two years would be two short for such a provision, but I will consider the possibility of adding a provision on Report Stage to ensure constant reassessment of the work of the authority. I put the onus for this back on the Authority. As the Senator knows and as the Bill itself makes clear, the authority will have to produce strategic plans every six years. On that basis we may be able to add a provision that the authority carry out reviews of its own operations.
It is important that we try to make progress on this issue. Amendments such as this are known as sunset clauses. We must find a way of holding organisations that make important decisions to account for the way they spend their money. I appreciate the Minister's response. He stated there might be a problem whereby people would not apply for jobs with companies that may not exist in a couple of years. However, as the Minister knows, the vast majority of people in the private sector apply for jobs on this basis. When one applies to work for a company one obviously hopes it will exist for many years, but there is no guarantee. I do not see why that guarantee should be provided to other people, particularly if I as a taxpayer am paying for it.
I appreciate the point made by the Minister. We need to find a way of learning from the fact that we are setting up this organisation because there are 16 other organisations that cannot do their jobs properly in terms of dealing with issues in an integrated fashion. I want to ensure the DTA does not end up in the same way.
Amendments No. 32 and 33 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 32:
In page 27, between lines 44 and 45, to insert the following subsection:
"(4) The Minister shall provide an account to the Houses of the Oireachtas on such policy directions and any matters related thereto.".
As I have said many times in the course of this debate, the aim of this amendment is to ensure the Houses of the Oireachtas are informed about the policy direction the Minister is giving and any matters relating to this. I am concerned that the section as written does not make sufficiently clear the fact that we expect the Minister to make available — as the phrase is written, to lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas — any direction he is giving. I am aware of many reports and statutory instruments that are laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas which we frequently do not have the opportunity to discuss. For issues of such importance to Dublin and the surrounding region, this amendment is intended to give us the opportunity to discuss the guidance the Minister is giving and to put questions to the Minister to which he can respond.
The purpose of this section is to ensure that Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas have the opportunity to question the Minister on any direction or guidelines that he gives. Any guidelines given to the authority or a subsidiary of the authority must be published and it is then up to the Members of either House who have concerns about the nature or detail of such a direction or guideline to ask the Minister to account for his or her actions. This can be done in either House in the normal way during parliamentary questions or Adjournment debates, or the committee can invite the Minister before it. On the basis that the intent of the Senator's amendment is dealt with in the Bill, and that it is open to the Members of the House to make the Minister accountable, I ask him to withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 34:
In page 32, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following subsection:
"(6) A disclosure under this section orsection 36 or 37 shall be recorded in a register together with particulars of any interest of members of the Authority or persons to whom section 36 or 37 applies, and the register shall be available to public inspection during office hours.”.
This amendment provides for a mechanism for public information regarding interests, conflicts of interest and possible conflicts of interest on the part of members and staff of the authority. It comes in the form of an insertion at the end of a long section on disclosures of interest by members of the authority. We see it as the final piece of the jigsaw in terms of providing the necessary public transparency and accountability desirable in such a Bill. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment.
I agree with the Senator that the DTA should be subject to such disclosure requirements. However, on the basis that this role belongs to the Standards in Public Office Commission which implements the Ethics in Public Office and the Standards in Public Office Acts, and that the requirement is effectively met, I invite the Senator to withdraw the amendment. An argument could be made in favour of a special register but I am not sure the Senator is making that argument. I believe he is trying to ensure that the authority is subject to these codes of practice and I agree entirely with him. I expect that the DTA, once established, will be added quickly to the list of proscribed bodies so that those two Acts form part of the disclosure requirements that will then be in place. A similar approach is used in bringing new bodies under the remit of the Freedom of Information Act and that is the preferred approach. The bodies responsible send forward their lists and at least once a year new bodies are added. That is what will happen in this case so the intent of the Senator's amendment is already dealt with by existing legislation.
I thank the Minister. The intent was to have a specific register related to the members of this authority but I accept what the Minister says. On the basis that I reserve a position on it, I withdraw the amendment.
The rationale behind this is to find a way to ensure that the Dublin Transport Authority is subject to the full rigour of the Freedom of Information Act. My understanding is that this organisation is going to be set up so that it is not subject to the kinds of FOI requests that members of the public or Members of the Oireachtas may wish to have included. I understand why organisations such as the Office of the Ombudsman and the Garda Síochána should be exempt from the operation of that Act. However, in respect of an organisation such as the Dublin transport authority, any member of the public or Oireachtas Member is entitled to be able to get as much information as possible regarding decisions made and the way in which they are made. This argument makes particular reference to section 38(5).
This type of section is common to many Acts. It appears, for example, in the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act 2001 regarding the establishment of the Railway Procurement Agency. It is extremely important that the operational effectiveness of the authority should not be undermined by the unauthorised or wilful release of confidential information by employees or by directors of the authority or any subsidiary of it. The authority may need to keep some information confidential for a variety of reasons and that is the norm in any business. The first four sections of the FOI Act contain standard clauses regarding this area. Section 38(5) provides for the secrecy provision for the section to be set aside for the purposes of the FOI Act. Since the FOI Act 1997 was passed that is a standard provision in any Act setting up a State body.
The effect of that provision — I believe this is what the Senator is getting at — is that if a document falls to be released under FOI in the normal course of events, the DTA cannot cite section 38 as a reason for not releasing it. I realise that it is a complex way of achieving this end but the Senator's concern about information being withheld in a wilful manner is met with the existing wording which is standard and which complies fully with the FOI Act. It does not restrict it in any way. On that basis I ask the Senator to withdraw his opposition.
This amendment ensures that improper communication with the person engaged by a subsidiary of the authority is covered by this provision. As currently drafted the section would apply only to persons engaged by the authority.
This is another technical drafting amendment to remove superfluous text, namely, that a member of the authority is a "person" so that no specific mention of a "member" is actually needed.
Amendments Nos. 37 to 41, inclusive, are related, therefore they may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 37:
In page 34, subsection (1), line 17, to delete paragraph (a).
The House is coming up against a deadline but I believe we can dispose of this amendment fairly quickly. What we are seeking to delete is section 40(1), paragraph (a), which states: “accepts nomination as a member of Seanad Éireann”. It may be that what the Minister meant, and I do not agree with him on this , is the case of a person nominated by the Taoiseach. In other words, the person is appointed. Surely the Minister is not suggesting that if a person accepts nomination as a candidate for Seanad Éireann he or she would cease to be a member of the authority. It is my opinion that this is the clear construction that a lawyer would put on it. I remember that on one occasion 14 people accepted nomination for Seanad Éireann. That is what is on the paper, that the person “accepts nomination”. Why should those 14 people be excluded before they have been elected? That is the first point.
There may be a vagueness in the drafting of this which should be removed. If the Minister wishes to prevent Members of Seanad Éireann from participation in the authority that is a different matter but it should be phrased in another way. It should state that "on appointment to Seanad Éireann the person should resign", or whatever. People cannot be discarded simply because they accept a nomination. I have been nominated but have always had to fight an election. The provision is, therefore, a swingeing power.
I do not agree that politicians should be excluded simply by virtue of the fact that the public has placed trust in them by electing them to local authorities, or even the Oireachtas, as I had made the case earlier about membership of the transport committee. I accept that point for members of the European Parliament, as there is a geographical difficulty in that case.
As it is now 3 p.m., I ask the Senator to report progress on the Bill.
I am happy to do so. In particular, I compliment Senator Donohoe on having at least one amendment accepted. That is very impressive for a new Senator.
When is it proposed to sit again?
At 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 13 May.