Road Network.

I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for taking this motion on the Adjournment and I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to respond. I will not go through the entire saga of Ballinagar Bridge. It is located in north Kerry between the parishes of Ballyduff and Lixnaw. It is particularly important transport infrastructure over the River Brick which effectively divides the two parishes I mentioned. It divides communities and individual farms.

The original bridge dates back to the days of British rule. Up to approximately 13 years ago there was a bridge under the charge of the Office of Public Works, which was inadequate especially given the machinery used in modern farming. It eventually came to the stage where Kerry County Council had no option but to close it down on safety grounds as it was about to collapse. As a temporary measure — given that this happened 13 years ago the word "temporary" is flexible in this case — an old disused Army pontoon bridge, the type of thing that was used in the Second World War, was put in. That was meant to last for a few years until a new bridge was provided. However, 13 years later the pontoon bridge was still serving and we did not kick up too much of a fuss about it.

The Minister of State might remember that approximately 18 months ago our area made national headlines when a man went astray with a load of pigs. He took the wrong road and crossed Ballinagar Bridge, which collapsed. A large number of pigs drowned on that occasion. It was tragic for the pigs and it is even more tragic for the community because here we are 16 months later without the bridge. To bring in the harvest this autumn, farmers were forced to travel 14 miles out of their way when they could have crossed directly if the bridge had been there. It is also very important to the local villagers in Ballyduff and Lixnaw because there is considerable turbary there and much turf is cut, for which people must take 14-mile round trips.

Following the most recent collapse, it was indicated that the Government would find money for a replacement. Kerry County Council was informed that it would be supported in providing a new bridge. As recently as last week I was briefed by Kerry county manager that it appears there is no funding for it at present. I hope the Minister of State has come here with some good news for north Kerry.

I thank the Senator for raising the matter of the bridge at Ballinagar, Lixnaw, County Kerry, and for giving me some history which I did not know. I recall the accident he mentioned. I would like first to make a number of general points about the resourcing of regional and local roads. Responsibility for the provision and improvement of regional and local roads, including bridges, in its area is a matter for Kerry County Council to be funded from its own resources supplemented by State grants.

There have been significant increases in recent years in the level of funding provided for local authorities for the provision, improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads. State funding in 2008 for such roads, at almost €619 million, is at its highest ever level and is a clear indication of the Government's continuing commitment to improving regional and local roads around the country, which is critical from economic and social perspectives.

In the case of Kerry County Council, the total grant allocation from my Department in 2008 is €24.033 million. This is a significant level of funding and I am satisfied that it provides appropriately for the council's requirements this year. The road grants to Kerry County Council this year have been allocated under a number of grant categories. These include the specific improvement grant scheme under which grants totalling €4.4 million were allocated to a number of projects. One of the projects in receipt of grant aid this year is Ballinagar Bridge, which was allocated a grant of €100,000. Progress with the project is now a matter for Kerry County Council.

As regards 2009, the Senator may be aware that my Department recently invited applications from local authorities for funding under the regional and local roads specific improvement grant scheme. The proposals submitted by Kerry County Council for grant aid in 2009 included an application for further grant aid for the bridge at Ballinagar. All applications received for funding under the scheme are being considered by my Department, having regard to compliance with eligibility criteria, the need to prioritise projects, competing demands from other local authorities and the funds available for the scheme next year. The 2009 regional and local road grant allocations to local authorities will be announced early in the new year.

I am glad to acknowledge what the Minister of State has said on the very generous funding which Kerry County Council and all other councils have received from Government in recent years. The Minister of State will be aware that there is a worry about the current straitened finances owing from the economy in Ireland and worldwide. I anticipate the allocations for local and regional roads in 2009 will be well back on 2008, and this project may again be a loser.

I ask the Minister of State to relay to the Department the concerns of a large number of people in a very important peripheral community in the country who depend on this bridge. I thank the Minister of State for his courtesy.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 13 November 2008.