Commencement Matters

Fishing Vessel Licences

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, is as welcome as ever.

Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Tá mé thar a bheith sásta gur tháinig sé féin isteach leis an gceist seo a fhreagairt agus faoin suim atá aige san ábhar seo.

I am grateful that the Minister has taken the time to take this Commencement matter, which relates to the ongoing review of the management of the fishing fleet's capacity. We are both from coastal areas and realise the importance of the fishing fleet to coastal and rural communities. The figures in my area are stark. There has been a significant contraction in the Ros a' Mhíl offshore fishing fleet since 2003, with it more than halving at an unprecedented and alarming rate. Fifteen boats have been extracted from the fleet, ten of which were owned by people from the Aran Islands. Currently, nine Ros a' Mhíl and Aran offshore fishing boats are licensed. One is not fishing and seven are owned and skippered by Inishmore fishermen.

The contraction is particularly alarming for the Ros a' Mhíl Harbour area, which was the subject of an independent technical report commissioned in 2013 and undertaken by the Ros a' Mhíl Harbour centre, entitled A Socio-economic Profile of Ireland's Fishing Communities. It stated that, in terms of the number of boat owners per thousand of population, fishing was approximately 20 times more important to the local economy than to Ireland as a whole. A 2016 report on the harbour calculated that 92% of annual economic turnover in the Ros a' Mhíl area relied on the seafood sector.

At least €22 million was spent on Ros a' Mhíl Harbour between 2004 and 2014. Therefore, the contraction of the fleet raises serious questions about the future return on the State's investment and the need to ensure a vibrant fishing community in the area.

I welcome the review of the management of the fleet's capacity and the tonnage that is available to boats. A number of issues arise in this regard and fall into two categories - the safety of the boats in question and the viability of the fishermen's businesses. The number of fatalities and sinkings in the past 20 years is shocking. According to figures with which I have been supplied, there have been 40 sinkings and 30 fatalities in that time. Given that the majority of those fishing vessels were under 40 m in length, smaller vessels seem to be more prone to sinking and fatalities. When one breaks down the figures, a high percentage of the boats that sink are wooden and tend to be older vessels.

There are issues that need to be addressed and we must ensure all fishermen are as safe and remain as viable as possible. If that means they must upgrade their boats, the technicalities around tonnage and so on need to be addressed and the Department should not stand in the way.

I appreciate that is the purpose of the review, but it needs to be progressed as quickly as possible, as stated by the Minister a number of months ago when he set the review in train. I would like the Minister to clarify today when the submissions in regard to the review will be published on the Department's website and the timescale for the implementation of the review given there are currently a number of boats tied up and unable to fish and others that need to be upgraded from a health and safety perspective, sooner rather than later. I look forward to the Minister's clarification of this matter.

I thank Senator Ó Clochartaigh for raising this matter and for giving me the opportunity to update the House on certain matters pertaining to the review of replacement of capacity requirements under sea fishing boat licensing policy.

As the Senator may be aware, under the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003 the function of sea fishing boat licensing was transferred from the Minister to the licensing authority for sea-fishing boats, which operates on an independent basis, subject to criteria set out in that Act and ministerial policy directives. As Minister, I have responsibility for policy in relation to sea-fishing boat licensing under section 3(3) of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003, as amended by section 99 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006. In this context, and as referred to, section 3 of the 2003 Act makes provision for ministerial policy directives to issues to the independent licensing authority for sea-fishing boats. I am, however, precluded from exercising any power or control in regard to individual cases or a group of cases with which the licensing authority is or may be concerned under section 3(5) of the 2003 Act.

I received proposals from a producer organisation, which, in summary, relate to the possibility of reducing the requirement to provide 100% replacement capacity with the relevant track record to 80%, the balance being sourced from capacity without track record. The producer organisation subsequently clarified that this request covered all aspects of fleet policy and replacement capacity policy, including flexibility between segments of the fishing fleet, flexibility between sub-segments and flexibility in regard to fishing effort relating to cod recovery for area VIa and area VIIa, and scallop effort.

Separately, another producer organisation has regularly raised the issue of a review of the effort regime in place for vessels in the RSW pelagic section of the fleet. I undertook a public consultation process on these proposals and made available a consultation paper which set out the background to fleet policy and carried out an analysis of the current situation. The consultation paper examined the implications of the proposals made by the producer organisations and also put forward alternative options. This consultation concluded on 28 February 2017 and 26 submissions were received, seven from industry representatives and 19 from individuals or companies. A number of respondents supported the status quo and are opposed to any change in the current replacement capacity requirements. Some expressed concern that a change could result in an increase in the value of capacity and others are concerned about the impact on vessels of certain sizes. Others support the proposal of the producer organisation regarding the 100% capacity requirement, indicating, inter alia, that it would allow for upgrading of vessels for enhanced safety and efficiency while some respondents support some degree of flexibility with regard to replacement capacity but are not in favour of that specific proposal. A smaller number of respondents commented on the RSW pelagic effort regime proposal. Differing views were also expressed regarding a potential alternative option put forward in the consultation paper, that is, that polyvalent vessels to be licensed in the tiered - mackerel - and-or ringfenced - herring - portions would be able to source up to 10% of the required replacement capacity from non-tiered and non-ringfenced vessels in the same sub-segment at a ratio of 4:1.

The Senator will appreciate that diverse views have been expressed in the context of the consultation process, particularly on the proposal of the producer organisation regarding the 100% capacity requirement. All submissions are currently being examined in detail and they are now available to view on my Department's website. I will carefully consider, following any further analysis needed, the case for amendments to current licensing policy taking into account the submissions received. I will have my conclusions published on my Department's website at the earliest possible date.

I welcome the Minister's response, particularly that the submissions can be viewed on the Department's website.

Since 2011, the Department has been made aware of these issues. This review was called for by the Minister on 9 September 2016. It is an issue for older and smaller vessels under 40 m, and it is essential they are upgraded as quickly as possible. Will the Minister give a guarantee that, within a year of him calling for this review, namely, by 9 September 2017, he will have come to a decision and we will have clarity around these issues concerning the boats in question?

I am reluctant to commit myself to a date. However, I would not have undertaken the review and invited submissions from the industry, from which many varied and conflicting views have been received, if I did not intend to act on them at the earliest possible opportunity. I want to study in detail the competing voices proffered in the context of this capacity review.

It is also important to bear in mind that, under the Common Fisheries Policy, we are obliged to keep a balance between the capacity and the fishing opportunity. It is abundantly clear there is little point in facilitating greater capacity if the fishing opportunity in terms of quotas is not available. There are many parameters within which this decision will have to be viewed, not least the opinions offered in the consultation process. I would like to conclude it within the 12 month period, but I do not want to commit myself absolutely to a date today.

Fire Safety Regulations

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to the House to discuss an important concern which he shares with me. Many public representatives are concerned we are living in a city full of what are in effect tinder boxes and that fire regulations need to be strengthened or reflected upon. The fire safety of buildings constructed in the past 20 years is raising much concern for residents and their representatives.

There is a particular difficulty in that when questions are raised about the fire safety of houses or an apartment block in an individual estate, there is a reluctance among residents to use the normal engagement process with their public representatives, with councils or with the media because they are terrified the value of their properties will collapse. They are stuck in a bind of wanting to do something about the fire safety concerns around the places in which they live. They are also worried that the obvious resolution mechanisms they would normally go through are closed off from them because they do not want hurt the value of their properties. This is completely understandable.

We are coming to the conclusion that we need a dedicated agency where people can make confidential reports about fire safety concerns. In turn, these can be dealt with on a confidential basis to bypass this issue about the value of properties being undermined. In many of these cases, the issues can be rectified without any reputational damage to the properties in question as well as the significant investment people have made in them. The last thing we need is where people make a determination about the value of their property versus the value of their lives and those of their families, taking a risk their home will never go on fire. We cannot have them deciding that, because the mortgage on the property is so huge and debilitating to their quality of life, they take a risk on the property’s fire safety.

This is an issue that has been going during the lifetime of for several Governments. The former Minister with responsibility for the environment commissioned a report after five houses in the Millfield Manor estate in Newbridge, County Kildare, were completely destroyed by fire in less than half an hour.

I understand that this report has been completed and that the current Minister is in possession of it. I am anxious to know what the report contains.

This matter relates to the overall general standard of fire safety throughout the country. Fire safety is the responsibility of the local authorities but the level of resources varies from council to council. The responses of councils also vary. It is the responsibility of the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to oversee this issue and ensure that there is a mechanism in place whereby people can raise their concerns and by means of which we can conduct an effective audit of all construction carried out in the past 20 years when regulations were not as tightly controlled in respect of dwellings where people's lives are at risk. We all know of individual apartment blocks in our localities and constituencies that are fire hazards. The risks exist but the residents are terrified of raising concerns about them lest the value of their properties collapses.

I appreciate the Leas-Chathaoirleach's patience in allowing me to put my point of view. This is a serious issue and I know the Minister of State will appreciate that. I look forward to his response.

I thank the Senator for raising this. As he has outlined, it is a serious issue.

The Building Control Acts 1990 to 2014 set out a clear statutory framework for construction activity. The 1990 Act provides for the making of building regulations and building control regulations to protect the health, safety and welfare of people in and around buildings. The Second Schedule of the Building Regulations 1997, as amended, sets out the statutory minimum performance requirements for the construction of new buildings. In particular, Part B of the Building Regulations 1997, as amended, sets out the legal requirements relating to fire safety in respect of new buildings and in respect of existing buildings undergoing works involving an extension, material alteration or a material change of use. The requirements under Part B represent the national statutory minimum standards of fire safety provision applicable to the construction of new buildings, including dwellings.

Under the Building Control Acts 1990 to 2014, primary responsibility for compliance with the requirements of the building regulations rests with the designers, builders and owners of buildings. Enforcement of the building regulations is a matter for the 31 local building control authorities, which have extensive powers of inspection and investigation under the Acts. Fire authorities have no powers of inspection in respect of dwelling houses occupied as single dwellings. The Fire Services Acts 1981 to 2003, however, apply to premises providing sleeping accommodation, that is, apartments. Furthermore, section 18(2) of the Fire Services Act places the responsibility for fire safety on the person or persons having control over the premises, which in the case of an apartment block includes the owners and management companies. This is appropriate in a situation where there are some 2 million housing units in the State.

In response to building failures that have emerged over the past decade, the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government introduced the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014, which provide for greater accountability regarding compliance with building regulations, in the form of statutory certification of design and construction by registered construction professionals and builders, lodgement of compliance documentation, mandatory inspections during construction and validation and registration of certificates. The Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 were reviewed following their first 12 months in operation and it is clear from this review that the reforms have brought a new order and discipline to bear on construction projects. To complement these reforms, work is at an advanced stage in the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government on the general scheme of a Bill to place the Construction Industry Register Ireland, CIRI, on a statutory footing and to provide in law for the registration of builders. This is seen as an essential consumer protection measure giving consumers who engage a registered builder the assurance that they are dealing with a competent and compliant operator.

One of the two proposals outlined by the Senator relates to a dedicated agency for making confidential reports. My understanding of what he suggested is that this agency would also conduct an audit of buildings constructed in the past 20 years. Perhaps he will clarify that. As regards the report in the Department, I have not had an opportunity to speak to the Minister about it but I will ask him about the status of the report and when and how it will be made public.

I have with me a response to a parliamentary question tabled by Deputy Clare Daly on 22 June 2016. It is disappointing that the Minister of State's response is effectively a cut-and-paste job from that. In fact, I was flicking through it and I could read, word for word and sentence for sentence, the reply given by the Department to the Minister of State to be read in the Seanad today. It is exactly the same as the reply in June 2016, almost one year ago. Without any disrespect to the Minister of State, it appears that the Department has not moved on very much in a year, particularly in view of the fact that it has provided - word for word - the same response. What we are discussing here is lives that are at risk in apartment blocks and estates across the city and the country. We are also discussing the capacity of individuals or groups of individuals, residents associations or public representatives to make representations to the Government about the nature of the risk that exists.

We need a confidential facility for any person or group of individuals to make a complaint about a concern they have, which they will not make lightly. It is not a light thing for anyone to say they think there is a fire safety issue in his or her block of apartments or in his or her estate. The person would make this confidential request to the Department which would then conduct an audit. However, a more robust audit has to be carried out nationally and must not be dependent on councils. Either that or we must demand that councils conduct these audits because otherwise cases will continue to arise throughout the country. It will take until the fire actually happens because although residents are concerned by fire safety, they are restricted by their concern for the value of their properties and worry over reputational damage. I am not trying to have a political go on the response given to me. I understand what happens here, that cut-and-paste jobs are done all the time for ministerial responses, but we cannot wait for another estate or apartment block to go on fire. A proactive response is needed. The councils are not doing it and we must ensure they do it and that have a confidential information line that groups and residents can use to have their fire safety complaints rectified.

It must be very disappointing if the response is similar to the one received by a colleague a year ago. I do not think that it is an indication that no work or progress has been done in this area in that time but nevertheless I will raise it with the Department, following the Senator's contribution. He is correct that people should not take the unacceptable risk of not reporting concerns they have regarding the conditions in their building because they are worried about it having an impact on the value of the property. We have to find a way of making sure that people are comfortable reporting risks and making sure they are dealt with adequately and in an appropriate timeframe, because that is essential. Before looking at the idea of setting up a new agency or body, which might be warranted, it requires further study and examination. Let us look at the report which the Minister has already. Let us see what that says, publish it and go from there.

Sports Facilities Provision

We welcome the Minister, Deputy Ross. He is welcome back from the riviera and the sunshine of the south west. I call Senator Reilly.

I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for taking this matter himself.

I begin by quoting from a submission from Lusk Community 2020 Sports Club Committee to the Fingal County Council open space strategy:

The Lusk Community 2020 Sports Plan is developed on the basis of ... Community participation in line with Government strategies ... Recreational Hub development in line with the 'Keeping It Green' strategy ... Understanding the social, recreational/sports and economic benefits that can accrue to a community based on high quality open space development within a community ... The need to develop linkages between and across the 'green infrastructure' in order to deliver maximum community benefits ... [and] The need to have strong liaison between communities and local authorities in order to design and develop open space that meet current and future community needs.

The plan includes a floodlit area containing a 100 m by 400 m all-weather playing pitch, a 1,200 m cycling and running track, and a 400 m running track with track and field facilities for shot-put, discus, long jump, hammer and others. Seamus Flynn has been behind Lusk athletic club for many years, and he is determined to train an Olympic medal winner from the town of Lusk. We have five tennis courts, two juvenile training pitches, a senior grass pitch of 140 m by 90 m, an 80 m by 50 m all-weather training area, and a cricket crease where more cricketers can train to represent Ireland. As the Minister knows, rural Fingal has a very strong cricket tradition. A few years ago, when I was in India on St. Patrick's Day to represent the Government, I was informed by the Indian people there that the only reason they had heard of Ireland was because of cricket and our having beaten Pakistan, so the power of this particular sport to promote our country abroad should not be underestimated.

These planned facilities are located beside Lusk soccer club with 19 teams and 325 playing members and rising, Round Towers GAA club with 600 members and growing, Rush and Lusk Educate Together national school, with 420 pupils, Lusk community college, now at 350 pupils but with a new extension planned for later in the year which will bring it to 1,000 pupils, and Lusk national school with 850 pupils and new classrooms under construction.

Three Government cranes dominate the skyline of Lusk at the moment and we expect a fourth later in the year.

The population of this area was around 500 to 700 when I started in practice many years ago. It was 7,000 in 2011 and has now grown to 10,000. It is expected to grow to 12,500 in the coming years. As the Minister knows, it has excellent bus and rail links and is in proximity to Dublin, Dublin Airport and Swords. It is an attractive place to live and to start a home and young family. Therefore, the demand for these facilities will continue to grow.

In short I have two requests of the Minister. First, I ask him to consider communicating with Fingal County Council to encourage it to continue to press for the release of these promised open-space lands from the developer, as per the planning permissions granted and the master plan for the area. I commend and acknowledge the determination and commitment of all the volunteers from all the Lusk clubs who have campaigned and engaged in planning this excellent sports facility. The Lusk sports hub committee has lobbied Fingal county councillors, including Councillor Tom O'Leary, to get this key strategic open-space land made available to the community as soon as possible. In fairness, I understand the process is nearing completion but a ministerial letter might just give it the push towards completion it needs.

Second, taking into account the well thought out, future-proof plan for sports facilities for Lusk the sports hub group has produced in conjunction with the community and Fingal County Council, I ask the Minister to favourably consider assisting the Lusk community sports hub group and Fingal County Council in funding this excellent plan, which seems to be a very fine example of best practice in community sports development and planning.

I thank the Senator for raising this very important matter. I will certainly try to address those two specific questions in a few minutes, probably in the second part of my reply, after he has responded to what I have to say.

In respect of securing lands required for the sports facilities set out in the Lusk 2020 sports plan, as the Senator knows and has acknowledged, this is obviously primarily a matter for Fingal County Council. I understand, however, that the council is at an advanced stage of taking the land bank referred to into charge and I look forward to being kept informed of progress made.

On the Government's role in the provision of sports facilities, the sports capital programme, as administered by my Department, is the Government's primary vehicle to support the development of sports facilities and the purchase of sports equipment. It aims to foster an integrated approach to developing sports and physical recreation facilities throughout the country. The programme has transformed the sporting landscape of Ireland with improvements in the quality and quantity of sports facilities in virtually every village, town and city.

We are committed to ensuring this progress continues and on 21 December 2016 it was announced that €30 million was being made available under the 2017 sports capital programme. The application process was open from 23 January to 24 February. By the closing date, a record 2,320 applications had been received. All applications are currently being assessed with allocations expected later this year. I understand a number of applications have been received from the Lusk area. More generally, the sports capital programme has already invested heavily in facilities in Dublin with €34 million provided for sports infrastructure and equipment since 2011. Fingal County Council itself has benefited from almost €1.3 million in grants in the same period. This is separate to the substantial funding many sports clubs in Fingal have drawn down from their own developments. Furthermore, a number of clubs associated with the Lusk 2020 sports plan have benefitted from funding under recent rounds of the programme.

The programme for Government contains the aim of allocating sports capital grants annually in future. My Department is engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform about how best to implement this commitment. In this regard, once the necessary land for the Lusk proposal is in council ownership, it can apply for sports capital programme funding for any suitable project under future rounds of the programme.

Regarding the Government's policy for funding of sports facilities in the future, last November the Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, and I launched a major consultation process for the development of a new national sports policy framework.

The examination of responses received is being finalised and we expect to present the framework to Government before the summer recess. Several key challenges will be addressed in the framework, with the overriding principle being the investigation of how to increase the number of people participating in sport and physical activity. All people, regardless of their age, gender or ability, should be able to participate in sport. The new framework will consider how best to ensure access to facilities nationally, regionally and locally. The new framework will also consider how programmes and initiatives can be developed in tandem with newly-constructed facilities to connect with traditionally non-participant groups. The framework also considers how local authorities could play an enhanced role in getting people involved in sport. It is pleasing, therefore, that the overall objectives of the Lusk 2020 plan are in accordance with these principles.

In terms of the funding of sports facilities, I mentioned the aim of running the sports capital grant programme annually. Furthermore, as part of my Department's submission to the mid-term review of the capital plan, additional funding has been sought for large-scale sports infrastructure. If the additional funding is received, it will allow consideration of the funding of large facilities requiring more than the maximum amount available under the sports capital programme. It would be open to all local authorities, including Fingal County Council, to submit applications under the terms that will apply. I reiterate the Government's commitment to improving the stock of sports facilities throughout the country. The Lusk 2020 plan is welcome, particularly in terms of setting out how a local community and relevant local authority can work together to get more people to participate in sport. As the council advances the project, my Department will consider any applications for capital funding from the council.

I thank the Minister for his response. I welcome his acknowledgement that the Lusk 2020 plan aims to foster an integrated approach to developing sports and physical recreation facilities and that this is the Government's aim. I welcome the Government's commitment to sport and the grants that have been allocated in recent years. I welcome that the Minister said that it is pleasing that the overall objective of the Lusk 20020 plan is in accordance with the Government's overriding principles and that the plan is welcome, in particular in terms of setting out how the local community and relevant local authority can work together to get more people to participate in sport. I also welcome that the Department will consider the application for capital funding.

We have an opportunity to buck the former trend for houses to be built in an area, followed by roads and, latterly, facilities. We have an opportunity. We know that Lusk will grow and that there is a housing issue. We know that a place such as Lusk, which is in central Fingal, will be the site of further development. Facilities should be built in anticipation of housing development. The facilities are needed now but will be needed even more in the future.

As Members know, this is the month of mental health awareness. As the Romans used to say, "mens sana in corpore sano", which means "a healthy mind in a healthy body". Childhood habits can stay with a person for life. Outdoor exercise, healthy competition, learning about teamwork and the value of volunteerism are all embodied in this worthwhile project. I call on the Minister to facilitate it. He could play a pivotal role were he to accede to my two requests. He has indicated that the second of my requests will be considered by the Department. In terms of my first, if the Minister were to write a letter encouraging Fingal County Coucil to acquire these lands from the developer - who has agreed as part of planning permission to hand them over - it would give great heart to the many people in Lusk who have worked very hard to make this plan a reality.

The case being made by the Senator is very powerful and compelling. He knows that it will be considered on its merits, which are great. I will not make any specific promises. It would be inappropriate for me to do so because, as the Senator knows, there is huge competition for this type of funding. The Lusk 2020 plan for a sports hub and development is in accordance with the principles of the Government's plan and will be considered favourably.

Public Transport Provision

I thank the Minister for recent correspondence on the issue I raise. While I was pleased to receive a comprehensive account regarding some public transport projects being funded from the Exchequer capital transport envelope, I am disappointed it is proving difficult to draw a clear line between investment in the greater Dublin area and the rest of the country, specifically Cork city and county. The most recent figures from the Central Statistics Office indicate that 44% of the State's total urban population lives in Dublin. We must also remember, however, that 11% of the population lives in Cork city and the recent census indicated the city's population had increased by 5.4%. In addition, 37% of the population of the State lives in rural areas. The population of Cork county showed one of the largest increases in population in the country. The percentage population growth in Cork city and county is comparable with growth in any of the local authority areas in greater Dublin, with the exception of Fingal.

My independent colleagues in Cork city and county councils, in particular, Councillor Marcia D'Alton, inform me that in the recent joint submission to the national planning framework, Cork 2050, the councils identified a sustainable transport network to underpin spatial, social and economic expansion as being of critical importance. The councils believe the transport network should facilitate the prioritisation of public transport, walking and cycling. The joint councils correctly identified Cork city and county as a complementary location to Dublin with strong international connections and as a primary driver of economic and population growth in the southern region. While the councils are working hard to achieve these goals, how can their plan be progressed if essential figures on a breakdown of capital transport expenditure are not readily available, particularly when this is such an important part of A Programme for a Partnership Government and the strategic investment framework for land transport?

I am disappointed and bewildered that while the Government is in the process of undertaking a mid-term review of the infrastructure and capital programme, the figures for projects in cities and regions outside Dublin are not readily available. Without such information, we are to assume that most of the investment is being directed either towards the greater Dublin area or, failing that, towards other metropolitan areas and is not being quantified. Either scenario is a disaster for citizens, elected representatives, planners and businesses.

I thank the Minister for his time and hope his Department or the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will be able to throw some light on this issue for me and independent councillors, particularly in the Cork city and country area.

I thank Senator Craughwell for raising this important matter, particularly in respect of Cork city and county, and for the opportunity to address the House on the issue. As the Senator pointed out, funding of €3.6 billion has been allocated for public transport in the Government's capital plan. The funding for the transport elements of the plan is for a seven-year period from 2016 to 2022. The focus of this investment, particularly in the early years of the capital plan, is on achieving essential steady-state maintenance of our existing public transport network, particularly the heavy rail network, throughout the country to ensure it remains safe and fit for purpose.

From time to time, a misunderstanding arises that there is a vast sum of money available to develop motorways countrywide. As the Senator will be aware, we are still struggling to maintain the roads at current standards and even this will not be fully possible for another year or two. Expenditure on new roads or motorways will result in reduced funding for other projects meaning other roads will suffer. From 2019 onwards, however, we will spend much more on new infrastructure. While I accept that is a long time to wait, that is the financial reality.

In recent correspondence to the Senator, I provided an overview of how the €3.6 billion allocation for public transport will be spent. As I outlined, it is not possible to draw a clear line between investments in the greater Dublin area and outside the area in all cases.

For example, the funding of approximately €1.3 billion allocated in the capital plan for the maintenance of the heavy rail network, which is more than one third of the total funding available for public transport, will benefit all areas of the heavy rail network within and outside the greater Dublin area.

The Senator specifically requested details of the funding available for capital investment in Cork city and county. I will outline recent and planned investment in public transport in Cork. Funding is provided under the capital plan for sustainable transport projects and accessibility programmes in the regional cities of Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. These programmes are administered by the National Transport Authority. Over €70 million has been allocated over the period of the capital plan for sustainable projects in the regional cities and for accessibility programmes. Between 2014 and 2016, more than €15 million was allocated to Cork city and county councils under the regional cities and accessibility programmes. Over the remaining years of the capital plan, it is anticipated that public transport investment in the Cork metropolitan area will represent a continuation of the current focus of the investment programme.

In the case of the Cork City Council area, this investment has been focused on the implementation of the city centre movement strategy on a number of radially-based strategy transport corridors linking the city centre with the city suburbs and county environs. The principal objective of the city centre movement strategy is to improve access to the city centre through the reallocation of road space, leading to an improvement in the environment for public transport vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. The overall city centre movement strategy was approved by the city council and phases 1 and 2 are already at construction stage in 2017.

The full strategy includes a further six phases and these are intended for implementation over the coming years. Three strategic corridor studies were completed with funding provided between 2013 and 2017. These focused on the south east, south west, south central and north sides of the city. The purpose of these studies is to inform the development of a high-quality core bus network and improve walking and cycling links over time, complementing the objectives of the city centre movement strategy. Several schemes have already been progressed in Mahon. The intention is to continue on this basis with further schemes being progressed on corridors in the south east, south west and north city areas over the coming years.

In the case of the Cork county metropolitan area, the regional cities investment programme will continue to be focused on the Douglas area based on the recommendations of the Douglas land use and transportation study. The principal objectives of that study are to reduce congestion, improve local connectivity by sustainable transport modes and improve the performance of the many bus services operating through the area. The aim is to complement the transport investment in the city centre and strategic corridors.

The Senator will be aware that a mid-term review of the capital plan is currently under way. I will be seeking to significantly improve the funding available for public transport over the remaining years of the plan to meet increasing demand, to tackle congestion in the greater Dublin area and our regional cities, including Cork in particular, as well as to help to deliver on meeting our climate obligations by reducing emissions from the transport sector.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive answer. I suppose that when we are talking about capital investment and projects such as this one it might be helpful to publish figures upfront for the various metropolitan areas or large urban areas outside the greater Dublin area. The Minister will be aware of the number of times people like him and me, who live in the capital, are accused of ensuring that the capital is well-looked-after while the rest of the country is forgotten. When the plan is published, if the details for each of the cities and counties were published at the same time, it might move the focus away from that type of accusation.

I thank the Minister for his time and for the answer he has given me today.

I understand the frustration that some people outside Dublin feel. The view is that maybe the Dublin area gets undue attention and some believe it gets disproportionate funds. While I do not think that is the case, I can understand why some hold that view. When high-profile projects like Luas cross-city and others come along - the metro north project probably will not be coming along for another ten years - perhaps some people associated with regional cities believe they are somewhat neglected.

Perhaps I should repeat the figures. The NTA allocated funding of more than €15 million to Cork city and county councils between 2014 and 2016, of which €11.7 million went to Cork City Council and €3.6 million to Cork County Council. In excess of €5 million has been provisionally allocated by the NTA to Cork city and county councils under the regional cities programme. The council to which the Senator referred approved the overall city centre movement strategy last year or the year before. Phases 1 and 2 are already at construction in 2017.

A battle for funds is inevitable between the main cities. Dublin is bigger, and therefore congestion is worse here. I take the Senator's point. I was in Cork the other day and became very aware of the congestion that is prevalent there. However, the scale of the problem in Dublin is much greater. We will address the issue of Cork in as equitable a way as possible, particularly in the mid-term capital review.

Sitting suspended at 3.20 p.m. and resumed at 3.35 p.m.