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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Vol. 257 No. 11

Project Ireland 2040: Statements (Resumed)

One of the things that stands out for me in regard to this Government is that, in my first week in the Dáil in 2011, we did not have a penny to spend and we could not afford a nail to hammer into a wall, whereas we are now talking about projects which will involve a capital spend of €116 billion. I welcome Project Ireland 2040. It is highly important that we plan for the future. Those of us who have spent time on the rugby field or coaching young people will understand the phrase, "Fail to plan, plan to fail". I very much welcome the fact the Government has put forward this project and the National Development Plan 2018-2027, as well as, in the agricultural sphere, the extension of Food Wise 2025.

While I am not going to talk about specific projects, I am fascinated by where the funding is coming from. The Government is proposing that €91 billion will come from Exchequer funds and the other €25 billion will come from semi-State companies and other sources. State-owned businesses that are not mentioned are the banks. Those of us who had their first six months in the Houses in 2011 will remember the State invested €10 billion in AIB and Bank of Ireland and had previously put €10.6 billion into those two banks. There is a lot of hoo-ha at present, particularly from the banking sector, that they should look to be set free and should be allowed run their businesses again. We currently own 71% of AIB and 14% of Bank of Ireland. Some €20 billion of what we invested was from the National Pensions Reserve Fund and, at the time, I believed that fund should have been used for capital investment. There has been a capital deficit in this country since 2009 up to the arrival of this new national development plan for 2018 onwards. I very much welcome that plan and also the vision of Project Ireland 2040. The €20 billion we put into AIB and Bank of Ireland could have been used for capital projects, to keep the people who had to leave this country working here in the construction industry. That €20 billion could have saved us a lot of money on social welfare payments and it could have been used to make better investments in schools, hospitals and roads that we are now trying to catch up on. As a result of the economic crash, we have had a capital investment deficit.

I suggest, given our 71% and 14% ownership of those two banks, that we do not sell any further shares. My reasoning is that, as we invested €20.6 billion, we have to get that money back plus the foregone costs that are associated. Any banker will explain that if one has €20 billion to invest, one expects to make a profit. We should not be just getting that money back; we should be getting it back plus a profit, plus the foregone costs on social welfare payments and other payments the State and the taxpayer had to make.

I will make a suggestion which the Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, might take on board. In the next couple of weeks the State will receive some €268 million from the dividends paid by AIB and Bank of Ireland. There is a small shovel-ready project in Naas, in my own area. Naas General Hospital has been looking for an endoscopic unit, it has planning permission ready and all of the enabling works have been done. It is looking for €16 million to complete the project. That €16 million will allow 1,200 people to come off the waiting list for endoscopy at Naas General Hospital. It will also allow increased capacity in the day ward, which will allow the hospital to increase its theatre capacity. That €16 million which is coming into the NTMA could be used to complete that endoscopic unit at Naas and the remainder of the €268 million could be used to build many primary schools throughout the country. I ask the Minister to consider what we are going to do with the dividends we are going to receive from the banks, and that we do not use them to pay down debt but use them for future capital projects, and also that we maintain ownership of the shares we have in both those banks.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan. To get straight to the point, right now I would be calling this plan "Ireland 2040 - Our Plan minus 643,000 citizens with disabilities". There is not much, if any, consideration of them. Let me go through it. On the last day he spoke, the Minister of State said:

We want to see the country developed as a whole. We want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to rear a family, have a home and job in their local area, and provide that opportunity for themselves and future generations.

That is ambitious and optimistic. My concern is that it does not include people with disabilities.

Let us take the jobs issue. Some 31% of people with disabilities are in employment compared to over 70% of people who are not disabled. To take housing, the social housing list from the Department in 2013 was 3,919 but when it did its survey in 2016 it had gone up to 4,450, an increase of 14%. When we look at the housing adaptation grant, the level of grant is extremely low and the means regime then comes in and starts to shave that away. That is not fit for purpose to support people. If we think of young families where a child has been born with a physical condition, the family needs to be able to expand the home they have, or they will be looking to move. Some 1,200 young people with disabilities are in nursing homes who should be living independently or in some other kind of community facilities.

With regard to people with intellectual disabilities, it has gone the other way. Provision of accommodation for people with intellectual disabilities in the past ten years has decreased by almost 2.5%.

Housing in accommodation provided by support funding has gone down by nearly 7%. The number of people with intellectual disabilities being supported by their family in a family home increased by almost 20% in that time. The trends are going against us; there are no two ways about it.

I will refer to transport. With Bus Éireann, one has to give two days' notice and one still cannot be sure of getting the right service. DART has a pilot scheme in Dublin which aims to bring the waiting time down to four hours. Irish Rail requires 24 hours' notice, and not one carriage on one train has its own accessibility functions. Rather than retrofitting, the company relies on manually operated ramps, and they are often forgotten. The availability of rural transport is a huge issue for everybody and there are also issues of accessibility. Do not get me started on taxis.

People with disabilities are way down the list when it comes to the level of education that they have compared to their able-bodied peers. I am dealing with a case at the moment where a further education institute which I will not name actually said to a young woman in a wheelchair that it would not provide a hoist. The institution has accessible toilets. Its management did not consider that they should provide a hoist so that she could use those facilities. Considering jobs, transport, access, housing, poverty and education, we still have big issues, and I do not see any hope or succour in what I read in this plan.

In the early part of his presentation in this House during his previous appearance, the Minister of State said:

The plan is based on costed and prudent projections of growth for 2% over the period 2022 to 2027. That is important bearing in mind, and we have said this both here and elsewhere, the shocks that could potentially be out there on the horizon.

Let us be clear about one thing. There is no shock around the outstanding needs of people with disabilities in this country. I will make two points. The programme for Government committed to ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. That was done two months ago. Now it is time to get on with the work. There is no shock or surprise there. We have committed to getting on with the work. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, has estimated that our population increased by 4% from 2011 to 2016. The population of people with disabilities has increased by twice that. There are more people living with disabilities; people are living longer, and living with more severe disabilities.

On page 92, we find reference to disability services. The document notes that the NDP will continue to support the capital programme for the purchase and adaptation of houses. I have already outlined that the trend is going in the opposite direction. We are not keeping pace, never mind making improvements.

To conclude, demographics are going against us. The provisions made in this plan are very weak. Its provisions for housing will not keep us standing still, never mind moving forward. There is no reference to the UNCRPD and the whole raft of articles to do with housing, employment, transport, etc. I am sorry to say that, and I hope the Minister of State will be able to come back sooner rather than later to show us some ambition in this plan to make sure that over the next ten or 20 years things will be put right for people with disabilities.

I would like to begin by genuinely welcoming the fact that we have reached a time in Irish politics where long-term strategic capital and infrastructural planning has become part of the political discourse. This in itself is a good development. For far too long, we have staggered from Government to Government and budget to budget, with Ministers expected to think short term in order to deliver for their own constituencies. Without a doubt, this has contributed to the imbalance in developments that we have seen across the island.

In the same vein, it is essential that the national planning framework has broad cross-party support in order for its vision to be achieved by successive Governments. Sinn Féin welcomes several proposals in the plan, such as the commitment to the M20 motorway, and regionally speaking, the 96-bed unit in University Hospital Limerick. These initiatives represent the potential for progress.

We are also fully supportive of the Government's decision to reinvest and revamp its capital spending, marking a distinct change of direction for this Government. In 2014, Ireland had the lowest level of public expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product, GDP, of the entire EU 28. Astonishingly, we repeated this feat in 2015. Such low levels of State investment in infrastructure are exactly why we have a housing and health crisis today. That is also why so many of the proposals in this plan are actually old projects that are overdue by a decade. I remember standing on a platform in Nenagh in 2009 calling for the 96-bed unit. It has taken ten years, but it is welcome.

We cannot simply see capital investment as low-hanging fruit to cut away and expect a country to stand still. It will in fact go backwards, which is what has happened to our infrastructure over the last decade. I support the Government's commitment to increase investment in this plan. However, I must also highlight the fact that Sinn Féin disagrees with how the Government intends to do this. Project Ireland 2040 essentially represents a commitment to the flawed, wasteful and expensive model of public private partnership, PPP. Whatever case could be made for PPPs as an emergency measure in the bad times is long gone. They enable the Government in the short term to dress up considerable amounts of public expenditure and put it off the balance sheet. PPPs are essentially an accounting anomaly that lead to the distortion of public debt. The evidence from Britain clearly shows that PPPs do not give value for money. The British National Audit Office recently reviewed three different Departments' use of public private partnerships, and found the PPP model to be consistently more expensive than the traditional procurement process. Its review found a PPP hospital to cost a staggering 70% more than a publicly-funded one and a bundle of schools to cost 40% more. Only three countries in the EU spend more on PPPs than Ireland as a percentage of GDP, namely, Britain, Hungary and Slovakia. Members will notice that two of those countries are governed by parties of the hard and far right. Everyone else seems to have copped on to the fact that they are a waste of money.

I cannot cite statistics in regard to the performance of PPPs in Ireland, because we do not have that information. The value for money tests which the State carries out on PPPs are not made public. The contracts are not made public. Post-project reviews are rarely carried out by the State, and not one single review has even been published. I wonder why that is. As of 2016, the Irish State was spending €225 million per year on public private partnerships. That figure is expected to reach €345 million by 2021, and to increase further to coincide with Project Ireland 2040.

Particularly with the collapse of Carillion, we need to take another look at the use of public private partnerships. Even putting their excessive cost aside, there is a real moral hazard here which can be exploited by the private market. Sinn Féin is of the view that the inclusion of PPPs in this plan is a major mistake, and I ask the Government to reconsider their inclusion.

I welcome my colleague, Deputy O'Donovan, to the House to continue this important debate. While it is important that we look forward strategically, we must do so in the context of where we have come from in the last ten years. While we would have loved to see capital expenditure in this country, we have to look at the reality of where this country found itself in 2008. I remember coming in as part of a Government in 2011 when our unemployment figures were soaring and cutbacks were the order of the day. It is important to note in this context that the CSO today announced the April unemployment figures, which are now at 5.9%. That is huge progress, and I think we must acknowledge that, even though challenges remain.

I also remember when the Action Plan for Jobs was announced during the last Government. That plan was rubbished by the Opposition at that time. We were told that it was unrealistic and that we could not achieve our targets. What has happened? We have exceeded all of those targets for employment figures and our economy is back to growth again. It is important, now that we are back to growth, that we manage it in a sustainable way. That is why this Government is doing what it is doing in outlining a strategic vision for our country over the next 20 years. Project Ireland 2040 is an overarching plan to steer Ireland in the right direction. Contained within it are growth priorities for our larger regional cities to counterbalance the unsustainable economic vortex that presently surrounds our capital city, Dublin.

Not only is there substantial provision for urban growth in our regional cities and towns, there are also clear support-based financial initiatives to support and sustain rural Ireland, which is important. This is what all the political parties and representatives have been demanding for the past several years. I believe that An Taoiseach and his Ministers have shown real courage by maintaining the integrity of the Project Ireland 2040 plan, and not giving way to demands that had the real potential to destroy the ability of the plan to deliver on its clear objectives.

They have also ensured that the plan is backed up by capital investment that will deliver infrastructure and the real tools and economic drivers for the regions to make sustainable activity happen again.

The Opposition parties are struggling to criticise the plan because it has been subject to deep consultation throughout the country. It is well thought out, makes good sense and is a good plan for our citizens and for Ireland. The plan has the real potential to succeed, unlike its predecessor, the national spatial strategy. The reason that plan failed, although well-intentioned at the time, was because it was interfered with politically. It was diluted and there was something for everyone in the audience. Just like the decentralisation plan that failed, it was destined to fail from the outset.

It is important to note we must plan for the next ten to 20 years in a sustainable way. I welcome the fact new funds are being established, for example, the €2 billion urban regeneration and development fund, the €1 billion rural development fund, the €500 million climate action fund and the €500 million disruptive technologies fund. All of these funding streams will no doubt help rebalance the economy. However, I caution that, for a growing economy that is aspirational and ambitious, we will need housing, sustainable jobs and the skill set to meet that growing demand. Our schools and colleges have to be equipped and we need apprenticeships to ramp up rapidly to meet the demand. With regard to infrastructure, connectivity is very important for our regions. We need adequate access in terms of roads and broadband, and we need to interconnect our cities, which is why it is welcome we have new investment in motorways.

In the case of Waterford, which is one of the cities identified to double in capacity, I argue we need to upgrade the N25 and the N24 linking the Minister of State's city, Limerick, with Waterford. The regional cities have to be connected so citizens can drive between them. We also need to upgrade the technological university in the south east and University Hospital Waterford, a regional hospital that serves a full region. There are also the ports and airports, as well as sports and recreation. The area with real potential is the north quays in Waterford city, a strategic development zone that is identified as a priority in the national plan, which I welcome. The funding stream for the redevelopment of the north quays must be clarified in terms of process and mechanism. I note that, on the announcement of Project Ireland 2040, it was stated that an overarching and oversight body would be set up to ensure that all Departments give the deserved priority to the growth of our cities.

I wish the plan well and I fully support it. I look forward to proper engagement in the coming months as we set out on this plan that will sustain our country and its people for the next 20 to 30 years.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I welcome the Minister of State to the House to discus this important plan, Project Ireland 2040. The fact we have a plan is to be welcomed and we all appreciate and understand that a plan is needed. As the old adage goes: fail to plan, plan to fail. Unfortunately, this plan is a missed opportunity in many ways. As someone recently said to me on the street, "This Government amazes me because they can tell us what they are going to do in 20 years time but they cannot tell us what they are going to do with the major issues today, tomorrow and next week." There is a fair degree of truth in that.

Any development is welcome. However, of the €116 billion in development projects that are mentioned in the plan, €42 billion worth have already been announced and there is nothing new in them. The manner in which the Government used the plan to promote itself and the way the plan was presented to the Irish people in Sligo that weekend were regrettable. It ended up being a project for promoting the Government, rather than a project for 2040.

When the draft plan came out, we discovered that if one was to draw a line from Dublin to Galway, there was no mention of any development north of that line. Thankfully, through the voices of opposition, including opposition from the Minister of State's party backbenchers, at the last minute changes were made to the plan which, to my mind, affects the credibility of the plan going forward. Again, it was a lost opportunity. Ultimately, this plan will be judged not on what it promises but on what it delivers. Unfortunately, when we look at promises made by this Government, whether in regard to broadband, housing or health, it would not inspire anyone with much confidence.

Brexit is very much in our focus at present and more space and credibility should have been given to that. None of us at this point know what our island will look like post-Brexit, when the UK leaves. The promotion of the plan at this time is a mistake and we could have benefited from stalling it. We have to look at the all-island context and, as I said, the fact we do not know what the country will look like following Brexit means this is another lost opportunity.

With regard to some of the projects outlined, I will talk about how they impact my constituency, in particular the Monaghan area. I note some which are listed as new projects date back a decade or even longer. The N2-A5 project was mentioned but it has been mentioned since the Good Friday Agreement was signed over 20 years. Similarly, the Ulster Canal project has been around for a long time. The refurbishment of a number of buildings located at St. Davnet's campus in Monaghan town had been mentioned up to two years ago. A primary care unit for Monaghan has also been mentioned but that was first mooted 15 years ago, when I was a member of the town council, and it was presented to the people of Monaghan as some kind of a consolation prize for the hospital being taken off call. Not one block has been laid at that development. I am sure the Minister of State will agree it is hard to have confidence in this plan when these announcements are presented as new.

There are also missed opportunities in the region I represent. One concerns the east-west link which would connect Cavan, Monaghan, Leitrim and Roscommon with Dundalk. There is no mention of that road. Again, I believe it is a mistake because Dundalk has been recognised as a growth centre for the region and the future of those counties will lie in their proximity to and connectivity with that location. The fact it is not mentioned is regrettable. From a Monaghan perspective, the Monaghan-Dundalk main road is very poor. We have been looking to get it upgraded because many students from the region travel the route daily, as well as people going to work. We welcome the announcement this week of 400 jobs for Dundalk by a Chinese consortium. Again, however, connectivity with that centre for the people of Cavan, Leitrim and Monaghan needs to be improved. The Minister of State might keep in mind those issues going forward.

I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber to resume the discussion on Project Ireland 2040. When Senator Coffey made his contribution, I was very much reminded of mistakes that I am aware of in County Roscommon with regard to poor planning. I live very near an unfinished housing estate that is a terrible legacy of the Celtic tiger.

It involves houses that were poorly built, ten of which were knocked down, using resolution funding, at a cost of €250,000. Also included were houses built where there was no joined-up thinking on where people would work or how they could be part of a community. I never want to see mistakes like that repeated. It is very much a wake-up call. We need to plan properly to ensure we have houses of good quality built in the right places. We need to plan for excellent infrastructure and good employment opportunities.

I was one of those who expressed considerable concern over the draft national planning framework in regard to the importance of including regional hubs. I was very happy to see the inclusion of Athlone and Sligo in the final Project Ireland 2040 plan. It is critical that we have regional hubs to support more balanced regional development and, in the case of the west and north west, offset the pressure on Galway city. When I say that, I speak about a visit by the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, to Ballinasloe last Friday week. Ballinasloe is a town with great potential. It has very good examples of excellent infrastructure. It has two exits off the M6. It has excellent community, sports and educational facilities. It has an IDA business park with excellent potential. Two flagship companies, Aptar and Surmodics Medical, are located there. Ballinasloe, however, needs to be properly supported by our agencies, including the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and local enterprise offices, to ensure some of the pressure on Galway city is offset. We do not want Ballinasloe to become a town of commuters working in Galway when it has excellent facilities and untapped potential in its IDA business park. The Minister of State, Deputy Breen, visited last Friday week in respect of an application made by a community group, Ballinasloe Area Community Development Company Limited, which has applied for planning permission for an advance facility. There should be more emphasis on this by the IDA and we should not be leaving it to community organisations to apply for planning permission. We certainly need more proactivity in respect of those employment agencies. The foundation for maintaining strong communities is access to employment. We need to work on the untapped potential in Ballinasloe.

It is important that we see delivery on the M5. I acknowledge it is part of Project Ireland 2040. It is critical that there be capital investment in the N5 between Ballaghaderreen and Scramogue. In the term of the last Government, the Ballaghaderreen bypass was delivered. There are considerable challenges owing to unsafe roads and excessive volumes of traffic going through the likes of Frenchpark, Bellanagare, Tulsk and Strokestown. It is critical that there be investment to make our roads safer, reduce travel times and make us more efficient and capable of competing with other areas right across the country.

Similarly, businesses need reliable high-speed broadband to trade online, gain access to consumers, and market services and products. It is critical that rural broadband be delivered.

I want to speak about the delivery of a rehabilitation unit for Roscommon hospital. This is mentioned in Project Ireland 2040. Some €7.85 million is being allocated for the project. It is critical that we see it delivered as quickly as possible. I know from having worked in the health services, particularly in the area of rehabilitation, that people need access to timely specialist rehabilitation. It will be very important to serve the people of the west and to act as a satellite centre of the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire.

Colleagues have spoken about many of the issues, and I will try to raise a new one. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O’Donovan, to the House.

We are considering long-term thinking, which is important and needed if we are to ensure we can plan for a collective future in Ireland and, importantly, situate ourselves within the collective challenges faced in Europe and the wider world. Therefore, the long-term thinking element is very welcome. There are areas where more joined-up thinking is needed. Some of the issues in this regard have been highlighted. We must ensure, while meeting the environmental targets set for 2040, that there is stronger thinking in terms of how we ensure they are fully reflected. We must ensure that we give ourselves the space to respond to what I hope will be strengthened targets at European level. The sustainable development goals comprise an example. Ireland took a lead within the United Nations in this regard to ensure those targets are really being reflected and that we place ourselves within the long-term collective project, not only nationally but also internationally. There could be strengthening in this area. The Minister of State should speak to how he envisages the plan responding in this regard.

With regard to joined-up thinking, Senator Dolan spoke very eloquently about ensuring that we address issues that affect communities right across Ireland, not simply on a community basis but as a cohort. If 18% of the population have a disability, the needs of a substantial proportion need to be reflected in the plan. When we plan for population growth, we must look to the detail, including on family type, for example. A large number of households are now headed by a single parent. We must bear that in mind in a proper and meaningful way in our strategies, such as our housing strategy.

It is welcome that the plan recognises the importance of social infrastructure, as well as capital infrastructure. Social infrastructure is crucial to all parts of Ireland and it ensures the benefits of a growing economy are felt throughout Ireland. In this regard, I refer to intensive employment areas, such as care, including home care and childcare, or areas where we can ensure, if we invest properly, quality employment in every town.

I recognise that the rural fabric has been spoken about in terms of hubs and employment. Various members have spoken about various parts of the country but a point that is cross-cutting, important and complementary, and on which the Minister of State will be working with the Minister, Deputy Ring, is that we must ensure we restore the community fabric that has been cut away. In our community development projects, for example, we have been very much focusing narrowly on employment recently. The capacity to work on other parts of the social fabric has been diminished. I refer to the community fabric, be it youth services or services for older people. These are part of what create a real development plan — a community development plan that reaches all parts of Ireland.

Family resource centres have been mentioned by others. I echo the concern expressed strongly in the other House and at meetings of the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection that citizen information services are being undermined by a current proposal involving narrowing. This needs to be examined. The services are how we connect people and address collective issues and collective rights.

In the time I have left, I want to focus on just two specific issues, which concern not where the money is going but how projects are developed. I urge the Minister of State to genuinely take on board in the first instance the concerns expressed about public private partnerships. He should not dismiss them based on any ideological or other perspective but should look to the evidence and real concerns that exist. I refer, for example, to the kinds of contracts that were made for toll roads. We have been tied into contracts that have proved debilitating and which are at odds with meeting our climate change targets.

Another important limitation with public private partnerships is that they can diminish responsiveness either to new policy priorities that we identify together or to the innovation offered by community. That is the nature of a contract, and it is a concern.

My final point is about procurement, which is a most important one for me and one on which I hope to have a specific debate with the Minister in the House. Perhaps he will indicate his agreement to that debate. If we are to spend €116 billion, can we ensure that every euro will be put to the maximum benefit of our people? Can we ensure that we will include and give weighting to social, environmental and community benefit criteria when we are issuing contracts? We must use the maximum space afforded to us under European procurement rules. I ask the Minister specifically to address the question of procurement. How do we apply joined-up thinking to procurement and how the money is spent? Will the Minister include a weighting for social benefit, good environmental practice and good employment practices so we can ensure that good employers and those who give back get these contracts? Will he also ensure that social clauses are used in how these are delivered, that is, going beyond the simple social clause of taking on the long-term unemployed and looking to the wider interpretation of social clauses? I hope the Minister will indicate a willingness to take a deeper look at how we spend the €116 billion to ensure a wider pool of benefit for everybody in Ireland.

I dtús, cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. This debate about Project Ireland 2040 is about the strategic vision we have for Ireland and, in my case, for Cork. Cork lies at the heart of Project Ireland 2040. I welcome the strong inclusion of Cork and the south in the plan and, as Senator Coffey correctly said, it is important that we focus on delivery of the objectives in the plan. It is extraordinary that the only criticism from Fianna Fáil is of the launch of the plan, not what it includes. The plan is about investing in the regions and putting in place the infrastructure Senator Dolan spoke about and for which we all advocate to deliver for the citizen. This plan is about the future of people and of place. In my case, it is Cork.

This is about planning and developing a sustainable city and county, with a new enlarged city and a new local government structure that will benefit the people in that enhanced city. The €116 billion of investment is about fostering growth beyond the M50. The majority of the plan relates to outside Dublin. In the case of Cork, it puts in place a strategic plan that is tangible and can be delivered by creating a growing city. There is new investment in roads, such as the M28, the M20, the N22 and the Dunkettle roundabout. I welcome the Taoiseach's comments about the MetroLink going through Na Fianna's grounds. I hope An Bord Pleanála will listen to them with regard to the N28 and the proposed motorway in its deliberations on the oral hearing and deliver an alternative to the residents and those of us who support them. We are not against the proposal but against the way in which it was foisted upon the people.

The other important point in Project Ireland 2040 is what is deliverable for healthcare in the south of the country, including new hospitals and a new elective hospital. Senator Gavan spoke about International Workers' Day on the Order of Business and I am sure he will join me in welcoming the new hospitals for Cork. It is the first time a Government has planned to build new hospitals. That is important, along with culture and education. We also must have a conversation about mobility and a city centre movement strategy. I believe we must now develop the question of the relationship we have with the car and our future relationship with public transport. Part of the difficulty is that many of our towns and cities are of a different era when there was little population. Now there is growth and an increase in the use of cars.

We saw that recently with the issue surrounding the mobility strategy for Cork city, under which cars were banned from Patrick Street after 3 p.m. We heard from the traders, who must be listened to, about the potential impact on business. Equally, however, we must examine the city centre movement strategy of the city council, in conjunction with TII, under the overarching concept of how we want our cities to look in the future. That also poses the question of how to combat online trading by our citizens given that we purchase an increasing amount online. How do we see our cities growing? For me, the island that is the city centre of Cork is an important and integral part of Cork. It is not about the suburbs per se, but the island and how we can get people to come into it. The plan for Cork city is ambitious. It is a great growth plan for the expansion of the city, and I welcome that. However, the existential question still remains as to what type of city we want, what relationship there will be between public transport and the car and how we can marry the growth of online activity with the traditional, old style shop in the middle of Cork city. That requires answers and engagement.

The city of Cork is the place where economic activity prospers, and the plan is for growing communities within the city centre. Project Ireland 2040 is ambitious for Cork and I welcome that. It creates an alternative to Dublin which all of us want.

I will try to respond to as many speakers as possible in the short time available to me, after both today's discussion and the debate on 7 March. Clearly, one can tell who has read the strategy and who has just read the newspaper articles about it. It is very obvious. Some people do not have a clue what is in the strategy, but that did not stop them coming in here or to the other House for the uncontrollable windbaggery that goes on in both Houses. They have not read it. That is obvious because they give the same old regurgitated stuff that comes from their press offices. It is really disappointing. I am sure everybody is busy but this is the most important document to be presented to the Houses of Oireachtas in this Dáil and probably in the next Dáil because it outlines what will be done for the future.

A Senator who is not present now talked about missed opportunities. The missed opportunity was the fact that this country went into free fall and bankruptcy because we ran out of people to whom we could sell houses. Now people talk about missed opportunities instead of putting up their hands, saying "mea culpa" and acknowledging that the reason nothing was done for the last five or ten years is that the State was essentially banjaxed. They might take some responsibility for that, but that does not happen. I am around here long enough to know that the day one sees people take responsibility for their actions in a previous Government is the day one will see red blackbirds, so it will not happen.

Then there are the usual perennial objections for the sake of objecting, whether it is about public private partnerships or whatever. I do not have an ideological issue with public private partnerships but I have an issue with looking back on public private partnerships and not naming the ones in which we should not have participated. Should we not have done Grangegorman, the refurbishment of the courthouses, the Garda stations or the Limerick to Galway road, all of which needed to be done? All of the other things were done at a time when we were very close to not being able to keep the country's doors open, and we were also able to keep industrial peace. Public private partnerships as an entity are not all bad. We have said we are going to review them and that will be done.

I received much criticism on the last occasion, 7 March, from Members who obviously had not read the plan. I was accused of being non-Dublin centred. I specifically used my speech on the last occasion to identify some projects that were carried out in my region to encourage Members to look at what is in it for their regions. However, they fell into the usual trap of criticism for the sake of criticism.

One Senator said to me on the previous occasion: "We need to be heard and the Minister of State needs to listen to us". Perhaps the Senator from that party might regret what she said because I listened to a lot of what she said. Much of it is the same as her previous leader said, namely, that the European Union should take its money, hive off and get out of town. Where would we be now if we had taken the advice of some people in this House and in the other House on how the economy was run from 2011 to 2016? As Senator Coffey said, we made mistakes and we are the first to admit that but for the first time since 2006 or 2007, unemployment is now below 6%. The people who are working are contributing to an economy that allows us to borrow, spend and invest money. We are not saying everything is right. I completely agree with Senator Dolan that it is totally disgraceful that a person has to give notice that they want to get on a train. That should not happen in 2018. He is correct that a plan must be put in place to make sure that is addressed but without capital, without a plan and without investment in semi-State companies - and without sound semi-State companies - one cannot do that.

The last night I was in the Chamber I had to laugh at the reference that was made to regurgitated announcements. The speaker then went on to name a road in County Mayo and she said she was delighted to learn it would be done. It is just like the reinvention of the Ballymagash town council.

Reference was made in the debate today and on the previous occasion to the spending code. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform states specifically on page 100 of the plan that there will be adherence to the spending code. I mentioned the cases speakers have highlighted as missed opportunities, yet nobody could pick one item to remove from the plan. Not one person has suggested removing a project because they know it is politically toxic. They know there is €116 billion. They know that exhaustive consultation has been involved. They know the inputs from local authorities, State agencies and Departments. They know the value for money programmes will have to be met. They know the projects will have to be properly procured. Senator Higgins referred to that.

I have no problem coming back into the Seanad. I love coming in and any time I get an invitation, I always come in. Senators need have no fear in that regard. In spite of that Members failed miserably, as they did in the other House, to mention just one thing they would take out. They seem to have decided instead to give out about the cover of the document and the launch date. That is pathetic. When one has to look at the balloons that were used on the day rather than the substance, it proves two things, first, that one did not read the plan and, second, that one does not know what is in it.

The other thing that has surprised me is the obvious lack of knowledge that is still circulating on the difference between the national development plan and the national planning framework. They are two totally different things, which are being packaged together as Ireland 2040 for a reason, namely, to show that we are no longer going to make the mistakes of the past. Some people have missed the fact that the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government produced the national planning framework, notified the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and the line Ministries, who were then able to come up with projects on the basis of where people were going to live and the demands that would exist. It was not done on a nod and wink or a wing and a prayer. It is important that we take such an approach because we cannot repeat the mistakes of the past. I do not remember who noted - it might have been Senator Hopkins - that we cannot have a situation in the future where we have glorious white elephants. To respond to Senator Higgins's point, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and I have discussed how we make sure that we put some sort of overarching programme in place to make sure that the delivery of the plan is in line with Government commitments and that there is proper oversight on spending, and that if something runs quickly into the sand that one would take it out and put on the brakes from the start. I was involved in project management in industry and I know that one could not run an industry in the same way as some public projects are run. We have to learn from the past.

It was said that there was nothing relating to Brexit. I contest that point. It is just not true and it proves that the plan has not been read. One must look at the ambition that is in it for ports, airports, roads, broadband and connectivity to Europe by way of energy interconnectors. That proves the Government is looking beyond Britain exiting the European Union. The same is true of what we are doing in terms of cohesion and everything else in the European Union at the moment. From the Government's standpoint in that regard it is obvious that it is Brexit-proofing as we need to go on. The only point I will make on that contribution is that I agree we do not know what is going to happen in regard to Brexit, but it beats Banagher to give out about everything that is in the plan and to talk about everything that has been re-announced, most of which was re-announced 13 or 14 years ago when we were not even in government. When one talks about credibility, that is where credibility falls asunder altogether. I was pleased to see a significant number of jobs announced last week in County Monaghan by the Taoiseach and the local Minister, Deputy Humphreys, in Combilift.

With respect, the Minister of State is talking about a private company.

I did not interrupt Senator Gallagher.

The Minister of State should deal in facts.

The Senator should deal in facts. It is a bit disingenuous, when in the Houses of the Oireachtas, not to use the opportunity to speak about a local company that is creating so many jobs. It is doing so because there is a safe, stable environment led by a Government which is economically and politically sound. Ireland is a safe and stable country in which to invest and companies know, please God, that there will be a return on investment. They would not invest in a white elephant if that is how the country was perceived. With the greatest respect to Senator Gallagher, he missed the opportunity to pay tribute to the company today.

With the greatest respect to the Minister of State, the company was there long before the Government was in place.

I did not interrupt the Senator.

With respect, the Minister of State cannot make wild statements like that.

As for the alignment that has been done from the objectives of the national planning framework and the national development plan, the two are one. The objectives that are set out in the national development plan are completely aligned to the national planning framework. That was the whole reason for it. The delivery is something we all have a concern about because we all remember the last time a massive amount of money was spent. We all saw the monumental failures that happened such as, for example, the PPARS project. In some cases decentralisation worked but in other cases it was a total disaster. Much of the national spatial strategy was good but much of it was not good and it did not materialise into anything. We know what can happen and that is the reason we must be mindful of the mistakes of the past. What is different in this case is the fact that there is a joined-up plan that has capital in conjunction with planning but also that it will be delivered with the support and oversight of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

I welcome the opportunity to come to the Seanad today. As a neighbour, I have no problem coming here at any time to discuss anything. Senator Higgins referred to procurement. I chair the Government's group on improving access by the SME sector to public procurement. We are constantly looking for suggestions as to how procurement areas can be modernised. We are at a stage now where we are open to suggestions, given that the process has bedded down. I attended a local government procurement conference this morning and I challenged local authorities to contribute to the process. We are open to suggestions if they think there is anything we should be doing. It is fair to say that 94% of what we spend as a country is spent in Ireland and more than half of it is spent in the SME sector supporting a lot of Irish jobs. I would welcome the opportunity to come to the House to listen to constructive suggestions on procurement. Senator Dolan made a legitimate point about the 12% to 15% of people he feels may be discommoded, which I will relay to the Department and to my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, who deals specifically with this issue. He is correct; I would not think it is tolerable either.

Sitting suspended at 4.58 p.m. and resumed at 5.02 p.m.