Commencement Matters

Road Projects Status

The Minister, Deputy Ross, is very welcome back to his old abode.

I welcome the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to the House and thank him particularly for making himself available to participate in this debate on an updated progress report on the M20 Limerick to Cork motorway project. The Minister and I have been on a journey - pardon the pun - on the M20 since October and November 2016. The Minister agreed in November to my suggestion to give €1 million to Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, to allow primary work to get under way on planning for the M20 in order to reactivate the project. I wish to put on record that this was a key moment because it put the M20 back on the agenda. Subsequently, in April 2017, I held very well-attended public meetings in Limerick at which great support and demand for the M20 and the reactivation of the project were expressed. Then, in October, it was included in the capital plan as a project costing up to €1 billion, making it the single biggest infrastructure project in Ireland. Some time has elapsed since the capital plan in October. My understanding is that design and planning consultants have been shortlisted and are shortly to be appointed. The Minister might confirm this. I very much welcome that the TII headquarters for the M20 will be located in Limerick, where there is a very good team.

The background to this is very simple. Project 2040 states that 75% of population growth will come from outside Dublin. Key to this is having a counterpole to Dublin along the western seaboard. The key elements of this are being able to link Limerick, Cork, Galway and Sligo by motorway. The M20 is in turn a key element of this between Cork and Limerick, cutting down the journey time from up to an hour and a half to perhaps 20 or 30 minutes in order that one could effectively travel from Cork to Limerick in under an hour and then from Limerick on to Galway in, say, under an hour, as is currently the case. This would mean a journey time of under two hours from Cork to Galway, passing through Limerick.

There is another element of which the Minister is probably aware and on which he might give us an update. We are looking for the Ryder Cup to come to Limerick, specifically to Adare Manor, in 2026. I understand discussions on this have taken place.

The M20 will be key to that because Adare Manor runs alongside the N20. We want the spur to put the network in place.

The two other structural elements along the western corridor are the Shannon Foynes Port Company and Shannon Airport. In terms of the latter, we are hoping to be Brexit proofed. Ours is the only international airport that does not have a direct link to a European hub. What is the Minister's perspective on providing support so that we can advance the work on making Shannon a European hub? Currently, its only link is with Heathrow Airport in the UK.

I thank the Senator for once again raising this issue, which he has been a pioneer of and on which he has been the leading mover in terms of seeing that this important project is progressed. He has been keeping the Department, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and the other bodies that are involved on their toes in monitoring it. It would be fair to say that he has to bear a heavy responsibility, in that he has been highly influential in keeping this on the agenda. That is not to say that I will give the large number of hostages to fortune for which he asked, but I assure him that I will give the project as much support as I can. As he knows, the Government is committed to it, partly due to his endeavours. The Taoiseach has taken a personal interest in it as well. There will be no obstruction that is not tackled. It is the intention that the project should be done on time. It is difficult to be explicit about the timetable, as the statutory requirements must be gone through, but there is a political will and economic need in the region for this to go ahead as quickly as possible.

I can help the Senator regarding his question on the Ryder Cup, if not some of the other more detailed promises that he tried to seduce me into making. He is aware that talks on the Ryder Cup are ongoing. I met the PGA European Tour in Paris. I also met it with the Taoiseach, which shows how seriously the matter is being taken. We are optimistic that, all things being equal and the financial arrangements being appropriate, we might be able to land the Ryder Cup for 2026. That would be a tremendous boost to the region. I take the Senator's point that, were the competition to go ahead, the road structure would have to be examined, given the numbers that would attend such a major event.

As the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy on and funding of the national roads programme. Under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, the planning, design and construction of individual road projects is a matter for the TII in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. The national development plan, NDP, which has been developed by the Government to underpin the successful implementation of the new national planning framework, provides the strategic and financial framework for the TII's national roads programme from 2018 to 2027.

The proposed Cork-Limerick road link was included among a number of major national road schemes that were identified for development during the period of the NDP. In the ten years covered by the plan, more than €11 billion will be invested in the road network, and the M20 is a significant part of that investment. The proposed project seeks to link the cities of Cork and Limerick with a high-quality transport corridor. The existing route is deficient in terms of safety and capacity. Agreement has been reached between the Cork and Limerick local authorities for Limerick to be the lead authority on this project. Limerick City and County Council will need to assess all feasible options before a preferred route can be identified.

The scheme is being developed from phase 0, having previously been submitted for planning permission in 2010 and withdrawn in 2011 due to the financial crisis. In April of this year, I welcomed the publication of a contract notice on eTenders and the Official Journal of the European Union for the procurement of technical services for the planning and design of the M20 Cork-Limerick scheme.

The pre-appraisal plan has been prepared and reviewed. The procurement of technical advisers to bring the project from phase 1 to phase 4 of the project management guidelines is under way. It is hoped that the successful technical services provider will be appointed shortly.

The provider will then assist Limerick City and County Council to undertake the planning and design of the scheme up to and including the statutory procedures. In summary, the pre-qualification documents for technical advisers were returned and have been assessed. Shortlisting is complete and I understand that the tender documents have issued. The delivery of large scale infrastructure projects is complex and costly and takes much time. The proposed project to develop the M20 motorway between Cork and Limerick is an example. The estimated total cost of the scheme is €900 million. Transport Infrastructure Ireland has provided an allocation of €1.5 million this year to Limerick City and County Council to advance planning and design work on the scheme.

As the Minister, I am of course keen to see projects included in the national development plan progressed as soon as possible. I am also mindful that schemes such as the M20 Cork to Limerick project do require necessary project approvals. In this context, the approval process includes compliance with the requirements of the public spending code and my Department's capital appraisal framework together with the submission of the scheme to An Bord Pleanála for development consent.

Finally, for a project of the scale and cost of the Limerick to Cork scheme, compliance with these codes and guidelines is mandatory. In addition, Government approval will be required to allow Limerick City and County Council to enter into a contract to construct the scheme. It is at an early stage of development and it is not possible, therefore, at this time to indicate an exact timeframe for construction of the project. That will, of course, be dependent on the satisfactory conclusion of the statutory planning approval process.

I thank the Minister for that update. I welcome the strong political commitment from the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Government to progress the M20 as quickly as possible. One should always aim for a target. We are seeking to secure the Ryder Cup in 2026. Roughly, that allows us an eight-year period to have the M20 in place. Does the Minister believe that it is possible? If the Ryder Cup is successfully brought to Ireland, does the Minister believe that Adare Manor would be the premier location to hold the event? The M20 is the missing link for us in balanced regional development under Project Ireland 2040 so that we can have a counterpole to Dublin and the east region. It is about balance. Dublin is the capital city but as an island we need to have balanced regional development. I ask the Minister to address those two quick questions.

On the regional issue, I hope Senator Kieran O'Donnell is assured by the fact that it is such an enormous project and will cost so much money that there is no bias in favour of Dublin when we are choosing projects of that sort.

That is an absolute priority commitment. It is a large amount of money but we recognise the need to connect Limerick and Cork in a meaningful way to the economy of that region. It is a no-brainer and it is destined to go ahead.

On the Ryder Cup, Senator Kieran O'Donnell is really asking me to say something which is difficult for me to say. I would love to see the road done, dusted and completed by 2026. I can give the Senator this assurance. Adare Manor is certainly in the frame as a location. It is being looked at as a very serious contender.

For the Ryder Cup in 2026?

For the Ryder Cup in 2026. That is correct. I could even say at the moment that I know of no competitors. That does not mean that there will not be any but I know of none at the moment. If that gives Senator Kieran O'Donnell the sort of encouragement he needs, without making a commitment, I hope he will take it in the spirit in which it is meant. It is obviously a wonderful amenity which is almost unparalleled in golf around the world.

We are very proud of it anyway.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell can take it that it is certainly being examined as a very serious possibility. To say that the road will be in place in time for that might be stretching it a bit.

We always need a target.

I know we always need a target. We will do our best.