I welcome the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross.
Transport and Sport: Statements
I am happy to be back here in the Seanad. Statements like this are not just an opportunity to update the House on these particular topics, but, more important, to also offer an opportunity to hear the perspective of Senators on these issues. I look forward to our discussion on what are two different but hugely important issues.
I will start with the issue of rail in the greater Dublin area, GDA. The Government recognises that rail is not just a GDA but a national issue. Reflecting on that, I will shortly seek Government approval for a €1 billion investment programme in our rail network. That investment will benefit every part of the network, from Ballina to Dublin to Killarney. This investment is needed to maintain, renew and improve the network over the next five years and deliver better journey times, improved reliability and continued safety. This investment is significant and welcome and I look forward to the benefits of this funding over the next five years.
That investment will complement the construction of the new national train control centre. It was approved by the Government this summer and I understand construction will start in earnest in the new year. We all know we need this level of investment. Passenger numbers are increasing all the time, particularly in the GDA. The GDA commuter network carries approximately 70% of all passenger journeys on the network every year.
In the last few years the National Transport Authority, NTA, and larnród Éireann, supported by increased PSO funding, have expanded commuter services across the greater Dublin area. I have no doubt that Senators will acknowledge these increased services, such as the introduction of Phoenix Park tunnel services bringing Kildare line commuters into the heart of the city, their subsequent expansion in more recent times, and the introduction of the long-awaited ten-minute DART service last year. While these service improvements are obviously welcome, we need to do more. An important part of that is expanding the fleet.
In the last few weeks the Government approved the purchase of 41 additional railcars for InterCity services, which will add significant capacity on the greater Dublin area rail network. These 41 additional carriages will increase capacity by approximately 34% on the Kildare, Maynooth and northern lines during morning peak time and will start entering service by late 2021. I ask the House to allow me to expand a little on how that decision was arrived at.
There are those who say other options should have been pursued or that the chosen option could have been done more cheaply. Of course, alternative options were considered. One of those options was to refurbish older rolling stock and bring it back into service but that option simply did not work out. The initial projected costs were not borne out by the actual tenders received. I hope the House agrees that, when we talk about spending taxpayers' money, we need to make sure we are making the right call. I am told that option simply was not the right call. Along with that option, there was also the proposal to purchase additional carriages for the existing InterCity railcar fleet. It was decided by the NTA and larnród Éireann this year to proceed with this proposal and purchase the additional carriages. Senators will be aware that all expenditure of taxpayers' money must comply with the public spending code. The proposal to purchase additional carriages was therefore developed into a business case and that business case was submitted to my Department at the end of August. In line with the public spending code, that business case was evaluated by my Department and, because of the scale of expenditure, it was also evaluated by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I assure Senators that there was no undue delay and that I brought the matter to Government in October.
I have also seen some commentary suggesting that alleged delays caused an increase in the cost. I do not accept that. No business case was submitted until late August and, while the total project will cost almost €150 million, the carriages themselves cost just over €100 million, with the remainder of the costs comprising related things like compatibility works, spares, design and VAT. Therefore, there has been no great shift in the cost of the actual carriages since the proposal was first referenced publicly in late 2016. I hope that clarifies that particular point.
I assure Senators that I know this purchase is just a short-term measure. The game-changer for rail in the greater Dublin area is the DART expansion programme. Next year, I expect to receive a business case in respect of this multi-billion euro investment. It is a very exciting project which will effectively double the capacity of the greater Dublin area rail network compared with today. When it is finished, the DART really will serve the entire Dublin area, as its name suggests. Preparation has already begun. Earlier this year the NTA and larnród Éireann commenced procurement pre-qualifying for the purchase of a minimum of 300 electric and battery electric trains. The way the procurement competition will be structured means that number can increase up to 600 carriages if required over the ten years of the procurement framework. This will provide a flexible and speedy way to ensure that demand can be served by additional fleet if needed. Senators will appreciate that new rail fleet is not sitting in a showroom somewhere waiting for a new owner to turn up and take it away. It needs to be built to the specifications of the purchaser and, in our case, to the specifications of our unique rail gauge. It will therefore take between three and four years after the award of the contract before this new DART fleet starts to arrive. That does not mean, however, that nothing is being done in the meantime.
As well as the arrival of the 41 additional carriages the year after next, the core city section of the wider city centre resignalling project will be commissioned next year. When this project is complete, it will significantly increase the capacity of the network through the bottleneck of the loop line bridge across the Liffey. Next year will also see construction commence on a new station at Pelletstown on the north side, the Kishoge station in west Dublin will open and the station improvement works at Pearse will finish.
Of course, everything we are doing in terms of improving our rail network in the greater Dublin area is set out in the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area, which is a statutory transport plan for the region that, importantly, must be reflected in land-use plans across the greater Dublin area. This type of integrated land-use and transport planning was long sought, was fought hard for, and represents international best practice. I have no doubt that Senators will have their own views as regards particular projects in the greater Dublin area. I am happy to inform the House that, towards the end of next year, the NTA will begin a review of the existing transport strategy. This review will provide an important opportunity to consider whether additional projects above and beyond the extensive measures in the current strategy should be included. I hope Senators can recognise that there are a number of measures under way over the short, medium and longer term which will improve and enhance rail services across the greater Dublin area. I look forward to hearing their views later.
I would like to now turn to our second topic and thank Senators for the opportunity to update the House on the sports capital programme. As Senators will be aware, the sports capital programme is the Government's primary vehicle to support the development of sports facilities and the purchase of sports equipment. More than 10,000 projects have benefited from sports capital funding since 1998 with the total invested in that period amounting to approximately €1 billion. Grants under the programme have directly improved sports facilities in virtually every village, town and city in the country. Before I deal specifically with the latest round of the programme, I would like to take a step back and speak briefly about why we should continue to provide public funding for sports facilities.
It is well established that participation in sport plays a significant role in improving people's health and well-being. Initiatives that encourage people to exercise regularly can help to reduce the incidence of strokes, cancer and depression, resulting in higher productivity and lower healthcare costs. With regard to our younger people, the World Health Organization, WHO, regards childhood obesity as one of the most serious global public health challenges for the 21st century. Childhood obesity has become such a problem in part due to children living increasingly sedentary lifestyles where physical activity has been replaced by watching TV, playing video games and spending time on smartphones. Accordingly, if we are to compete with these other distractions, we must have good quality, safe and attractive sports facilities.
Similarly, at the top level, we know that sporting success has the ability to lift the spirits of communities, counties and even the whole nation. Our county GAA stars, our international soccer, rugby and hockey teams, and our Olympians inspire us all. This high-level success is never achieved overnight, however, and we need to invest in facilities at grassroots level to nurture these talents.
With these factors in mind, enhanced investment is sports facilities is a key policy objective of the Government. The Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, and I launched the Government's national sports policy last year. The policy statement sets out our vision for sport in 2027 along with 57 specific actions to transform our sporting landscape. Increasing participation is a cornerstone of the policy and we have set an ambitious target to have half our adult population regularly participating in sport by 2027.
Furthermore, we want people participating in sport regardless of their background or physical capabilities.
Within the policy statement is a commitment that the Government will continue to invest in sports facilities and central to this objective will be our continued support for the sports capital programme. The most recent grants under the programme were announced over the last week and represented the final set of allocations under the 2018 round. The application period closed on Friday, 19 October 2018, and by that deadline a record 2,337 applications were submitted seeking a total of €162 million in funding. A total of 186 of these applications were for projects deemed invalid under the 2017 round of the programme that subsequently submitted corrected documents. These applications were assessed first and approximately €7 million in allocations to 170 projects were announced on 17 January; 619 equipment only applications were assessed next and 466 allocations with a value of €9.8 million were announced in May. On Friday last, we allocated a total of €37 million to 994 different projects and earlier today we announced further grants totalling €2.58 million to 15 regional sports projects.
I would like to speak briefly about the reforms we have introduced under the two most recent rounds of the programme. The Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Griffin, and I were determined that the system of applying for grants should be as user-friendly as possible and the methodology for allocating funding fully transparent and fair. A previous criticism of the programme was the number of applications deemed invalid at assessment stage. This gave rise to understandable frustration from applicants who had invested significant time and effort in making their applications. There was also a perception that the whole application process was cumbersome and difficult.
To address these concerns, several improvements have been introduced. The measures include a significantly shortened application form, more online validation of applications and the hosting of a series of regional seminars for potential applicants. Importantly, first-time applicants who submitted incorrect documentation under the latest round of the programme were given the opportunity to correct their application during the assessment phase. Some of these measures may have delayed the overall timeframe of the assessment process, but have been very well received by applicants.
The measures to reduce the invalid rate have been overwhelmingly successful. The proportion of invalid applications fell from one third in previous rounds to one fifth in 2017, and this has been reduced to less than one tenth under the 2018 round. Ironically this improvement does make the allocation of funding even more challenging as we have even more applications to consider. I think all Senators will agree, however, that it is the fairest way to treat our applicants and achieve the best overall results.
A further improvement we made under the 2017 round of the programme was the introduction of an appeals system for unsuccessful candidates. This will be continued under the 2018 round and unsuccessful candidates will be contacted shortly with details on how they can appeal the outcome of the assessment process.
In regard to individual grant amounts, historically there was no clear documentation showing how individual grants were decided. For the first time, we published the full scoring system and assessment process for the 2017 round in advance of assessment work commencing and this was again done for the 2018 round. Every application was then scored using the published criteria which included the likelihood of the project increasing participation, whether the proposed facilities would be shared with other users, the level of socioeconomic disadvantage in the area and the level of funding which the organisation received previously.
For the 2018 allocations, the total available funding was first divided by county, based on the per capita entitlement and level of demand from that county. The exact amount allocated to each project was then based on a formula which combined the assessment score obtained, the amount of funding sought and the total amount of funding available for that county. The scoring system for the 2018 round of the programme was amended to give an even greater weighting towards projects from disadvantaged areas and towards projects that shared the facilities with other users. The net outcome is that more than 1,600 individual projects benefited under the 2018 round of the programme.
While the main field sports such as GAA, soccer and rugby again did very well, any fair analysis will acknowledge the diversity and spread of grants awarded. Last week's grants alone covered 37 different sports, including boxing, squash, rowing, and athletics to name just a few. While I believe we have made real progress in terms of improving the overall programme, we must always look to improve further. With this in mind, I have asked my officials to undertake a full review of the latest round of the programme to suggest any further changes. This will include an examination of how we might speed up the overall assessment process and whether we can reduce the invalid rate further. I look forward to hearing any views of Senators in this regard and will be very happy to take on board any suggestions if they meet with approval from the officials.
Before concluding I would like to touch briefly on one other significant development regarding Government funding for sports capital projects. The national sports policy also provided for the establishment of a new large scale sport infrastructure fund, LSSIF. The aim of the fund is to provide support for larger sports facilities where the Exchequer investment is greater than the maximum amount available under the sports capital programme. The new fund is designed to provide a transparent and robust system for funding such projects. The Government has provided a capital allocation of at least €100 million for the period to 2027 for the LSSIF. The new scheme closed for applications on 17 April, with applications initially confined to local authorities and national governing bodies of sport. By the closing date, 72 applications were received. Assessment work is well advanced and it is hoped to make the first allocations in the near future.
I hope that I have provided Senators with a good overview of where we are in respect of Government support for sports capital projects. I believe that Government investment in sport is money well spent and the sports capital programme remains an excellent example of the Government supporting the voluntary sector in a way that benefits entire communities. While we can always improve matters, I am proud of the reforms we have made in recent years. Furthermore, the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, and I will continue to make the case for enhanced investment in sport infrastructure in the years ahead to ensure that all of the objectives set out in the national sports policy are met.
We look forward to seeing the many projects that recently received funding advancing, but also seeing new applicants being given the opportunity to submit new proposals as soon as possible. To conclude, I would like to thank Senators for the opportunity to discuss these two very divergent but important areas of my Department's work and I look forward to hearing their views.
Group spokespersons have eight minutes and all other Senators have six minutes. Many people want to contribute, so I hope we can keep to the time available.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House to outline rail issues. I am slightly confused about the announcement made about 28 rail carriages. Initially they were supposed to be renovated but, as he said in his speech, an announcement was made about 41 new carriages which will not come on stream until the year after next. There was another commitment to leasing 60 to 80 used carriages for delivery in February 2020 at some stage. I ask the Minister to clarify the different announcements, especially the one about the 60 to 80 carriages.
As I am sure the Minister knows from his colleagues in Fine Gael who are canvassing in Dublin Mid-West and north Dublin and are speaking to commuters, they are seeing buses driving by them and full Luas carriages. Public transport is supposed to form part of creating a greener environment by taking people out of cars.
No one is going to get out of a car to stand at a bus stop if buses are going by full. On top of that, the M50 is in crisis, as are various road networks.
As luck would have it, at a meeting of the transport committee this morning we were discussing cycling and cycle lanes. Under action 97 of the climate action plan, I was asked to raise the commencement of full implementation of the national cycle policy framework. It refers to local authorities setting out a clear pathway and timetable for the installation of dedicated cycle infrastructure. I am not just talking about greenways but also about people who want to commute to work using cycling as their mode of transport. It does not seem to be the case that the money followed the provision in the climate action plan on the national cycle policy framework. Where are the councils supposed to draw the money from to put in place the infrastructure? Perhaps the Minister could outline how that will happen. Perhaps he will refer to the thinking when roads are being designed. He mentioned an allocation of hundreds of millions of euro or billions of euro for the road network. This should be compared with the provision for the cycle network. When designing and upgrading roads, it should be insisted that account be taken of the national cycle policy framework. That is in regard to the overall transport issue. It is a question not only of commuters and the road network, which is creaking at the seams, but also of the announcements on the trains, whose provision could be two years away, or more.
The Minister referred to the sports capital programme. While we welcome the ability to appeal and the ability to engage with first-time applicants, I am aware from having been involved in applications that there is an issue with the per capita criterion and the arrangement for linking with other organisations when it comes to disadvantage. The Minister, through his officials, might be able to clarify this. The per capita capacity in a county such as Leitrim is obviously fairly low. It is welcome that the scoring mechanism is online and no longer very secretive. Finding out how to get points under the sports capital programme was like trying to decipher the third secret of Fatima. If an organisation is from a small county or small area and has no other organisation to partner with, its ability to increase its score is limited. It is up against organisations in the Dublins of this world, which obviously have considerable capacity to partner with other organisations and have a significant per capita score.
While the Minister outlined the position on rail carriages, there have been other announcements on them. It is too long for those standing waiting for trains in the commuter belt to wait until 2021. The same applies to the Luas, buses and cycle network. Ambition is not being matched to the funding for programmes in this regard.
I welcome the Minister. I thank him for his comprehensive overview. I want to spend my time discussing sport and the sports capital programme. Before I do so, I wish to raise the issue of transport and congestion in Dublin.
I was in London last week. I had to top up my card and was told that if I travelled after 9.30 a.m., there would be a substantial reduction. I wondered why we did not have a similar system in Dublin. There are quite a few people on the platform who opted not to use a train going out before 9.30 a.m. It does not affect people returning; it only affects people going out. It is clearly trying to reduce the number of passengers at peak times. The Luas runs right through the Minister's constituency. I am very familiar with the DART. I come in here at 7.30 a.m. but do not take the DART very often because it is physically impossible to get onto it. One has to push passengers on and off. Some are left on the platform. There are many schools along the DART line so the time in question is busy. Many people travel to work at the time. Therefore, we have a problem. I am sure it has occurred to the Minister to ask the transport providers to consider a reduced cost for those using services after 9.30 a.m. If one takes a DART at 9.30 a.m. or 9.45 a.m., one notes it is half empty, which is great in that it is very pleasurable to travel on. We need to incentivise people to travel after 9.30 a.m. I do not believe circumstances are the same for commuters going home because journeys are staggered and they are not competing with schools at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. The Minister might pass that on.
I want to talk to the Minister about the sports capital grant. I welcome the announcement thereon. The Minister has referred to the €37 million. That is particularly good. I support all forms of sport and participation. I was a competitor in hockey, equestrian sport and a number of other sports so I have a keen interest in them. I will touch on some later.
I acknowledge the substantial grant for Seapoint Rugby Club because I know it well. The club was successful on this occasion. I welcome the grant for Avoca Hockey Club, for which I was a very competitive player. I went to school in the area and was involved there for a long time. One of my key problems is that I heard about the grants long before Friday. I had asked in this House about the sports capital grant on numerous occasions. I had heard anecdotally around this House elements of what was to be announced. The Minister may call it all speculation. I take it that it was. I had heard decisions from political people. I took the time to Google what was being said in a few of the provincial newspapers, as I do anyway because I am keenly aware of rural communities. I saw that a number of individuals, from Ministers and Ministers of State to other politicians, had laid claim to fame in respect of the awards and grants. I am concerned about that. I am happy to supply some information on this. We need greater transparency in the process. I take on board that the Minister is reforming the process. I am not questioning him personally but believe it is important to have greater transparency in the process and in how we announce grants. I understand the Minister is in government and that there are pressures on people in Leinster House and all over the place on foot of organisations asking how they have fared. I have concerns over this. I took the time to talk to a number of politicians and staff from provincial newspapers, including editors, to ascertain the sort of information the newspapers were being asked to promote in their next editions. I downloaded a number of responses so I can provide them.
The Minister knows the sports capital programme is operated by his Department and provides the grants to assist in facilitating sport. I recognise that. We do not want circumstances in which there are private tip-offs or in which a politician can in some way enhance his or her political status or have a greater political advantage by knowing information in advance of anybody else. I have a difficulty with the timing of the announcement and the gap between it and the decisions on the grants, bearing in mind that individuals approached me and that I spoke to a number of individuals in the media who could confirm what I am saying. When I took the trouble to get the Minister's list – I had difficulty and had to go searching for it – I noted the figures were the same, euro for euro in some cases, as those I had to hand. I flag this as an issue of concern. We must ensure that there is transparency and accountability and that the whole system is honourable and up front. It should not be in the gift of any politician or Minister to suggest, by private telephone call or tip-off, that he or she has secured a grant. Neither the Minister nor anybody else has secured anything. Grants are secured through the sports capital grant process. There are validations and processes, as the Minister said. I agree. I want to be clear and loud in saying nobody got anything for anyone. No sports club in this country gained because of any Minister. It will have gained because it prepared an application, adhered to the criteria and engaged in the proper process. Nobody should believe he or she got a leg up by anybody in Leinster House for sport. We need to be clear about that, and we need to be clear about the decisions, announcements and press releases we issue, in respect of which we say we influenced the decision. We influenced nothing and we should not be influencing anything. There is something wrong with a system if politicians influence it. I wanted to flag that issue.
I have been asked by Horse Sports Ireland to bring the following to the Minister's attention. It has a strategic plan for the period 2019 to 2024, with which the Minister will be familiar. It may overlap with that of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine because it involves horses. It is an impressive plan, with a vision for Irish sport, and I would like the Minister to look at it. As I say, it may overlap with that of Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, but I am not 100% sure. However, Horse Sports Ireland does have a vision and a mission. It wants to develop a sustainable funding model for its activities and to build organisational capability to enhance the Irish horse sport sector, which is right. It clearly wants to obtain the support necessary to grow this unique sport and industry, in which the Minister has a keen interest. I, therefore, ask him to look at it.
I welcome the statements the Minister has made, but I want to see greater transparency in how the process is completed and brought into the public domain. The Minister is familiar with Glenalbyn swimming pool because it is located in the heart of his constituency and I know that he is committed to seeing the process through. I do not know if they come under the sports capital grants programme - the Minister might tell me - but swimming and water sports are critical, whether in the sea at Dún Laoghaire Harbour or any other harbour. I would like the Minister to make some comment on where he sees funding being provided and whether there are resources available within his Department for the pool. The Minister is on record as being committed to seeing the project delivered in the heart of his constituency, to which I live close. I would like to leave here today with a little more information, if possible, on what the Minister can do about Glenalbyn swimming pool project and what funding he can provide for it. There is an expectation that he will be able to deliver on something he has promised for a long time.
I thank the Minister for his update. I note the 16% increase in funding for the Department this year, which is both welcome and necessary. We have heard all the talk about Brexit, although it has not been mentioned for a couple of weeks because of the moving of the deadline. Our connections to continental Europe and preparations at ports and so on come under the Minister's Department and are very important.
The Minister did not mention climate change in his update, but it is another major issue for the transport sector which is the biggest contributor to carbon emissions as the economy grows and expands in the recovery. Solutions need to be provided and are being prioritised in initiatives such as the roll-out of electric vehicles. There is a need for considerable investment in the provision of charging systems throughout the country, as well as for public transport.
The Minister has outlined many improvements in the Dublin area which I support, but he leaves himself open to the accusation that he speaks about Dublin all the time. I know that he acknowledged at the beginning of his contribution that rail services needed to be upgraded nationwide, but I would like to hear his comments on, or timelines for, some of the rail services to the regions. Representatives of the National Transport Authority were in my county of Mayo recently where they addressed councillors. The Minister mentioned the provision of 41 carriages, none of which will be used on the Westport line until 2022. Perhaps he can give me some updated news in that regard. There is an appetite to use more public transport services because of the acceptance of climate change. The number of passengers on the Westport line increased from 535,000 to 580,000 in 2018. There is an acceptance of the need to use public transport and there is demand for it, but we will be playing catch-up if we are not going to have extra carriages until 2022. There has been a change in the mood of the public and attitudes to climate change and the use of public transport. If we are to take advantage of it, we need to be doing more to get ahead of the curve, which is important.
I welcome the €22 million investment announced in the budget in the regional airports programme because regional airports are crucial to the economies of the regions, industry, job creation and tourism. I am conscious of this because I live within 15 miles of Ireland West Airport Knock which upgraded its main runway recently at the cost of €11 million. That is most welcome and an example of balanced development. Tourists need direct access to the regions to explore the Wild Atlantic Way and the Hidden Heartlands, as well as to take advantage of the value for money available in the regions that is not available in urban areas, Dublin in particular, because of the significant rise in the cost of hotel accommodation.
The Government increased the level of investment in sport and for the first time published the policy last year, which was welcome. The programme for Government pledges to double spending in sport in the next ten years, which is also welcome. In the same way that the use of public transport assists in dealing with climate change, investment in sport helps to keep the nation healthy, which is important. There have been many good stories in sport in recent times. I commend the Minister for the development of the campus at Abbotstown to such a high standard. It has been one of the good news stories, the jewel in the crown, as it were, for our elite athletes. The sport capital funding about which the Minister has talked is being used to provide facilities to increase the level of participation, at whatever level people are, throughout the country. In urban areas, in particular, there is a big demand for facilities. I met one of the officers of Cuala GAA Club in Dublin which fields 100 teams at all levels and owns nothing other than its clubhouse. It has leases with the local authority and so on. That will an issue for policy down the line, but we certainly have the opposite problem in rural areas where we have the facilities but not the numbers. That is an issue, of which I am conscious in the GAA, but I am sure it extends across all of the major team sports, including soccer and rugby
There are challenges in sport that the Minister has not mentioned. Like Senator Mark Daly, I attended the meeting of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Transport and Sport this morning. We have all heard about the challenges facing the FAI. The Minister has been very involved in dealing with them, but the reports have been slow, frustrating and painstaking. We all thought representatives from the FAI were to come before the committee in September, but they have not yet come before it. It is ready to receive representatives of the FAI and Sport Ireland to discuss their findings. The victims are the coaches who experienced the withdrawal of funding for programmes. I support what the Minister did in that regard, but the longer this goes on, the closer it gets to becoming impossible to restore funding until we are sure about the governance of the FAI.
What is the implication for Government support for the European Championships next year, for example?
The budget allocation included €103 million for maritime safety initiatives to ensure the Irish Coast Guard can operate safely and effectively and, according to the Budget Statement, "Key priorities here will be to increase investment in safety-related training." Let us contrast that with the announcement last weekend, unless I need to be corrected, where the Coast Guard has withdrawn over an issue relating to safety equipment. Will the Minister clarify this or will the funding go some way towards solving that problem?
I am grateful to address the issues of transport and sport. They seem unrelated, except that they share a Minister, but both need to be got right to protect our future, especially our health, social well-being and cohesion. On transport, the Minister has to admit that he is losing the battle against congestion in Dublin, as colleagues have noted. It is a nightmare for tens of thousands of commuters every morning, ourselves included, who simply need to get to work. There are plans, but they are for the future and I do not believe they are ambitious enough to allow us to catch up with other cities, never mind start to win our own battles. We need to cut through the spin. For example, at budget time, the Minister announced an additional €384 million for his Department. This figure is deeply deceptive. The vast majority of this or €357 million is to implement the national development plan, and this was cut because of the overspend on the children's hospital. That leaves only €27 million extra in current spending. The Minister announced €40 million for tourism, not linked to a no-deal Brexit. This leaves open the question as to how additional spending of €40 million can be accommodated in a €27 million budget. It is likely there are cuts hidden in the small print. All this means more congestion and even more stretched rural services for people throughout the State.
The Minister had little to say on the need for all-Ireland transport. A €60 million investment would mean four trains an hour between our two largest cities. Would not that be truly great, with a massive economic benefit, including on tourism, were it to come to pass? There is increasing demand for rail along the eastern corridor.
The big picture must be a plan to achieve free and efficient public transport. That is how we beat congestion, reduce emissions and make getting to work bearable for staff. Sinn Féin supports starting with under 18s so that the culture of public transport and demand is instilled in our youngest. I could list a bunch of roads we need or refer to airports for all but we have to shift our thinking towards free public, clean transport in urban and rural Ireland. I have seen a document released under freedom of information in which the Minister's advisers rubbished the Government's €1 million electric cars promise. It is pure pluck-a-figure politics and will not be delivered.
We must cut through more spin on sport. Many a Fine Gael Deputy and Senator was cock-a-hoop to announce, prior to any press release, details of the sports capital programme grants last week. I wonder how many of them know they were the 2018 allocations being paid out in budget 2020. This should be an annual, regularly paid, transparent process, not an overdue grant about which Fine Gael likes to tip off its local clubs, and gets to feature in its election literature.
I cannot discuss sport in Ireland without mentioning the need for and a growing demand for an all-Ireland sports structure across the board. From soccer to athletics to mixed martial arts, there is, bubbling under the surface, a people-led movement for all-Ireland sports teams and competitions, as it is proven both parts of the island work best and achieve more when they work together.
Fundamentally, investment is way behind other countries and the Government has no intention of catching up. Members will recall a recent briefing by our Olympic rowers who were paying for much of their own training themselves. That sums up the approach to sport. If they deliver Olympic medals, they are bound to have a Minister crawling up their backs, sometimes quite literally, but until then, they are on their own. That culture has to change. We must put our money where our mouth is if we want success and all the positive health, including mental health, and social benefits that go with a healthy sporting culture.
Last week, there was a press report of remarks by the chairman of Tourism NI who spoke positively of the growing rationale for linking Ireland's Ancient East with the Wild Atlantic Way via the Causeway Coast. It would be encouraging to hear the Minister's perspective on that. It has obvious tourism, economic and transport benefits. Now that Tourism NI and Fáilte Ireland are out of the traps, it is incumbent on him to encourage and foster that engagement and show his support publicly, and to initiate a process that considers economic research into the benefits of this. It makes sense from an economic, logistical and tourism perspective. It defies logic that Ireland's Ancient East stops where it does and does not continue into Downpatrick, the heartland of Cúchulainn and connect all the way up to Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Causeway Coast.
I welcome the Minister to the House to discuss rail transport in Dublin and sports. It would be wrong not to acknowledge the deep interest he has taken in people with disabilities in his multiple briefs. He has engaged directly with people with disabilities and the representative organisations. At the end of last year, the Joint Committee on Transport Tourism and Sport produced an excellent report and the Minister has begun to honour his commitment to meet that committee and provide updates on a six-monthly basis. He made sure that people with disabilities have been appointed to each of the public transport authorities.
I now raise an issue that I have previously made him aware of. I still have little confidence in the NTA, which is shared by many with disabilities, on its commitment to transport for all. I may be paranoid but a leaflet on BusConnects came through my letterbox recently. I do not see any symbol or reference to people with disabilities in the document, which sets out the revised plan. The front of the leaflet has four people of working age, two females and two males. It talks about the service being for the future. My open question to the NTA is: is it concerned about the future of people with disabilities and mobility impairments in respect of its brief? I could recite many examples, and the Minister will be aware of them, but I wish to keep this on the agenda.
In his opening remarks the Minister stated:
The game-changer for rail in the greater Dublin area is the DART expansion programme. Next year, I expect to receive a business case in respect of this multi-billion euro investment. It is a very exciting project which will effectively double the capacity of the greater Dublin area rail network compared with today. When it is finished, the DART really will serve the entire Dublin area, as its name suggests.
Perhaps I am being particular but I am concerned about whether it will serve the entire Dublin population and the people who travel around the city who have disabilities and mobility impairments? That is our challenge.
While I acknowledge the Government has committed to so doing, in light of what I have said about the National Transport Authority, NTA, it is important that we underline and take that issue more strongly on board.
With reference to childhood obesity and health, sport has had a huge part to play for people with disabilities going back to the late 1950s and 1960s when Ireland participated in the first paraplegic Olympics to run in parallel with the regular Olympics in Rome in 1960. The purpose of accessible public transport is to get people somewhere and that includes to sporting events, as spectators and increasingly as participants. I am keen to hear what the Minister has to say about making sure that facilities are improved for people with disabilities to be able to participate actively in sport. People with disabilities have to go through really hard-knuckle rehabilitation in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire and other places but sport too is rehabilitative and copper-fastens people's participation in a community. It has its own important part to play. Transport can make sure a person gets there or does not get there.
Following the lead this Minister has given, to use a sporting analogy, the ball is at the toe of many other Ministers to make sure that if people can use public transport, there is somewhere they can go and participate. The Minister has met Padraic Moran, a wheelchair user, on several occasions when he was a witness at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. He is a young man who, unusually for people with disabilities, has employment, and he lives in Bray. He has had episodic problems using the DART, and problems with the maintenance of his wheelchair, which go back to the health services. He is an international sportsman and has represented Ireland playing boccia. The connections between sport and transport are critical issues for people with disabilities and to help us implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD. What is the Minister's ambition for the next 12 months for people with disabilities? Senator O'Mahony talked about doubling spending in sport over the next decade. What does the Minister intend that to be like for people with disabilities?
I thank the Minister for all his notices and notifications about transport in Dublin. There is a bit of a mix-up because the Seanad schedule listed statements on transport and sport in general. While I welcome the announcements for Dublin, the extra train carriages and high-speed trains to connect Dublin with the regions, I will raise issues that I have raised in the past with the Minister.
On 2 July, we had a debate here on the Limerick-Shannon metro link. I was informed then that there would be public consultation in the latter part of this year. On 7 November, I contacted the NTA to find out where that update was and was told that the consultation would not take place until the first quarter of 2020. It is really disappointing to find that while there have been announcements about transport for Dublin and Cork, there have been none for Limerick as the third largest city. I know the Minister's commitment because he has been down to visit the area and was recently in Shannon Airport. Much good is happening in the transport sector and in respect of Bus Connects in Dublin but is that what is holding up the announcements for the rest of the country? We have to have balanced regional development. The Government's announcements refer to that and that is part of the Ireland 2040 plan. I am really concerned that there have been no announcements about the connectivity between Shannon Airport and Limerick, which has the second largest deepwater port in the country. While I know the Minister might not be able to answer me today he might be able to give me some suggestions about what is happening there.
Can I interject briefly?
The Minister has just clarified with me that his brief was quite narrow when he was asked to come here today.
That is why I said there might have been a mix-up.
I just want to clarify it, and I will allow the Senator back in then. The Minister has explained that he was asked to come in here to speak specifically about rail in Dublin. Something has been lost in translation in the way this particular section has been framed as transport and sport. Obviously, it may have happened because he is the Minister with responsibility for transport and sport but today's debate was never intended to be a discussion of transport and sport in general. It was intended, from the Minister's perspective and the brief that he got, to be a discussion of rail. I want to be fair to the Minister.
I understand that and that is why I said in the beginning that there might have been a mix-up because on the Oireachtas website this is scheduled as statements on transport and sport, which is totally out of the Minister's control. Nobody told him.
The Minister knows my feelings about the Limerick-Shannon metro link and how important it is to the development of the region. Senator O'Mahony referred to the regional airports budget announced recently. I know from the Minister's recent visit to Shannon that he realises the importance of Shannon Airport. I will keep putting this on the agenda. While Shannon has autonomy and is set up slightly differently from other airports, I welcome the fact that extra routes have been announced recently and acknowledge the work the board is doing there to try to bring extra business to the airport. Many companies are considering expansion and when they created extra jobs recently they announced that Shannon Airport is the airport for the region and having the airport and the port on their doorstep helped them make up their mind to locate in the mid-west. That is why I would really like to see something happening with Shannon. While I acknowledge that the Minister said he would talk to the different tourism groups to see if they can work with the board, I will keep this at the top of the agenda, if that is okay.
I acknowledge the recent announcements about the many successful clubs that received money under the sports capital programme. Sports clubs are the heart of all communities. There are so many in rural and urban communities and they help children to have a very healthy lifestyle, as the Minister himself has noted. It is very important to keep supporting these sports clubs because many of them find it hard to get money for club or pitch development. I thank the Minister for the work he has done. I know there is an appeals process for clubs that have not been successful. I acknowledge the support clubs receive from the staff in the Department who help them with their applications and who point out where they have gone wrong and help them in the appeals process.
That is to be commended and shows an acknowledgement that sports clubs are needed and wanted and being supported by the Government. This issue is linked with participation in sport as part of Healthy Ireland.
The Minister may have opened a Pandora's box in his statement. The section on transport was several pages long. He came to the House to speak about transport, but his statement included three pages about sports capital grants. Any blame for the opening of a Pandora's box can be laid fairly at his feet, as I am sure he will accept.
I refer to the Minister's comment on the purchase of 41 rail carriages. I accept what he laid out. However, one of the delays was caused in going to tender for the purchase of second-hand carriages. Anyone who has any interest in transport knows that there is a particular gauge in use in Ireland and that the likelihood of finding second-hand carriages anywhere else in the world is very slim. I understand that only in Brazil and one territory in Australia is there a similar gauge in use and that rail carriages are in short supply in both countries. They will hardly have workable carriages available to sell to Ireland. The Minister might expand on why a tender was issued for second-hand rail carriages when even the smallest amount of research would have shown that they would not be available. That contributed to the delay and, possibly, the final cost of the carriages. I understand the cost is €150 million, but at one stage it could have risen to €160 million. It is to be hoped the final cost will be a little lower.
I will not apologise for speaking about rail services in the capital city where and greater Dublin area whre over one third of the population lives and just under 70% of all tax revenue is generated. We have to make sure the capital city works and that the city in which the highest tax revenues are generated for the State is protected. I am always sorry when I hear Fine Gael Members ask why the situation in Dublin is being discussed. The greater Dublin area is the economic engine of the country. It is welcome that the Minister is taking a particular interest in making sure this economic engine will continue to run. In this House I have always stood in social solidarity with those living in other regions which should receive investment. Fine Gael and, to some extent, Fianna Fáil, constantly criticise people for mentioning Dublinm, but I will not criticise the Minister for doing so. That is the reason he was called to the House today.
The Minister laid out the investment plan for the greater Dublin area. It provides for investment in rail services and the provision of extra electric engines, carriages, etc. The Sinn Féin Senator referred to profiling and overspending in other areas. I am concerned about whether the profiling of spending in the greater Dublin area in terms of investment in rail services will change owing to overspending in other Departments, as well as the Minister's. Some time ago I carried out a quick analysis of all of the road announcements made by the Minister, from County Mayo to Macroom, Dunsink and so on. On average, the figures are running at approximately 34% above the original estimated costs. That will create a €700 million hole in the Department's budget. Some call it profiling, but will there be delays because of the overruns on several projects? Will they be re-profiled, delayed or cut? Has any work taken place in the Department to assess the impact of overspending inside and outside the Department? Construction inflation happens, as I am sure the Minister is aware. When he was in this House and in the Lower House he was quite scathing of the Government when there was an overspend or an increase in spending, but there is construction inflation. Let us see how it impacts on the overall spend. The Minister can explain the figures.
I hope the Minister will forgive me for asking some questions not directly related to his brief. Kids Go Free was a campaign run by the NTA during the summer to promote use of the leap card system. The campaign was very effective and educated people on the benefits of moving to public transport. It is too late to have another scheme this year, but I ask the Minister to explore the idea that children should be able to travel for free during the Christmas period in the main urban centres. This would help to create an ethos of using public transport at an early stage in children's lives.
I refer to the DART line. About a month ago I spoke to a young woman who had lost consciousness while travelling on the line near Blackrock, but because of the crush of bodies she did not hit the floor of the train until it had reached Grand Canal Dock station. She was complimentary about the staff and passengers who had been around her, but it is frightening that somebody can pass out owing to overcrowding on the DART. I know that the NTA has done some work to try to encourage students to travel at alternative times on the DART and the Luas, but the introduction of a financial incentive to travel outside rush hour should be considered in the short term. This is a short-term problem which will take time to solve.
In a report in a newspaper the Minister may have been quoted incorrectly where it referred to the enforcement of the law in bus lanes in order to make maximum use of bus services and corridors. The report stated the Minister was not open to the idea of enforcement through the use of cameras and transferring responsibility for it to the NTA. He might avail of the opportunity to clarify the matter. I do not think having a garda stand in a bus corridor to make sure cars are not travelling in it is the best use of his or her time.
I have a plea to make to the Minister. I know that the matter is not within his remit, but perhaps he might use his good offices to make some progress in reintroducing for the Christmas period Operation Freeflow in the main cities, including Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway, using gardaí on probation from the Garda College in Templemore. It would help to encourage more people to visit these cities. Operation Freeflow was last used in the 1990s when it was very successful. People on the roads today know how difficult it is to move around cities. I have noted the number of cars which move into bus lanes which affects not only the flow of buses but also cyclists who are put in danger. I ask the Minister to consider this issue. I know from speaking to him that he may have been misquoted in the report in the newspaper and hope he will clarify the position today.
Before I call the next speaker, I owe the Minister and Senator Humphreys an apology. The schedule we received referred to statements on transport and sport. How could I accuse the Minister or the Senator of being Dublin-centric? It was all lost in translation.
I congratulate and applaud all those involved in our sporting achievements this year and in recent years. There are many areas across the globe where we punch above our weight and sport is certainly one of them, from hockey and rowing to horse racing, boxing, rugby, golf and soccer. There are incredibly talented people in Ireland, and each and every one of them should be admired. Nevertheless, we need to do more to support our young, female or vulnerable athletes, as well as those who would be athletes if they had the means, those who define our wonderful, multicultural society today and those stars struggling for support. I welcome the national broadcasting pledge to increase coverage of women's sport. If young girls cannot see women succeeding, it will be much more difficult for them to dream they can do it too. We need to play our part in that regard and I ask the Minister to consider ways to subsidise girls' clubs to attend women's events. Let us pack those stadium stands, irrespective of people's ability to afford tickets. I say the same for juvenile sports and their teams. When the hard work is going on, we should not just celebrate events, but also examine ways to encourage children to participate in sport and to enjoy it because sport is an enjoyable adventure. It was heartbreaking to read the following in the Limerick Leader, written by a 13 year old boy who had given up the sport he loved - hurling - because he was never given game time:
The coaches didn’t care about my feelings, they only wanted to win at all costs. Even now I find it very hard to trust adults. I was completely isolated at a sport I love. I can honestly say, I have been affected by what I had to go through at a very young age. There is so much sadness in life but playing sport should not be a sad experience.
I read that and thought it was very sad.
Sports capital grants are a lifeblood for clubs and organisations throughout the country and I have worked on quite a few with many volunteers in Carlow. It would be great if we tied some of the funding to the fair play rules, or gave more to clubs that give more to their child members, female members and the most vulnerable. We need to consider the most vulnerable. I was delighted with the sports capital grants. I acknowledge that some people were disappointed, including some clubs that contacted me. Some clubs did not receive as much funding as they deserved, and I have an issue with a few of them, which I will appeal, but other clubs were delighted. Overall, I welcome the grants.
There are many concerns about public transport. I understood that Kilkenny was meant to receive a town bus link, for which everything was ready to go. There were four buses and two routes but that is now on hold. It was meant to start in the next few weeks or perhaps in a month or two but today, when I was travelling to the House, I learned that it is on hold, which upset me. Carlow's town bus link is also on hold, which concerns me. I am constantly disappointed when I leave Carlow town on any slip road to a motorway and see cars and vans chock-a-block for the day while the owners carpool to Dublin for work. While such people are being environmentally friendly in their decision to carpool, many of them will have returned from working in New York, where the carpool system works, in one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The carpool system can work. We need to have lanes specifically for carpool vehicles in order that commuters can share their cars when they go to Dublin. I speak about Dublin because everything seems to centre on it, but I always have to ensure I represent rural Ireland, as I do. The more people who are encouraged to carpool, the fewer cars there will be on the road, which will mean less traffic for everyone and reduced carbon emissions. However, this type of pseudo-public transport is wrong because people have no other choice. We have no reliable, decent public transport in rural Ireland. While there may be trains, buses and, in some parts of the country, boats and aeroplanes, the only place where there is reliable and fit-for-purpose public transport, with all forms joined up together, is in our capital city.
Recently, we as a nation watched, horrified, as RTÉ highlighted chronic overcrowding on Irish Rail services throughout the country. As any commuter, tourist or rail user will agree, however, the problem is not new. Customers pay for transport services they do not receive. I have been contacted by a number of my constituents who use the Waterford-Dublin line and have been unable at any time to access seats for their journey. When an Irish Rail ticket is issued, it is not designated as standing or sitting. The expectation is that there will be a seat on board. If there is not a seat, there should be a reduced ticket price for those standing. It is common for lights indicating reserved seats to be turned off when the train is about to depart. Those queuing to board may not be able to access their reserved seat but when they eventually reach it, they may have to argue with a rail user who sat in the seat when the light turned off.
Seating reservations cost money and, therefore, should be guaranteed. Otherwise, customers' rights are being infringed. I have been told of passengers sitting on toilets, in wheelchair bays, in baggage units and on the floor which is wholly unacceptable. Although I requested the Minister's attention on the matter, I have been advised that such transport operational issues are outside his remit. Irish Rail's passenger charter states, "We do our best to ensure our stations and trains are safe, clean, and comfortable and have the appropriate facilities for you to enjoy your journey." This is not currently the customer experience. There is a serious issue with both health and safety and customers' rights on Irish Rail. I ask the Minister to examine this serious issue. It constantly arises. We have sought additional carriages for the Waterford-Dublin trains, which pass through Carlow. We were told months ago we would get them but they have not arrived and it is becoming a serious health and safety issue.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I hope he will be able to visit Kildare for the official opening of the Sallins bypass, a project about which I spoke to a couple of his predecessors, namely, the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. I would be delighted to welcome the Minister, Deputy Ross, to the opening of the bypass. It will almost coincide with the recent opening of three additional lanes on the old Naas bypass.
I agree with Senator Murnane O'Connor in respect of carpooling. Those of us of a certain vintage will remember the case of Boston. A lane into Boston was designated specifically for carpoolers. It would be easy to take such a measure. Carpool lanes need to be combined with bus lanes, which both carpoolers and buses could use. The facilities are there but the problem is the NTA cannot envisage anything else but cars on the road. Its public transport remit has fallen down in this regard. I have spoken and written to it on a number of occasions, identifying potential park-and-ride areas such as lands that adjoin interchanges, which could easily be turned into park-and-ride facilities. The agency has indicated to me that providing a park-and-ride facility would be a waste of time because it is quicker to go to Dublin by car than by bus. Such a response should not come from the NTA. It should encourage more people to take public transport. I hope that when the plans are drawn up for the N4, to widen the Maynooth road, it will encompass a bus lane that can be used for carpoolers. It has been done in Belfast, where there is a lane on the N1, which goes into the city.
I turn to the issue of traffic into Dublin in the morning. Everyone complained about the N7 before the third lane was opened, and now it is almost like a car park. It requires just one person to brake and, suddenly, there will be a concertina effect all the way down the road. The Minister might communicate with the NTA in respect of the introduction of speed restrictions - perhaps 80 km/h - at certain times, such as peak traffic times in the morning. It would reduce the level of congestion that occurs on the N7 and N4. I hope there will be further planning for a new train station in Sallins. The train station is currently located in the middle of the village but there are parking restrictions, leading to people parking in the housing estates around the station.
The development of a new train station with a large car parking facility would be beneficial, particularly with electrification to Hazelhatch and the possibility of development further to Kildare.
I welcome last week's announcement on the sports capital process. Many clubs were extremely pleased with the funding, although some were disappointed. Can we get an indication on when clubs can access the reasons they failed? I have looked at the points system but how is it worked out, calculated or broken down? When is the Minister expecting to announce the regional sports grants? I will do a plug for Kildare GAA. Now we have a Kerry man looking after us on the management side, we could do with the facilities at St. Conleth's Park in Newbridge. The organisation has the matching funding that would be required, were the Minister willing to support this, and it has planning permission as well.
There's an all-Ireland on the way.
It is a shovel-ready project and the Minister looks at those in a positive light. The RDS in Dublin is a multisport facility. Not alone would it be for rugby but it would also be for hockey, which is proving very successful currently, as well as equine sports. I hope the Minister will examine that project as well.
Before calling on Senator Craughwell to speak, I welcome Ms Alexandra Douglas to the Gallery. She is a guest in my office along, with Mr. Tom Collins. I hope they enjoy their visit to Leinster House.
I welcome the Minister to the House and it is a privilege to address him today on the matters of sports grants and transport. I will first address the sports grant system. I agree totally with my colleague, Senator Boyhan, and I know the Minister's opposition to people making political gain, political appointments or anything like that. It may be at odds with my position on the judicial appointments legislation but the Minister now has the opportunity to take politics out of sports grants and stop the nonsense we see of people getting mileage from this. As Senator Boyhan has said, nobody got a grant for anybody and grants are given by officials on the basis of an application.
The Senator is always making out-----
Do I not have the floor?
Senator Craughwell, without interruption.
Hypocrisy knows no bounds.
People apply for grants and the Minister's officials assess those grants in an open and transparent way and the decisions are made accordingly. Let us stop the nonsense of "I got a grant a grant for you" or "We worked to get you a grant". The Minister is the only one who should be seen when grants are handed out.
The Senator is wrong.
It should be the Minister or his successors. Over the past few days I have taken to the bicycle following a challenge in Dublin city and I invite the Minister to do the same. We learn some serious lessons as we cycle around Dublin.
As one falls.
From I BIKE Dublin I thank Mr. Ciarán Ferrie and Mr. Oisín O'Connor for their assistance in accompanying me around the city. It is incredible that we have cycle lanes that go a couple of hundred yards and then disappear. There are cycle lanes along the quays, for example, that we share with bus lanes while cars fly past in the right-hand lane. People have discussed transport in Dublin and in fairness, the Minister has extended the length of the Luas lines and is improving the DART. The time has come to put a congestion charge in Dublin and remove as much traffic as we can from the streets in Dublin. Public transport is very good in this city.
When we get past Westland Row, there is a contraflow cycle lane so cyclists can get to City Quay. There is a cycle lane on City Quay that is fantastic. As a novice cyclist I felt so safe there. I was well away from the traffic and it is a great piece of work. There is an opportunity to put a cycle lane from Blackrock, for example, or Dún Laoghaire straight to the city centre. We can do so much for cycling around this city. I never knew or thought about it until I was on a bicycle - and commercial drivers, bus and taxi drivers tend to be more sympathetic - but when a cyclist is at traffic lights which turn green, for some reason or other people in cars feel they need to compete with the cyclist in taking off. Will the Minister consider exploring if we can put in a secondary signal that would turn green for cyclists and allow them to take off with safety perhaps a minute before the lights turn green for cars? It would help safe cycling around the city. I also have difficulty with delivery vans parked in cycle lanes. The local authority has put in a cycle lane along Dame Street but as one cycles there, one finds trucks parked on the left and any cyclist must move to the carriageway, competing with cars in order to pass those trucks. I do not know how we can get over this other than to have deliveries between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. or something like that.
I compliment the Minister on the rules recently introduced, although when I initially heard them I was a bit horrified that a driver had to be a certain distance from a cyclist when overtaking. Having climbed on a bicycle, I can see the need for it. As a cyclist, one needs to feel that the cars will not come right alongside. We cycled up Kildare Street the other day and a van came up behind us with the driver revving the engine no end. He could not have passed us if he wanted to because the road is narrow enough and it is divided because a contraflow lane is in operation for buses. This guy constantly revved his truck in trying to intimidate us so we would stop cycling, get off the bike and get on the footpath so he could pass. Cyclists suffer much travelling around the city. I am no cheerleader for them and they have enough cheerleaders. Some of the people who speak for cyclists need to cop themselves on and try to do it in a more controlled way.
Looking at the city in mornings from approximately 7.30 a.m. until 9.30 a.m., there are thousands of bicycles coming through every day. The bicycle renting system in the city allows people to get across the city very easily. I compliment the Department, which has put many initiatives in place or facilitated local authorities in putting them in place. Today we heard that a small number of people in the Department are dedicated to cycling so I wonder if we could get a couple of really proactive people involved who could get out on a bicycle and note the position for cyclists around the town. When one gets to the contraflow lane beyond Pearse Street station on Westland Row and towards City Quay, there is a nice cycle lane but it ends suddenly. Crossing O'Connell Street bridge and heading down the quays, there is a cycle lane for approximately 100 yards and then it is gone. The rest is a joint bus and cycle lane, and it is certainly not the best way to do things.
We need to sit down and look at bicycles as a mode of transport. They are clean and healthy. I am thinking of taking up cycling a little more and I have undertaken to cycle in Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford, although I have some reservations about doing it in Cork because of the number of hills. We need officials to go out there and see what is going on. Will the Minister consider how to support cyclists in the city to make a cleaner, greener and safer environment for all of us? I know the Minister is always keen to engage with people and there was engagement today in a committee with cycling advocates, including representatives of I BIKE Dublin. Perhaps officials will sit down with a small group of advocates who are calm and who have reasonable arguments to make and listen to them in order to see how we might improve things. I appreciate that local authorities have a role in this also and I ask those authorities to do something similar. If they listen to what people need, we can see what we can provide for them. There is some great work being done around the place. I will leave it at that.
I welcome the Minister who s consistent in his approach. When I hear Members criticising political involvement in the sports capital programme and about people writing to councillors to take credit for raising the issue of their pay and conditions, it beggars belief. I will start with the sports capital programme.
There are 26 counties, not one, covered by the sports capital programme. To respond to Senator Craughwell, there should be political involvement in the programme and I will outline the reasons. As a former chairman of my own club for six years-----
Talk to the Minister.
-----I know full well the needs of my community and area, as well as of the clubs and organisations in my city. I challenge Members to outline the criteria and weightings included in the application form. I ask the Minister to review the criteria because we have a flawed system for the way funding is allocated under the programme. In saying that I am not casting aspersions on the Minister or the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin. I welcome the allocations made last week, on which I congratulate the Minister and the Minister of State, but we should examine the criteria and weightings outlined. Increasing participation in sport has been given a weighting of three. Level of disadvantage has been given a weighting of seven based on the Pobal index, but what happens where a club is not included in a Pobal area? What happens where clubs have received funding previously? The sharing of facilities has been given a weighting of five and technical merits, a weighting of three, which is wrong. It should be about more than that because the Minister is offering the grant based on the merits of the application made. Level of funding has been given a weighting of one, with a minimum figure of 20% being set for the club.
I welcome the investment made by the Minister's Department in infrastructure in the city and county of Cork, in particular. I want to speak about the Cork transport strategy which was published last May. It is an ambitious plan for the city and county of Cork, in particular the metropolitan area of Cork city. It is about accessibility, integrating public transport services, walking and cycling infrastructure. I ask the Minister to take note of the proposed Lee to sea greenway project which should receive attention in the Department in working with the county council and the city council on how a new greenway route can be promoted. The Minister has been very supportive of the greenway programme. This is a route which winds its way around the city of Cork towards the harbour, building on the success of other greenways. It takes someone from Inniscarra Dam to Crosshaven, through Ballincollig, the city docklands, past Monkstown and so on.
I have always found the Minister to be very fair. The National Transport Authority, NTA, should have a regional office in Cork to drive the Cork metropolitan area strategy. If we are serious about providing public transport, investing in cycling infrastructure and the regions beyond the M50, the NTA's decision not to locate a regional office in Cork as the lead agency for the Cork metropolitan area strategy is wrong. I ask the Minister to communicate this to the NTA, with a view to looking at how its decision can be changed. It is worth examining the issue.
There is a major difficulty in the aviation sector in the country that we have to address. I am not being critical of the Minister but of the decision made by the Commission for Aviation Regulation in the determination of charges at Dublin Airport in the period 2020 to 2024. A price of €7.87 has been set for the period, a figure which is 18% below Dublin Airport's flat price figure of €9.65 discussed with the airlines 12 months ago. I ask Members to note the words of the chief executive, Dalton Philips, who stated: "Dublin Airport's prices are already 30 to 40% lower than its European peers and the Regulator's decision will mean Dublin's prices will now be almost 60% lower than the EU market price." As the Minister is aware, the issue is about connectivity, on which, as an island nation, we are dependent. It is also about the impact this decision will have on Cork, Shannon and other regional airports as the price set in Dublin is deemed to be the reference point for other airports throughout the country. It will have a knock-on effect. As the Minister knows, the use of infrastructure in the aviation industry is heavily dependent on what happens at Dublin Airport. That cannot be good for all of us, which is why it is important that Aer Lingus, in particular, consider locating a hub in Cork. I accept that it has undertaken a range of actions since the change in terms, but for us in Cork and, inadvertently, those involved in Shannon, it is about ensuring there is connectivity and that Cork Airport which is owned by the DAA will have its own capital expenditure programme. Will that happen if the commission's decision stands?
I thank the Minister for coming into the House and his work. I ask that we examine the issue of funding for Cork Airport in the context of the NTA. I refer, in particular, to Lehenaghmore, Matthew Hill, where Cork City Council is advertising a scheme under Part 8 for footpath and road realignment and the provision of public lighting. It is a very important issue in the area where there are no footpaths along roads. Permission was given for the construction of hundreds of houses without making provision for the inclusion of footpaths and public lighting. I hope the Minister will communicate with the NTA on the importance of the scheme.
I call Senator O'Donnell, to whom I can only give three minutes as I must call the Minister to respond.
I thank the Minister for coming into the House. Reflecting on the debate which has been centred on the lack of capacity, one of the successes in the area of public transport has been the train service. Most weeks I use the Limerick to Dublin train service twice. During the years capacity has increased exponentially in terms of the number of passengers travelling. The difficulties in Dublin with capacity are a manifestation of the over-concentration of the population within the greater Dublin metropolitan area. I have said many times that Shannon Airport is operating at approximately half capacity, whereas Dublin Airport is at breaking point. I imagine that many commuters who use trains use them to access Dublin Airport. We need a strong capital city, but we also have to look at the need for regional balance to take the pressure off Dublin and redirect traffic to areas from where there is access to, say, Shannon Airport.
To follow up on the point made by Senator Buttimer about transportation, it is critical that there be proper transportation models in cities. There is one under preparation for the Limerick-Shannon link. It is the first time this has happened. It will feed into the model for Shannon Airport and is a positive development. It must be done in an integrated way in terms of planning, the provision of housing and so on.
I know that in referring to the M20 project I am slightly off topic in this debate, but what is its current status? It is a hugely important project. If we are to have proper competition in Ireland inc., there must be synergies in providing direct links to Cork, Limerick and Galway as counterpoints to Dublin. Dublin, with its huge population, is in the east and there must be a counterpoint to it in the west. It is not all about public transport. There have to be connections which can be used by cars, bus services and so forth.
My final point is more of a housekeeping matter. While sports capital grants are most welcome, an issue that comes up repeatedly concerns the interaction with the Office of the Chief State Solicitor Office, of which the Minister is probably well aware, where if the total value of grants giiven to a club exceeds a certain amount, a legal charge must be paid to the State. This is causing untold difficulties for individual clubs.
I have brought this matter up with the Minister's Department and the Minister for Justice and Equality, who has responsibility for the CSSO, the need to have a designated section within the CSSO to deal specifically with sports capital grants because it is dealing with voluntary associations. It is an administrative problem that could be overcome with a little bit of reorganisation.
I thank every Senator who contributed to this very wide debate. I think there was a misunderstanding somewhere in communication between here and my office. I do not think it was the fault of my office but I do not want to attribute blame in any way. The understanding was quite clear from my office that the discussion was about rail transport in Dublin but somewhere in the meantime Senators understood it to be a bit wider than that. If I do not talk about trains and buses in Carlow, the Senator will forgive me.
I will have to get the Minister again.
What about cycling in Kerry?
I will in a general way try to answer the broader questions that people have asked, which is fair enough and that was the purpose of this debate, specifically on the sports capital which is so topical.
I will start with Senator Mark Daly, on the refurbishment of old carriages, which I mentioned in my opening statement. The NTA and Iarnród Éireann did consider that option but the costs turned out to be three times greater than expected, a cost of almost two thirds of a new carriage with a lifespan of around one third, so it was not value for money. The NTA also looked into buying second-hand stock. That was actively explored but there were concerns about availability, age of fleet, compatibility and cost. Again, it was not considered to be value for money, which the Senator would be concerned about. The 41 carriages were considered to be the best option and that is being pursued.
As I also mentioned, a much bigger expansion under the DART programme is on the way with a minimum of 300 carriages and a maximum of 600. On the sports capital – I am trying to get through this at a rate of one person a minute but it is difficult – the Senator referred specifically to County Leitrim, which is fair enough. Under the 2018 round we moved away from the per capita to demand for the first time. This is a huge step and the people who are not happy with this are the sports clubs in Dublin, for reasons that are quite clear. I am not arguing either case here today because that is a long argument. Last time, under the old system, the Dublin clubs all received pretty full allocations for valid applications but under the new system they do not. There is a good argument for the per capita grant which they received but we have moved away from that in the direction of clubs outside Dublin and the heavy population areas. Leitrim and other clubs elsewhere will have benefited from that. The overall fund is split by county. Essentially, clubs compete only with others from the same county. Overall I would have thought that even though I am a Dubliner, Dublin people would perceive this as not being so favourable to them as the system was in the past.
Senator Boyhan talked about the number of trains at peak times and that he would like to see incentives for people to travel at different times to reduce the numbers. That is a fairly good idea, or a plausible one. The NTA is the body which decides the ticket prices and it has been considering ways to improve the overall ticketing system, whether by price or technology. Some people would say an attractive system is one that is simple to understand and a proliferation of charges sometimes goes against that. I do not know what the merits of the argument are but I do not decide the prices. It is perfectly appropriate for the Senator to raise the issue here but I do not decide the prices. People expect me to say it should be decided in this House but I do not. That is what the NTA is for but it has considered that. It has increased off-peak trains in order to make it more attractive to people to travel at different times because they will be less crowded. That has had a limited amount of success.
On sports capital, I think Senator Boyhan acknowledged that we have made incredible efforts to make this new system as transparent as possible. That has met with quite a lot of resistance in political circles. I do not think that is any secret. It is to make it quite obvious how these are awarded and that they are not awarded by politicians moving them around or preferring their own clubs one way or another and changing the order. We have a scoring system which is absolutely transparent. Senator Buttimer referred to it, he did not like it particularly or he wanted to improve the scoring system. That is perfectly fair enough. There are problems. I took his point about the Pobal index. It is a reasonable one and should be considered again. We have made the system utterly transparent. Once the officials make a recommendation, the clubs are not moved around geographically in any way. It is done on a scoring system which is perfectly transparent. If there are ways we can make it even more transparent, that is fine. We are open to suggestions. I want to be as far away from it as possible.
The Minister should not be.
Maybe the Senator thinks that but I think I should.
The Senator has expressed his view. I am expressing mine.
That is wrong.
The Minister has only three minutes left. The Leader has had his opportunity. The Minister is attempting to answer the questions.
I think it is absolutely wrong that politicians should be claiming, as Senator Boyhan said, that they have delivered something that they have not.
That is different.
That does happen, let us be honest about it but I think it is a very good thing that they have not, whether they claim it or not is up to themselves. If they are claiming something they have not done, at least we know they have not done it and people in this House know they have not done it.
If they go off and claim they have done it, that sort of thing does happen in politics-----
They may lobby on behalf of it so that is part of the process.
Up to the 2017 round, the process has always been that politicians lobbied and some of them, it appears, lobbied successfully. There is no doubt whatsoever, being realistic, that politicians from all groups lobbied in this particular round as well. I can assure them, however, that they did not have any influence on the points awarded to the clubs in question.
Well done to the Minister.
That is the reality. We will continue to get lobbies and people sending emails asking us to consider this or that club but the points system will not succumb to that sort of pressure.
Senator Boyhan asked me about Glenalbyn pool. It is local authority funded. It may well have applied for the larger fund that is coming through but I do not think the Senator is suggesting that I should do anything for it because he is so completely and utterly opposed to politicians being involved.
The Minister agrees with that.
He is just asking as a fact, he would undoubtedly discourage me from doing that because he thinks I should be independent.
I am not quite sure which way to answer his question because I am not sure what he wants. Senator Boyhan can tell me what answer he wants and I will answer the opposite way.
I have only one minute. I want to make sure that the questions are answered and we will follow some of them up individually if that is all right. Some are very detailed and really not appropriate for this afternoon.
Senator Ó Donnghaile talked about an all-Ireland football team. I think yes, it would be a great idea.
I absolutely and thoroughly approve of it. We would have a better team and a combination of skills. It would be good for relationships between the two parts of this island and may lead to more all-Ireland tourism. I applaud the idea. I will not say too much about it, but I have made moves towards an all-Ireland football team. I have suggested it in certain quarters but one is presented with great difficulties the moment one opens one's mouth in this regard. As the Senator said so eloquently, this works incredibly successfully in other sports. I would love to see an all-island football team but I recognise the political difficulties. That does not mean that these difficulties are insuperable. I call on the Senator and other politicians to co-operate in this sphere, as I know he will. Sport is a wonderful healer of wounds. We are bringing communities together and the great leap to an all-Ireland football team would be good for the nation and would help with the issues of sectarianism and the difficult problems we face in this country, which have been underlined by Brexit. We would do a big favour for both communities in Northern Ireland and for the Republic. I am sorry that I have not answered in more detail but I will give more detailed replies to any Senator who wants them. I am grateful for the debate. It was very useful and very wide, although I do not think it was intended to be.