Vote 31 - Transport, Tourism and Sport (Revised)

The meeting has been convened to consider the Revised Estimate for Vote 31 - Transport, Tourism and Sport, which was referred to the select committee by the Dáil with an instruction that it report back to the Dáil once its consideration was completed. I welcome the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, and his officials. As members are aware, the areas of transport, tourism and sport face challenging times, with numerous issues arising from Brexit and capital and current infrastructural projects in all three sectors, as well as many other issues which we have discussed at the joint committee in the past 12 months. In responding to these challenges the financing and resourcing of the sectors in the year ahead are very important. The committee will explore the issues, with the emphasis on several key points.

The proposed format is that we deal with Vote 31 on a programme by programme basis. The Minister will make an opening statement. There are five programmes which we will consider separately by way of questions from members of the committee. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I remind members that mobile phones should be turned off completely for the duration of the meeting, as they cause interference with the recording and broadcasting equipment in committee rooms, even when left in silent mode.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. They were provided in advance with a briefing document on the five programmes by the Department and the committee secretariat. I call the Minister to make his opening statement.

I thank the select committee for giving me the opportunity to present the 2019 Revised Estimate for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. It provides for an overall gross allocation for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport of over €2.3 billion. We will use the funding to provide some of the economic and social infrastructure Ireland needs now. The funding allocated represents a 15% increase on investment levels in 2018 and each of our programmes of investment will share in the increased level of funding.

Much of the Department's work involves supporting services and maintaining infrastructural assets in safe and usable condition. For that reason, we sought and were granted an increase in our current expenditure budget this year. The coming year will see the support we provide in this area grow by 7.5%, which represents an increase of €52.9 million on the figure for 2018. Since Ireland's economy has picked up, it has been necessary for us to get back to investing in critical economic infrastructure such as the road network. Challenges such as climate change and congestion also mean that we need to provide stronger public transport links. Project Ireland 2040 provides for a step change in funding to meet our investment needs in this area. It also recognises the role played by ports and airports in the international connectivity of our island nation.

Our plan also provides scope to boost our tourism offering and support grassroots sporting endeavours at local level, while also providing world class facilities for our national and international sports heroes. For these reasons, the capital investment proposals before the committee for 2019 would see an increase of over €259 million or 19.5% compared to the figure for 2018. We foresee the increasing levels of activity continuing into the coming years.

In budget 2019 we made a policy choice to convert €30 million of our capital allocation for use as current expenditure. Maintaining our assets is a costly exercise, but it is necessary and saves money in the long term. Additionally, Brexit is very likely to adversely affect the tourism industry. We are choosing to prioritise support for the tourism agencies to best mitigate the negative impact of the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union.

Budget 2019 also saw an increase in the VAT rate charged in a number of sectors, including the hospitality sector. We decided that giving agencies the ability to target specific support for tourism in specific locations would be better. With the fillip these investment plans provide for tourism services, we can direct support towards those who need it most.

More recently, pressures across government have required all Departments to refine slightly their extensive investment plans for 2019. While my Department was able to assist Government colleagues substantially, we have not had to make cuts to any project. Our commitment to support the construction of the A5 road to Derry has not changed and we will meet our agreed commitments in that regard. We understand the Northern Irish authorities are equally committed. Work on the road will be undertaken in due course by our friends and neighbours in Northern Ireland and we will be able to fund our share as costs arise. In the meantime, we have been able to make the best use of any construction delay to move that funding this year.

My Department and I consider our task of delivering first class infrastructure and services to be both an honour and a duty. We will safeguard the taxpayers' investment as we do so. We work closely with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and follow the public spending code to monitor our programmes. Within my Department we have a team of economists and analysts who are dedicated to prior evaluation of projects and programmes. As a Department, we have well established oversight procedures in place to monitor expenditure and are fortunate to work with agencies with a recent track record of delivery and achieving value for money. We are aware, however, that we cannot be complacent and that increased levels of expenditure planned under Project Ireland 2040, as well as recent events, require us to examine with a fresh perspective how we go about our work in this area. The committee can be assured that good governance and oversight are at the centre of our work and will remain so in the years ahead.

I will briefly go through the five programmes of investment in my Department, the funding levels and plans we have for 2019. I will start with the civil aviation programme. Direct investment in aviation during 2019 will be roughly €37 million, which represents just over 1% of expenditure in my Department. Much of the work we do under this programme involves working with regulators and international partners. The international commercial nature of air travel means that my Department's investment focuses mainly on regional access. The largest beneficiary of the funding is the regional airports programme, at €21.7 million, followed by the funding earmarked to cover the costs associated with our membership of Eurocontrol, the costs incurred by the Irish Aviation Authority for certain services and subscriptions to international organisations. Therefore, the key priority for investment in the aviation programme in the short to medium term is providing support for regional airports. We confine our investment and support to safety and security related projects and our involvement is informed by the regional airports programme for the period 2015 to 2019.

Programme B - land transport programme - is the largest programme by far in my Department's Vote, accounting for approximately 80% of our overall budget. This year the programme budget will increase by over €260 million, or 16%, to €1.9 billion. Most of the increase derives from stepped up in investment in roads and mass transit services. The main components of the programme are road improvements and maintenance funding, with an overall budget of just over €1 billion; the public transport investment programme, at €481 million, and PSO payments for public service provision, at €302 million.

The programme also includes provision of €7 million towards the carbon reduction programme and a further €1.9 million, in carried-over funding, will be applied to this programme too. In addition, the operating costs for the national vehicle and driver licensing system are just under €22 million. This system helps us to collect motor taxes and fees such as toll fees on the M50.

As for public transport, in 2019, we will again allocate investment to protect the quality and value of our existing public transport networks. Significantly, the funding being made available in 2019 to Irish Rail, in its role as infrastructure manager, is at the steady-state level, as measured on an annual basis. That is hugely important and represents real progress. The steady-state level of funding carries through to our public service obligation, PSO, bus fleets also, with the funding provided allowing for the optimal amount of bus replacement, which means older and more polluting buses are replaced by newer and cleaner ones. It is not just steady state; we are also expanding and upgrading infrastructure. That means we are continuing to plan for the future with BusConnects, MetroLink, the DART expansion and the various cycling network plans in the major cities. We will also deliver new infrastructure like the extended trams, which will shortly arrive for the Luas green line, or the various cycling projects due to start construction this year, or the proposed new national train control centre, which should start construction by the end of the year. The funding provided in 2019 will make a real and lasting difference to the lives of citizens across the country. We are also committed to the ongoing retrofitting of older existing public transport facilities to improve their accessibility features and, as members will know, accessibility is built into new projects.

As the committee will be aware, we apply a lot of funding to public service obligation services. In 2019, we will continue to support the continued delivery of these socially necessary but financially unviable services throughout the country. We intend for them to continue their growth over recent years and we will facilitate some further expansion, including progressing the bus market opening. As is normal, the precise allocations to the companies, including Irish Rail, will be decided by the National Transport Authority, NTA, in accordance with the various contract arrangements that it has in place with the various PSO service providers. Additionally, rural transport services that respond to local needs have also increased and we will continue to support these through enhanced funding. We will target new and innovative ideas to help decarbonise the transport sector, including pilot initiatives for low emission technologies and incentives to encourage the national taxi fleet towards greener fuels and private car drivers towards electric vehicles.

On roads, approximately €1.06 billion is available for the roads improvement and maintenance programme and with this, we will continue to provide grant support for the national, regional and local road networks. This investment will be used to maintain and renew the national, regional and local road surfaces. As members are aware, the total network is about 99,000 km in extent. It also will be used to meet our contractual obligations under public private partnerships that deliver parts of our motorway network, to maintain motorways in safe and usable conditions; to undertake safety works and bridge maintenance and rehabilitation, to carry out improvement schemes across the country on some minor roads and to undertake essential routine maintenance such as, for example, signing and lining, verge maintenance and preparatory winter maintenance.

With our partners in Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and various local authorities, we intend to progress the following major Project Ireland 2040 projects during the course of 2019: the N4 Collooney to Castlebaldwin scheme; the N8 Dunkettle scheme, which will commence construction; the Sligo western distributor road; and road upgrades in the vicinity of Grangecastle Business Park. Early planning work on the M20 Cork to Limerick scheme also will commence.

Road safety is something which is of paramount importance and our support for the operations of the Road Safety Authority and the Medical Bureau of Road Safety will continue. Both organisations have achieved a lot in recent years and continued that work in 2018. Road deaths are a blight on our communities and work undertaken by my Department and by the RSA, with the support and expertise of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, proves that we can influence driving behaviours and minimise the egregious losses that occur on our roads. This year, 2019, will see a continuation of that vital work.

In terms of maritime activities, we make investments to improve maritime safety and these are seen across the work of the Irish Coast Guard. They are funded through programme C, our maritime transport and safety programme. Funding for 2019 is at €103 million or 5% of the Vote. Most of that funding is directed to the Irish Coast Guard and the main cost here relates to the search and rescue helicopter contract. The programme also funds the Commissioners of Irish Lights, the body that operate buoys and lighthouses and keep seafarers and their cargoes safe while in Irish waters. We also cover various administrative costs associated with the Irish maritime administration. It is important to note that we will be continuing the coast guard building programme to ensure that the volunteers have adequate facilities for their operations and equipment, and we will be investing in IT infrastructure to enable the teams to further enhance how they work together.

Sport is programme D and at €125 million accounts for 6% of the Vote. This includes provision to deliver on all existing commitments under the sports capital programme and new allocations in respect of applications received under the 2018 round of the programme. These allocations will be made later this year. The funding will also cover our existing commitments under the local authority swimming pool programmes and to the Kerry Sports Academy in Tralee, which is due to open this year. Our new large-scale sport infrastructure fund is currently open for applications. We plan to announce our first allocations under this programme later this year.

Other priorities for investment in the sports programme over the short to medium term includes supporting high-performance sporting achievement, while also increasing participation in sport and physical activity at all levels. Last year, we set out our vision for sport in the National Sports Policy 2018-2027. We are now commencing the implementation of the actions outlined in the policy, which will transform our sporting landscape over the next decade.

Tourism services fall under programme E, which at €169 million, accounts for 7% of the Vote. It provides for the programme and administrative spend of the two tourism agencies, with Fáilte Ireland at €69 million and Tourism Ireland at €16 million. It also includes a €47 million contribution to the tourism marketing fund, €21 million for tourism product development and over €13 million for the development of greenways. This funding will allow Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland to continue to develop and market the tourism industry, including the further development of the signature experience brands like the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East and Ireland's Hidden Heartlands. In budget 2019, I secured an additional €35 million, which represents a 26% increase in funding for tourism, which will allow the tourism agencies to provide fresh impetus this year in terms of industry support, product development and marketing of our tourism offering around the world. Following the expansion of the sector in recent years, we are in the position where we should focus more on sustainable growth.

The Government has allocated almost €8 million, in additional funding, to the tourism agencies to respond to the impact of Brexit. Fáilte Ireland is implementing a programme that places a focus on retaining business from Northern Ireland and Britain, while also offering supports to enterprises to equip them for the post-Brexit marketplace. Tourism Ireland is implementing a series of actions in the British market to address the decline in visitor numbers since the Brexit referendum, while also extending its regional access initiative. Tourism Ireland also continues to roll out its market diversification strategy, which focuses greater resources on attracting visitors from those markets who stay longer and spend more while on holiday.

In 2019, we will build on progress made in recent years, we will push our tourism and sport strategies forward and we will continue to build and prepare for the construction of a more mobile and connected country. I, like the members, am keen to see advances this year and envisage a result that will see all of Ireland share in the fruits of these proposed investments. I am more than happy to answer any questions on the 2019 Estimates of expenditure and investment for the services provided by my Department and our partner organisations.

To conclude, I received some adverse comments about not being here last week. I would like to explain my absence to the committee and I think I should do so. It was impossible for me to-----

I wish to advise the Minister that the joint committee met last week and this is a meeting of the select committee.

Yes, that is all right. I was unable to attend for very good reasons. I wish to point out to members of the joint committee, in particular, that I have attended more meetings than any other Minister. I have attended that committee 25 times in less than three years but my predecessors attended maybe a third of that, if that. I am very happy and appreciate coming in here. It is an exercise that is usually very valuable but members should realise that sometimes it is not possible for me to appear before the joint committee.

My absence is not out of an unwillingness to be here, because my record will show I am more than willing to be here, but it is occasionally not possible. If people are critical of what happened last week, they should understand that my attendance record is impeccable.

I thank the Minister for that. We will now commence on programme A - civil aviation. I ask members to clearly indicate the subhead to which they are referring so the officials and the Minister are aware of exactly what they are saying. I ask members to limit their questions to one subhead at a time.

I will quickly refer to what the Minister said about his absence last week. It has to be acknowledged that the Minister always accepts the invitation when he is invited before this committee. The reason he has been before the joint committee 25 times since his appointment as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is because we have had particularly turbulent times and issues falling under his remit. There have been three strikes and many different issues that warranted his appearing before the committee, so it is not comparing like with like when he speaks about previous Ministers.

We were surprised last week that for the first time, the Minister did not offer an alternative date to appear before the committee and his mere excuse was his workload. It was obvious that he was in the House because he appeared on the monitor, responding to a Topical Issue matter, when we were here. That would only have been decided on that morning. The Minister was witnessed at other locations in the House that morning.

That is untrue. I was not at other locations in the House. I went straight to the Topical Issue debate. That is absolutely untrue.

The Minister was at other locations in the House after the Topical Issue debate.

I was afterwards but not before.

Can I ask the Minister about the civil aviation programme? He talked about the costs associated with membership of Eurocontrol and costs incurred by the Irish Aviation Authority for certain services and subscriptions to international organisations. Correct me if I am wrong, but is the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, not a net contributor to the Department? Did it not pay a dividend of approximately €12 million to the Department last year which the Minister used as part of a supplementary budget? Perhaps the Minister will correct me if I have the figure wrong because I am working from memory. Does the Minister envisage there will be a contribution from the IAA this year? Will any such contribution be ring-fenced for the aviation sector or is the Minister free to use it across various headings within his remit?

There is an increase in funding to our regional airports despite the fact that passenger traffic through our regional airports has remained fairly static over the past four or five years. Can the Minister identify the purpose of the increase in funding? Is it for safety improvement measures or what is the increase for? How will the benefits of the increased funding be measured?

The national aviation policy states that an overall freight policy for Ireland, covering all modes, will be developed with a view to ensuring the continued competitiveness of the freight sector. Given the realities of Brexit and potential need for a greater reliance on air freight in the future, what is the status of that overall freight policy? What is the status of the air cargo strategies that are being developed by the various State airports?

I also want to ask about the construction of the second runway at Dublin Airport and auxiliary buildings and services that have to be constructed. Can the Minister confirm that the funding for all that will be self-financing in that the funding will come from the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA?

Deputy Troy is perfectly correct about the Irish Aviation Authority. It has been a net contributor in terms of dividend. The Deputy is correct that a dividend of €12 million was paid last year. That was paid to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and €6 million came to the Department. That was not dedicated to aviation but was spent on various necessary projects, including some sporting projects the Deputy might recall, including the Irish women's hockey team and other areas such as that. That was money well spent and required.

I do not know whether such a dividend will be paid this year. That is completely a matter for the IAA. I am hopeful. A decision on that will be made, from memory, in April.

Is it a voluntary decision?

It is a decision I would welcome but I cannot do much about it if the IAA decides not to pay it. I would be surprised if it does not. I am hopeful because it was obviously done on the basis that the IAA had large reserves and was making substantial sums of money. It is still a successful State organisation and I very much hope the payment of a dividend will be repeated this year.

Deputy Troy raised the issue of regional airports. The numbers going through them were pretty static last year. Shannon went up from approximately 531,000 passengers to approximately 561,000 passengers. Passengers in Knock increased from approximately 244,000 to approximately 251,000. Kerry saw an increase in passenger numbers from approximately 102,000 to approximately 114,000. Those are small percentages. Kerry was the only one that showed a double-digit percentage of growth. The intention will be to give them a public service obligation, PSO, because they will need it. That will continue this year.

The DAA is preparing effectively for Brexit. We are reassured that it is doing so successfully. That will be self-funding, as far as I know. The DAA is paying itself.

I asked about the purpose of the increased funding to the regional airports. It is a 114% increase on the 2018 Estimate so what is that for, what are the expected benefits of this funding and how will such benefits be measured?

I am quite confident that the DAA will be prepared for Brexit but that is not the question I asked. The question I asked related to the national aviation policy, a Government policy. The part of it the Minister is responsible for stated that an overall freight policy for Ireland, covering all modes, will be developed with a view to ensuring the continued competitiveness of the freight sector. What is the status of that freight policy?

We will continue to encourage air freight where it is feasible. It is high value stuff and something which is being looked at and examined in the context of Brexit because of the possible difficulties with freight elsewhere. It is being examined as a possibility. It is not expected that it will increase enormously in the context of Brexit but it is certainly being looked at as a possible outlet.

Has the Department commenced its freight policy? It is part of a commitment under the national aviation policy to have a dedicated freight policy.

There is permanent dialogue about it, and fairly frenzied dialogue in the context of Brexit.

Therefore, the answer is yes; it is ongoing.

For the information of Deputy Troy, the figures we have do not show the increase mentioned by the Minister. The figure for regional airports is 1.1 million passengers across the past three years. Where did the Minister say there was an increase?

The statistics I supplied are from the Central Statistics Office. I can read them again.

That is fair enough. We do not have them, but there is no problem.

I can supply them to the committee.

It is just a matter of the members having them.

Passenger numbers at Dublin Airport are up by 6%, at Cork Airport, by 2.8%; at Shannon Airport, by 5.7%; at Knock airport, by 2.8%; and at Kerry Airport, by 11.6%, with total numbers up by 5.8%.

That is fine. It is just that we did not have those figures.

I can provide them for the committee, of course.

That is perfect.

Would the Minister care to give a reason for his absence from the committee meeting last week? It might give comfort to some committee members, given the fact that there is a crisis in rural transport. Will he explain why he could not attend the meeting?

I refer to the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, and the need for a single regulator separate from commercial air traffic control services. As we all agree that the IAA should not be doing both of these things, where are we in that process?

The Deputy is referring to the split in the IAA.

It is approximately halfway through. It is expected to be completed in approximately 18 months to two years, but I will check for the Deputy.

It will be completed in 18 months to two years.

Yes. We are expecting it to be completed within that period.

I thank the Minister. Would he care to give his reasons for not attending the meeting to which I referred?

Absolutely. I have no problem in answering that question. Last week I was in a position where I had to deal with a portion of the debate on Second Stage of the Brexit Bill. We were on alert to be available all day to take that debate. If I had accepted an invitation to come here in the morning, it would have been in total contravention of that commitment and I would have had to let down the committee to deal with the Brexit Bill. I did not know whether I would be able to come at the time. As it happened, my piece on Brexit was left until the afternoon, but I did not know that when I received the committee's invitation. It would have been completely inappropriate for me to accept the invitation to come in the full knowledge I might be called to deal with the other issue at the same time. That is the only reason. I could not have attended in the afternoon and in the morning I had other engagements. It would have been mad for me to accept the invitation when I knew I would not be able to come.

Was there a particular reason the Minister did not explain that to the committee in the correspondence sent? It would have been a reasonable point to make.

The Minister has answered.

I am talking about the correspondence related to his attendance.

Of course. The clerk has made a request of the Minister and I appreciate that he will come back to us with a date for when he will be available to discuss the issue.

Of course. It is an absolutely outrageous accusation that I did not come before the committee because I did not want to do so. It is quite extraordinary how many times I have come before the committee and I am willing to do so. If the insinuation is that in some way I did not want to do so or was not willing to come, it is absurd. I am here now and can discuss the matters today. It would have been totally irresponsible of me to say I could come last week in the full knowledge that I would almost certainly have to speak about Brexit in the Dáil at the same time. I accepted the invitation to go into the Dáil to deal with a Topical Issue as I was available at the time. The invitation from the committee was received much earlier.

There was no such explanation given in the correspondence sent by the Minister. It indicated that the Minister would be unavailable owing to pressures of work.

That was the reason.

If the explanation referred to the Brexit Bill, even if the Minister was not required until the afternoon-----

The Minister has been asked by the clerk to indicate a date on which he will be able to come and agreed that he will come as soon as he can arrange a date in his diary.

There is nothing-----

The Deputy is really-----

I am just asking the question as I thought the Minister could have given his reasons in the correspondence, but not to worry.

I have a question about civil aviation which is relevant to all of the programmes. It concerns carbon reduction across each section. I appreciate that the Minister has referred to the issue, but I would not necessarily expect him to have the detail with him. What is the policy of the Department in interacting with all of the transport agencies. For example, the airports have a huge carbon footprint. What mitigating steps are being taken? How does the Department deal with the issue of carbon reduction?

May I have a few seconds, please?

The Minister might send us a note on the issue.

I have a note on carbon reduction in air travel which is really a global matter.

Perhaps Deputy Rock might have a question.

I have some figures for the Chairman.

While the Minister is looking for them, we can move to programme B. He might supply the note with the figures later as there is no immediate urgency. Programme B relates to land transport. Do members wish to raise any matter in that respect?

If the legal issues with the A5 project are resolved this year, from where would the money come for the project? They may not be resolved, but if they are, from where would the money come, or would it come from next year's funding? The Minister has indicated an increase in capital investment of €259 million. I am curious about it because it was not mentioned in the budget figures in October. Will the Minister explain from where the increase comes?

I will start with the A5 project. There was a commitment of €27 million for the project this year. I do not know if the Deputy is familiar with the project, but she probably is.

This is about the A5 road, rather than a subhead.

It was a commitment we made and which we stand by. We are in no way hesitating or pulling back from it. There was a delay arising from a planning decision by an arbitration body in Northern Ireland. It was found that a decision made should have been made by the Executive. As the decision had been made by civil servants instead, there had to be a change. As a result, there was a delay which was not of our making. As I am sure the Deputies know, as a consequence, the money for the national children's hospital that my Department had to provide could be supplied this year.

The reason is that there was a delay in the payment and the payment will be made next year. There is a commitment to pay £25 million per annum on this and we intend to fulfil that commitment. If we need to fund the A5 this year, we could do so but it is not ready for building so we will not have to. The Northern Ireland authorities have a different financial year from us. We can pay bills in early 2020 if they spend money in late 2019. It does not present us with any great difficulty. We will have the money and we will pay it next year if we have to, and our commitment to the project is absolutely undiluted.

If the legal issues are resolved the money will be there and the Minister will find it.

The Minister mentioned an increase of €259 million. Where did this come from? It was not in the budget.

The €259 million is capital spending. It is in the budget.

Was it in the budget presented in October?

I could not find a trace of it.

Absolutely. It is there.

Is the additional funding for Project Ireland 2040?

It is capital spending so it will almost certainly all be for that.

I want to raise a particular ongoing issue in County Louth, which is the funding of the port access northern cross route. It was to have started several years ago. It was actually to be built around a proposal for 7,000 new homes. It was a ring road to take traffic out of Drogheda. When the crash and recession came the building stopped. In recent years, it has kick-started again and planning permission is being granted left, right and centre. I understand Louth County Council made an application for funding which was refused. It is my understanding that decision has been appealed. Given the magnitude of the development, will the Minister provide funding? I raised this issue with the Minister previously and at that stage, in fairness, he said he had not received an application. According to Louth County Council, it made an application and it was refused. It is a serious piece of infrastructure that is needed.

Correct me if I am wrong but that application was made to the Department of Housing-----

No, the initial application was made under the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, but apparently this application was made to the Department.

What I know for sure is the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government is looking at an appeal from Louth County Council specifically regarding this funding. If there is a separate application that is fine but I am not aware of it.

The Chairman is correct that an application was made to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. It was not made to my Department.

Louth County Council stated it first applied under LIHAF but it was not granted and then it applied to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

The application was made to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

The council stated the most recent application it made was to the Minister's Department.

The Department is not aware of it.

The Minister has not received-----

I believe the Department is not aware of it.

I will check it out.

The Department would be aware of it if an application had been made. Perhaps the Deputy will refer back to Louth County Council and see-----

I will get Louth County Council to clarify the position. I was told it was of the opinion that the application was made to the Minister's Department.

Obviously there is a mistake.

We will check it out and see.

With regard to the A5 road, when the Department set its roads budget for 2019 were the officials not aware of the current legal status of the A5? One would imagine they were aware as the overrun at the children's hospital is not something that suddenly became apparent in recent weeks. Why was money allocated at the beginning of the year for a project the Minister did not envisage would be drawn down? My concern is there is a disproportionate cut of €30 million to the Department and it is being masked under the heading of the A5 because, as the Minister quite rightly said, there are complications and it will not progress at the speed we would like to see. Knowing what the Minister knew, and knowing the complications and legal difficulties, why was funding earmarked for the A5 this year if it was never going to be drawn down in the first instance?

An increase in funding for the public transport agencies is provided under subhead B9. I understand this increase would be to agencies such as the National Transport Authority. Will the Minister clarify what this increase is for? Is it primarily for the work being done on rolling out BusConnects? Does it concern Transport Infrastructure Ireland in terms of the work being done on rolling out the metro? Perhaps the Minister will take this opportunity to clarify the position on the metro. Will it be rolled out as one stand-alone project or will it be divided in two projects?

The Minister has identified €7 million for carbon reduction. Given the fact that transport is the second biggest contributor after agriculture to our global emissions, €7 million is a drop in the ocean. It is disappointing to note that €1.9 million will be carried over from last year. Why were we not able to meet our expenditure targets last year? The Minister has a commitment to retrofit older public transport facilities to accommodate people with varying levels of ability and disability. Earlier this year, we produced a document to which the Minister contributed and we debated it in the Dáil several weeks ago. Has the Minister set a clear target on how many public transport facilities will be retrofitted to make sure they are wheelchair accessible and disability friendly? The Minister has spoken about new innovative ideas to help decarbonise transport, including pilot initiatives. Perhaps he will share some information on these pilot initiatives with us.

With regard to the roads budget, the programme for partnership Government the Minister negotiated includes a commitment to restore roads funding to a steady-state condition. As the Minister goes into his fourth year in office, this commitment will not be met. The 2019 output target of 264 km for length of national road pavement renewed is below the long-term annual target length of pavement renewal of 350 km and below the 2018 output target of 280 km. When is it envisaged to reach the target of 350 km outlined in the high level matrix?

With regard to rail transport, the Minister speaks about bringing the level of funding back up to a steady-state level. What are the effects of the lack of funding for a steady-state level over recent years? We have not kept it at a steady level in recent years. What have been the cumulative defects over recent years?

I ask the Minister to update the committee on the tendering process for additional rail carriages. I know, as I am sure my colleagues also know from their engagements with Irish Rail, that the company's assets have been sweated within an inch of their lives. There are no additional carriages in spite of the urgent need for such carriages on many services. When will the tender document be issued for the delivery of new carriages? When is delivery of new carriages expected?

As a vote is upcoming in the Dáil, the committee will suspend until it is completed. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Sitting suspended at 2.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.55 p.m.

We will resume in public session. The Minister was in possession.

Nearly all of these are Deputy Troy's questions. Should we wait another half a minute for him?

The Minister can go ahead. The answers will be on the record in any event.

The first point was about increased spending on the running of the public transport agencies. It is just a matter of staff. There is increased activity in these agencies. It is a matter of taking on new staff. It is nothing more or less than that. The agencies need the right number of staff and extra resources in order to take on the projects. Delivering the national development plan demands many more skills and many more people. That is what the increased spending is about.

Deputy Troy also referred steady state. Safety is always prioritised in spending on rail. Maintaining a steady state did fall behind. This meant that non-priority issues had to be deferred. Deputy Troy has returned; I am just getting to his stuff. We were not in a position to do as much track relaying or ballast cleaning as we had hoped. Now that rail is in a steady state, we are going ahead with many other purchases and with spending and investment. Transport Infrastructure Ireland will reach a steady-state situation in the context of national roads in 2021. On regional and local roads, steady state should be achieved by 2023.

I will deal with the rail fleet before dealing with retrofitting for accessibility. The NTA recently advertised for 60 to 80 second-hand rail carriages, either for lease or purchase, for delivery by February 2020. The NTA and Iarnród Éireann are also exploring options to place an order for additional intermediate carriages for the existing rail fleet, for delivery by the middle of 2021. This would boost capacity on medium-distance commuter lines in the greater Dublin area in particular.

On the A5 project, the Deputy has asked whether we knew about the issue in advance and, if so, whether provision had been made in respect of it. We knew that there might be a deferral or something of that nature, but we were in no way aware of the extent of what would be involved. It was considered prudent to provide for it in the budget last October. As it turned out, a certain amount was available, which was lucky. It would have been very imprudent not to provide for it because the money could still have had to be spent this year.

Core challenges have meant that it was postponed.

On retrofitting, accessibility features such as wheelchair access and audiovisual aids are built into all new public transport infrastructure projects and vehicles from the design stage. All new buses purchased by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann for urban centres are low-floor, wheelchair accessible vehicles. Grant support for the introduction in the taxi fleet of more wheelchair accessible vehicles is available. There is a retrofit accessibility capital allocation of €7 million for 2019. With regard to rail, we fund an ongoing programme to upgrade existing older infrastructure and facilities, including train stations, to make them accessible to wheelchair users. This retrofit programme is managed by the NTA. Some €3 million was provided for rail station accessibility upgrades for 2019. This funding is triple the previous allocation for accessibility.

Irish Rail has two wheelchair accessible platforms at 118 stations and one wheelchair accessible platform at 26 stations. Work remains to be done to retrofit older infrastructural facilities, for example, Victorian era train stations, to make them accessible for people with disabilities. Making all stations fully accessible in addition to being wheelchair accessible would include ticketing and audio and visual information systems. An accessibility audit for Irish Rail in 2014 identified 54 stations then requiring upgrades to make them fully accessible at a cost of €79 million. The company has since undertaken some works at all 54 stations, as well as accessibility works at other stations across the network. However, Irish Rail would need to complete a new feasibility study to ascertain the cost of providing full accessibility at all stations across the network. I anticipate people will say that full accessibility has not yet been achieved. That is our objective, however, and we have made significant strides in that regard. We have increased funding and we are committed to this programme and achieving full accessibility eventually. While we have made significant progress, I acknowledge that it is definitely not enough and there is further to go.

I am happy to tell the committee all I know about MetroLink. It has been an issue for a long time in the Dáil and other fora. There has been much speculation about the project on which many people have lobbied and for which there have been various plans. The NTA will come forward with a new plan in two or three weeks. Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, will produce a new plan, having taken into consideration much of the ongoing public consultation. I met the NTA a couple of weeks ago and I met the TII in the same week. They gave me an outline of the possible implications of certain options. They have not made a decision. One option in the outline was for very long closures for metro south, on the green line, which were unacceptable. In one case, part of the line could have been closed for four years. That would be substituted by alternatives which I did not regard as satisfactory, including buses taking people from to and from the points of closure. I made it clear to both agencies that closures of this duration or of a much shorter duration were unacceptable and would cause gridlock in the area in question. They agreed to come back with a more concrete plan but left with no doubt that we would not allow lengthy closures. That is the current position and we expect the NTA and TII to come back with a proposal in the coming weeks. The date mentioned was, I believe, 20 March but members should not hold me to that. That is the position and I think we will make progress on the issue. Many public consultations are taking place on all aspects of MetroLink. The committee will find that decisions have to be made shortly. What I can say definitively is that if undue closures are proposed, the plan will not be acceptable. However, I do not expect that to happen.

Will the Minister define the word "undue"?

I do not want to put a complete time on it.

I understand that, but four years-----

Four years was mentioned, then two years, and I told the NTA and TII that it was not on because it would mean it would be almost impossible to bring people in and out of work in a tolerable time. We have to be convinced that any closures will be justified and will not cause significant disruption, which is what the proposals in the previous plan would do. I anticipate a plan coming back in which closures are not much of a feature. We aim to avoid closures at all costs.

The corollary of that is that if the Minister was to have the works he is talking about done without delay, the project would have to be underground and that would be cost-prohibitive. Is that-----

It would not necessarily have to be underground. I imagine that one could look at other ways of doing it, such as upgrading the Luas, with more trams, quicker travel times and higher frequency. I believe we will get proposals along those lines but I am not certain.

We were all aware of the potential for significant disruption to the Luas green line if the plan, as originally published, had proceeded. The Minister should not have been surprised to learn of that in his meetings with the NTA and TII as it had been on the agenda for a number of months. He is saying today that the preferred route will be published within the next four weeks by the relevant bodies, although I am not holding him to that.

Absolutely. We want to get it as quickly as possible.

I asked the NTA last week about all the projects it is responsible for rolling out over the next years, including BusConnects and the new pilot project for rural transport. It indicated it will recruit additional staff. I presume the increase in funding for public transport agencies is to cater for increased recruitment. Will the Minister confirm that?

The Minister said that 60 to 70 new rail carriages will be ordered. My understanding from speaking with the NTA and Irish Rail is that Irish Rail originally hoped to acquire second-hand carriages but it felt this would be an inefficient use of resources given the lead-in time involved and the time needed to recondition the carriages. As a result, it has decided to wait and order new, purpose-built carriages. Capacity on Irish Rail is a serious issue. When will that tender go out? Has the Minister a clear timeframe for when the order will be placed? There is a lead-in of 24 months from when the order is placed. It is critical that the tender is published and the order placed in the not too distant future.

The Minister gave a good overview of retrofitting and what has been done on disability services. I acknowledge that. Have we a clear programme of work? In the next three, four or five years, we intend to make every public transport facility wheelchair-accessible and to have the right audio and other enabling equipment so everyone, regardless of disability level, will be catered for.

If the Minister has answered my next question, I apologise. On carbon reduction, Ireland had a great responsibility to change its method of transport and acknowledge it has a carbon emissions problem. Transport is the second biggest contributor in Ireland. A sum of €7 million to tackle it seems like a drop in the ocean. A carryover of €1.9 million last year leads me to believe the Department is not treating this matter as seriously as is required and with sufficient priority. If we do not meet our targets by 2020, how much will we be fined? I accept it will not just be the Department.

I have a question on electric vehicle charging infrastructure and the carbon footprint. There is a great need for considerable investment in this infrastructure. I understand there are only six public charging points in Drogheda. There has been a considerable increase in the number of electric cars sold. What plan, if any, has the Department to work with the ESB or others to have a proper, first-rate network around the country? The main issue is that people want to buy electric cars but they have range anxiety because they are not certain that if they drive over 200 km, to places they do not normally go, they will be able to charge them.

The Chairman made a good point in that we lack charging points. They are difficult to find sometimes. There are not enough of them. The ESB has announced impressive plans recently to invest in the fast-charging network and upgrade the on-street parking network. This would be a major boost to electric vehicle acceptance. Fees should be considered only in the context of this step change in the quality and coverage of the charging network. We have got a plan. The ESB has made the plan and there is a real commitment to implementing it.

The local emission vehicle task force was established in 2016 to consider the range of measures and options available to the Government to accelerate the take-up of low-carbon technology in the road transport sector. This has been reasonably successful, but perhaps not successful enough, in terms of the take-up of electric vehicles. It started from a very low base. I have some statistics that might be useful to the Deputy. In 2018, a total of 1,972 new electric vehicles were registered, bringing the total number in Ireland to almost 7,650 by the end of December 2018. This year, 2019, is seeing a continuation in the rise of electric vehicle numbers. In the first two months, 1,128 new battery electric vehicles were registered by comparison with 176 in the same period last year. The way things are moving is pretty staggering. There is a low base, which I admit. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle sales are also increasing, with 472 vehicles registered in January and February compared with 185 last year. There are now almost 9,500 electric vehicles on Irish roads.

I will make a general comment on carbon reduction. It is important to note that while the carbon reduction programme has a vital role to play in transport emissions mitigation efforts, it is only one small element of a far wider range of transport measures being implemented to help to reduce emissions, including a range of incentives to encourage a transition from conventional fuels to lower-emission alternatives, such as electric vehicles; increasing the proportion of biofuels in the mix; improving efficiency standards for vehicles; and the significantly enhanced funding we are making available to support the development of new, improved public and sustainable transport infrastructure.

Deputy Troy raised the delay in the drawing down of funding in 2018. The programme drew down only €697,000 due to a number of factors. It sounds very disappointing, and I suppose it is, but there were production delays that deferred the delivery of nine hybrid buses until 2019. There were procurement delays in facilitating a small-scale pilot programme for alternatively fuelled rural buses. The cost will arise in 2019 instead. It is not because of a lack of commitment but because there were unavoidable delays.

On the issue of public transport, I answered Deputy Troy's question on staff when he was out. The increases associated with the running of the agencies are because we obviously need, because of the national development plan and the expansion of the bodies' roles, greater expertise and more staff. This has increased the costs. We have given more money for that purpose.

I was asked about disability and accessibility. The Deputy is seeking a commitment in this regard. It is always dangerous to make concrete commitments on every last item. Our aim - I do not believe we have let anybody down in this regard - is full accessibility; it is nothing short of that. We still have mountains to climb in terms of some of the buses that are not equipped and other areas where there is not full accessibility. We are making progress, however, and we are making commitments. This committee was very active in this regard. It is pushing many people in the right direction.

There is commitment. The Deputy knows that I put on every transport board an advocate with personal experience of disability. This was not for the sake of it; it actually puts pressure on the bodies to deliver. They seek to deliver what we are promising also. While we are making great strides, we have still a good way to go. I admit that and covered it in my opening speech. There are gaps but our ambition is to fill them as soon as possible. The funding has been committed to.

The Minister said in his statement that the PSO funding is at a steady state. Does he not agree that Bus Éireann is in need of an enormous increase in funding given the state of rural transport? He cannot be happy with the service level. Some places do not have a single bus while others might have one per week. Figures I obtained on the NTA show it has cut funding to Bus Éireann by around €6.4 million by comparison with last year's figure. I refer to capital and current expenditure. Given the crisis in rural transport, could the Minister explain the thinking behind that? Although extra money is given under the rural transport programme, is it a case of funding that programme and taking funding from Bus Éireann? Bus Éireann is the main provider of public rural transport.

I do not know where the Minister is getting the figures from.

The figures I have, which are NTA figures, show PSO allocations last year increased from €52 million to €55 million.

I received these figures on 26 February. Bus Éireann's capital expenditure in 2018 was €9.2 million. In 2019, it is €2.9 million. The figure for current expenditure is down by €100,000.

That is capital.

It is capital and current. Current expenditure is down to-----

The figures which I have confirmed to the Deputy went up from €52 million to €55 million. Capital is different.

I know. The current expenditure figure is also down.

I do not know how that occurs. We have figures of €52 million going up to €55 million. It is absolutely straight forward and it is there. My official has the same figures. It has gone up.

The document before me was issued on 26 February.

Is that from the National Transport Authority?

The Deputy might share it with the Minister.

We will communicate with the Deputy if she thinks that is useful.

Yes, I would like clarification.

I am not doubting the Deputy but the figures we have, which are the official figures, are different.

I wish to return to the metro design. When the consultants were appointed to design the metro, were they given a straight line and told to come up with a design or were they given terms of reference, such as minimising disruption to existing traffic? Surely before consultants were appointed, someone in the NTA must have proposed putting in place a new metro service but that it would be done by trying not to disrupt existing operators, such as the Luas. Why are we having to go back to the drawing board? We should not have to go back to the drawing board. This should have been anticipated.

I refer to the Dunkettle interchange works in Cork, at the M8. Has there been an overrun in spending in the initial site investigation and clearance works? It is already behind schedule by four to six months. Was the overrun because the tendering process was not properly scrutinised?

What measures are being taken to advance increase availability of driver testers for learner drivers? The waiting lists are not coming down at all - indeed, they have got worse following the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act. What is being done to facilitate learner drivers? People are losing their jobs because they cannot get to work and they have no one to bring them.

We are not going back to the drawing board on the metro. We have had public consultations on various things which were built in. If we did not have public consultations on a plan as dramatic and radical as this and we were not prepared to change things in response to the consultations, the Deputy would be the first to say - and rightly so - that the NTA was dictatorial and was overriding the wishes of the people, etc. There are public consultations ongoing because what is going on with the metro, BusConnects and other things represents an extremely dramatic development. We are not going back to the drawing board. What we are doing is responding to the public consultations both on the northside and on the southside of Dublin and making adjustments accordingly. Some very dramatic and uncomfortable things are going to happen but we are going to be flexible because if initial responses are so convincing that the initial plan will have effects which have not been anticipated, it is better to adjust them. That is what is happening there. We will see a preferred route come out very shortly. The commitment to a route was not there prior to that. This consultation has been about a route and finding the best route. We are not going back to the drawing board but we are responsive to change.

I will come back to the Deputy in a second on the Dunkettle interchange overrun. It will go ahead. If the Deputy likes, we can get an update from Transport Infrastructure Ireland. We have no indication that it is behind schedule, but we can check that for the Deputy, and we have no indication that the budget is inadequate. The Deputy is hitting me with something that we are not aware of and which we do not think is the case. He appears to have information but we are prepared find out for him.

The Deputy is wrong about learner drivers. The numbers on the waiting list for driver tests are falling. The target was ten weeks and the average around the country is now at 8.8 weeks.

That is the national average but there are centres which are beyond ten weeks and are 12 weeks to 18 weeks.

I do not have the figures with me but I do not believe there are any which are 18 weeks.

I raised this with the Minister in Dáil questions two weeks ago. We had the most up-to-date figures. My colleague is correct that there were a number of centres that were way out of kilter. Some centres, it must be acknowledged, had waiting times of six weeks which is helping to reduce the average. However, Deputy O'Keeffe is right. There were centres, including in the Minister's own locality, which had average waiting times of 16 weeks.

Certainly in my own locality, yes. I think that 18 weeks is out. I answered a question on this in the Seanad yesterday. The figure I gave was an average of 8.8 weeks. I am sure the Deputy is correct. Obviously, if there is an average, some centres will be far above that level and others way below. However, without arguing about figures with the Deputy, I would say that a great improvement has been made. There is a significant increase in the number of driver testers and the waiting time has gone down. We are very pleased with that as the target was ten weeks. The 8.8 week average figure was correct as of yesterday. I acknowledge that the new law has obviously caused people who were breaking the law to adjust, that it has made life less comfortable for them and that they have had to make alternative arrangements. That is undoubtedly true. However, we are not prepared to allow learner drivers to drive cars willy-nilly and to break the law.

I respect that but the Minister should be in a position to facilitate the problem that arises as a consequence. He should be moving more quickly to have the driver testers in place.

I had a meeting yesterday with the Road Safety Authority at which this arose. It said the number of emergencies, that is, people needing driver tests at short notice, can all be accommodated. There are a staggering number of no-shows where people just do not turn up. If the Deputy knows people who need a test in a hurry, he should tell them to get on the website and they will find the vacant slots. This may not be very well-known and there may be some public relations that need to be done to publicise it. The problem is obviously bad in certain areas. The Deputy may be correct about that, but overall there has been a huge improvement. Overall, if people need a test in a hurry, they can go on the website and find a slot as many people pull out at the last minute or just do not turn up. This is a problem which has been tackled successfully. Of course, there will be hard cases and there will be testing centres that are way above the average and others well below it, but it is improving. If the Deputy has a specific area in mind, he should come back to me. I have all the figures, although not with me today, with the averages in the different areas and the longest waiting times. However, they have improved.

It was agreed we would move on to programme C, maritime transport and safety.

At our budget meeting this time last year, it was confirmed that less than half of all Coast Guard buildings had IT, sanitary and running water facilities. There was a commitment to address that during the year. Has the Minister figures for how the Coast Guard facilities have been upgraded or improved in the last 12 months?

I take this opportunity to reiterate our concern, and we are due to hold a committee meeting on this, about the recent decision which prevents the Coast Guard volunteers from using the blue flashing light. We thought it was a disastrous decision. We do not know who took it. In 99.9% of instances, these people are responding to an emergency that is a time sensitive, life threatening issue. They are giving their time freely and perhaps leaving their places of work or homes. It is of paramount importance that they reach their destination in a timely manner. The decision to suspend the use of the blue flashing light was regrettable. I understand, and perhaps the Minister will correct me, that a decision has been taken to offer the members of the Coast Guard training in the use of the blue light with a view to reinstating that facility in the service. However, according to my correspondence or engagement with the Coast Guard volunteers, the Irish Coast Guard is not on the list of clients of the company that provides this blue light training. Can the Minister confirm that the decision to prevent Irish Coast Guard volunteers from using the blue light will be rescinded and that the volunteers will receive adequate training to use the blue light in future?

In addition, how has the Coast Guard building programme improved in the last 12 months?

Yes, I can confirm that training will be provided. I will outline the up-to-date situation. The Coast Guard is a fantastic organisation. Everybody wants to do what is best for the Coast Guard to make it work efficiently, and for its members to be content with what they are doing and not to hinder them in their work in any way.

On the issue of basic facilities such as toilets, running water and Internet, almost two thirds of Coast Guard units have basic facilities, including bathrooms, running water and so forth. Most of the remaining buildings are old rocket houses which were never intended to be anything other than storage units. The building programme is seeking to target capital investment on enhancing the units most in need. Unfortunately, some buildings are simply not suitable for such enhancement in terms of their location, building regulations or other safety considerations. In such cases the Irish Coast Guard, IRCG, in conjunction with the Office of Public Works, OPW, is seeking alternative sites or solutions for the units. There are 16 IRCG units in total without full sanitation facilities. That is not satisfactory and will have to be improved. However, there have been improvements to two thirds of the units.

Due to the nature and size of the rocket house buildings, their current land footprint and their unique locations, it is not always feasible to upgrade or extend these premises. My officials have asked the OPW to conduct individual building assessments of IRCG unit stations currently without facilities to ascertain the best solutions available, including temporary solutions for the ten units already included in the OPW building and building maintenance programmes and permanent solutions for the remaining six rocket house sub-stations. All 53 stations will be provided with laptops and printers this year by IT people in the Department and all 53 officers-in-charge now have Internet enabled mobile devices.

There are 16 buildings without sanitation.

Yes, but the intention is-----

All of those 16 buildings are used by volunteers. They are not remote buildings, but operational facilities that are used by volunteers in which there is a need for sanitary facilities.

I think so, but I am not sure.

It would be helpful if the Deputy could get a list of them after the meeting.

It cannot be stressed forcefully enough that these men and women are doing invaluable service for their community, often putting their lives at risk and doing it for no financial reward. At a minimum, we should afford them facilities that are fit for purpose. In 2019, to have volunteers working out of buildings that have no sanitary provisions is simply not good enough. The Minister did not wish to put a timeframe on the rolling out of the disabilities issue earlier, but clearly there should be a timeframe for when sanitary services will be available to these 16 facilities.

We have a programme with the OPW to do this. I agree with the Deputy that it is unacceptable.

Could you circulate it to the committee after the meeting? We can take it from there.

We will move on to programme D, sports and recreation.

I acknowledge the increase in funding. It is fine to have an increase but the issue is to get it to the clubs and organisations. The Government is entering the fourth year of its term and there has been one official allocation of the sports capital grants in the three years. There was an expectation that the sports capital grants would be awarded annually. When does the Minister see it slotting into a calendar month? As I said, there has been only one official allocation and the Government is entering its fourth year.

My other question relates to the funding for high performance sports, and I raised this with the Minister recently. One association is in jeopardy with regard to participation in the Tokyo Olympics - our boxing participants - if it does not get to go. Is the Minister going to keep spending money on the boxing federation? Will the issue be resolved? I commend the Minister's participation with the anti-doping organisations. Has he spoken to colleagues in the boxing association? In the Dáil the Minister was about to give me answer about the time he was in Washington as to whether he spoke to some people about resolving the issue with the boxing federation. At present, it is suspended from participation in the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics. Has the Minister done anything about that?

I have a brief question. Unfortunately, I must leave but Deputy O'Keeffe will let me know the answer. When does the Minister envisage that the sports capital programme will be announced this year?

I understand the large-scale capital programme is still open to applications. When will that be announced? Can the Minister tell us the criteria he will use to assess applications? There is no doubt that both schemes will be oversubscribed, as is always the case. Will the Minister give a commitment that local community groups will not be discommoded by the fact they are in a rural area? Heretofore there was greater emphasis on urban areas and more funding was allocated to larger urban areas because of their greater membership base. I want to ensure fairness is applied when the applications are being assessed.

The first question was about the sports grants. Our ambition is certainly to have sports grants every year. They are a wonderful facility and I have seen that the competition for the money is incredible. They are put to very good use. It is a really effective way of getting money to people who participate in sport. It is one of the most compelling and satisfying mechanisms whereby money is spent and spent well on young people, their mental and physical health and abilities. It would be preferable if we had this every year although we have not been able to do so. I think we had it in 2016 and 2018 and we have another lot coming out this year. We would certainly like to have it every year if we could.

On boxing, it is a delicate issue. The Deputy really wants to address the issue of the International Olympic Committee, IOC, suspending planning for the 2020 Olympic boxing tournament. International sporting organisations such as the IOC are independent, autonomous bodies that are responsible for deciding their own operational procedures and competition rules. It is not the role of any government to intervene in such decision making. Sport Ireland and the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, IABA, are continuing to work collaboratively in preparing our Irish boxers for Tokyo 2020 and are monitoring the situation closely. The IOC will not make a final decision until this coming June. There is an expectation there will be a boxing competition at the Tokyo Olympics, but probably not under the IABA banner.

Deputy Troy asked me to lay out the criteria that will be used for the sports capital programme this year. That has not been decided yet but there is no intention to discriminate against anybody. It has been done in the past on a per capita basis. I have not heard much quarrel with that but there are all sorts of alternative ways of doing it, such as placing a high bar for people to get over before they can get anything at all. There are numerous ways in which it could be done. However, I have not heard a large number of complaints about how it has been distributed in the past. We are looking at various ways of doing it. We could change the weightings a bit. Maybe the disadvantaged should get a little bit more than they did in the past. We are strongly considering the possibility of disadvantaged areas being given a greater share. However, we have not made any decision on it yet.

The large-scale sporting infrastructure scheme is open to applications until 17 April. This will take some time and I will not promise a date for completing that but I am sure it will be well into the second half of the year. There will be a serious assessment. This is a fund of €100 million, with €8.8 million allocated for this year. They are very large projects and will have to be looked at extremely seriously and very thoroughly, which will take some time. There are a couple of streams for that as well. We will look at it as discretely as we can as we do not want to see a deficit in the draw-downs. It is a very exciting prospect. We will approach this forensically, strictly and objectively. At the end of the day, the projects will be very worthy but they will be very big ones.

I do not want to be in any way critical of the manner of distribution of the money. I am very happy with the way it is done. However, if we broadened the number of people, clubs and organisations that can apply for the sports capitation grant, it would broaden the base, for example, if applications could come through schools and the like. The applications opened in 2018 and there was a window to get an application in but some clubs and schools said they would wait for the next round because they would not have their application properly in order for the deadline. We are into the second year of determining the current applications. The process is too drawn out and many clubs and organisations wait too long for an opportunity to apply. I am asking that we streamline the process. The Government initially committed to running the sports capitation grant on an annual basis but in four years, we have had only one programme fully completed.

It was one year but it was a double amount. Maybe we could have strung it out by putting it out for another year but instead we gave two years in one. That was the last one and large amounts were given out and a lot of clubs benefitted. However, I take the Deputy's points and promise that we will consider them when we are setting the criteria. I also want to assure people that the process will be impeccable. There will be no political interference of any sort; this will be decided by people outside politics. I will sign off on it because that is my job but I will not be interfering one way or the other. It will be left to officials as it was before. There will be an appeals process again, to be absolutely fair, as there was last time. I am very confident that we will have a great result.

We will move on to tourism services, programme B.

We welcome the increase in funding for tourism. Towards what area is the Minister directing this extra funding? There is concern about a no-deal Brexit or even an orderly Brexit and where we are going to pull the tourists from in that context. How is it intended to use the extra funding? The tourism sector is to get €35 million, a 26% increase in funding, which is substantial. Will the Minister go to America and pay them to come over here? How will we get value for the money?

There is also a further cross-border issue. Does the Minister have an update on the green card issue? It does not just apply to tourists coming into the country but everybody from the UK who is driving here, particularly people coming down from the North and citizens from the South going to the North. It is a great source of concern.

It seems the different insurance companies have different policies. We had evidence already that a person contacted his or her insurance company, having been advised to apply for the green card a month in advance, and he or she was then told to wait for a couple of weeks before applying. The deadline, if Brexit happens, is very soon. If it is an "over the cliff" type of Brexit, and please God it will not be, that will be very concerning. That is especially the case for Border residents.

I hope the committee will forgive me if I answer the tourist question first. I have some details here which might be useful.

Of course, that is fine.

The insurance companies will be issuing the green cards shortly. There are 1 million of them.

This is just a question, and I am not being rude, but will the insurance companies issue the green cards without a request or must they be requested?

That is up to the insurance companies themselves.

That is the problem. People do not know.

I think the intention is to issue them without request.

The insurance companies have ordered 1 million cards and they will send them to insurance brokers.

I do not mean to interrupt but this is an important point. Is that going to happen? I ask because the Motor Insurance Bureau stated last week that it was not.

It is going to happen.

It is definitely going to happen. We will all get our green card in the post.

Yes, that is correct.

That is good news. It is a pity the Minister did not state that earlier, he would have received applause from everybody.

I thank the Chair, but I do not need applause.

It is better than brickbats.

The insurance companies will issue the green cards.

That is very important and very reassuring. The second part of the query related to Irish citizens who hold UK driving licences. What will their position be? They will be resident here and there are 16,000 people in that category.

A person living here with a UK driving licence is advised to exchange that for an Irish licence. That is absolutely the message that should go out and that is what those people ought to do. Following a "no-deal" Brexit, a UK driving licence will no longer be valid for Irish residents. I am trying to be as unambiguous as possible.

Is it a straight changeover or will a test have to be done? What is the procedure?

It would have to be like for like, I presume.

Does a person just have to hand in his or her English licence and get an Irish licence or does he or she have to go through a procedure of tests and theory work?

No, the person just switches it. It is just a straight swap.

It is like for like.

It is a straight switch.

A person is entitled to do that now and people are being advised to do that because that will bypass any problems in future.

Is there a cost? I appreciate the Minister might not have the answer with him and he might have to find out.

I do not know.

Will the process be overseen by the local authority where a person currently resides?

I do not know if there is a cost but I can find out. I presume there is. There is a cost for everything. I would be amazed if there was not some sort of administrative cost.

The people concerned will still hold their UK driving licence if they are driving in the UK.

I do not know but I will find out. I will find out if there is a cost and let the committee know. This exchange must be done before 29 March 2019. That is a few weeks away.

If people do not do it before then, what happens?

Under the Geneva Convention, people can drive for another 12 months. I encourage everybody, however, to make the exchange.

Regarding the green card for insurance cover-----

It is proof of insurance outside of the State.

I am sorry, what did the Chair say?

It is proof, outside of the EU, that a person has insurance. That is what the green card is.

It is proof. It is not an insurance policy but it is proof, when a person goes across the Border, that he or she has insurance. It is accepted as proof.

That ensures a person's car is not impounded.

A thought has come to come to me. We have a major issue in this country with people driving cars without insurance.

They will not have a green card.

I know, that is what I am saying.

I understand that the green card has a date. I presume it has to be contemporary with the end date of a person's insurance policy.

I presume so.

We do not know. That is a good question. Otherwise, people with a green card could drive away wherever they are.

It will have to run out of date.

It would have to be coterminous with the dates on people's actual insurance policies.

It could not work otherwise.

It is a huge job.

Returning to the question of where money is going for tourism, I can list that off. Some of the extra €35 million is being used by the tourist agencies. They are concentrating on Brexit. The effect of Brexit on tourism could be very damaging. We have already seen a drop in sterling. That will, initially anyway, discourage people from Britain coming over here. That €35 million, therefore, is being used in all sorts of different ways to counter the ill effects on tourism. Much of the money is also going on enterprise supports, festivals, events and business tourism. As the committee is aware, there money is also going on greenways. That is a big ticket item this year. I think €13 million has been allocated to greenways.

Let me just give the figures for the tourism agencies. Some €7.9 million in the additional funding was allocated to the tourism agencies to ensure the tourism sector is Brexit-ready. Fáilte Ireland will implement a programme placing a focus on retaining business from Northern Ireland and Britain, while also offering supports to equip enterprises for the post-Brexit marketplace. Tourism Ireland will implement a review of its operations in the British market and also extend its regional access initiative. Additional funding is also being allocated to Tourism Ireland to implement strategies for growth in new and developing markets in the US and Germany. This will help to build and sustain growth in these markets in line with the Government's Global Ireland 2025 strategy.

We were definitely aware when it came to budget time that tourism needed protection and €35 million was a fairly large injection. Much of that has gone to the tourism agencies of course. I think they will use it well. The indications at the moment are that they are using it well already and the product is still immensely successful. We are optimistic, despite the obviously challenges to tourism. We have brands such as the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East, the new Lakelands brand and the Hidden Heartlands - which is very dear to Deputy Troy's heart. We think we will still manage to have a successful season, despite the difficulties presented by external forces.

I now move on to appropriations-in-aid. Are there any questions? There being no questions, that concludes the select committee's consideration of the 2019 Revised Estimates for public services for the year ending 31 December 2019: Vote 31 - Transport, Tourism and Sport. I thank the Minister and his officials for assisting us in considering the Estimates and for dealing so comprehensively with our questions.