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Thursday, 27 Jun 2013

Other Questions

Roads Maintenance

Questions (6, 27, 46, 51, 55, 67)

Brendan Griffin


6. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the position regarding local and regional road maintenance efforts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31041/13]

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Regina Doherty


27. Deputy Regina Doherty asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the measures that have been taken to protect the regional and road network; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30938/13]

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Jerry Buttimer


46. Deputy Jerry Buttimer asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the measures that he has undertaken to protect the regional and urban road networks and specifically the measures taken to protect, maintain and repair the road networks in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31026/13]

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Jim Daly


51. Deputy Jim Daly asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the steps taken to date to increase the flexibility and funding allocated to the repair and maintenance of rural and regional roads; and if he will clarify the feedback if any that has been received from the local authorities to these measures. [31080/13]

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Martin Heydon


55. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the measures that have been taken to protect the regional and road network. [31039/13]

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Ray Butler


67. Deputy Ray Butler asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the measures that he has taken to protect the regional and road network, with particular emphasis on the road network in County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31083/13]

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Oral answers (22 contributions) (Question to Transport)

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 6, 27, 46, 51, 55 and 67 together.

This question is about the maintenance of regional and local roads. The Deputy will appreciate that this is a statutory function of each road authority to be funded from its own resources which are supplemented by State road grants. 

I announced the 2013 regional and local road grant allocations to local authorities last January, totalling €347 million.  I also provided an additional €2.7 million for drainage works in March this year. More recently, on 12 June,  I announced an additional €50 million bringing the overall amount available in 2013 to about €400 million.

My Department and local authorities are working closely to develop more efficient ways of delivering the best outputs possible with the funding available to them.  In this regard, county councils were provided with additional flexibility this year enabling them to transfer funding from their restoration improvement grant to their discretionary grant. In order to focus resources at maintaining existing investment in our road network, from 2014 onward, funding for major improvement works on regional and local roads is being discontinued and with expenditure being directed to the maintenance and repair of roads.

It is also important to reiterate that the role of Exchequer grants for regional and local roads is to supplement local authorities in their spending in this area.  Local authority own resources contributions have been reduced from a high of €405 million in 2008 to €151 million in 2013. In 2008, this represented 40% of all such roads expenditure. In 2013, the contribution of local authorities was 27%. It is therefore vital that local authorities prioritise funding from their own resources to put into works on regional and local roads.

I thank the Minister for his response. I welcome the recent allocation of €1.9 million to Kerry County Council for additional improvements and repair works this year. It is one of our major concerns. We all understand the constraints on the overall budget. However, safety is a problem if roads are not maintained and repaired in a timely manner. Any efforts that can be made to allocate further moneys to the local authorities would be very welcome. I understand the Minister will be coming to Kerry very shortly on his bicycle and he will get to see some of the roads around the Ring of Kerry and some of the improvements carried out as a result of funding from central government.

That was from Jackie Healy-Rae's time and John O' Donoghue's time.

They call it Griffin money these days.

The Deputy will have no salary left. He will be coming up to the Dáil on his bike.

That is where the other half goes.

One of the largest infrastructural projects in the country is being carried out in Kerry, the completion of the Tralee bypass, with more than €12 million being expended on the bypass this year which will be opened shortly. This funding is very much appreciated by the people of Kerry because it will make a significant difference to the county.

I thank Deputy Griffin for his comments and I look forward to the Killarney cycle. Hopefully the weather will be good and I will be able to raise lots of money for Kerry Mountain Rescue which is the reason I am doing it.

I hope the Minister does not go on those cycles too often.

The issue of safety is very important. The vast majority of road collisions are caused by driver behaviour and only a small proportion - well less than 15% - are caused either by vehicle defects or road conditions. However, road conditions are, none the less, important. One of the factors worked into the additional money allocated to councils in recent weeks is if the local authorities implement safety schemes which they regard as particularly important and more essential than surface dressing or road restoration, the Department will look sympathetically at any such proposals to spend that money on safety works.

I thank the Minister for his response. I acknowledge his great efforts to secure funding for very important projects for regional and local roads at a time of difficult economic circumstances. I have a question about the pilot CIS scheme whereby counties receive money. I welcome the two projects in south Kildare which received a combined figure of approximately €40,000. I ask why there seems to be such a discrepancy between the allocations to different counties. For example, Kildare County Council received funding for two projects but some counties received around €1 million. How was the CIS scheme promoted to the local authorities by the Department? This is a pilot scheme and I would be disappointed if more applications were not received from the county.

As Deputy Heydon said it is a pilot scheme and we need to see how it works out and what we will do next year. I do not have particular information about Kildare with regard to the discrepancies. However, discrepancies usually relate to the number of applications. Approximately 400 applications were received and some 300 were funded. By and large, all the valid applications were funded. Some counties submitted a lot of applications while other counties did not submit very many. Some counties put an advertisement in the local newspaper while others did not. However, they were all informed about the scheme in the same way. I will furnish the Deputy with the figures as to the number of applications by local authorities and whether particular issues arose in Kildare.

I reiterate the thanks to the Minister for the additional funding of €2.1 million supplied to Meath County Council. The Minister is well aware of the situation in north Meath and the state of the roads. Meath County Council was underfunded for years and we are now playing catch-up so any additional funding is appreciated.

I ask for clarification with regard to the CIS scheme. Of the community contribution, 20% is monetary only whereas 30%, 40% or 50% can come in some other form of contribution. I ask the Minister to clarify if this could be changed from what was originally applied in the original application for Meath. The county received €2.1 million funding which is a substantial amount. I ask if it would be possible for these contributions to be changed.

Like Deputy Heydon I welcome the increased funding for Kildare County Council. I have a query about moneys from the pension fund which were put into a strategic infrastructure fund. Would the Minister be kindly disposed towards funding projects with a positive economic benefit for communities? I refer specifically to the Sallins bypass which will be linked into the Osberstown interchange which is associated with the Kerry Group facility which has moved into the Naas area.

In reply to Deputy McEntee, the short answer is "Yes", we are open to that. It is a pilot scheme and we want to see how it works. If Meath has specific proposals in that regard we would be well disposed to facilitating them. In reply to Deputy Lawlor, unfortunately the short answer is most likely "No". The strategic investment fund is still a fund so the money has to be repaid. It will work very well where something is built that produces a cash return, for example, electricity pylons or electricity wires. People pay for electricity and some of the money then goes back to the pension fund or the strategic investment fund. That really only works in the case of roads built by public private partnerships and the cash return, the availability payments or the tolls and only for very big projects of over €100 million. Therefore, smaller projects of that scale cannot be done as PPPs or else the transaction costs of doing so are so large that it is uneconomic. When it comes to strategic investment fund money, it will have to be PPPs and projects over €100 million. Having said that, I am doing my best to make the case in the next budget for some boost in capital spending. I think the most effective way to reduce welfare spending and increase the tax take is to get more people back to work because those people back at work will be paying taxes and will not be drawing welfare.

My Department has the ability to deliver jobs by increasing my budget if that can be done.

The extra €50 million the Minister found was to go into the maintenance of local and regional roads. The Minister hinted that he might address potholes and ramps with that money. Is that part of what he is planning? I met recently with north Meath residents against potholes. They claim that the most potholes of any part of the country are in north Meath. The Minister said we will concentrate everything into the local and regional, but capital projects are on hold. The north west is crying out for a capital project and a joined-up approach to the road network. It is a significant worry. I worry that local authority funding is falling all the time. Originally, it was 40% but has now gone down to 27%. We cannot let it go down any further as disastrous maintenance issues will arise.

I welcome the additional funding for County Carlow, which is very beneficial. Despite the fact of cutbacks in allocations, value for money is being obtained. The CIS pilot scheme has been very beneficial. Carlow was one of the first counties in which the scheme was launched. The Minister reinvented the LIS scheme which was done away under Deputy Dooley's Government not that long ago. As there is no actual budget for the scheme, will the Minister consider implementing a pilot scheme? There are a number of rural areas in which people who have built houses on certain laneways are seeking funding. If there was a pilot scheme, it could be very beneficial.

I have raised the following with the Minister before but do not want to get into a row about it this evening. Question Time is being abused by the approach the Government parties are taking. The House would be better served if the Minister made statements on decisions he has taken. The way questions have been phrased - there appears to be a level of uniformity across the board - allows Deputies to come to the House to clap the Minister on the back on decisions he has already taken. My understanding of Question Time is that its purpose is to elicit information which is not already in the public domain. I ask the Minister to retain Question Time for new information as opposed to follow-up statements on policy decisions which have already been made. I am not seeking in any way to silence anybody. Of course, everybody must have the opportunity to intervene.

We want to find out information too.

While it is appropriate that everyone has an opportunity to ask questions, it frustrates the process by which Members can hold the Government to account and raise issues. In fairness to the Minister, he is always truthful and does not evade questions, but I would like more time from an Opposition perspective.

It never happened before. The Deputy was never allowed to ask a question.

In a bygone era, the party of which I am a member was accused in government of a lot, but when it came to affording time to the Opposition to question Ministers, there was no filibustering. We held parliamentary party meetings to elicit information from Ministers and left Question Time, in the main, to the Opposition.

I do not accept that view. Every Member is elected and has an equal mandate and right to ask questions. The questions which have been asked by Government Deputies have been valid ones. They have not merely been valedictions of my performance as Minister. The Opposition has Priority Questions and no one is allowed to take a second off it. Other questions are for all Deputies.

Deputy Deering asked about LIS, which is still in place. It is up to local authorities to decide if they wish to use it or not. They must take up to 7% of their discretionary grants to do so. I am open to increasing the 7% to a higher figure next year. I will not, however, provide a dedicated budget for LIS as some local authorities do not want to use it. They wish to prioritise public roads over laneways and private roads. It is up to local authorities to make the decision and not for me to impose uniformity across the State.

To reply to Deputy Ellis, the €50 million was not found. It comes from the proceeds of privatisation and the sale of State assets and licences. As the Deputy will be aware, one of the points in the five point plan proposed in the context of the last election was on the disposal of State assets to invest in infrastructure and jobs. That is exactly what is being done. The €50 million is earmarked for local and regional road maintenance and restoration. One or two local authorities have expressed an interest in putting some of the money into safety schemes and ramps instead. If they want to do that, we are happy to facilitate them.

Road Safety Strategy

Questions (7)

Clare Daly


7. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the meetings he has had with the Road Safety Authority in recent months to deal with its key concerns and the actions he proposes to take in relation to same. [30905/13]

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Oral answers (13 contributions) (Question to Transport)

This question relates to meetings with the Road Safety Authority. In recent months, I have met with the board of the Road Safety Authority and, separately, with the chairman and chief executive at meetings and conferences, including today. Our discussions centred on road safety in general, the progress being made on measures that have been introduced and the initiatives required further to improve the country's road safety performance. At the end of March this year, I launched the road safety strategy for the period 2013 to 2020. The strategy, which was drafted by the RSA in consultation with all other relevant stakeholders, sets out the initiatives and actions required in the next seven years to place Ireland on a par with the best performing countries in the EU in terms of road safety. I will meet regularly with the stakeholders group to ensure implementation of the actions in the strategy.

Our road safety record in recent years has been very good. The number of road fatalities has decreased year on year over the past seven years. In 2012, we had the lowest number of fatalities, at 162, since records began. Many factors have contributed to this improvement in performance but the establishment of the RSA and the interaction it has conducted with other stakeholders has been key. My Department and I will continue to have regular contact with the RSA to keep up to date on developments in road safety.

I call Deputy Wallace.

On a point of order, surely the person who put down the question should be here to address it as a matter of respect.

That is not correct. Look at Standing Orders.

No. I was informed by Deputy Wallace that he was taking the question for Deputy Daly.

The Minister will be aware that the Road Safety Authority expressed an interest in an independent public inquiry into the termination of fixed charge notices. He will also be aware of some of the points that were raised by Members on this side in reaction to the report. We pointed out the lack of natural justice. The report offends against the rule against bias because the Garda investigated itself. The principle of audi alteram partem was not adhered to as whistleblowers were not interviewed. The legality of the system is certainly in question and the opinion of an independent senior counsel is required. I am surprised the Minister for Justice and Equality did not seek one. The internal review was based on a manual audit only, which facilitated retro-fitting. Notwithstanding same, 40% of samples in the dossier turned out to be improper.

The findings have implications for the integrity, effectiveness and fairness of the entire penalty points system and the consistency and uniformity of the application of the rule of law in the State. It will be difficult to restore public confidence in the process without an independent public inquiry. Does the Minister agree that it will require such an inquiry to restore confidence in the system?

The report on penalty points has been published. The RSA has expressed the view that it would like the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to examine it. I have already given my views on that and do not wish to repeat them here today. The report is going to the Garda Inspectorate and the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality for its consideration. Those are the appropriate first steps. The Garda Inspectorate will look at the processes involved and make recommendations as to whether the new processes being proposed are adequate. The joint committee is also considering the preparation of its own report. It is up to the committee to decide if it wishes to hold hearings and pursue the matter further.

There is not much point in the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission looking at the report, although an investigation by it in the first place would definitely have been interesting. The Minister may remember that the commission was very critical of how the Kieran Boylan case was handled. Suppose it had been the other way around with the Garda investigating the Boylan case itself and the commission investigating the termination of fixed charge notices. Does the Minister imagine that we would have seen two different results?

On the last occasion of ministerial questions on transport, I raised this issue. I also raised it at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. I am sure Deputy Dooley would not accuse me of filibustering in the slightest.

I thank Deputy Dooley.

The Minister stated that last year and the previous year the number of road fatalities had fallen, but an issue that has come up on a number of occasions is the number of serious injuries. I asked previously if, in the Road Safety Authority's annual statistics, the authority could, in addition, examine the reporting of different categories of injury, because that would give a truer picture of what is happening with regard to road safety. If one talks to any consultant or anybody working with those who have sustained serious injuries following collisions or road traffic accidents, one might get a different picture from the one that covers only road fatalities. While 152 is still exceptionally high - too high - I expect that the figure for those with serious injuries and those who are left in a critical condition is probably much higher. It is important to get a truer picture of road safety by including the figures on serious injuries as well.

In the Minister's contacts with the Road Safety Authority, has the authority at any time raised concerns about the level of or the potential for a drop in enforcement by the Garda due to the reduction in the number of gardaí because of Government decisions that have been taken?

To update Deputy Wallace, the current state of play is that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, has asked the Road Safety Authority and my Department to write to him with our views on the report that has been published and also our suggestions as to how the penalty points system can be made more robust. That letter has since issued to the Minister, Deputy Shatter, and we are in the process of arranging a meeting involving him and his officials, me and my officials, and the RSA to make further progress on the matter.

On Deputy O'Donovan's question, the new strategy published a few weeks ago does not deal only with road deaths. It now, for the first time, deals with serious injuries as well and sets a specific target to reduce the number of serious injuries by 30% during the term of the strategy. There has been some disagreement over the definition of a serious life-changing injury, but that has now been agreed. Approximately 420 serious life-changing injuries occurred last year in addition to approximately 160 deaths. The number of people who experienced life-changing injuries is more than double the number who died on the roads. The new strategy takes that into account and aims to reduce that number as well. It is a major step forward in terms of how we deal with road safety.

The RSA is always concerned about enforcement. The authority has its own contacts with the Garda, separate from me. The Garda assures me that enforcement is at similar levels to what it was in the past. It is not only the Garda Traffic Corps that carries out road traffic enforcement. All gardaí can enforce the Road Traffic Acts. There is a public perception that enforcement has been reduced, and that in itself is a problem. That is why I have asked the Garda to step up the visibility of its checkpoints, and the RSA is running radio advertisements, which Members may have heard, letting motorists know exactly how many drivers have been stopped and breathalysed and had fixed-charge notices imposed on them on a weekly basis.

Tourism Promotion

Questions (8, 16, 29, 57)

Seán Crowe


8. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the amount allocated by his Department for the proposed roll-out of a major consumer marketing campaign to promote Ireland and The Gathering 2013 in key markets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30954/13]

View answer

Joe Carey


16. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on tourism performance to date in 2013; his expectations for the remainder of 2013; and, in view of the success of The Gathering, his plans to extend this initiative into the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30956/13]

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Joe McHugh


29. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on tourism performance to date in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30957/13]

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Bernard Durkan


57. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the extent to which the tourism industry has grown so far in 2013; the expectations for the remainder of the year; the degree to which various sectors have benefited from The Gathering; the beneficial impact likely by the year's end; if there are any particular issues needing attention for the future development of tourism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31082/13]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Transport)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 16, 29 and 57 together.

These questions relate to the performance of the tourism industry. Over €37 million has been allocated in 2013 for general overseas tourism marketing, which is enabling Tourism Ireland to roll out a major consumer marketing campaign to promote Ireland and The Gathering Ireland 2013 in all our key markets. This is supplemented by a special provision in the 2013 Estimates for Fáilte Ireland of €7 million for The Gathering, to be used exclusively to fund the promotion, development and legacy of the event, and it complements support for the initiative from the tourism agencies' mainstream activities and from national and local partners.

The general response to The Gathering at home and abroad has been overwhelmingly positive. There are now more than 4,000 individual gatherings confirmed on The Gathering website, with new ones added daily. Gatherings are happening throughout the country and according to Fáilte Ireland, all tourism stakeholders, including accommodation providers, carriers, restaurants and attractions, are reporting positive results from the initiative.

In terms of visit numbers, early indications are that The Gathering is having a real benefit. The most recent published figures from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, show a 4% increase in overseas trips to Ireland between February and April 2013 compared to the same period in 2012. Furthermore, detailed CSO figures for the first quarter of 2013 are particularly encouraging as they show a 12% increase in spending by overseas visitors in Ireland compared to the corresponding period of 2012.

The overall target for the year of The Gathering was to increase the number of overseas visits by 325,000, and the data suggests we are well on target to achieve this. For the rest of 2013, overall sentiment for travel to Ireland is good, with particularly encouraging signs for visit numbers from mainland Europe and the USA, supported by significant growth in transatlantic air access for the peak summer period.

There are no plans to extend the initiative beyond 2013. However, I understand the tourism agencies and the Gathering team are working on how best to optimise its legacy, drawing on the experience to date.

The most recent figures for overseas visitors to the Republic of Ireland show a 7% increase in the first four months of this year, and the total air-sea capacity for the peak summer season of 2013 is forecast to be at least 3% higher than for the same time last year. Recent figures from the CSO for the first three months of this year show a 17% increase in visitors from North America to Ireland - and, perhaps more importantly, that Ireland is ahead of many of its European competitors in the North American market. In light of this, should any further initiatives with regard to The Gathering focus on countries such as Canada, especially in light of the new services, which will be a round link between Dublin and Canada for the first year, and should greater emphasis be placed on New Zealand and Australia?

In 2012, tourism was worth €3.68 billion to the economy and there were almost 1.5 million visitors to Ireland.

Deputy McLellan is quite correct. We need to start looking at every market where we can bring in business to Ireland. There is no doubt that Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy are the main markets. Those markets provide 75% of the visitors to this country. Of course, with all of the new flights coming in now, we need to start looking at other ways and means of targeting these countries. Every week Tourism Ireland is looking at ways and means to bring visitors into the country.

I suppose the good news is that the figures are up. It is looking good. The sector itself - particularly, as I stated in my earlier response, hoteliers, restaurants, bed and breakfasts and tourism providers - is happy this year. Sentiment is good. I hope this will continue until the end of the year and that this will be the best year for many years. The good news is that The Gathering has worked. I compliment everybody who took part in it.

Deputy McLellan asked a good question. We are already sitting down with Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, the Department and all the partners to discuss the legacy of The Gathering, not for next year or the year after but for the next number of years. The real ambassadors for Ireland in the next few years will be those who came to this country for gatherings. They will be looking to see what value for money they got. If they go away with a positive message, we will have done a good job this year. I hope the trade will continue to provide the value it has provided for the past number of years.

First, I thank the Minister of State for the initiative of bringing in the 9% VAT rate. That reduction in VAT has contributed enormously to tourism. There was much opposition to it and many were sceptical, but it has worked well. There are other initiatives coming along, such as the commemoration of the Battle of Clontarf in 2014 and, of course, the commemoration in Dublin in 2016. Is the Government planning to keep this 9% rate? There have been reports that the Minister's Labour Party colleagues are requesting that this be increased to raise revenue in the next budget.

It would be a disaster at this stage, in view of the figures the Minister has produced for the numbers of people visiting and availing of our restaurants and so forth. As costs in restaurants and other such facilities have gone down considerably, it has worked very well. I hope this proposal will be resisted because it would mean going backwards instead of forward.

That is probably a separate question.

It is very relevant to the market.

Deputy Dessie Ellis is jumping the gun because Question No. 11 tabled by my colleague, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, is about that matter. However, I will be happy to hear the reply and agree with the Deputy's point.

We were talking primarily about The Gathering, marketing campaigns and so forth. The focus of The Gathering is a good one. While activity has been ongoing for some time, the real focus has been on events this year. However, it might take a year or two to achieve a greater level of benefits and flow from it. In that context, has any consideration been given to the retention of The Gathering office, albeit it is hard to maintain the campaign and activity at the same level because The Gathering is an individual project for this year? However, as there is marketing activity associated with it, are there proposals in the Department to retain The Gathering office?

On the issue of the 9% VAT rate, we are very supportive of it. The Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and I are pushing hard on it, but the decision will not be ours to make. It is a matter for the Department of Finance. We support the rate because it has worked.

On retaining The Gathering office, I am glad the Deputy asked that question. I take the opportunity to compliment Mr. Jim Miley and his team from Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland. I pay tribute to the excellent job they have done. They grabbed this project by the scruff of the neck and ran with it. We can look at the Deputy's suggestion, but it is all about finances. The Gathering and their contract are for one year. However, we are already planning for next year and the following year and it is something we can consider.

Rail Network

Written Answers follow Adjournment.

Questions (9)

Peadar Tóibín


9. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to develop a rail service to Navan, County Meath, linking it with Dublin city. [31035/13]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Transport)

This question is about plans to develop a rail service to Navan. I will be officially opening the new Hansfield station tomorrow. This is the final element of the first phase of the extension of the rail line to Navan, from Clonsilla to the M3 Parkway.

The Government’s policy on capital investment is set out in the document, "Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2012-16: Medium Term Exchequer Framework". Under the framework, the extension of phase 2 of the Navan line has been postponed for consideration in advance of the next capital programme. Overall, the level of Exchequer funding available for the development of transport infrastructure has been greatly reduced in recent years.  As this reduced level of funding will not allow for significant investment in new public transport infrastructure, the Government's focus is on aiming to make better use of the existing system and resources. Funding has been prioritised to ensure the maintenance of the existing infrastructure and advance a small number of projects which can add value to the existing network.

Despite the reduced level of funding available, my Department has allocated over €135 million towards the rail network this year. The bulk of this funding will go towards renewals and maintenance under the railway safety programme and enhancement projects such as signalling, the provision of automated ticketing facilities and the removal of level crossings. For example, work will shortly commence on the removal of Reilly’s level crossing on the Maynooth line which will be of benefit to passengers travelling on phase 1 of the rail line to Navan.

Work on Reilly's bridge is starting next month and will be completed towards the end of 2014. That is a positive move. However, we will have to consider the bridge further up at Pelletstown, where there is a problem. There is another bottleneck there and the crossing is operated manually.

The rail link between Dunboyne and Dublin city centre is working well. It is a pity that line cannot be continued further to the commuter belt in the Navan area, taking in Dunshaughlin, Kilmessan, Navan and the northern edges of Navan. It has a massive population that constantly commutes to Dublin and other areas. It would be brilliant if we could consider it at some stage and also whether it would be possible to run a line from Navan to Drogheda. It might be an alternative. I do not know if it has ever been considered by the Department, but can the Minister say whether that would be a possibility? There are some old rail lines in the area.

We are going to examine the possibility of extending the line from Pace to Navan in 2015 in the context of drawing up the national development plan for 2016 onwards. At present, it is just not affordable. Every rail line in the country, including the DART, requires a subvention and that subvention is very tight. Even if we were to find the capital required to build a new rail line, we could not afford to subvent it. In the context of shrinking budgets, I am struggling to keep the existing rail lines open. I am not in a position to support the building of new rail lines that would require an additional subvention that we do not have. The contrast with this is the Luas link-up in the city centre, which will not require an operating subsidy. When it is built, it will carry 10 million passengers and cover its own costs.

I mentioned the line from Navan to Drogheda. Has it been considered? The Minister has said the Department is entering into more PPPs. Is there no possibility in the future of considering some of these vital lines with a view to using PPPs? I am sure the Minister has explored that option, but perhaps we might consider it further. As the economic climate changes, there might be more possibilities in that regard. Businesses might be given an opportunity to contribute, too. In the case of metro north, levies were collected from businesses along the line. I am not saying that is the way to proceed, but is there an innovative way of doing this by obtaining funding from some other source?

One could impose a levy scheme on businesses and households along the way, but there would be big downsides to that also. It would have to be a very high levy to fund the project. Much as people in County Meath would like to have the rail line, I doubt that they would be willing to pay levies of that scale to build it.

In the case of PPPs, it must be the type of project that will produce not just an economic return in the general sense but also an actual cash return that can be used to pay back the banks, bondholders and pension funds on which we rely to finance PPPs. They expect to be paid back. They are not charities, as the Deputy is aware. It is very difficult with rail projects because they do not produce enough cash to pay back the investment. That is why they are usually funded by the Exchequer. It is particularly a problem in the case of tunnels. There have been PPPs around the world for rail tunnels, but they have gone spectacularly wrong. As the PPP companies have been left with huge bills as a result, PPPs for tunnels are just not happening anymore. It might be thinkable for a stand-alone project somewhere, but it would be a little tricky where it was connecting to an existing line.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.
The Dáil adjourned at 7 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 28 June 2013.