Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Questions (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

Michael Moynihan


1. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee D, infrastructure, last met. [16722/19]

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Eamon Ryan


2. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee D, infrastructure, last met; and when it will next meet. [16738/19]

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Mary Lou McDonald


3. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee D, infrastructure, last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [18733/19]

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Brendan Howlin


4. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee D, infrastructure, last met. [19962/19]

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Richard Boyd Barrett


5. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee D, infrastructure, last met. [20547/19]

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Joan Burton


6. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee D, infrastructure, last met; and when it will next meet. [21731/19]

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Oral answers (16 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, together.

Cabinet committee D works to ensure a co-ordinated approach in the areas of infrastructure investment and delivery, housing and climate action. The Cabinet committee last met on 31 January 2019 and the next meeting has been scheduled for 27 May 2019. There is significant work under way across each of the areas covered by the committee through Departments, agencies and interdepartmental groups such as the climate action high level steering group and the Project Ireland 2040 delivery board. These matters are also regularly considered at meetings of Government and in bilateral meetings with the relevant Ministers.

Significant progress is being made on the implementation of Project Ireland 2040. Through the national planning framework, NPF, it sets out our 20-year vision for Ireland’s future, balancing rural and urban development and linking it with the national development plan, NDP, which encompasses €116 billion in capital investment over ten years to meet the infrastructural needs of our growing population.

Earlier this month the Government launched the first annual report for Project Ireland 2040 and it is clear it is delivering better transport links, facilitating better health and environmental outcomes and yielding more housing. For example, for the first time in decades three new hospitals are under construction, with one nearing completion. A total of 11 primary care centres will open this year and 26 more are being developed. By the end of the year, some 410 school projects will have been completed across the country or will have commenced construction, providing 40,000 additional or replacement school places, 200 modern science labs, 48 new or upgraded PE halls and the replacement of 600 prefabs. In addition, work is under way on several projects that have been promised for a long time, including the upgrade of the N4 in Sligo between Castlebaldwin and Collooney and the new north runway at Dublin Airport. The four funds launched under Project Ireland 2040 have a total of €4 billion to invest across the areas of rural and urban regeneration and development, climate action and disruptive technologies innovation. The first round of funding allocations amounting to just over €300 million have been announced and will leverage further private sector investment to deliver on the aims of Project Ireland 2040.

The Land Development Agency, LDA, another cornerstone initiative of Project Ireland 2040, was established on an interim basis in September 2018 and is working to ensure the optimum management of State land with an immediate focus on providing new homes, including social and affordable housing. Housing continues to be a priority for the Government. We have seen strong growth in housing completions and leading indicators such as planning permissions, commencement notices and housing registration indicate a strong pipeline. In the 12 months to the end of March, almost 19,000 new homes were built in Ireland, an increase of 25% year on year. More than 2,600 homes were also brought out of long-term vacancy and back into use, while almost 800 dwellings in unfinished or ghost estates were completed, meaning the total number of new homes available for use increased by more than 22,000 in that time period. This figure does not include student accommodation. There was also strong delivery of publicly funded social housing in 2018. We are all aware of the significant challenge in meeting housing demand and tackling the ongoing issues in the housing market. For this reason, budget 2019 provided an increase of 25% in the housing budget to €2.6 billion, the largest ever budget for housing. Delivering on our EU climate commitments for 2030 and transitioning to a competitive, low carbon, sustainable economy by 2050 are also priorities. We are investing €22 billion in climate action through the NDP, mainly led by State owned enterprises, to ensure that our future growth is regionally balanced and environmentally sustainable. In addition, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, is currently finalising an all-of-Government climate action plan and intends to bring this to Government in June. This plan will have a strong focus on implementation, including actions with specific timelines and steps needed to achieve each action, assigning clear lines of responsibility for the delivery of each one. It will build on progress made to date and set out the steps which must be taken for Ireland to meet its climate action obligations.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. In recent months, it has become clear that the system of Cabinet committees has been almost completely sidelined. Even on vital issues such as health and housing, the relevant committees meet infrequently. The Taoiseach has justified this by saying that he prefers to have discussions at Cabinet level. In doing this, he has cut out the entire tier of interdepartmental work that underpins Cabinet committees and has removed expert voices from the discussions. As we have seen from the systematic failure to deliver targets on time or within budget, the move to a more superficial politicians-only focus for discussions is clearly not working. Given the utter failure of the Minister for Health to manage either his short-term budget or long-term projects or the fact that Ireland was not ready for a no-deal Brexit in March, despite repeated claims to the contrary, does the Taoiseach agree that his experiment in downgrading the role of Cabinet committees has not worked and should be reversed?

The last time we discussed the Cabinet committee on infrastructure we were told that capital projects were being tightly managed and that proof of this was the publication of a major projects monitor, with regular updates. When checked yesterday, however, this major capital projects monitor was still doggedly holding to the idea that the national children's hospital would cost €916 million. There was no provision whatsoever made for the national broadband plan, NBP, and there were no examples of the Taoiseach's often referenced projects which are supposedly coming in well under budget. The only adjustments since early last year refer to projects where the pre-2018 spending was higher than predicted. Given the time and money the Government spent marketing the NDP last year and the public money it keeps spending to aid Fine Gael in targeted electoral areas, the public deserves an honest and comprehensive update on the costs and timelines in the NDP. This is particularly relevant in the context of the memorandum from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the NBP, which states that approximately €1.5 billion will be required for broadband and an additional €345 million for the children's hospital, neither of which have been provided for.

At every stage we were promised that this would be the most transparent and best managed plan ever. How is this compatible with the reality of what has been happening?

Cabinet committee D deals with infrastructure but the runaway costs and fallout over the children's hospital suggest that chaos reigns in the context of infrastructural projects. We have seen many projects cancelled or at the very least, delayed, including one such project in my own constituency, the Drimnagh primary care centre. Has the aforementioned Cabinet committee discussed the possibility of reassessing existing contracts or projects that are near completion to ensure delivery that is on time and within budget in future? This is important, given what we have seen to date.

One specific issue about which many other Deputies and I are concerned is the congestion on the N7. This results in a significant cost, both economic and social, to those who are stuck in their cars day in and day out, sitting in traffic jams between Naas and Newbridge. Have there been discussions about the infrastructure that is required along motorways and national roads to facilitate the roll-out of electric vehicles? What is the Government intending to spend on this area? Which Department will address this issue? Will it be the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport or the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment?

It is a scandal that in this day and age the Government continues to spend money on school prefabs. It spent €100 million over the past six years on prefabricated classrooms. When is this going to end? When will prefabricated classrooms become a thing of the past?

Infrastructure is necessary for the proper functioning of our society but the Taoiseach and Cabinet committee D have failed in this elementary task. They have failed on housing, the children's hospital, broadband and the provision of schools. As a follow-up to the question I posed yesterday on Dún Laoghaire Educate Together, what does the Taoiseach have to say about the fact that more than €100 million is being spent on prefabricated classrooms? In many cases, students and teachers are in such classrooms for years and years. Specifically with regard to Dún Laoghaire Educate Together, the Taoiseach said that a site would be identified by the end of quarter 3. When that site is identified, will money be made available immediately so that the school community is not waiting, like many others, for a decade or more for the physical buildings to be placed on site in order to get them out of the completely unsuitable and inappropriate prefabs that they and many others have to put up with?

On the question of social housing, I will put a very particular point to the Taoiseach. His objective is to achieve social mix and deliver social housing through 10% of private developments being reserved for such under Part V. In light of this, does he think it is acceptable that developers are building that 10%, the social housing element, of their developments to lower specifications than those of the other apartments in the same development? This is what we discovered happening in a major development in Dún Laoghaire called Cualanor. The buildings look the very same on the outside but, when one goes inside, one finds that the specifications are dramatically worse. Soundproofing, the quality of finish, the quality of the kitchens, and the layout of the buildings are to a lower specification. So much for social mix and integration. Does the Taoiseach approve of that? If he does not, what is he going to do about it?

The new all-of-Government climate action plan due out in the next few weeks will, I am sure, morph into the national energy and climate action plan we have to put together for the European Commission. In carrying out the work of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, certain things became clear. The first is that no climate assessment whatsoever was carried out in the formulation of the existing national development plan, Project Ireland 2040, which was only approved last June. The modelling which has been done since shows that even if all of the most optimistic projections in those plans were to be delivered, they would only result in one third of the level of emissions reductions we need by 2030. There is a gap of something like 100 million tonnes. The leaked version of the document featured in The Irish Times in recent days shows marginal change that will not really shift that gap. I do not understand how Government could be considering the continued use of oil and gas-fired boilers in new homes for the next six years. Their use needs to be ended sooner. The objective of increasing the number of refurbishments to 50,000 is welcome, but we do not have the workers to achieve it and, in itself, it would not close the gap we need to close. We need to close a gap of 100 million tonnes cumulatively in the non-emissions trading scheme sector between now and 2030. Will the first draft of the plan show on a per tonne basis, 1 million tonnes or 500,000 tonnes at a time, where exactly those real, realisable and realistic emissions will come from? That is what we need, not just PR but precise projections. Will that level of detail on where the actual emissions reductions up to 2030 will occur be included when that plan is published?

I thank the Deputies. As I have explained to the House in the past, I engage with Ministers and officials in all sorts of different ways, including through Cabinet meetings, which the Attorney General and Secretary General to the Government attend, Cabinet subcommittee meetings, at which a greater number of officials are present, and meetings with Ministers and officials.

With regard to the Project Ireland 2040 website, I will ask the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, once again to ensure that it is updated. I apologise to Deputy Micheál Martin for the fact that it was not updated as it should have been. We do not need a website, however, to know what is going on. I am happy to fill the House in on what has been achieved in the year or so since Project Ireland 2040 was launched. Projects which were promised by Opposition parties for a very long time when they were in government and projects which have been demanded by Opposition parties that have never served in government are now being delivered. There are three hospitals under construction. The campus for the National Forensic Mental Health Service to replace its facility in Dundrum is almost finished in north County Dublin. The national children's hospital, which was promised for decades, is being built. The first element of that, which is in Blanchardstown in my constituency, is ready to be handed over and will be opened in a few months. The new National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire in Deputy Boyd Barrett's constituency is, at long last, under construction.

Projects that were promised by other governments for years and which have been demanded by people who have never been in government are being delivered by this Government. Eleven primary care centres will be opened this year and 26 more are in development. Quite soon approximately 130 will be operational. In education, as I mentioned, by the end of the year, 410 school projects will be completed or under construction, which will include 200 modern science laboratories and 48 upgraded PE halls. These projects will replace the 600 prefabs which were mentioned earlier in the debate. With regard to transport, works in Enniscorthy and New Ross will be finished by the end of the year and the N4 in Sligo is under construction. We expect the projects at the Dunkettle interchange, Ballyvourney and Macroom, and a few others to go to construction later in the year. The long-promised new runway at Dublin Airport is under construction. The vast majority of these projects are happening on budget, including the schools programme, the roads programme and the Irish Water investment programme.

I was asked about electric vehicles and the need to provide a much better network of charging points throughout the country if we are going to decarbonise our fleet. That needs to be done. We have tasked the ESB with leading on this, using its own resources rather than Exchequer resources. We have also tasked the ESB with increasing the proportion of our electricity generated from renewable sources from 30% to 70% by 2030. This is ambitious but achievable. That is two pretty big asks of the ESB, asking it to deliver the electric vehicle charging points we need and to double our capacity to produce renewable energy over the next ten or 11 years. Those who suggest that the ESB should take on additional tasks need to consider whether it would have the capacity to do more than we are already asking it do to, which is quite a lot.

On social housing standards, I expect any social housing being constructed by the public or private sector to meet current building standards with regard to fire safety, energy standards, soundproofing and everything else. If it does not, there should be consequences.

On climate action more broadly, I have only seen one draft of the document. I am not sure which draft ended up in The Irish Times.

It has been well leaked to The Irish Times. Perhaps the Taoiseach should read it.

As I have said, I am not sure which draft ended up in The Irish Times.

Of course the Taoiseach knows.

That is another conspiracy theory.

Come off it. Does the Taoiseach think we are idiots?

No, I just think the Deputy is a conspiracy theorist.

I am not at all.

I do not think he is an idiot in the slightest.

The Taoiseach is throwing the kitchen sink at everything.

In terms of achieving our objectives for 2030, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 2% a year. That was done last year, for various reasons. There was a reduction of approximately 7% in CO2 and of 2% in greenhouse gases more generally. We need to sustain that for the next ten years if we are going to meet our target for 2030. The plan will set out as much detail as possible with regard to how that will be achieved.