Commercial Property

Questions (58)

Claire Kerrane

Question:

58. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the rights a commercial tenant (details supplied) has in circumstances in which a landlord goes into receivership and the tenant took out a lease in good faith, paid all rent due and have spent their own money on the building meaning they will be at a major financial loss; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26153/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

Commercial leases and the provisions within them are a matter for the parties involved. Furthermore, receivers are independent in the exercise of their statutory duties and subject to court oversight.

Therefore, it would be inappropriate to comment on the specific case raised by the Deputy.

A receiver can be appointed on foot of the powers contained in a debenture (written loan agreement), or on foot of a Court Order. The status of a receiver will depend upon how they have been appointed.

Receivers and receivership are regulated under Part 8 of the Companies Act 2014 (the Companies Act).

Section 437(5) provides that the appointment of a receiver and the conferral of powers in relation to the property of a company does not affect any rights in relation to that property of any other person.

Beyond this, there are other safeguards for creditors and contributories of a company under receivership:

- Under section 438 a creditor or contributory may apply to the court for directions in relation to any matter in connection with the performance or otherwise, by the receiver, of his or her functions.

- Under section 443 creditors may apply for the court power to order the return of assets improperly transferred.

- In addition, under section 435 the court may, on cause shown, remove a receiver of the property of a company and appoint another receiver.

I want to acknowledge that many businesses have seen their custom dry up during COVID-19 and have had to approach their landlords seeking new arrangements to reflect the realities they face. Tenants and landlords need to talk to each other and come to some arrangement, as it is in everybody’s interest that terms are amicably agreed. To help with this, there is a commitment in the Programme for Government that commits to creating a Code of Conduct between landlords and tenants for commercial rents. I expect this Code, which aims to facilitate dialogue between commercial landlords and tenants to come to an arrangement, to be published very shortly.

Grant Payments

Questions (59)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

59. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will address a matter (details supplied) regarding an anomaly in the restart grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26216/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

Local Authority guidelines outline that Restart Grant and Restart Grant Plus funding is payable in respect of individual businesses only. An individual business may comprise of one or more rateable properties. However, only one claim is payable through the scheme. Chain stores and franchise stores are however eligible to submit separate applications for each individual business unit.

I am informed that Kerry County Council has consistently applied these guidelines in the processing of applications made to the Restart Grant and Restart Grant Plus schemes.

Claimants are entitled to make an appeal to the Local Authority in the first instance. In that regard, the Local Authority will further review the matter in conjunction with my Department.

Health and Safety Authority

Questions (60)

Bríd Smith

Question:

60. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of HSA inspections of airport terminals or airline operations to ensure they are complying with workplace safety measures in relation to Covid-19; if the authority is aware of or adheres to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, guidelines for airports and airlines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26085/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

The national Return to Work Safely Protocol should be used by all workplaces to adapt their workplace procedures and practices to comply fully with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures identified as necessary by the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health. The Protocol operates in parallel with existing workplace health and safety statutory requirements. The Protocol sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers, in all business sectors, the steps that they must take on an ongoing basis.

The Health and Safety Authority is the lead agency in monitoring adherence to the Protocol but I would emphasise that, in the first instance, employers and workers have a joint responsibility for adhering to the procedures and practices set out in the Protocol which are designed to protect the health and safety of all concerned.

I understand that the Health and Safety Authority has not carried out any specific compliance checks in relation to the Return to Work Safely Protocol in airport terminals or with airline operations. However, any individual who has concerns about compliance in any business sector can contact the Health and Safety Authority Workplace Contact Unit (WCU) on a confidential basis at 1890 289 389 or by sending an email to wcu@hsa.ie. If following such a complaint, there are serious concerns about a particular workplace, the Health and Safety Authority, or another agency or tasked with inspecting workplace compliance with the Protocol, will follow-up as appropriate.

In addition, the Health and Safety Authority continues to provide advice and support to employers and employees on how they are implementing the COVID-19 measures in the workplace through its helpline and website and it has developed checklists and templates for use by employers, workers and worker representatives,

I am advised by the Health and Safety Authority that they are aware of the EASA COVID-19 Aviation Health Safety protocol. In carrying out inspections and investigations the Health and Safety Authority will take all occupational health and safety requirements, as well as the national Return to Work Safely Protocol, other sector specific protocols and relevant workplace safety management systems into account.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (61)

Eoghan Murphy

Question:

61. Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the recourse an employee has if their employer demands they attend the workplace rather than working from home with no apparent reason; and if there is no recourse, if he will consider formulating a procedure to resolve such disputes. [26110/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

The national Return to Work Safely Protocol, introduced in May, is designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The Protocol sets out in very clear terms for employers and workers the steps that should have been taken before a workplace reopens and as it continues to operate. It can be used by all workplaces to adapt procedures and practices to ensure compliance with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures identified as necessary by the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health.

As with other matters relating to the health and safety of employees, the responsibility for deciding what essential work may require attendance at the workplace, and what work can be carried out at home remains with the employer, bearing in mind the public health advice that where possible employees should work remotely. In instances where employees have returned to the physical workplace the employer must ensure that the public health measures set out in the national Return to Work Safely Protocol are being adhered to.

However, none of the public health measures announced by Government create an entitlement or an employment right for an employee to work remotely. Employees and Employers should engage to discuss the matter and if possible, come to an agreement. If agreement is not possible, it is for the employer to decide whether remote working arrangements are practicable in meeting the business’s needs.

Separately any employee can contact the Health and Safety Authority’s Workplace Contact Unit (WCU) for detailed advice relating to the national Return to Work Protocol. The WCU can be contacted by phone at Lo-call 1890289389 (landline) or (01) 6147000 or by email at wcu@hsa.ie.

The objective at all times should be to resolve workplace relations issues and disputes at a local level by means of constructive dialogue and engagement between the parties. Where this is not possible a dispute may be referred to the State's Workplace Relations Services for conciliation or mediation. Any industrial relations dispute arising, whether of a collective or individual nature, may be referred to the WRC. In the context of the former, either party (workers or employer) may refer the issues in dispute for conciliation with a view to reaching a mutually agreeable resolution with the assistance of an Industrial Relations Officer.

The WRC is providing services both on a face to face basis and virtually. Advice can be obtained from the Information & Customer Service of the Workplace Relations Commission Lo-call: 1890 80 80 90, : 059 9178990 or from its website www.wrc.ie.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (62)

Bríd Smith

Question:

62. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will bring forward legislation to ensure workers in meat plants have access to a sick scheme as a safety measure in view of Covid-19 outbreaks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26176/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

Our employment rights frameworks are horizontal, meaning that any statutory employment right must protect all workers and cannot discriminate on a sectoral or other basis. I have this week announced my intention to examine how a statutory right to sick pay can be delivered to all workers in Ireland in a fair and proportionate manner.

While we do not currently have a statutory right to sick pay in Ireland, it is important to note that sick leave often forms part of the terms and conditions of employment contracts that are offered by employers and agreed by employees on a voluntary basis. Collective bargaining has of course achieved sick leave safety nets for very many workers in Ireland.

We have an Illness Benefit Scheme that is administered by the Department of Social Protection. This scheme has been enhanced in the circumstances presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and any employee is entitled to the benefit from the very first day of illness first day of illness allowing employers to comply with medical advice to self-isolate to mitigate the spread of the virus.

I want to reiterate that the Government sees many benefits associated with the introduction of a statutory entitlements for short-term illness for all workers. However, we need to identify the specific problem or challenge that the absence of such an entitlement is creating and the most efficient and fair manner of addressing that challenge.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (63)

Bríd Smith

Question:

63. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of meat processing plants inspected by the HSA to date since the Covid-19 crisis began; the number of facilities found to be in breach of Covid-19 workplace guidelines; and the penalties that have been or will be levied. [26177/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

The national Return to Work Safely Protocol, introduced in May, is designed to support employers and workers to put measures in place that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. The Protocol sets out in very clear terms the procedures and practices to be followed in all workplaces to ensure compliance with the COVID-19 related public health protection measures identified as necessary by the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health.

The Health and Safety Authority is the lead Agency in relation to checking compliance with the Protocol. However, in relation to the inspection of meat plants, it is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) which has a permanent presence at 49 of the 149 DAFM approved meat premises and which also carries out inspections related to the national Return to Work Safely Protocol under an MOU with the HSA.

I have been advised by the Health and Safety Authority that it has completed 81 inspections/investigations of meat processing plants since the lifting of restrictions on 18 May 2020 up to 16 September 2020 including ones with COVID-19 outbreaks. The Health and Safety Authority has further advised that 12 of these were revisits.

Health and Safety Authority inspectors have observed a generally high level of compliance with the recommended measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in a workplace context, in line with the Interim Guidance issued by the National Outbreak Control Team. While inspectors have issued written Reports of Inspections (ROIs) in respect of the meat plants inspected no prosecutions have been taken or penalties imposed as a result of inspections by the Health and Safety Authority.

Litter Pollution

Questions (64, 66)

Neasa Hourigan

Question:

64. Deputy Neasa Hourigan asked the Minister for Climate Action and Communication Networks the supports, funding schemes and grants which are available to schools participating in An Taisce green schools programme; the supports available to schools to ensure environmentally friendly waste disposal given increased waste production due to Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26057/20]

View answer

Neasa Hourigan

Question:

66. Deputy Neasa Hourigan asked the Minister for Climate Action and Communication Networks the supports, funding schemes and grants which are available to schools participating in An Taisce’s Green Schools programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26058/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Climate)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 64 and 66 together.

Green Schools (www.greenschoolsireland.org) is an international environment education programme and award scheme of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) (www.fee.global). It is a long-term, whole-school programme based on a seven step process. Currently, approximately 4,000 primary, secondary and special schools in Ireland are participating in the programme.

The Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce, in partnership with Local Authorities, has been operating the Green Schools programme in Ireland since 1997. It is supported by a number of Government Departments, Agencies and corporate funders, with funding for the current year coming from a variety of sources as follows:

- Department of Transport/National Transport Authority (Green-Schools Travel Theme) – €1,650,000

- Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (Green-Schools Marine Environment Theme) – €130,000

- Department of Environment, Climate and Communications (Green-Schools Core and Climate) – €145,000

- Local Authorities – €130,000

- Irish Water – €185,000

- National Parks and Wildlife Service (Biodiversity Theme)  - €40,000

- Irish Aid/Department of Foreign Affairs (Citizenship Theme) - €60,000

- Textile Recycling Limited - €50,000

- Wrigley’s Limited - €25,000

- FEE - (Litter Less) - €20,000

The programme covers a wide range of thematic areas. Impact measurement indicates substantial positive changes in knowledge, behaviour and opinion leadership among the participants. There are also substantial direct and indirect cost savings for waste, energy, water, and transport fuel (€3million  to €6 million per annum) schools, with an associated reduction in greenhouse gases.

Schools are supported by Green Schools and Local Authority staff, who undertake school visits to support implementation of the seven steps. There are also extensive information resources made available, as well as teacher and student training seminars and workshops, across all the thematic areas. The programme also allows for  national and international best practice exchange, learning opportunities and conferences, as well as Green Schools awards and specialist training and ambassador programmes (e.g. the water ambassador programme with Irish Water).

Participating schools are encouraged to apply to relevant funding schemes, which consider both the school's requirements and the expected impacts of any funding proposal. For example, small scale grants are available from FEE of approximately €8,000 per annum for the delivery of the international Green-Schools "litter less" project. The Green Schools travel theme also gives grants to schools for cycle and scooter parking, and cycling training.

National Broadband Plan

Question No. 66 answered with Question No. 64.

Questions (65)

Michael McNamara

Question:

65. Deputy Michael McNamara asked the Minister for Climate Action and Communication Networks when a person (details supplied) will be facilitated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26026/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Climate)

The Question refers to a premises which is located in the AMBER area on the National Broadband Plan (NBP) High Speed Broadband Map which is available on my Department's website at www.broadband.gov.ie. The AMBER area represents the area to be served by the network to be deployed under the NBP State led intervention, the contract for which was signed in November last with National Broadband Ireland (NBI).  The NBP network will offer users a high speed broadband service with a minimum download speed of 500Mbps from the outset. This represents an increase from the 150Mbps committed to under the Contract. The deployment plan forecasts premises passed in all counties within the first 2 years and over 90% of premises in the State having access to high speed broadband within the next four years.As of 15 September, design work is complete or ongoing in target townlands across 21 counties and steady progress is being made with over 91,000 premises surveyed to date. This activity is increasing week on week and NBI expects to have completed some 120,000 surveys by the end of the year. This activity involves physically walking the routes and documenting images, notes and measurements of the poles, cables and underground ducts in each area. This is informing design solutions for provision of the fibre network. This detailed design is then used to initiate the ‘make ready’ project with eir for the area, where eir ensure any poles and ducts being reused are fit for purpose. It is also used to initiate works with the subcontractors deploying the actual fibre in the area. The laying of fibre should commence shortly with the first fibre to the home connections expected around December this year. NBI provides a facility for any premises within the AMBER area to register their interest in being provided with deployment updates through its website (https://nbi.ie/map/).I am advised that in Co Clare surveys have recently commenced in the areas of Cratloe, Ballycannan, Ballyglass and Cloghrea and further surveys are due to commence in the areas of Kilkishen before the end of this year.  Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) are a key element of the NBP providing high speed broadband in every county in advance of the roll out of the fibre to the home network. Some 144 BCP sites have been installed by NBI and the high speed broadband service will be switched on in these locations through service provider contracts managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development for publicly available sites and by the Department of Education and Skills for schools. There are a number of BCPs located across County Clare including at Caherconnell, Cree Community Centre, Loop Head and Michael Cusack Visitor Centres.  A number of schools  including Kilmurry McMahon, Shragh, Ennistymon and Stonehall National Schools will also be connected to high speed broadband as part of the BCP initiative.  My Department will work with the Department of Education and Skills to prioritise the remaining schools to be connected over the term of the NBP. Further details can be found at https://nbi.ie/bcp-locations/. I understand that there can be instances where premises remain unconnected, although close to premises that are passed by eir’s fibre network. Eir’s rural deployment of high speed broadband is a commercial undertaking and, as such, decisions regarding the areas and premises served are made by eir. My Department has no role in the matter and has no statutory authority to intervene in decisions of commercial operators as to where they build infrastructure and provide services. Throughout rural Ireland, eir’s fibre deployment is primarily focussed on towns and villages and the premises on their outskirts. Where that network ends is where the National Broadband Plan in effect commences to ensure that nobody is left behind. I appreciate people's frustration when they are living so close to a fibre network but cannot get a connection to that network, particularly given the heightened importance of connectivity during the Covid-19 pandemic. The NBP will ensure that in all such cases a future proofed high speed broadband network will be built to serve these premises and work to deliver on this is underway.

Question No. 66 answered with Question No. 64.

Natural Gas Imports

Questions (67)

Holly Cairns

Question:

67. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Climate Action and Communication Networks the implications of the upcoming policy statement on banning the importation of fracked gas on the planned LNG project by the Port of Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26218/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Climate)

The Programme for Government recognises that as Ireland moves towards carbon neutrality, it does not make sense to develop LNG gas terminals importing fracked gas and, as stated, the Government does not support the importation of fracked gas. My Department is in the process of developing a policy statement to establish this approach, which on completion, I will bring to Government for approval. When approved by Government, it is intended that this policy will apply to any LNG facility in the State. The proposed project has been put forward by private developers and final investment decisions, including compliance with the legal and regulatory framework, are the responsibility of the project promoters.

Waste Management

Questions (68)

Holly Cairns

Question:

68. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Climate Action and Communication Networks if his attention has been drawn to allegations that local authorities are allowing construction waste to be buried under road projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26219/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Climate)

Article 27 of the European Communities (Waste Directive) Regulations, 2011, provides that in certain circumstances a material may be treated as a by-product and not a waste. Article 28 of the these Regulations also sets out the grounds by which a material which is recovered or recycled from waste, such as rubble or crushed concrete, can be deemed to be no longer a waste. The EPA has statutory functions for both Article 27 & 28 and, as Minister for Climate Action and Communications, I am precluded from exercising any power or control of the Agency of a statutory function vested in it, under the Waste Management Act (amended) 1996 and the Environment Protection Agency Act, 1992.

My Department has engaged in extensive discussions with the construction industry in relation to the issue of construction and demolition waste at a number of fora including the Construction Waste Resource Group and the Waste Advisory Group. Arising from these discussions, the planning for, and management of, Construction and Demolition Waste has been identified as a priority area in our new national waste policy “A Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy – Irelands National Waste Policy 2020 – 2025” which I launched earlier this month.

Anyone with specific concerns around possible illegal waste activity or incorrect application of articles 27 and 28 of the European Communities (Waste Directive) Regulations 2011 should contact the relevant enforcement body directly.

National Driver Licensing Service

Questions (69)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

69. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Transport the reason the NDLS (details supplied) is calling persons over 70 years of age to attend appointments for the renewal of their driver licences without informing them when they show up to the centre the appointments have been cancelled; if the matter will be addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26000/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

The National Driver Licence Service (NDLS) is provided under contract for the Road Safety Authority (RSA). I have referred the question to the Authority for direct reply. I would ask the Deputy to contact my office if a response is not received within 10 days.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (70)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

70. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Transport his views on a matter (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26051/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

The National Transport Authority, as statutory regulator will continue to engage with the industry and communicate regularly with individual SPSV operators in relation to the ongoing impact of COVID-19.

In regard to the idea of putting a monetary value on Small Public Service Vehicle (SPSV) Limousine Licences and then paying holders this amount for surrendering their licence, the current SPSV licensing regime, which was introduced in 2000, is built upon the principle that the purpose of a licence is to indicate a person’s suitability to carry out a function and to ensure that the holder of a licence is subject to lawful conditions and restrictions. As such a licence should not have, by association, a monetary value, whether for the purposes of it becoming tradable on the open market or for any other reason such as surrender. Accordingly, there is no basis for ascribing a monetary value to licences as proposed or for extending the period of validity of individual licences.

As regards the idea of closing the industry to new entrants, the Deputy may recall that, for the past two decades the Government has not exercised quantitative controls on the issuance of SPSV licences. In the past, quantitative controls created a chronic undersupply of SPSVs and abolition of these restrictions was necessary to help address these supply issues. As passenger interests would not be served by the reintroduction of quantitative controls, there are no plans to impose a moratorium on the issuance of SPSV licences at this time. In any event, it is difficult to see how such a measure would be of benefit to existing operators at this time, given that the level of applications for new licenses has collapsed to a fraction of normal levels.

Driver Test

Questions (71)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

71. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Transport if he has plans to increase capacity at driving test centres in order to clear backlogs for testing in view of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and in further view of the reduced capacity on public transport; and the number of persons waiting for driving tests for full licences by location in tabular form. [26054/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

The operation of the driver testing service is the statutory responsibility of the Road Safety Authority (RSA), and I have referred the latter part fo the question regarding numbers of persons waiting for a test to the Authority for direct reply. I would ask the Deputy to contact my office if a response is not received within ten days.

On the wider question, the driver testing service resumed on 29 June for certain classes of vehicles on 29 June, and for the remainder, including cars, from mid-July. The service is facing significant limts on capacity due to the need to comply with health restrictions. Before the pandemic driver testers were conducting 8 tests each per day. On resumption it was 5. I am happy to be able to report that this was increased to 6 from 14 September, and may be increased to 7 later, subject as always to health and safety concerns.

The RSA has further submitted proposals to my Department in order to address the backlog, which are currently being carefully considered in my Department. As the Deputy rightly indicates, increases in capacity will be key to addressing the problem. This will include increases in tester numbers and in testing facilities. My Department has already approved the rehire of temporary testers whose contracts had expired and retention of contracted testers otherwise due to leave in the next two months. Hiring of further permanent testers would take time, both for the hiring process and for training of those hired.

I should caution that there will be no quick or easy or solution to these difficulties. The RSA has indicated that it is currently receiving more applications than capacity, and it will take time to get on top of and reduce the backlog. My Department will continue to work with the RSA to see that this essential public service is delivered in as timely a way as possible, within overarching health protections.

Driver Test

Questions (72)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

72. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport the extent to which plans are being made or are in place in an effort to clear backlogs for driving tests that arose as a result of Covid-19 with particular reference to County Kildare; the progress to date in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26061/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

I am aware of the backlog in driving tests as a result of the closure of the service earlier in the year, and reduced capacity in the service since reopening.

The driver testing service, operated by the Road Safety Authority (RSA), resumed on 29 June for certain classes of vehicles on 29 June, and for the remainder, including cars, from mid-July. While matters related to particular locations are operational issues for the the RSA, overall the service is facing significant limts on capacity due to the need to comply with health restrictions. Before the pandemic driver testers were conducting 8 tests each per day. On resumption it was 5. I am happy to be able to report that this was increased to 6 from 14 September, and may be increased to 7 later, subject as always to health and safety concerns.

The RSA has recently submitted proposals in order to address the backlog, which are currently being considered in my Department. Increasing capacity will be key to addressing the problem. This will include increases in tester numbers and in testing facilities. My Department has alreay approved the rehire of temporary testers whose contracts had expired and retention of contracted testers otherwise due to leave in the next two months. Hiring of further permanent testers would take time, both for the hiring process and for training of those hired.

I should caution that there will be no quick or easy or solution to these difficulties. The RSA has indicated that it is currently receiving more applications than capacity, and it will take time to get on top of and reduce the backlog. My Department will continue to work with the RSA to see that this essential public service is delivered in as timely a way as possible, within overarching health protections.

Bus Services

Questions (73)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

73. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Transport if the information desks at both Tralee and Killarney bus stations will reopen in view of the fact they have been closed for some time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26068/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

As the Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. However, I am not involved in the day-to-day operations of public transport.

The issue raised is an operational matter for Bus Éireann and I have forwarded the Deputy's question to the company for direct reply.

Please advise my private office if you do not receive a response within ten working days.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (74)

Bríd Smith

Question:

74. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Transport his plans to transpose the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, guidelines on safe air travel into enforceable regulations here; if the IAA or other authority has sought to ensure that airports and airlines are operating to these guidelines; if airlines based here are adhering to Covid-19 safety protocols (details supplied) for their workforce and passengers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26079/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

The “Protocol for the management of air passengers in light of Covid-19” was published by the Department of Transport, in consultation with the National Air Transport Facilitation Committee, which includes representatives of the aviation industry, regulators, border control and public health authorities. The Protocol, published on 21 July 2020, is guidance for the coordinated implementation of EASA/ECDC – “COVID-19 Aviation Health Safety Protocol – operational Guidelines for the Management of airline passengers in relation to COVID-19 pandemic” (AHSP) (30, June Issue 2). The protocol has due regard to the EASA/ECDC COVID-19 Aviation Health Protocol Guidelines and national guidance in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) has taken a pro-active role in promoting and ensuring the airports and airlines operate the guidelines contained in the AHSP. In addition to the AHSP, the IAA has written to each Irish airline and airport encouraging them to participate in the EASA industry Charter for COVID-19. The Charter establishes a feedback loop from industry directly to EASA on the performance of the measures implemented, to fine-tune and improve the guidance in the light of operational experience and of the expected increase in traffic volumes. A number of Irish airlines and airports have already joined or are in the process of joining.

EASA are performing an overall monitoring role in Europe and are using the information collected from multiple sources, including the charter participants, to identify areas where the protocols outlined may be ineffective or can be further improved. As such, the AHSP is a living document and the IAA expects ECDC/EASA to publish a further revision in the coming weeks.

Roads Maintenance

Questions (75)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

75. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Transport when funding will be made available for structural repair works and a pedestrian bridge associated to Ardfinnan Bridge, County Tipperary in order to allow traffic to resume at a two-way system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26121/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of the relevant local authority in accordance with the provisions of Section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from the Council's own resources supplemented by State road grants. The initial selection and prioritisation of works to be funded is a matter for the Council.

Details of the regional and local road grant allocations and payments to local authorities are outlined in the regional and local road allocations and payments booklets which are available in the Oireachtas Library. Funding was provided to Tipperary County Council for repair works on Ardfinnan Bridge and these works are now complete.

Any projects proposed by local authorities for consideration under the Specific Grant Programme are assessed by the Department on a case-by-case basis. All projects put forward by local authorities for consideration must comply with the requirements of the Public Spending Code and the Department's Capital Appraisal Framework (CAF). Given the limited funding available for RLR improvement works it is important for local authorities to prioritise projects within their overall area of responsibility with these requirements in mind.

As required under the project appraisal guidelines, a Preliminary Appraisal has been received from Tipperary County Council concerning pedestrian and cycling options at Ardfinnan Bridge. All applications received from local authorities for specific grant allocations have to be assessed taking into account competing projects and the available budget with a view to maximising value for money and meeting Government strategic objectives, where possible.

Allocations for 2021 will be decided as part of the general grant allocation process.

Driver Test

Questions (76)

Johnny Mythen

Question:

76. Deputy Johnny Mythen asked the Minister for Transport his plans to reduce the backlog in driver tests (details supplied); and if additional funding will be provided to address the matter. [26134/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

I am aware of the backlog in driving tests as a result of the closure of the service earlier in the year, and reduced capacity in the service since reopening.

The driver testing service, operated by the Road Safety Authority (RSA), resumed on 29 June for certain classes of vehicles on 29 June, and for the remainder, including cars, from mid-July. The service is facing significant limts on capacity due to the need to comply with health restrictions. Before the pandemic driver testers were conducting 8 tests each per day. On resumption it was 5. I am happy to be able to report that this was increased to 6 from 14 September, and may be increased to 7 later, subject as always to health and safety concerns.

The RSA has recently submitted proposals to my Department in order to address the backlog, which are currently being considered in my Department. Increasing capacity will be key to addressing the problem. This will include increases in tester numbers and in testing facilities. My Department has alreay approved the rehire of temporary testers whose contracts had expired and retention of contracted testers otherwise due to leave in the next two months. Hiring of further permanent testers would take time, both for the hiring process and for training of those hired.

I should caution that there will be no quick or easy or solution to these difficulties. The RSA has indicated that it is currently receiving more applications than can be met through its existing capacity, and it will take time to get on top of and reduce the backlog. My Department will continue to work with the RSA to see that this essential public service is delivered in as timely a way as possible, within overarching health protections.

National Driver Licensing Service

Questions (77)

Thomas Gould

Question:

77. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Transport if provision can be made for bus drivers whose licences are due to expire in September 2020 in view of the delay in accessing NDLS appointments. [26212/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

I am aware of the difficulties the Deputy refers to and my officials are working with the Road Safety Authority (RSA), which is responsible for the National Driving Licence Service (NDLS), to identify and bring forward a range of possible responses that are consistent with the national and EU legal frameworks.

All driving licences that expired between 1 March and 31 August 2020 have been extended for 7 months. This extension has been granted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the disruption it has caused to licensing services delivered by the RSA. The extension will ease the pressure on the NDLS, free up appointment slots and make it easier to find those slots at local centres.

The RSA is working with their providers to see how they can increase capacity while adhering to the return to work protocol. Options under consideration include extended opening hours, overtime and protective segregation barriers between booths. Work is also continuing to expand the online facility to accommodate all driving licence and learner permit application types in a manner that does not undermine the existing legal framework or the effective operations of the stakeholders involved.

Any queries in relation to driving licences or urgent cases can be addressed to the NDLS customer service at 0761087880 or by emailing info@ndls.ie.

Transport Policy

Questions (78)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

78. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Transport the position regarding the current situation of transport services for persons with disabilities in County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26217/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

As Minister for Transport I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport.

The National Transport Authority (NTA) has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public passenger transport services nationally and the development of an integrated, accessible public transport network. The NTA also has national responsibility for local and rural transport, including management of Local Link services.

My Department has, and continues to fulfil its policy and funding role relating to transport for people with disabilities through improving access to public transport services. Significant improvements have been made in making public transport accessible to people with disabilities. For example, accessibility features, such as wheelchair access and audio/visual aids, are built into all new public transport infrastructure from the design stage and we are progressively making older (legacy) infrastructure and services accessible.

However, it would seem that the Deputy’s Question relates to the provision of dedicated door-to-door transport services which would not be open to the public in the way that public transport services are. Such dedicated (closed) services are outside the public transport remit of either my Department or the NTA.

Transport Policy

Questions (79)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

79. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport the steps in hand to encourage public road transport towards the use of non-fossil fuels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26245/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

An efficient and low emitting public transport system is a key priority of my Department. A comprehensive programme of ‘greening’ our public transport system is already underway with a vision to move towards zero emitting vehicles where and when possible. Under the National Development Plan, €8.6 billion has been indicatively allocated over the period 2018 to 2027 to develop sustainable mobility options, including BusConnects, DART+ Programme and MetroLink in tandem with transitioning the public transport fleet towards lower emitting alternatives.

In our bus fleets, Ireland has committed to no longer purchasing diesel-only urban buses for public transport services and I expect 100 diesel-electric hybrid buses to enter into service by year end, although this may be delayed a little due to the impact of Covid-19. Under the BusConnects Programme half of the public urban bus fleet in the Greater Dublin Area will be low-emitting by 2023, with full conversion expected by 2030. The NTA will also pilot hydrogen buses in 2021. Outside of urban bus services my Department is funding a number of NTA electric vehicle pilot projects in more rural areas using Local Link services.

Transitioning the taxi and hackney sector to cleaner vehicles is another area of focus for my Department due to their disproportionate impact on air quality and emissions. My Department established an Electric Small Public Service Vehicle (eSPSV) Grant Scheme which offers up to €10,000 towards the purchase of an eSPSV, with a further €2,500 available to convert the vehicle to a wheelchair accessible model. Since its launch in 2018, almost 90 SPSV drivers have availed of the grant and changed to an electric vehicle. The first zero-emission wheelchair accessible taxi in Ireland was also purchased with assistance from this grant scheme. In addition, my Department is currently funding the installation of SPSV-dedicated EV chargers at Dublin and Cork airports and train stations in Dublin, Cork and Limerick to help support the sector in moving to electric.

Similarly, progress is being made to decarbonise our rail network. Significant electrification is envisaged, with proposed expansion of the DART out to Balbriggan, Maynooth/M3 Parkway and Hazelhatch. A 10-year procurement framework for electric and battery-electric train units has also been established and the Climate Action Fund is supporting Irish Rail in a year-long trial of hybrid powered intercity diesel trains, which, if successful, could be rolled out across the fleet.

It is estimated that the entire public transport system accounts for fewer than 5% of all land transport emissions; nevertheless, I am committed to reducing this further due to the important leadership role the sector can play in Ireland’s decarbonisation effort. Greening public transport will remain a key priority for the Department of Transport.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (80)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

80. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport the extent to which he can assist the transport sector to recover after Covid-19 restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26246/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

Measures implemented with regard to travel restrictions, due to Covid-19, are decided by Government as a whole, based on public health advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team.

I and my Departmental officials are working continuously to develop and implement measures in order to keep our vital transport networks moving, and to ensure the ongoing operation and viability of the transport sector Since my appointment as Minister for Transport in June, I have met with stakeholders in all transport sectors and will continue to engage with them to determine what measures can be put in place to assist the sectors. Any such measures will feed into the Government’s aim to support the transport sector and aid broader economic recovery, while being cognisant of prevailing public health advice.

The Government has put in place a comprehensive suite of generalised supports measures to help mitigate the effects of the crisis on our citizens and businesses, including those working in the transport sector. These measures include the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme and the new Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme, which will now run to April 2021.

In addition to the broader financial supports for jobs and businesses set out in the July Stimulus package, the Government is also providing targeted supports for the transport sector.

In relation to the Maritime and Aviation sectors of Transport I refer the Deputy to Dail Question No.35 , which outlines a number of specific and targeted measures taken by my Department to assist both of these sectors, which are in addition to the broader financial supports set out in the July Stimulus package.

With regard to other transport sectors, which are within the remit of my Department, the specific measures and supports being provided to assist in mitigating the effects of Covid-19 are outlined below.

Public transport is a key facilitator of interaction in the economy and society and is an efficient and sustainable way of getting people to work, education, shopping, public services, and social engagement. Targeted supports for this sector include:

- A substantial increase in the 2020 budget for the existing Public Service Obligation (PSO) service;

- The introduction of new temporary financial support for certain licensed services provided by commercial bus operators;

- The introduction of mandatory face coverings on public transport to enable greater numbers of passengers to use services and

- The introduction of enhancements to certain PSO bus services as announced under the Stimulus package.

The Government has worked closely with the Advisory Committee on Small Public Service Vehicles (SPSVs) to take action to support the industry and reduce the costs of operators from the very start of the pandemic. The industry’s statutory regulator, the National Transport Authority (NTA), has provided a number of measures to assist the sector, including:

- extending licences that were due to expire between 13 March and 12 June of this year;

- working with the insurance industry to facilitate the suspension of SPSV insurance for operators who decided to stop working and chose to suspend their licences;

- waiving late renewal fees through to March 2021, effectively allowing operators to stop operating for up to one year without facing any undue cost for doing so and

- extending vehicle age limits for vehicles that were due to reach those limits between March and December this year.

Given the importance of the work of our road haulage sector during these difficult times, my Department implemented a number of measures to support the continued functioning of the sector in recent months, including:

- A prolonged temporary derogation from certain provisions of the EU driving and rest hours rules (which expired at the end of May);

- The extension of expiry dates on driver Certificate of Professional Competence cards (of a maximum of six months up to the 26th September 2020) and

- The extension of validity periods for driver licences.

A number of communications have also been issued to help support the freight sector including:

- Guidance to all supply chain workers stating that they are exempt from self-restricting movements on their return to Ireland, as long as they are not displaying symptoms of COVID-19;

A communication regarding Access to Sanitary Facilities and Motorway Services;

- A summary of Motorway Service Area Facilities;

- Communication on the Importance of all Essential Workers at Every Level in the Supply Chain; and

- Publication of Guidelines for Cleaning HGVs.

In addition, in line with the EU’s “Green Lanes” guidance, HGV drivers are exempt from the requirement to complete the Passenger Locator Form.

In line with the roadmap published by the Government for re-opening the economy, local authorities and contractors resumed general roadworks operations on regional and local roads from the 18th of May this year. These works have been undertaken on the basis of safe working arrangements which involved establishing site specific and activity specific operating procedures in line with published public health guidance.

On foot of the Government’s July Stimulus package, over €30m was allocated by the Department’s Regional and Local Roads Division to local authorities on the 31 August, 2020 for Active Travel Measures. These include measures to support pedestrians and cyclists in urban and rural areas and to improve accessibility, and over €10 milion for Climate Change Adaptation Works/Repairs. This funding will allow 531 active travel projects to be completed this year under this programme.

Due to the Covid pandemic the Road Safety Authority (RSA) had to close many services in the interest of public health, including in particular, the National Driver Licensing Service (NDLS), National Car Test (NCT), Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness Testing (CVRT), Driver Testing and Driver Theory Test services.

As a result of these closures, the validity periods of the following documents, in cases where they were due to expire between 1 March and 30 June 2020 inclusive, were extended by four months -

- Learner permits

- Driving licences

- Driver theory test certificates

- Certificate of competency (issued when a person has passed a driving test)

- Certificates of motorcycle training

In addition, the requirement for those over 70 to provide a medical report when applying for or renewing a driving licence or learner permit was removed. This provision, granted in March and extended in July, means that since 20 March and until 31 December 2020, persons of 70 years of age or over, can apply for and renew their driving licence or learner permit without the need to submit a medical report as long as they do not have an identified or specified illness.

The National Driver Licensing Service (NDLS) resumed its services on 8 June 2020. Due to Covid 19 related disruption of services, learner permits and driving licences were further extended as follows:

- Learner permits that expired or are due to expire between 1 March and 31 October 2020 were extended by 8 months and

- driving licences that expired between 1 March and 31 August 2020 were extended by 7 months.

The RSA, which operates the NDLS on behalf of the Department, continues to work with its providers to see how capacity can be increased within the NDLS while adhering to the return to work protocol. The RSA also hopes to extend its online services over the coming months, subject to the appropriate legislation and technical solutions being in place.

A 4-month extension has been provided for National Car Test (NCT) due dates and a 3-month extension for Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness Test (CVRT) due dates. The CVRT service resumed on 18 May and the NCT service resumed on a phased basis from 8 June 2020 with all test centres in the network having resumed testing by 20 July 2020.

The Driver Theory Testing service reopened on 8 June and the driver testing service reopened from 29 June for some vehicles, and 16 July for all others, including cars.

Capacity in the Theory Test system since resumption is actually increased on pre-Covid but the scale of backlog combined with the time of year, when many school-leavers will apply, means increased waiting lists. The RSA is working with the service provider to see how capacity can be further increased. The capacity of the driving test has been reduced, while a large backlog has developed. My Department has already approved retention and hire of a number of temporary testers to assist in the situation.

The RSA has submitted a comprehensive plan for addressing the demands on the service, which is being considered in my Department, having regard to public health and safety issues.

The EU introduced Regulation (EU) 2020/698 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 May 2020, in order to, inter alia, minimise disruption and ensure a continuous flow of goods within the EU. As a result, drivers with valid Irish Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) cards that were due to expire between 1 February and 31 August 2020 were granted an extension of seven months on their expiring card.

Road Network

Questions (81)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

81. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport his plans regarding the upgrading of the national road network in areas throughout the country that have not benefited from such enhancement in the past with particular reference to the need to ensure an adequate and reliable network for commercial transport both throughout the island of Ireland and gaining access to European markets in the wake of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26247/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for overall policy and securing exchequer funding in relation to the National Roads Programme. Once funding arrangements have been put in place with Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), under the Roads Acts 1993-2015 and in line with the National Development Plan (NDP), the operation, construction and upgrading of individual national roads is a matter for TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. This is also subject to the requirements of the Public Spending Code Guidelines and necessary statutory approvals. In this context, TII is best placed to advise on the current status and funding of proposed projects, pending also the Government's proposed review of the NDP.

Noting the above position, I have referred your question to TII for a direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within 10 working days.

Road Projects

Questions (82)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

82. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport the position regarding the upgrading of the M4 from Kilcock to Dublin with particular reference to the urgent need to alleviate current congestion and delays; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26248/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

As Minister for Transport I have responsibility for overall policy and securing exchequer funding in relation to the National Roads Programme. Under the Roads Acts 1993-2015 and in line with the National Development Plan (NDP), the upgrading, improvement and operation of individual national roads is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. This is also subject to the Public Spending Code Guidelines and the necessary statutory approvals. In this context, TII is best placed to advise you on the status of this project.

Noting the above position, I have referred your question to TII for a direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within 10 working days.