Question No. 200 answered with Question No. 175.

National Broadband Plan

Questions Nos. 202 and 203 answered with Question No. 175.

Questions (201)

Robert Troy

Question:

201. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if fibre broadband will be provided at a property (details supplied) given that their neighbours have received the service. [38812/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The premises referenced in the Question is located within 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. Premises in the AMBER area will be provided with high speed broadband through the 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.  I am advised by NBI that, as of 16 November 2020, over 131,000 premises across every county in Ireland have been surveyed, which is ahead of the full year survey target of 120,000 that had been projected by the company. 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 first fibre to the home connections are expected next month in Carrigaline, Co Cork and they will be subject to technical testing and validation prior to a wider release of the area. I am advised that from the end of January retailers will be able to resell the service and householders in these areas will be able to order high speed broadband provided via the NBI network.  In County Westmeath, I can advise that surveys have been carried out in the areas around Mullingar, Sonna, Stonehall, Taghmon, Jamestown, Hopestown and Athlone. NBI advise that surveys are due to start in areas around Devlin in early 2021 with an indicative date of summer 2021 for scheduled commencement of build works in the Mullingar area. 

Further details are available on specific areas within Westmeath through the NBI website which provides a facility for any premises within the Intervention Area to register their interest in being provided with deployment updates through its website www.nbi.ie. Individuals who register with this facility will receive regular updates on progress by NBI on delivering the network and specific updates related to their own premises when works are due to commence. I am aware that concerns have been raised regarding the level of information available on the deployment of the NBI network and I am advised that NBI is working to provide more detail on its website, with a rolling update on network build plans.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. As of November, some 190 BCP sites have been installed by NBI and 59 of these are now connected with high speed publicly accessible broadband through a service provider contract managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development. A further 22 are connected with high speed broadband, for educational access only, through a service provider contract managed by the Department of Education and Skills. Further details can be found at https://nbi.ie/bcp-locations/.In County Westmeath, NBI has installed the necessary infrastructure for BCPs at Streete Parish Park and Community Hall, Whitehall and Milltown Emper Community Centres and Ballycomoyle GAA Club, and connection will be provided by retail service providers in the coming weeks.Scoil Náisiúnta Bhride has been connected to high speed broadband, for educational access only, as part of the BCP initiative, with Scoil Naomh Michael to be connected in the coming weeks. My Department continues to work with the Department of Education and Skills to prioritise the remaining schools to be connected over the term of the NBP. 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 focused 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 it can be frustrating when citizens 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 well under way.

Questions Nos. 202 and 203 answered with Question No. 175.

Electricity Supply Board

Questions (204)

Denis Naughten

Question:

204. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the engagement he has had with the ESB with regard to its plans to demolish Lanesboro and Shannonbridge power stations; the total value of electricity customers' contributions through levies and charges towards the capital cost of each facility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38858/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The first progress report of the Just Transition Commissioner, Mr Kieran Mulvey, published on 22 May, reflects a comprehensive engagement with relevant stakeholders in the Midlands, setting out the analysis of the challenges facing the region, and for Bord na Móna workers, their families and communities, arising from an accelerated exit from peat harvesting. The report contains important recommendations. The Government is already acting on a number of these and is committed to preparing an implementation plan to address the remainder, which I intend to publish in the coming weeks. The recommendations and associated actions will support job creation efforts and create new opportunities for Bord na Móna workers in the Midlands. The recommendation of the Commissioner that a study be undertaken in relation to the future potential of the ESB power stations at both Lanesborough (Lough Ree Power) and Shannonbridge (West Offaly Power) for the establishment of a dedicated Energy Hub in the Midlands was subsequently included as a commitment in the Programme for Government.

While the management of ESB-owned facilities is the responsibility of the Board and management of ESB, the decision of the ESB, in November 2019, to close West Offaly and Lough Ree Power stations followed an extensive review of all options and was based on the key planning, climate and commercial factors associated with generation at the sites. My Department has been informed by the company that the current planning permissions for the two sites include an obligation to decommission the power plant and to remediate the sites by the end of 2022 and that, prior to any development opportunity taking place, ESB must satisfy the legal obligation to remediate the existing sites. In addition, I understand that the power plant equipment cannot be used for any purpose beyond December 2020 as neither the planning consents nor environmental licenses cover any such use.

A feasibility study into the establishment of a Green Energy Hub using the existing infrastructure at the West Offaly and Lough Ree sites has now commenced.  This study is being overseen by a steering group chaired by the ESB, and includes representatives of my Department, relevant Local Authorities, and other stakeholders. I expect that the work of the group will conclude by the end of this year, having regard to the timelines required to meet the company’s planning permission obligations in relation to both sites.

Responsibility for determination of the PSO levy is solely a matter for the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) which is an independent regulator.

The legal basis for the PSO levy and its method of calculation are set out in regulations made under the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 and the Public Service Obligations Order 2002 (S.I. 217 of 2002) under which the CRU is assigned responsibility for the calculation of the levy each year.

The CRU’s decision papers are published and publically available on their website and provide the ex-ante allocation of payments.

Aside from what is put in the public domain by the CRU, I do not have access to information about the total value of electricity consumers’ contribution through charges towards the capital cost of these facilities.  Generators obtain revenue to cover their costs from a number of sources, including from the electricity market and related auctions.  These latter elements in turn are ultimately paid by retail consumers, through various standing, network and variable electricity charges, depending on the type of consumer.

The Deputy may wish to note that CRU provides a dedicated email address for Oireachtas members, which enables them raise questions directly to the CRU, including on the CRU's annual PSO decisions, at oireachtas@cru.ie for timely direct reply.

Greenways Provision

Questions (205)

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

205. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Transport the projects in County Meath considered for inclusion in the recent allocation of €63.5 million for greenways; the reasons these projects were not successful; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37999/20]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

I was delighted to recently announce details of the increased funding being made available next year to support greenways. The additional money is primarily directed toward increasing the rate of Exchequer funding support available for projects already approved. The increased support means that these projects will now be 100% funded by allocations from my Department, and it is provided in recognition of the difficulties caused by COVID-19 on local authority funding streams. The increased funding levels will ensure these already-approved projects are delivered as proposed.

The Deputy is likely aware that earlier in the Summer I also announced allocations being made available as part of the Carbon Tax Fund. Amongst those allocations Meath County Council was successful in relation to the Boyne Greenway and Boyne Navigation Restoration Scheme, which will be a 26.5km route from the Oldbrige Estate to Navan. The €750,000 allocated to the Council is designed to bring the scheme through the design and planning processes and once that work is complete I expect Meath County Council will be well-placed to submit an application under future funding calls to support actual construction.

I do expect further funding calls to be announced next year and Meath County Council, like other local authorities, will be able to submit applications in line with relevant eligibility criteria at the appropriate time. I understand that the Council previously applied in 2018 for funding in relation to a proposed Navan to Kingscourt Greenway, which was ultimately not successful at that time; however, it is open to the Council to consider the issue again for future funding calls. I think it important that local authorities consider the role that greenways can play in improving active travel options for local communities as well as their potential in the area of leisure and / or tourism focused walking and cycling, and I look forward to seeing that reflected in next year’s process.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (206)

Michael McNamara

Question:

206. Deputy Michael McNamara asked the Minister for Transport if an extension will be granted for the works programme funding allocation to local authorities (details supplied) due to the Covid-19 pandemic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38132/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of each 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 financial year for grants under the regional and local road grant programme is from 1 December to 30 November each year. Allowing for the time required to process end of year claims and for the finalisation of the Department’s end of year account, it is not possible to extend the closing date for the receipt from local authorities of final claims in relation to their annual road programmes.

Local Authority Funding

Questions (207)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

207. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Transport if correspondence (details supplied) will be reviewed; if his attention has been drawn to losses of vital funding to local authorities; his plans to review the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38344/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

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

As a consequence of the local authority restructuring process in 2014, my Department reviewed the approach to allocating funding to local authorities to take account of the changes. The conclusion reached was that the best approach was to add the mileage of the former Town and Borough Councils, which used to receive Block Grants, to the mileage figures for the relevant county and the result would determine each county’s share of road programme allocations. This is now the basis for grants to each local authority. A factor taken into account in adopting this approach was the anomalies that had arisen over time in relation to the treatment of different towns and urban areas.

There are no plans at present to revise the existing arrangements.

It should be noted that the start of year grant allocation to Monaghan County Council in 2014 was €6.9 million as compared with €14.5 million in 2020.

Environmental Protection Enforcement

Questions (208)

Denise Mitchell

Question:

208. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport if local authorities have protocols in place for dealing with oil spills; if so, the local authorities concerned; and his plans to bring forward a harmonised and agreed response from his Department in relation to the way in which local authorities manage oil spills. [38518/20]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

The Sea Pollution (Amendment) Act 1999 anticipates a requirement on coastal local authorities to develop and implement oil and/or HNS spill contingency plans. My Department, through the Irish Coast Guard, recently published a National Maritime Oil & HNS Spill Contingency Plan (NCP). This Plan establishes a national framework and strategy to coordinate marine pollution preparedness and response, including at local authority level.

The Irish Coast Guard (IRCG), as the competent national authority, ensure oversight and approval of contingency planning and response of entities such as local authorities, harbour authorities, offshore units and Oil/HNS handling facilities. The IRCG works closely with relevant local entities to ensure they have plans in place and that the personnel involved are adequately trained. The NCP also seeks to harmonise and standardise both the current and future local authority plans, and other plans to which the requirements pertains. Additionally, the NCP provides content guidelines and assessment criteria for those organisations, including local authorities, in developing oil and/or HNS spill contingency plans – all of which enable local authorities to comply with their legal requirements.

Irish Aviation Authority

A referred reply was forwarded to the Deput

under Standing Order 51

Questions (209)

Sorca Clarke

Question:

209. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Transport if his attention has been drawn to the night-time low level flight on 3 November 2020 which left the East Midlands Airport, Derby, England at 11.02pm and spent more than four hours flying back and forth across County Westmeath and neighbouring counties before returning to UK airspace and landing at Nottingham Airport at 5.45am; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38551/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

As the issue of the management of flight paths within Irish airspace is an operational matter for the Irish Aviation Authority, I have referred the Deputy's question to the Authority for direct reply.

Please advise my private office if a response is not received within ten working days.

A referred reply was forwarded to the Deputy under Standing Order 51

Driver Test

Questions (210)

John Lahart

Question:

210. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Transport the measures being put in place to deal with the backlog of driver theory test and driver tests as a result of Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37757/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

The Driver Theory Test has not been deemed to be an essential service under Level 5. As a consequence, the service is closed, effective from midnight on Wednesday 21st of October, and for the duration of Level 5 restrictions. All appointments during that time have been rescheduled to the next available appointment date.

The Road Safety Authority has advised my office that it is engaging with its service provider to examine ways of increasing the number of theory tests within the current health constraints for when services are resumed. They will be opening on additional days (at some centres) and extended hours will also be provided to allow additional capacity for appointments. This will help reduce and, over time, eliminate the backlog.

As you are aware, the driving test service was temporarily suspended due to the Covid 19 emergency and since resuming operations, there has been an increased level of demand. During the level 5 period, driving tests will be available only to those who are involved in essential services, including essential retail work.

While the service is limited during Level 5 restrictions, the Road Safety Authority is examining ways of increasing the number of tests within health constraints with an eye to resuming wider testing after Level 5, and is working in close consultation with my Department on this matter.

My Department has recently approved the retention by the RSA of 18 temporary driver testers whose contracts were due to expire in October and November, and the RSA has also rehired a further 18 temporary testers whose contracts expired in May. This will help to increase testing capacity when services resume. In the longer term the Department is considering proposals by the RSA for further measures to address the backlog.

Driver Licences

Questions (211)

Brendan Howlin

Question:

211. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Transport if he is satisfied with the conditions imposed on Irish citizens who previously held full Irish driver licences seeking to renew their licence on their return to Ireland; his views on whether it is acceptable to require such returning nationals with a clean licence record to undergo six essential driver training sessions and pay a variety of other fees in order to prove driving competence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37767/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

An Irish driving licence can be renewed up to 10 years after the date of expiry of the licence. If a licence is not renewed after 10 years, the licence holder is no longer considered a qualified driver. Irish driver licensing law operates within a framework of European Union law. An Irish driving licence can only be issued to a resident of Ireland. Nationality is not a consideration. It is important to remember that driver licensing law exists to ensure that people licensed to drive on our roads meet high standards of safety. The standards for testing drivers are set at EU level.

All EU driving licences are exchangeable when a person moves from one Member State to another. In the case of non-EU jurisdictions, we may make bilateral agreements on licence exchange. These are not a straightforward matter. They can be made only when the relevant authorities in each jurisdiction have studied and compared the two licensing regimes, so that each side can be satisfied that they are compatible. On the Irish side, this task is undertaken by the Road Safety Authority (RSA).

When people come to Ireland with a non-exchange licence, we have no option but to require them to go through the process of obtaining an Irish licence. This is a matter of public safety. While many may have a safe driving record, we have no way of measuring this.

At present, people with a full but non-exchange licence go through the normal driver learning process but can avail of the shorter Essential Driver Training of 6 lessons instead of the usual 12, and do not have to wait the usual minimum of 6 months before taking a driving test. Some might have preferred to abolish the EDT altogether for people in this position. Following consultation with the RSA, it is clear that some lessons would be useful in helping people to adjust to Irish driving rules and conditions and in preparing people for the driving test.

Driver Licences

Questions (212)

Denise Mitchell

Question:

212. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport if a person changing from a UK to an Irish driver licence has the option to maintain their place of birth as Ireland despite being born in Northern Ireland given the fact they are an Irish citizen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37768/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

In general, the details to be recorded on a driving licence in an EU member state are set out in the relevant Directive which is transposed into Irish law by primary and secondary legislation. Among the details to be recorded are the date and place of birth. The implementation of the relevant law is an operational matter for the Road Safety Authority.

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.

Transport Infrastructure Ireland

Questions (213)

Patricia Ryan

Question:

213. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Transport when the next TII funding will be announced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37774/20]

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. Budget 2021 provided for funding to be allocated to Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) for its functions under the Roads Acts 1993-2015 and in line with the National Development Plan (NDP). My Department is currently in the process of making arrangements to allocate this funding, enabling TII to carry out its remit to provide high quality transport infrastructure and services, through the development, maintenance and operation of the national road network and light rail infrastructure.

I anticipate that this process will be completed shortly.

Wage Subsidy Scheme

Questions (214)

Patricia Ryan

Question:

214. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Transport if he will request the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, to implement a fairer approach to arrears due from staff relating to the wage subsidy scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37788/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

As the Deputy may be aware, DAA is a commercial semi State Body with statutory responsibility to operate, manage and develop Dublin and Cork Airports.

Accordingly, the matter raised by the Deputy is an operational matter for the Company. I have therefore forwarded your request to the daa for a direct response. If a response is not received within 10 days, please contact my private office.

Public Procurement Contracts

Questions (215)

Carol Nolan

Question:

215. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Transport the details of contracts of €25,000 or more that have been awarded by his Department or bodies under the aegis of his Department that were found to be non-compliant with procurement guidelines from 1 January 2019 to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37808/20]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

The Department ensures that there is an appropriate focus on good practice in purchasing and that procedures are in place to ensure compliance with all relevant guidelines. In 2019, the Department complied with the guidelines with the exception of payments totalling €458,154 in respect of three contracts above the €25,000 threshold held without a competitive process. These contracts are listed in the Department’s annual return in respect of Circular 40/02 and are published in the 2019 Appropriation Account which is available from the Comptroller and Auditor General here - https://www.audit.gov.ie/en/Find-Report/Publications/2020/Vote-31-Transport-Tourism-and-Sport.pdf

The Department is in the process of compiling details of all procurements in the period January-September 2020 and this information will be published on the Departments website shortly. Non-compliant procurements in 2020 will be listed in the Department’s annual return in respect of Circular 40/02 and published in the 2020 Appropriation Account in 2021.

Taxi Regulations

Questions (216)

Robert Troy

Question:

216. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport if taxi regulations stating all taxis must be less than nine years old on their licence renewal date will be increased by one year. [37812/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

Vehicle age limits for small public service vehicles (SPSVs) are a matter for the statutory regulator, the National Transport Authority (NTA).

The Deputy may be aware that, at the start of the pandemic, the NTA extended age limits for vehicles until the end of this year. The NTA is now considering a further extension of age limits to the end of 2021 and is currently conducting a public consultation process on this proposal prior to making a decision.