Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 31 Mar 1976

Vol. 289 No. 5

Adjournment Debate. - County Kildare Roads.

I thank the Chair for the opportunity of raising this matter on the Adjournment. It arises out of two questions I had down today to the Minister for Local Government. One expressed concern about the unfinished state of a major road improvement at Fontstown on the Kilcullen/Athy Road, County Kildare, and the other was a request for enough money to bring the Kildare national primary roads up to standard. The latter question is down in my name and in the names of many other Deputies from the west and the south who are forced to travel along the Kildare Road on their way to Dublin.

During Question Time today the Minister suggested that when I had not a reasoned case to make I resorted to abuse. I am sorry he should construe my criticism as abuse, but I suppose when one is thin skinned and feels guilty, as the Minister must do, he is more susceptible to deserved criticism and feels resentful on that account.

The case I wish to make here tonight has already been made to the Minister by the county manager and the county engineer in a letter of the 4th February last to his Department. This case was made by two reasonable people. It was not advanced for any party political reasons or anything like that. It was advanced purely from a desire to improve the roads of Kildare or, failing that, even to maintain them at their present level. The Minister tried to indicate that he had knowledge of the last county council meeting in Kildare and that the county engineer had changed his mind since he wrote that letter. I attended that meeting and paid great attention to anything the county engineer said, or that anyone said on his behalf, and at no time was I made aware that the county engineer had changed his opinion about the allocation of money and the need for more money.

I should also tell the Minister that a Deputy from his own Party and county councillors from the two wings of the National Coalition looked for a deputation to visit him some time ago. I presume this request was conveyed to him but so far we have had no indication from the Minister that he is prepared to meet us. At Question Time today I advanced a theory that more money came out of Kildare by way of taxation of motor vehicles than was given back to us by way of road grant. The Minister appeared to disagree with me at that point. I hope to be in a position in the time allotted to me to show that £750,000 was gathered in Kildare last year from taxation of motor vehicles and we got back 72 per cent in grants. If the Road Fund keeps at the same level this year, it is hoped that £1 million will be collected in Kildare this year from motor taxation and if the Minister is as generous with us as he was last year, the least we should get would be £792,000. As I will show now, this is not the case.

The grant we got for the upkeep of national primary roads in 1976 was £94,000 and for the upkeep of national secondary roads we got £21,500—an allowance of £115,500 for the upkeep of both primary and secondary roads. For the improvement of our national primary roads we have been given the princely sum of £180,000. That has also to cover whatever improvements we might envisage for our national secondary roads. That is a total allocation for the upkeep and improvement of our national primary and national secondary roads of £295,000. We have already indicated to the Minister how it is proposed to spend the money on improving our national primary roads at various centres. We will spend £23,000 at Monasterevin and we will provide public lighting in Naas and Newbridge. I need hardly stress how important this is because with the great volume of traffic, our roads are very vulnerable to accidents. Our accident history in Kildare is deplorable.

A matter of vital importance was raised by Fine Gael councillors. They have very strong feelings about this. They are very vexed that the Minister has seen fit to provide only £10,000 to by-pass Naas. That £10,000 will be spent to build a bungalow for a lady whose house is in the line of the new road. The Minister has had second thoughts about the type of roads we should have. Also, we will spend £40,000 in the completion of works at Moyvalley, Maynooth, Leixlip and Kilcock while £100,000 will be spent at Moyvalley Bridge. In this way the £180,000 will be used. We received also a block grant of £170,000 for the improvement of our county roads and for traffic management works. I will endeavour to show that this amount will not go very far in the work we hope to undertake.

When he wrote to the Minister in February last the county manager expressed deep concern regarding the position in our county. He referred to a report he had had from the county engineer which indicated that the nature of the works required to cater for the volume of traffic in County Kildare was great. He pointed out that the county engineer's report had very serious implications regarding the continuation of employment of workers in the council service. He referred particularly to the position of lorry drivers and plant operators who were associated with the council's machinery yard. He pointed out that if sufficient money was not available by way of grant, it would not be possible to provide these people with an alternative form of employment because their services would not be used in the roadworks as a result of the decreased grants in that area. The county manager summed up the situation by saying that a substantial increase was needed in the grant allocation to Kildare County Council in the coming year and that if this was not forthcoming, he would be forced to lay off men who would normally find employment in the council services when money is made available to enable the council to undertake essential work on road improvements.

This is not an entirely selfish outlook because, as has been pointed out on numerous occasions, the improvement of the roads in Kildare would help the tourist industry particularly in the context of the west. I am confident that if any foreign industrialist thinking of setting up here were persuaded to travel out the western road, in order that he might examine potential locations in the west, by the time he would have negotiated the roads to Leixlip and Kilcock he would turn back because of the deplorable condition of this part of the journey. Resolutions have been passed by many other counties seeking to have the roads in Kildare improved. Recently, we adopted a resolution passed by Leitrim County Council in this regard. The appearance of the names of other Deputies on the Order Paper in this regard is an indication of their interest in the matter.

In his letter to the Department the county manager also said that instead of providing additional moneys for the coming year, central government had not taken into account the rate of inflation or the question of increased costs with the result that in real terms less money is being provided now than in former years. In the final paragraph of his letter he stressed that the implications for employment within the county were serious if more money were not forthcoming. He included with his letter a report from the county engineer. This man is highly qualified and is a wonderful engineer. He is not prone to using words lightly. No doubt he is held in high esteem by the various other members of his profession. In his report he indicated that for the past two years he has been very concerned regarding the works carried out in the county and that the present year was one of particular concern in this regard because the amount of grants in real money terms had been reduced with the effect that there was increasing over-expenditure on improvement works on both national primary and national secondary roads and that there was a marked decline in the standard of the upkeep of our roads.

He indicated, too, that in regard to our national primary roads we would need £587,000. The amount we received was £180,000. He made the point also that for the continuity of work it was necessary to be able to buy land in advance. At least two years should be the norm. It is hardly necessary for me to emphasise to the Minister the necessity of having a sufficient float and, if necessary, to obtain compulsory purchase orders.

When all these matters were taken into account, the county engineer assessed a figure of £620,000 as being our requirement in this field, whereas we received £180,000. He indicated how we proposed to spend the money. All that information is on the Minister's file, no doubt. There is reference to a continuation of the Naas-Newbridge dual carriageway which is needed badly and to the different improvement works required throughout the county. The county engineer's estimate was the least amount necessary. He pointed out that it does not indicate the total amount of work that is ready to be commenced but indicates the very least amount which we can hope to carry out. He indicated, too, that there had been a serious disruption in work in the county last year as a result of financial cutbacks. He pointed out that down through the years the county council had adopted a policy of providing their own machinery thereby enabling them to carry out the work and maximising the use of the machinery and the work force at their disposal. The county manager said it was unlikely that the national primary roads improvement grants for 1976 would reach a figure remotely approaching the required level.

He said he considered it necessary to outline the present financial commitments which the council faced in regard to work on national primary roads in the coming year, that we had already spent £128,000 and were committed to works of that nature. He pointed out also that the work force of 29 men would cost £60,000 to maintain in the coming year while the provision of the necessary machinery for roadworks in the same period would cost £55,000 and materials needed to carry out the work would cost £60,000. These figures are nothing more than survival figures, the lowest figures that could possibly be arrived at to warrant keeping men in employment and to warrant also the utilisation of existing machinery.

The county engineer emphasised the declining standards of our national roads and indicated that the amount of money we got in 1975 was not adequate to provide a proper level of maintenance of primary roads while important works such as surface dressing or bitumen carpeting had to be curtailed seriously and that a minimum of £100,000 would be necessary this year to provide even this low standard of upkeep. He warned the Minister that the continuation of the present policy would mean that in five years' time serious damage would have been wrought on the roads in our county which would necessitate the spending of very large sums of money in remedial work. He pointed out the effects which the dry weather conditions of the summer of 1975 had on roads which were based on bog ramparts.

Apparently, the Minister has not taken to heart the serious words of the county engineer who indicated, too, that of the block grant of £136,000 we received last year, £130,000 was spent on the main roads and that what we had left for improvement works on other main roads was not worth spending—a mere £5,585. He also indicated to the Minister that Kildare had faced up to their responsibilities every other year, had spent quite a lot of money on the main roads in the county and that any shortfall had always taken place in the allocation of grants from the Department of Local Government.

I also refer the Minister to his statement today regarding the amount of road fund grants received in Kildare and the amount of taxation gathered on the 1,800 registered vehicles in Kildare last year. In 1975 our grant was £545,810. We were 11th, behind Dublin and Cork, which we can well understand, and also Donegal, Mayo, Galway, Limerick, Clare, Waterford, Kerry and Meath. It is hard to understand how we could be placed in that position with counties that have not the same mileage as we have and do not carry the same volume of traffic.

Kildare returned £750,000 last year in motor taxation and got 72 per cent of that in grants. In the coming year, with the new cost of registering cars, it should be £1.1 million and even on the same percentage we should be due £792,000. It was indicated to the Minister, if we had any hope of carrying out a programme with any continuity and not one of peaks and valleys, what would be the minimum amount that we would need to do this work. The Minister has not taken account of that.

It was also shown to the Minister that labour costs have increased from 1970 to date by 122 per cent. We base these figures on road workers' wages and also on the cost of materials which has increased very considerably. In relation to last year's costs it is anticipated that the increase will be something in the nature of 15 per cent to 20 per cent on the different materials that will be used.

We have put forward a very special case for Kildare which has not been put forward for party reasons but by two very competent people, the county manager and the county engineer. We have made a request to the Minister, even for survival, to allow us to keep up appearances. The statistics I gave are not invented by me. They are genuine.

I want to refer particularly to Question No. 7 in relation to Fontstown. This is an example of the unfinished business, owing to the shortage of money, in Kildare. At the March county council meeting grave concern was expressed by members of the Minister's party. We look on Kildare as an unfinished symphony. It is a very sad swan song on which to bow out. It is a reminder to anyone on the road to sweet Athy that the third Coalition are a perfect example of an old lesson we used to learn in school, olc, níos measa, is measa.

I am really sorry for somebody like Deputy Power who, I suppose, wants to help his constituents and would like to give the impression he is doing a lot for them by coming in here. I object to the idea that the only way he can do it is by having the matter raised on the Adjournment so that he gets 20 minutes to himself to say a lot of things. I suggest that he checks his facts a little bit tighter with Kildare County Council officials before he comes in here again to make a case.

I am really touched by the warning of this county engineer as to how I should behave. Deputy Power may take instructions from the county engineer but I do not. The letter we heard so much about at Question Time today, and which has been referred to this evening by Deputy Power, is one written by the county engineer before the allocations were made. It is not unusual for officials in local authorities to try to get as much money as they can. There is no harm in that. If they want to overstate their case and look for a lot more than they are likely to get, O.K., I cannot complain about it, that is the way they do their business. It does not impress because when the matter comes before the Department of Local Government they have to assess what the requirements are and it is on that they make the recommendation to me for an allocation.

Deputy Power is an intelligent man and he is as well aware as I am that a letter written a month or six weeks before the allocations was made saying that this is the amount required does not cut any ice at all because at the time he did not know what money he was getting. He was aiming at the moon and that was that.

There are a couple of things I should deal with, one of which is the question of Fontstown. In case Deputy Power was too gentle to refer to the Deputy and the councillor of the Labour Party in Kildare, let me name Deputy Bermingham, who was the person he was referring to. What Deputy Bermingham was complaining about, as far as I know, was that the job seemed to be going on a long time; a lot seemed to have been spent on it and it did not appear to be any nearer to being ended. On that basis an unfinished symphony might appropriately be applied to it. Perhaps the county engineer might have a look at the job and see if there is any truth in the suggestion made by Deputy Bermingham and one or two other people that it seemed as if there was not a lot of intelligent planning in the way in which the job was being done. It appeared as if a lot of money was being put into it and it did not appear to be improving. Deputy Power seems to accept it is still in a dangerous condition and does not appear to be improving after a very sizeable amount of money has been spent on it over a period of two years. The years 1974 and 1975 have passed by and a total of £33,500 has been spent on it. A further £8,000 is required to finish it, which is a sizeable sum.

Possibly the county engineer might spend some of his time out there and see if he can find some way of finishing the job. I would be a little bit perturbed about continuing to give grants for a job which appears to be going on and on. It is a normal job which appears to be one which could be finished in a relatively short time. I believe Deputy Power has views on this and perhaps he might discuss the matter with the county engineer and see if the job is not dragging on for a long time.

As far as the £8,000, which is required to finish it is concerned, I have given a very sizeable block grant to Kildare and they can take the £8,000 out of that because they are entitled to allocate the money out of the block grant to whatever work they think most needs money. One would get the impression from Deputy Power that down the years his party, when they were in power, were pouring millions of pounds into the Kildare roads. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The only really decent allocation of money which was made was in the last year they were in office. For the national primary roads that year they gave £160,000 for improvement—grant improvement works are what are done this year and the next year they are not—and they gave £48,000 for the upkeep of national primary roads in 1972-73. In 1976 we gave £180,000 for improvement and £94,000 for upkeep, which is nearly double that. If the Kildare county engineer feels that from a figure of £48,000 in 1972-73 up to £94,000 in 1976 is not sufficient to keep the road in a proper condition then perhaps he would have a look at the way in which he is doing it. In fact, he got £78,000 last year and £49,000 the year before so Kildare have been doing pretty well on the upkeep. I consider upkeep is important.

Similarly in regard to the national secondary roads. Nothing was given in 1972-73 in the national secondary by the previous Government and there was nothing given for the improvement and nothing given by us this year. There was nothing given for upkeep either in the national secondary because the upkeep 100 per cent grant was introduced by us and not by Fianna Fáil. They only gave 50 per cent. This year we have given £25,500 as against £17,700 last year and £11,330 the year before for the upkeep of national and secondary roads.

A general grant was given of £170,000 in 1976 for the county roads. This money can be spent by Kildare County Council wherever they think it should be spent. There were two main reasons for doing this. One was so that roads could be improved which were neglected for years because the money was not available. We were improving the national roads but where many people who were paying heavy rates were living nothing was done to the roads over the years. I decided it was about time we should give them a little help and so the block grant was introduced.

The second reason was that on this type of road there is far more scope for labour. There is no reason why expensive machinery should be employed to do a job in three months which it might take six months to do with a smaller type of machine and where labour is employed. This is what the local authorities, including Kildare County Council, are setting out to do. Despite the fact that Deputy Power was at the last meeting of the county council, apparently he is not aware that the county engineer said he was revising his arrangement to ensure there would not be any unemployment among road workers. I am sure Deputy Power is as happy about this as I am. Neither of us wants to see road workers laid off.

With regard to the Naas by-pass, let us be clear about this once and for all. For three years in succession a grant of £10,000 was given to Kildare County Council for the Naas by-pass. On each occasion, and particularly last year and this year, they were asked to submit a draft scheme for this by-pass. They have the money to prepare that scheme if they want to. They have not done so.

The Minister changed the scheme.

They have not submitted the plan to me for a Naas by-pass. Kildare County Council are saying to us: "Allocate the money first and then we will give you the scheme." That will not work. On the basis of taking a figure out of the air I will not agree to allocate money to by-pass Naas or anywhere else unless the county council produce the plan of what they propose to do. The matter will be considered next year if the plan is submitted. If it is not submitted, I would have very grave doubts about giving even the £10,000 which they have been getting for planning over the past three years. It is a bit ridiculous to suggest they should play along with this. While apparently pretending they are very interested in having this work done, at the same time they have not produced a plan. Deputy Power is aware——

I am aware that the Minister changed the plan for the motorway.

Deputy Power is aware that I refused to allow a motorway which would not be financed in this century to be put into operation. I said I would agree to a dual carriageway and I asked them to submit plans. They failed to do so. If they are interested in by-passing Nass, I suggest that what the county engineer should do is to prepare those plans. Kildare is a very important county but it is not so important that it can dictate to the Department of Local Government. If they want a by-pass they can have it, but they can only have it if they submit the plans.

With regard to the amount of money given for other roads, it is not correct to say there are far more miles of road in Kildare than in most of the other counties which got higher grants. A simple check on the mileage will prove to Deputy Power whether that is correct. I am quite happy that I have given a fair allocation of money. Over the years the Kildare roads as well as all the other roads were neglected because enough money was not made available. Since I took office I have made available very substantial sums of money. Because I have done that, some local authority representatives like Deputy Power seem to think there is a bottomless pit of money which should be allocated to their local authority only and we should forget about the remainder.

Could I intervene to say the time allotted to this debate is exhausted?

I am perfectly satisfied that the amount of money given to the Kildare County Council will guarantee full employment and will do the necessary work which should be carried out by a good local authority and I am sure Kildare County Council will do that the same as every other county council.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 1st April, 1976.