Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 6 Feb 2002

Vol. 547 No. 4

Ceisteanna – Questions. - Departmental Bodies.

Michael Noonan


1 Mr. Noonan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent work of the cross-departmental team on infrastructure and public-private partnerships; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1141/02]

Trevor Sargent


2 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the progress of the cross-departmental team on infrastructure and public-private partnerships; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3432/02]

Ruairí Quinn


3 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the progress to date of the work of the interdepartmental team on infrastructure and public-private partnerships. [3507/02]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

The cross-departmental team on infrastructure and public-private partnerships continues to meet on a monthly basis in supporting a Cabinet committee in the delivery of priority national infrastructure. The team met most recently on 23 January.

The Taoiseach's reply was so succinct it nearly passed us by. Will he inform us when he believes PPPs will be put in place to build roads throughout the country? Such PPPs have been promised by the Government for five years, but I know of none that has been agreed for any stretch of road.

The PPP process is now in place for a number of projects, including those on the Waterford road and bridge, the M50 and the second bridge thereon and the Kilcock-Kinnegad road. In addition, there are a number of other projects being looked at in terms of PPPs.

Being looked at?

I understand progress has been made on all of them.

Announcements have not been made in respect of them.

I have no doubt that the relevant Ministers would be only too delighted to make such announcements.

Is the Taoiseach categorically stating there are PPPs in place for road building projects?

Yes. PPPs have been put in place in respect of many areas. A number of school building and sewerage projects have been announced. PPPs for the three road projects to which I referred have all reached some stage of development. I understand those for the Waterford and Kilcock-Kinnegad projects have been announced.

With respect, PPPs for those projects have been at some stage of development in the five years since the Government first announced its commitment to such partnerships.

The PPP process was only finalised and agreed with the social partners last year.

Yes. It took five years to reach that point.

I do not believe the process commenced until the national development plan was concluded in December 1999.

The programme for Government contains a commitment in respect of PPPs. Has any PPP been fully agreed in respect of financing, designing, constructing and managing a single stretch of road throughout the country?

The roll-out of PPP projects in respect of roads, public transport, schools and water services has been progressed. The West Link is up and running and has been half completed. The Waterford bridge project is at planning stage and contractors have been engaged and financing put in place. The Kilcock-Kinnegad project and several others are up and running. PPPs in respect of some of these have been signed, but the Deputy would need to table a question to the relevant Minister to identify them. Work on these projects has certainly commenced.

There is nothing up and running, with the exception of the West Link Bridge project which is modelled on previous toll bridge projects in Dublin.

It is not, it is modelled on a PPP.

The Taoiseach should come off it.

I will not. The M50 construction project is a public-private partnership project.

The Taoiseach began by stating PPPs are in place, then he stated they are at some stage of development and now he is stating they will be rolled out in due course. Is he in a position to provide a coherent answer to a simple question?

In the first instance, I am not responsible for PPPs and should not be answering questions in respect of them. Responsibility in this area lies with the Departments of the Environment and Local Government and Finance.

The Taoiseach is project manager.

The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, stated the Taoiseach is project manager.

We must proceed with Question Time in an orderly way.

No one stated I am the project manager. As much as it annoys Deputy Noonan, the public-private partnership process is up and running. In the first instance, the Deputy stated there is no project and when I assured him that there is, he stated there are no others. Until the relevant contracts and plans are in place, projects cannot commence. However, PPPs for the Kilcock-Kinnegad road, the Waterford road and bridge, the M50, at least 11 schools and a number of sewerage projects are all up and running.

Does the Taoiseach have the answer to my question in his brief?

I am sorry the Taoiseach is obliged to come before the House to answer questions. I know it annoys him to have to do so because he regards it as a disruption of his work. However, I wish to put to him a point made by Liam Kelleher, director general of the CIF, on 9 January in respect of the infrastructural component of the national development plan which is pertinent to the question in my name. I am in order putting a question on this matter and if the Taoiseach is still serving as chairperson of the cross-departmental committee to which the questions refer, he remains the person responsible for this matter. While he does not like the title, I must remind him that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, described him as project manager of the national development plan when it was launched some time ago.

Will the Taoiseach comment on the two points made by Mr. Kelleher on 9 January? The first was to the effect that the delivery of infrastructural programmes is already falling significantly behind schedule, that this is not the fault of the construction industry, that the delays are taking place in the pre-construction phases of development, namely, on the Government side. Mr. Kelleher also stated it is now obvious that a funding gap is beginning to emerge in the national development plan and that if the infrastructural targets in the plan are to be realised, additional funding will be required over and above the figures proposed in the plan.

I remind Deputy Quinn that I have no difficulty answering questions. I have answered more questions at Question Time and on the Order of Business than any of my predecessors. I am responsible for certain matters, but not for others. As stated previously, the fact that one chairs a committee does not mean that Ministers have been made redundant, as the Deputy is aware.

As the Deputy is nodding his head, I will, therefore, ask the Ceann Comhairle to clarify matters. Are line Ministers responsible for questions on individual projects or does this responsibility fall to the Taoiseach?

Questions on individual projects should be—

The Taoiseach will have to do better than that.

Is he the Minister for opening pubs?

What is the point of having Cabinet collective responsibility? What is the point of having a Taoiseach if he does not drive the party?

I always answer the questions. The point is—

The Taoiseach does not always answer the questions. He did not answer them yesterday.

What did the Deputy ask me yesterday?

I asked the Taoiseach when the Minister for Education and Science would publish the list of the 850 schools in the capital programme and the Taoiseach muttered into his tie and did not answer the question.

I told the Deputy that there were 88 questions tabled and 200 people asking questions. I am not responsible, nor was any of my predecessors. As for the Deputy, when Minister for Finance he dodged everything when answering questions.

That is not true.

He did. He referred them everywhere and anywhere as Minister for Finance.

The Taoiseach is too busy opening pubs.

I am responsible for policies in some areas but I am not responsible for the details. That is the rule.

On a point of order—

I have a question down.

—is it not self-evident that if a question on the Order Paper is addressed to the Taoiseach he has responsibility for answering it? The first question in my name asks him to report on the recent work of the cross-Departmental team on Infrastructure and public private partnerships. The Taoiseach muttered into his tie, to quote the lyrical expression used by Deputy Quinn, he danced around it, and we cannot get a straight answer. We do not know whether there are PPPs in operation.

That is not a point of order.

If there was plenty of money the Taoiseach would be blowing about it.

I have answered that question very clearly. There are public private partnership processes in schools, in sewerage schemes and in roads, and they are up and running.

On Deputy Quinn's question about Mr. Liam Kelleher's point, the national development plan is moving apace. Yesterday Deputy Noonan criticised the amount of public expenditure in capital programmes. He said there was a risk in doing that.

I did not say that. I did not even say anything related to that.

We are moving on in the public capital environment. This year we put £1 billion into roads.

What about the question?

This is the question. These are the construction contracts about which Mr. Kelleher and CIF were concerned. Approximately £0.6 billion has been put into education and £0.5 billion into housing. The infrastructural programme this year is still at the highest level it could possibly be at about 15 points up on last year. For roads, the figure is three times what it was a few years ago.

The Taoiseach is somebody who, in Oscar Wilde's famous phrase, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

The Taoiseach is in possession and should not be interrupted.

This is the third year of the national development plan—

It is the Government's fifth year.

—and it is continuing apace, with a large amount of resources allocated to it this year. Every single project cannot be completed. Last year about 57 different projects were in progress. This year there will be a large number of projects. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government has spelt out what they are. There was a slow-down in the economy last year. The amount of resources is not as much, but there is still an enormous amount of resources for NDP projects.

May I return to my question?

Very briefly, because other Deputies want to get in.

In his capacity as chairperson of the cross-Departmental committee on infrastructure, has that committee reported to the Taoiseach the assertion made by Liam Kelleher of the CIF, which I have already quoted, to the effect that there will be a delay in implementing the national development plan? If he can confirm that, will he indicate what response if any that departmental committee, of which he is the chairperson, has made in relation to that announced delay?

The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, on behalf of the committee, gave a detailed reply in the public domain to those questions.

That is not an answer. That is a pathetic evasion. Why is the Taoiseach running scared?

I am not running scared.

I want to facilitate other Deputies. I am calling Deputy Noonan. It is important, if we are to make progress, to have an orderly process.

If we got honest, decent answers to questions—

I take it from something the Taoiseach said about the capital programme that he shares my concern that there may not be sufficient funds to fund the national development plan. Some weeks ago I proposed that money from the pension fund should be put into PPPs to build necessary infrastructure in Ireland and, within an hour, Fianna Fáil had wheeled out the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who denounced my proposal as reckless in the extreme.

Unfortunately for the Minister, the Minister for Finance yesterday said it was an exceptionally good idea and he has written to the NTMA asking how the investment could be put into roads.

Where there is a return on the investment.

That is what I said, where there is a commercial return. That is what PPPs are about. There cannot be a PPP without a commercial return.

That is not what the Deputy said.

Is the Minister Deputy Fahey of the same view as the Minister Deputy Ahern and the Taoiseach?

That is not what the Deputy said.

That is exactly what I said.

No, it is not.

The Minister for Finance is now supporting my view. Is it any wonder the national development plan is a year behind schedule when Ministers do not know what is going on and they have no idea how it is to be financed, and the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources is following the propaganda line and does not know about the policy switch in the Department of Finance? There is a fiscal crisis coming, and the Government had better find the money somewhere because it is not coming from the taxpayer.

The Taoiseach is too busy spinning.

There is a fiscal crisis emerging and the Taoiseach is hiding it every day because he thinks he will stagger to an election without the public finding out the truth.

May I have one last attempt at asking my question? I might be lucky the third time. I again ask the chairperson of the cross-Departmental committee whether the Minister for the Environment and Local Government reported progress to the effect that there is now a serious delay in relation to infrastructural projects as reported by Liam Kelleher of the CIF? In his capacity as chairperson of that committee, did the Taoiseach note there is a delay? Did the committee make any decision as to how that delay might be remedied and the lost time regained?

A number of these matters were discussed at the committee. We have looked at the issues raised by Mr. Kelleher and by the Departments. We have endeavoured, in so far as we can to answer most of those points. I could spell out some of them in great detail. They are matters for other Ministers. However, I will give some of the detail since that is what the Deputy wants.

Is Mr. Kelleher correct? That is what I want to know.

Mr. Kelleher correctly made the point that last year the incidence of foot and mouth disease delayed the NRA's work for four months and that construction on national routes – the Dublin-Waterford, Dublin-Cork, Dublin-Limerick, Dublin-Galway and Dublin-Belfast, but not to the same extent – had been delayed. Last year, by agreement, the NRA technical people were not on the land for four months. By the end of June there were difficulties in regard to the CPO process, which was not finally agreed until December. Now they cannot come back to work because most of the environmental impact studies and most of the other work on those routes can take place only during the summer when flora and fauna and other issues that need to be checked are in place. Mr. Kelleher made that point, which is a valid one. He also made the point, and I accept it, that while construction price inflation for the past few years ran at 15%, which ate into the budget along with our desire to have outside contractors, it should not be as bad this year. There was an argument about it. He said it would be 0%.

The information available to our committee is that it will be 8% this year. He also said there were some other projects ready. Some of those will go to tender this year and some will not. That is a matter for the Minister and the NRA. The Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, made points in response. The Government has clearly prioritised the upgrading of our national road network. A sum of €958 million is being put into the programme this year. The Exchequer provision for non-national roads over the period 2000-02 is €2.488 billion, ahead of the national development plan forecast which was €2.24 billion. The National Roads Authority also told the committee, in response to Mr. Kelleher, that it would continue detailed planning and the work involved in deciding the distribution of its budget allocation. They will not be able to do everything that is ready to be done but they will do an enormous amount of the project. I will not list all of the projects finished but there are major projects under way that will take many resources this year, including the south-eastern motorway, the Dublin port tunnel, the Kildare bypass and the Glen of the Downs project. There are some 57 projects.

The Ennis bypass has been forgotten once more. It is on the dung-heap.

That is one of the projects on the list. There are 57 major improvement projects involving 380 kilometres of road network that have either been completed or are in the course of construction. It is the position of the Government and the NRA that over the seven years of the programme we will try to have flexibility in implementing the roads programme. Given the extent of the accumulated deficits in the infrastructure area, it is necessary that we do that. I hope that answers Deputy Quinn's question.

In view of the urgency of completing this project, and the delays, will the Taoiseach indicate whether he has raised with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the reason that the post of chairperson of the NRA was left unfilled, and why critical meetings did not proceed because the retiring chairperson was not available and no replacement had been put in place?

The Taoiseach is consulting Deputy Healy-Rae on that.

I am not sure if I have the full facts on that matter but I understand the outgoing chairman retired and announced his intention to do so at Christmas last. The new chairperson is to be appointed shortly but it was only at Christmas that the outgoing person announced that he would not be available. I do not believe he gave prior notice.

In reply to another question from Deputy Noonan, yesterday I gave to the House the precise factual Department of Finance figures on deficits for the next few years. It is incorrect for Deputy Noonan to say there is anything lingering anywhere unless he is accusing the Department of Finance of not providing the correct figures. I do not believe he is doing that.

On the issue of the pension provision, and I put those figures on the record straight from the Department's briefing note yesterday—

I did not question the Taoiseach's figures.

The Deputy said I made up figures. I did not.

I did not say that.

The Deputy said it about five minutes ago.

Order, please.

The Deputy said that there was a looming fiscal crisis.

There is a fiscal crisis.

There is no fiscal crisis looming.

Order, please.

The Taoiseach is long enough here to understand the figures.

The figures provided are accurate. The Deputy saw what happened last week in the broad economic guidelines. The best figures were presented last week. Deputy Noonan saw the report himself.

The Government is going straight into deficit.

The Deputy saw the report. I gave the figures yesterday. We are miles away from any difficulties concerning the 3% European guidelines. The Deputy knows that and should not imagine things about deficits and difficulties.

There is a €5 billion deficit.

On a factual point—

That is enough to build five national stadiums.

Order, please. Allow the Taoiseach to speak.

It will take me longer than five minutes to explain this but if Deputies have nothing else to do—


When economic growth is 10% and it then goes back to 4%, less money comes into the economy. It is not rocket science.

There should be no interruptions. I call Deputy Charles Flanagan.

If I stayed here long enough, I would be accused of being at fault for the international economic slowdown, the 11 September attacks and everything else.

I call Deputy Flanagan.

I wanted to make a serious reply to a question from Deputy Noonan.

The Taoiseach did not get his election last year, as he had planned.

We are putting 1% of GNP into a fund, and building that fund up to generate the pension liabilities that we know will exist in 25 years due to the increasing age of the population, and having the trustees of that money invest in projects. There is a difference between that and not putting the money into that fund and using it in a capital programme. They are two entirely different positions.

I call Deputy Flanagan. He has been waiting.

On a point of order, the Taoiseach is very good at this kind of thing. He is not going to—

That is not a point of order.

The Taoiseach is trying to misquote me in the House.

I call Deputy Flanagan. That is not a point of order.

I made a proposal that the fund manager, the NTMA, be permitted to put money into PPPs to build infrastructure in Ireland. I was criticised by, the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who is not here today and who has no idea what is going on in any case. The Minister for Finance now says that it is Government policy to do so. The least the Taoiseach could do is to apologise for the ignorance of the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs.

I call Deputy Flanagan.

I will answer the question. The fund managers, who have the statutory responsibility given by the Members of this House to look after that fund and invest it, do not need any more permission to put their resources into projects, whether in Japan, Ireland or anywhere else. They have the power if they see—

The Taoiseach is in disagreement with his Minister.

Please, listen. A question was asked and now the Deputies will not listen to the answer. They have the power to invest the money so that it will give a commercial return, and so that the money we are investing – 1% of GNP – will in time be able to pay back our pension liability.

Will someone tell that to the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs?

They have that power but they have to find—

Order, please.

I listened to the Deputy.

The Chair is here for a purpose and that is to call on speakers. I ask Deputies not to speak unless they are given the floor by the Chair. I have called Deputy Flanagan.

The Ceann Comhairle should look in both directions.

I look in every direction. I call Deputy Flanagan.

I have a point to make, because the Taoiseach—

I know, but I will call the Deputy in due course. Other Deputies such as Deputy Sargent have questions down.

If we finish this matter, we can then move on.

I thought that was the case almost half an hour ago.

The Taoiseach says the fund managers of the NTMA can invest in projects already. If that is so, why did the Minister for Finance write to the fund managers this week requesting them to consider investing in roads, hospitals and schools being built in PPPs?

The NTMA is not the fund manager.

The Taoiseach can wriggle as much as he likes.

The Taoiseach jumped too soon.

Unfortunately, it often happens in this House that we pass legislation despite Members not having a clue what they have passed.

The Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs for one.

I am afraid Deputy Creed is guilty of that.

Order, please. Allow the Taoiseach to speak.

For the information of those who do not understand—

We all understand.

It is not the NTMA which is the fund manager. When we brought the legislation through the House, putting 1% of GNP into a pension fund, we appointed statutory trustees who had the job of looking after that.

We know that.

It is their job to make the decisions, not that of the NTMA.

That is the point.

What the Minister for Finance did this week, and what he has done for the past six months, is to promote public private partnerships in Departments. That is not instructing the trustees of NTMA or any other trustees to take money out of that statutory provision.

That is different.

A recent newspaper article claims that pension funds have been asked to finance roads.

Can we move on? I call Deputy Charles Flanagan.

Arising from the current discussion, will the Taoiseach be man enough and honourable enough to stand up in the House and say that what the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, is now proposing is exactly the same as what Deputy Noonan proposed a fortnight ago when it was rubbished by the Taoiseach's colleagues and said to be unworkable? Now, the Minister for Finance says exactly the same process can be used. Will the Taoiseach admit that is the case?

It is not the case.

It is the case.

It is regrettable that people can mix up two things in this way.

The Taoiseach is dishonest.

The Minister for Finance last year issued a booklet on public private partnerships which he continues to promote with Departments. Separately, there is the national pension fund where we put 1% of the wealth of the nation per annum, under legislation, and this is governed by trustees who can decide to get a commercial return on that money. That is within their power but it is not the same as a public private partnership. Since the legislation was passed, if the trustees of the fund identified a suitable project that would be successful, they could put money into it. That was made clear during the debate on the Bill, it is not news to anyone.

The Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs did not know.

It is not possible, however, to take money and use it in the capital programme rather than put it into the fund. That is a different issue.

The Taoiseach has no idea. He is too busy opening pubs.

The Deputy is fooling himself.

Was Arthur Andersen involved in any consultancy work for the Government on PPPs? Is the Government considering investing national pension reserve funds in PPPs? Does the Taoiseach have a view on the article by Professor Philip Lane of Trinity College, Dublin, in The Irish Times today, in which he argues that this is too risky a strategy and transfers risk not to the private sector but to State agencies exposing the NPRF to political interference?

Is the metro line, which will form a considerable part of the work in infrastructure, a flexible route or has it been set, given that the Japanese consultants did not look beyond Dublin Airport to reach Swords in their original draft? Has that been considered by the Cabinet?

Does the Taoiseach agree that the public private partnership process, which requires repayment on investment that might otherwise have been made by the State, is a form of borrowing given that the consumer, rather than the Government, repays the investment farmed out to private investors? Does he agree this is a form of borrowing, although not in the sense of the borrowing announced in the budget?

I do not know who has been involved in the Departments of Finance or Environment and Local Government on consultancy work.

Will the Taoiseach find out?

I will ask the Departments, particularly if Arthur Andersen was involved.

The general government deficit outlines clear definitions of what comes within the borrowing requirements. A decade ago guidelines were set down on what constitutes State borrowing and those guidelines must be followed. In a number of European countries these issues are considered to be separate from the State balance sheet – Portugal operates such a system. In our GGD figures, we take a broad swathe of borrowing, such as local government borrowing, into account and PPPs are not normally counted within those figures. Portugal certainly used this system to a large degree in its infrastructure programme.

The fund trustees, like the trustees of any pension fund, may believe it is worthwhile to invest in a good commercial project; their obligation is to get a return on the money. Normally the difficulty for the State was to find a sufficiently large project in which to invest funds. That is why in the national development plan we planned for large stretches of road. Projects of that size should be an attractive investment for the trustees but it is their commercial decision and they are not likely to be influenced by the Government. My personal view is that there are some significant projects in the national development plan that are worthy of examination by the trustees.

Has the Taoiseach's interdepartmental committee on infrastructure and public private partnerships examined the proposal for Pier D at Dublin Airport? If so, what market research was carried out?

Questions on individual projects are a matter for the line Minister.

The Taoiseach is the chairperson of the interdepartmental committee on infrastructure and public private partnerships and he seems to be well aware of the fine detail. He announced that Pier D would be constructed by Aer Rianta and he left the private side out.

For a peaceful life, even though it is not—

God love the Taoiseach.

Those are the rules.

Why is it on the Order Paper if the Taoiseach is not responsible?

I am answering and the Deputy can see that.

That depends on one's definition of an answer.

The Taoiseach is responsible for opening anything and everything outside the House but he will not answer a single question inside it.

In response to Deputy Carey, the Department appointed an aviation expert, Mr. Doganis, who examined the project and reported on it under three categories. The Government and interdepartmental group accepted his proposals.

That does not answer the question.

A question to the relevant Minister might be more useful.

The Taoiseach is the relevant chairperson.

The Taoiseach will be interested in this question. On the last occasion questions were asked in this House about public private partnerships, I asked him about the lack of progress on the redevelopment of the Grangegorman lands. He told us then that a decision was imminent. Is it still imminent? Has a report been made available to Government? Will that report be published? Is it still the intention to make some of the land available to Dublin Institute of Technology for its campus?

That project does not fall within the remit of the committee but since all the other questions were out of order, I will answer this one.

They were not out of order.

The questions are out of order under the rules of the House. The Deputy is wrong and he knows it. The line Minister is responsible.

The Taoiseach is the chairperson of the committee.

I am chairperson of the security committee. Does that mean we do not need a Minister for Defence or a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform? The Deputy is talking nonsense.

The Taoiseach needs guidance in this matter.

The Taoiseach, without interruption.

Those are the rules of the House and the Deputy is incorrect.

The Taoiseach is on his feet. The Chair has repeatedly pointed out that questions about specific projects should be addressed to the relevant Ministers and that has always been the case.

Why have a committee then?

There are plenty of committees that did not follow that practice.

Why did the Taoiseach establish this committee if he will not answer questions about it? It was introduced with a great deal of fanfare.

That is not the position and the Deputy knows it. Line Ministers answer questions.

In reply to Deputy Gregory, it is still the intention to proceed. The committee report, which involved a number of Departments, has been completed and there have been negotiations between the Department of Health and Children, through the ERHA, and the Department of Education and Science. The process will involve the transfer of lands from the ERHA to the Department of Education and Science and Dublin Institute of Technology will then develop the site, with the exception of some land which will be held for future health and social service use. The financing of the project involves the work of two Departments and has not been completed.

(Mayo): Are individual projects considered and sanctioned by this cross-interdepartmental committee? The Taoiseach listed a number of projects including the port tunnel but not the Luas light rail which, according to a report in The Irish Times has been awarded to a French company with a less than glorious record in Great Britain. What does the committee do?

The cross-departmental committee is an attempt to efficiently drive on the national development plan, which involves the work of approximately six Departments, including the Department of Finance, the Department of the Environment and Local Government, the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Public Enterprise. In addition, all the agencies, such as the NRA, local authorities and State companies, such as CIE, Aer Lingus and Aer Rianta are involved. They make representations and provide updates. I chair the meetings because of the number of Departments, agencies, of which there are about ten, and State companies involved.

It has been a rule of the House for the past 30 or 40 years, since such committees were established, that Ministers answer to the House for the involvement of their Departments while I or somebody else may chair meetings. The projects, initiatives and problems dealt with by the committee are introduced by the relevant Minister and agencies. The committee is involved in attempting to move on projects in the national development plan, which entails expenditure of the largest amount of money the country has ever spent on such a plan. The main concern is to make the plan work efficiently.

(Mayo): Will a hands-on approach be adopted?

The committee meets on a monthly basis while the agencies involved work on their projects on a daily basis. It is a very good committee and has successfully helped to co-ordinate work. I study and understand the briefs and am, therefore, able to answer questions on an ongoing basis. I have not taken the view of my predecessors in the chair of such committees who refused to answer any questions. I am showing off my knowledge but I should not be answering questions.

As time is running out I will take supplementary questions from Deputies Quinn, Crawford and Coveney.

I hesitate to further disrupt the Taoiseach's afternoon, but I apologise for my democratic mandate to be in this House. As cross-chairman of this cross-departmental committee, will the Taoiseach advise if the issue of public private partnerships was raised in the context of the completion of the port tunnel and the proposal, in principle but not yet decided, to complete the south-eastern by-pass by way of tunnel from Dublin Port to the N11? Was the matter discussed in principle at a recent meeting of the committee?

As chairman of this very important committee, will the Taoiseach advise if it considers the needs of the Border area and how the Good Friday Agreement can benefit from the funding that is available? Can funding be allocated to the N2 roadway from Dublin to Derry, which is the fourth largest city in the country? Three by-passes are under way in County Monaghan that do not seem to be funded. I am pleased consideration is being given to using pension fund money in the manner proposed by Deputy Noonan. However, it is better that the chairman be delayed from making bad decisions and I hope when he is appointed he will announce, with the Taoiseach's support, money for these by-passes and for the creation of a cross-link between Northern Ireland and County Monaghan.

Mr. Coveney

Will the Taoiseach indicate if recent meetings of the cross-departmental committee on infrastructure and PPPs have discussed the issue of hard tolling versus soft tolling, the merits and problems associated with both and whether any conclusions have been reached?

The issue raised by Deputy Quinn has been discussed. The NRA has been advised to proceed with the planning and design of the project. I should not speculate but I anticipate it will be extremely costly. Probably the only way it will proceed is through a public private partnership arrangement. I would support that because otherwise nothing would happen following the end of the NDP. It is a project that would be suitable for such investment.

Deputy Crawford asked about Border projects. I know of the by-pass projects and they have been mentioned at the committee. I am not sure about the present position of the NRA.

None of the by-pass projects is proceeding this year, not even those at Monasterevin or Castlebar.

I made it clear yesterday that there will be less resources this year. However, there is considerable planning ongoing on the Border roads. The main road, the Dublin-Belfast road—

That does not cover County Monaghan.

That is correct but in terms of North-South activity the Dublin-Belfast road entails four major projects, at Drogheda, the completion of the Dundalk project, the road to the Border and the airport by-pass.

Will the Taoiseach tell that to the people of County Derry, County Donegal and County Monaghan?

Deputy Coveney asked about toll roads. There has been no recent discussions on this issue but the national development plan envisages that the private sector will invest approximately £1.27 billion into PPP projects on the national roads. That is enormous funding and it is an essential part of the roads programme. Shadow tolls by their nature require the Government to pay a toll for every motorist. This would not raise any revenue for the State or fund any road construction. However, it is the only way to proceed.

Mr. Coveney

It makes no sense to put a hard toll on a by-pass road.

That is correct in terms of delaying traffic.

Mr. Coveney

It diverts traffic to the towns.

The M50 would probably run more efficiently if funding could be raised in another way. However, none of the groups involved – some of them are international – will invest if a shadow toll is imposed.

The economy suffers from the congestion caused by tolling.

I accept that. It is why a second toll bridge is to be built on the M50.

The Government would recoup the cost of shadow tolling from the efficiency savings due to reduced congestion.

In the meantime, however, the Government would have to pay the full toll bill. Furthermore, none of the finance houses has accepted such an arrangement.