Other Questions.

Taxi Regulations.

Sean Sherlock

Ceist:

6 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine his views on an outline proposal from the Commission for Taxi Regulation for a subsidy scheme to assist with the purchase of wheelchair accessible taxis and hackneys; and when he proposes to introduce such a scheme. [17909/07]

I understand the Commission for Taxi Regulation is currently completing an assessment of the submissions received on its recent consultation paper on vehicle standards for small public service vehicles. The paper incorporated a number of proposed changes in vehicle specifications and standards, including in the area of accessibility. I also understand the commission has commenced a regulatory impact assessment on these proposals and continues to liaise with key stakeholders and will publish vehicle specifications for small public service vehicles before the end of 2007.

While this process of public consultation is under way, my Department is in discussion with the commission about an outline proposal for a draft subsidy scheme to assist with the purchase of wheelchair accessible taxis and hackneys. The proposal is to provide assistance with the purchase of a fully accessible small public service vehicle, the design for which is being developed by the commission. It is proposed that this fully accessible vehicle will meet the needs of many people including those with a broad range of disabilities and those who need to travel in their wheelchairs.

Pending completion of the consultation process and the receipt of definite information regarding the revised accessible vehicle specification and associated costs, I am not in a position to make a final decision on the subsidy scheme proposal.

The review to which the Minister refers relates to technical specifications. The original question specifically inquires about his response to the proposal for a subsidy scheme. That is an entirely separate matter. The taxi regulator made a proposal to the Department of Finance last autumn and received a negative response. He then made the same proposal to the Minister's Department in January last and is awaiting a response.

The percentage of wheelchair accessible taxis is decreasing all the time. Even those that are in place are not necessarily available for people who are mobility impaired. An issue arises as regards cost for the provider and this was made quite clear by the taxi regulator, who is proposing a system under which there would be a reduction in VRT and VAT. The regulator continues to await a response from the Minister's Department in that regard.

The other aspect of this matter relates to affordability for those who wish to use wheelchair accessible taxis. Again, a proposal was made to the Department in this regard and a response is awaited.

This issue has been dragging on, ignored and sidelined for many years. At this stage, surely we are in position to make a clear statement regarding access for people who are mobility impaired. Leadership and direction in this regard must come from the Minister's Department and it will only come about by recognising the issues involved, the cost to suppliers and the matter of affordability for users. When will the Minister make a decision in respect of this issue?

I completely agree with the Deputy in respect of this matter. As soon as a very robust business case is made available to the Department, I will consider the matter. However, I am not going to spend taxpayers' money without first being in possession of a proper, fully costed proposal. Such a proposal has not yet been forthcoming. I would be very favourably disposed towards increasing accessibility but I will not do so willy-nilly.

Provision for public transport is made in Transport 21. There is also the public transport accessibility committee and €15 million has been provided for accessibility improvement projects. I could see that the outline proposal or the type of proposal put forward could be favourably considered under that once the case is properly made. I assure the Deputy that I will not delay responding to that and making the recommendation to the Department of Finance. However, I have not received a properly robust business case.

The total number of wheelchair-accessible taxis is just under 1,400, almost double the number in November 2000, so it is not true to say that there are fewer such taxis.

I said the percentage was decreasing. The overall number of taxis has gone up but the percentage that are wheelchair-accessible is decreasing. While the numbers in the Dublin area appear to be okay, it is extremely difficult for people outside Dublin to book a wheelchair-accessible taxi.

I welcome the Minister's proposals in respect of accessibility under Transport 21 but, again, there are many areas, particularly outside Dublin, where people simply do not have access to public transport. I know the Minister is very new in the job and his initial reply referred to the technical specifications, rather than the issue I raised. He may not be aware that a very robust proposal has been made to his Department. Last January, the Commission on Taxi Regulation sought a subsidy for bona fide wheelchair-accessible taxis. Under this scheme, a taxi driver would be provided with a subsidy of 40% of the open market selling price of a wheelchair-accessible taxi, subject to a maximum of €20,000. Based on a figure of 200, this would cost the Exchequer €3.84 million. However, the yield to the Exchequer from VRT and VAT from these vehicles would be €4.09 million.

Could the Deputy confine herself to questions?

I am simply pointing out that a very robust case has been made to the Minister. He probably has not had a chance to look at it and I ask him to undertake to examine it within the next few weeks.

We will take a final supplementary question from Deputy Olivia Mitchell.

In addition to the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis, there is a need for a dedicated taxi service. There are a number of such services, such as Vantastic and accompanied community taxi services, which get grants from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform under the equality heading. These services are very anxious to become mainstream and come under the transport brief. Will the Minister look at taking them under the wing of his Department? The people who use these services are severely handicapped and would probably never be able to use an ordinary taxi service but it is very important to them that this service continues. It is not even the extent of the subsidy so much as the fact that they become a mainstream transport service. I would be grateful if the Minister could look at that issue.

I will look at the issues raised by both Deputies. I am aware of the outline of the proposal put by the commission. We have responded to the commission in respect of the initial proposal and asked it to be more firm on matters like purchase prices and to give us a better business case in respect of that issue. It is the proposal discussed by the Deputy.

I will look at the issue raised by Deputy Mitchell concerning groups like Vantastic. I would not wish a very focused and dedicated service like this to suddenly become diluted and for the people using the service to be shoved to one side because another side of the business might be more lucrative. That is the balance we must keep.

Light Rail Project.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

7 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine when work will begin on extending a Luas service to Liffey Junction; when this project will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18113/07]

Lucinda Creighton

Ceist:

18 Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine if a route has been selected for joining up the existing two Luas lines in Dublin city centre; when this project will proceed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18042/07]

Mary Upton

Ceist:

65 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the projected impact on travelling times to cross city bus services in Dublin if the Luas BX line is completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17903/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7, 18 and 65 together.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

We have already had the discussion to a certain extent during Priority Questions in respect to the first two questions. Dublin Bus is concerned about the impact of the proposed Luas project on its services. The RPA believes that its preferred route option, option F, which incorporates a single loop track between Trinity College and the top of O'Connell Street and a new bus-only bridge across the Liffey, will serve to minimise the impact of the line on bus services, both during construction and subsequent operation.

However, the modelling work currently being undertaken by Dublin City Council for a traffic management plan for the city centre is of critical importance, not only to the successful implementation of this Luas project but also to the provision of much-needed, improved bus priority in the central area. I look forward to the earliest possible completion of that work.

My main concern and the reason I raised this issue is because of the arguments between the RPA and CIE about the use of Broadstone, which the Minister may have seen and which I am sure he has heard about. Again, it highlights the need for a Dublin transportation authority to knock their heads together.

It is outrageous that providers of services that are meant to integrate at Broadstone should be publicly rowing. Again, this will hold up the decision and the provision of the service to everybody. Does the Minister agree that it is ludicrous that the Dublin transportation authority is not in place and making these decisions when, again and again, we are given examples of how urgently it is required?

The question of the impact on bus services is again the cause of rows between Dublin Bus and the RPA and highlights the need for the Dublin transportation authority. I beg the Minister to encourage the construction of more bridges across the Liffey. This is essential if we are to provide transport services. I believe the construction of Macken Street bridge finally started in the last few weeks. They have been talking about starting construction for ten years. It was ready to go ahead ten years ago and has only started in the past few weeks.

There is a great need to provide bus services across the Liffey when the metro is being built, never mind the BX line. There will be chaos unless we have alternatives available by then.

I agree with most of the Deputy's comments in respect of a number of those issues. She is correct on the issue of Macken Street bridge, although it might be about nine rather than ten years, because it was talked about when I was in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government even before some of the bridges that now span the Liffey were built.

We have discussed the other issue raised by the Deputy, namely, the Dublin transportation authority, and I do not disagree with her. There is a need for heads to be banged together and less rivalry on this issue. People in the various sectors must get it into their heads that Dublin and its population are expanding and that there is now a desire, which perhaps was never there previously, for people to use public transport if we have a proper system. Nobody is going to lose out or lose their jobs. If we put the entire system in place, we will have a very integrated transport system for the city that will be of benefit to the public.

My focus in this particular period of office will to be provide the best possible service for the customer. In most cases, that will be through public transport. I was not long in the brief, maybe a few days, when the issue of Broadstone appeared in one of the Sunday newspapers. It took me by surprise but I had not read into the brief fully.

Given the general knowledge I had about Transport 21 and everything else, this issue seemed to come out of the blue for everybody. I am not sure whether I would classify it as a row between the RPA and CIE because some people in CIE are a bit surprised by it as well. It has certainly taken most people by surprise. Based on my knowledge going back to my time at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Dublin Transportation Office and A Platform for Change, everybody knows that Broadstone was a central part of our plans. Given the existence of A Platform for Change, Transport 21 and the national development plan, for people to suddenly discover they will not be able to facilitate the Luas because they need certain things does not make sense. I will be seeking clarification on that issue over the coming weeks.

When does the Minister expect to have the final report from the traffic management review being carried out by Dublin City Council? What timescale is proposed for the joining up of the two Luas lines?

My understanding is that progress is being made on the review and I expect to receive the report in the autumn. I cannot give a timescale on the joining up of the two lines. The "F" option — the full completion — would be done by 2012.

Public Transport.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

8 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine when the national transport regulator will be established; and the duties and functions of this agency [18121/07]

Seán Barrett

Ceist:

10 Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the way he will increase private sector involvement in the provision of public transport bus services [18092/07]

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

26 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine his views on the introduction of bus competition on the Dublin bus market [18106/07]

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

36 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the reason for the significant delay in the reform of the Transport Act 1932 [18148/07]

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

43 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the way he proposes to reform bus licensing; the timescale he is working to in this regard; and when legislation will be published. [17905/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 10, 26, 36 and 43 together.

The Government is committed to the expansion of bus services nationwide. Transport 21 provides more than €530 million for bus investment in the greater Dublin area in the next ten years while more than €240 million is included for investment in bus services outside the area.

The programme for Government also includes a commitment to improve bus services under Transport 21 by reforming the bus licensing process to facilitate the optimum provision of services and providing a level playing field for all market participants. Bus services are authorised under the Road Transport Act 1932 and the Transport Act 1958. The new licensing regime will be designed in a manner consistent with the new EU regulation on public service obligations in the transport sector, recently agreed by the European Parliament and European Council. This new regulation is expected to be adopted formally in the coming months.

The programme for Government also includes a commitment to examine a national transport regulator in the context of the fundamental review of the entire economic regulatory regime, which will be presently established. This review will be designed to ensure the existing regulatory regime is operating efficiently, balances the needs of users with the requirements of producers and does not impose excessive costs on the economy.

My first priority is, however, fulfilling the Government's commitment to expedite the establishment of the Dublin transport authority, which will have overall responsibility for surface transport in the greater Dublin area. In this regard, I expect to bring legislative proposals for the proposed Dublin transport authority to Cabinet for approval next month to facilitate the early publication of the Dublin transport authority Bill. It is not possible to indicate when the legislative proposals on regulatory reform of the bus market will be published. However, the licensing provisions of the Road Transport Act 1932, as amended, and the Transport Act 1958, will continue to be applied and all applications and notifications from bus operators will be considered on their merits in accordance with the provisions of the legislation.

Will the Dublin Transportation Office be a subset within the Dublin transport authority? The programme for Government contains plans for integrated transport plans for the gateways and hub towns in the national spatial strategy. Will this come under the remit of a transport regulator? Is it too early to say how this will pan out?

It is too early to say. We are committed in the programme for Government to examine the need for a national transport regulator. This will be done against the background of the wider review of regulatory regimes in place. Although I must have discussions with Cabinet colleagues on integrated planning for transport in hub towns, I expect local authorities to take the lead on it.

A budget was to be provided for a feasibility study on the extension of the Luas line to Rathfarnham. Has any progress been made on this study, which was to commence in April?

As far as I understand the feasibility study has commenced but if I am wrong I will get back to the Deputy.

Does the Minister intend the proposed Dublin transport authority to regulate bus transport in Dublin city? The former Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, promised 100 additional private sector buses. Will these only come into the market when the Dublin transport authority is in place and the bus licensing system is updated? Private operators are applying for licences and, as the system does not work properly, this is holding up the provision of new Dublin Bus services. What percentage of bus services both in Dublin and nationally are run by private operators?

I do not know the percentage and I do not have evidence that applications from private operators are holding up the provision of services by Dublin Bus. This is a myth being perpetuated.

What about the 128 and 41X routes?

Three services have been deferred due to a prior application from a private operator. One service has been part approved. Up to 11 notifications have been received in the past three months which are being processed in the normal way. I understand Dublin Bus received 100 new buses but claims it cannot use them. It receives 100 new buses each year to replace old buses that need to be taken out of service. Up to 60 of those are sitting somewhere. Confident in the knowledge it will get 100 new buses each year, it is up to the management of Bus Átha Cliath to ensure the new buses are brought on-stream as quickly as possible and it manages them better. I am making inquiries into this matter.

Dublin Bus needs approval for new routes. That is what it is waiting for.

That is not the cause of the delay. Three services—

There is the 128 and 41X.

——have been deferred due to a prior application. If I did not have the Transport Act 1932 as it stands and the 1958 Act, which is beloved by some people in the transport sector, we might be able to put a more streamlined system in place as regards approvals. That is certainly something I will be delighted to do, chronologically, but we cannot have it both ways. I must operate in accordance with the law and the recent highly publicised case in relation to this. The Department has to follow the law. It cannot ignore it and the Minister cannot put himself above the law.

The sequence of events is that if a private sector operator applies to run a service on a particular route that must be judged and decided upon before any subsequent applications can be made.

Why is that taking up to nine months?

I congratulate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on his elevation and wish him the best of luck.

Go raibh maith agat.

On public transport, particularly in my constituency of Dún Laoghaire where we are fortunate to have both the DART and the QBCs, unfortunately, while we are trying to encourage people to use public transport, this is all right as long as one lives adjacent to the DART line or a QBC. However, if one lives half way between both, the only way to use public transport is to either drive or get a lift in a car, parking it in a housing estate, or go by shanks mare. At times, in the middle of winter, to ask people to walk up to four miles is not conducive to encouraging them to use public transport. Has the Minister any proposals to introduce a feeder service such as the small Imp buses to bring people to and from either the QBCs or the DARTs? They could run in a circular fashion and would be very attractive, particularly if we are going to have integrated ticketing, as I hope we will. In the event, one ticket could be used for the feeder service and the DART or QBC journey.

On another issue, would the Minister kindly contact local authorities and prevent them from introducing pay and display tickets in public car parks where they are charging people €5 a day. Again, this is no encouragement for people to use public transport — €25 a week for some people out of taxed income, together with their fare does not encourage them to use public transport.

This is not a matter for the Minister concerned. We are able to provide services such as the Imp, but I believe a business opportunity exists for Bus Átha Cliath or whoever wants to do it. I cannot understand why it is not happening much more. People become fixated on issues, instead of looking for new commercial opportunities. The Deputy's idea is a good one and it would work well, particularly as increased public transport levels are being made available whether in the form of DART, Luas or whatever. This is certainly something I would encourage and like to see happening more and more.

As regards the Deputy's second point, he will appreciate that any diktats from a Minister to local authorities are normally viewed with great disdain by the elected members of such bodies. However, I take his point. The general thrust of what he is saying, I believe, is that there needs to more integrated thinking in this area. If it is not possible, as it will not be, to provide public transport within a few yards of everyone's home, we should try to make it as easy as possible for people who have to use other means to get to a DART station, a Luas or whatever else. This is certainly something the DTA, in looking at an integrated plan for the city, should take into account and I will convey this view to that authority in the strongest terms.

I congratulate the Minister on his new appointment. His constituency adjoins mine and many of my constituents now live in his area because they cannot afford housing in ours, so difficult and expensive has it become.

I am sure there is a question to come.

Tá ceist agam agus tá sé ag teacht anois. Why do we have such nonsensical red tape so that we cannot have public and private services both running together? There is plenty of precedent in health, for example, with the co-location of public and private hospitals. Are we saying that in other areas public and private enterprise cannot work hand in hand? That does not make sense. This Act apparently dates back to 1932, so it is time it was changed. I do not understand why a public service should need a licence to go through a publicly built tunnel.

What is the reason the bus corridors, which cost millions to maintain, are lying empty most of the time? Has the Minister any plans to allow vehicles containing four or more people to use them? It is frustrating for motorists in Dublin north to sit in queues miles long with an empty bus lane beside them. In some cases there is no bus, for example, on the N32, the extension of the M50.

I am not a free marketeer, totally, as regards this. Public transport is not quite the same as other commodities that are allowed to operate in a totally free market. My preference as regards transport in the greater Dublin area in particular as well as in areas around other cities is to have a regulated competitive market, one where the needs of the public are met. If it happens that the private sector is in first and gets a licence, the public transport system cannot be allowed to undermine this simply on the basis of a subvention. I do not mind competition where no subvention is involved. However, it is a regulated competitive market. One does not want a totally free market where one may end up with all of the lucrative areas being served, and poorer areas being ignored.

I understand the Deputy's position as regards QBCs and the need to have those routes populated with buses. The issue of changing the regulations has been examined several times and there is no proposal before me at the moment in that regard.

Will the Minister confirm that the DTA will act as the regulator of bus services? What is the timescale for what is being proposed?

As regards the DTA, I hope the legislation will be with Government during the course of next month. If it is cleared by Government, it will then be before the House in the autumn. With the co-operation of Members on all sides of the House, I should like to see it going through as quickly as possible, consistent with it being scrutinised fully. The DTA will have overall responsibility for surface transport in the greater Dublin area. It will have a primary role as regards strategic transport planning, the procurement of public transport infrastructure and services, the regulation of fares, routes and service levels and the delivery of integrated ticketing and passenger information, while trying to ensure, generally, that there is effective traffic management in the greater Dublin area.

But not the market.

In what sense?

Will it regulate the bus market?

It will be responsible for the regulation of public transport fares, routes and service levels, the delivery of integrated ticketing and passenger services etc.

Rail Network.

James Reilly

Ceist:

9 Deputy James Reilly asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the proposals he has to extend the DART service north of Malahide to Balbriggan, servicing Donabate, Rush, Lusk, Skerries and Balbriggan; the timescale for the provision of such a service; and if he will ensure the planned metro service connects to the main rail line at Donabate [17998/07]

Transport 21 provides for a significant growth in capacity in rail services in the greater Dublin area, including the electrification of the northern line as far as Balbriggan. This will essentially allow for DART-style services on the northern line to Balbriggan, serving stations beyond Malahide at Donabate, Rush and Lusk, Skerries and Balbriggan. This project also involves the acquisition of new rolling stock on the lines.

The project forms part of larger Transport 21 projects involving the construction of the interconnector linking Heuston Station to Connolly Station, quadrupling the Kildare line and the electrification of the Maynooth and Navan lines. This will quadruple existing rail capacity from 25 million to 100 million passengers per annum in the greater Dublin area.

Under Transport 21, the overall project is due to be completed by 2015. However, in line with the programme for Government, I will be asking Iarnród Éireann to examine options for the possible advancement or phased advancement of the electrification northwards. No decision has yet been taken in that regard. There are no plans to extend the metro from Swords to Donabate.

I am sure the Minister, being from the neighbouring constituency, will be aware of the major infrastructural deficit in Dublin North generally, affecting schools, policing, roads and public transport. Allowing Dublin Port to make a decision in isolation should not be allowed because of its impact on the local road and rail infrastructure. Currently in Moylaragh in Balbriggan, children are living in what they believe to be their estate, although 40-foot lorries are using the road through it to make deliveries to one of the major superstores in the area. There is no alternative road access to the store. Parents are at their wits' end regarding the safety of their children and themselves. We do not want this to be repeated.

I am given to understand that Fingal County Council will be very supportive of the development of Bremore, but we do not want to see another development that does not have the infrastructure necessary for it to function such that, instead of becoming an asset to the area, it would become a major headache and cause a deterioration in the quality of life for all who live there.

Will the Minister ensure, before he has the line electrified, there are so-called nipper buses and proper car parking at the stations? There are six stations in Dublin North and they all suffer from the same problem of inaccessibility. Ludicrously — this may not relate directly to the Minister but to one of his colleagues — a local farmer who applied for planning permission for a badly needed car park had his application turned down two years ago on the grounds of prematurity. There are people parking on the roads and being clamped and they are parking in farmers' fields if the gates are left open. It is mayhem. I was in the area at 7 a.m. and noted that if one was not there by 7.10 a.m., one would not get a car space. There are women with children fighting with one another. This causes great stress and, God knows, people are stressed enough. I hope the Minister will ensure, during the course of this development, these issues are addressed urgently, even before the rail line is electrified.

The Deputy was imparting useful information to me rather than seeking it from me. He has highlighted one of the major problems in Fingal and in my constituency. Owing to the explosion in the population, houses were built without proper integrated planning for the area. That point was well made and I would not disagree with it. In fairness to Fingal County Council, it is probably one of the better county councils, but because of the explosion in the earlier part of its development cycle, approximately eight to ten years ago, it probably built houses more quickly than integrated transport could be planned. The council has got its act together in a very good way regarding some of the more recent developments, certainly over the past four or five years. I take the Deputy's point, which the Dublin Transport Authority will be able to address.

Question No. 10 answered with QuestionNo. 8.

Road Traffic Offences.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

11 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine when he will commence the remaining penalty point offences provided for in law but not yet brought into force. [17896/07]

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

61 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine when the full regime of penalty point offences will be introduced [18129/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 61 together.

The roll-out of the penalty points system to the range of offences set out in the Schedules to the Road Traffic Act 2002 was commenced in October 2002 in respect of speeding offences. It was progressed further in 2003 to cover driving without insurance and non-wearing of safety belt offences and extended in 2004 in respect of the offence of careless driving.

The range of penalty point offences was significantly extended from 3 April 2006 with the addition of 31 new offences. The most recent extension was in September 2006 to bring the offence of holding a mobile phone while driving within the ambit of the system. The total number of offences to which the penalty point system now applies is 36. The focus of the roll-out of the penalty points system to date is on offences that relate primarily to the behaviour of drivers. This reflects the fact that 86% of all road deaths can be attributed to driver behaviour in its broadest sense.

The relevant support systems must be put in place to support the extension of the penalty points system and, where applicable, the fixed charge system. Discussions are held in advance with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and other relevant agencies regarding the timing of each scheduled roll-out of new offences to ensure the relevant interfaces are in place between the Garda Síochána and the Courts Service's information technology systems, and the administration of the national driving file. The progressive extension of the penalty points system will continue to be pursued.

On hearing that, I ask again when the Minister will commence the remaining penalty point offences provided for in law but not yet brought into force.

We will introduce them over the lifetime of the Government in consultation with the relevant agents. I cannot give the Deputy a specific timescale at this time. The offences we have covered are aimed at driver behaviour. These are the more serious offences and were accorded priority. The remainder relate to the lighting of vehicles and to their construction, equipment and use. A small number of offences not yet commenced relate to driver licensing.

Is the timescale five years?

I am not giving the Deputy a timeframe.

Obviously. I was trying to elicit the timeframe in my question, but the Minister has none.

Rail Network.

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

12 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the action he is taking on the failure of the Railway Procurement Agency to consult and inform residents on the change in the route of the metro north tunnel, causing great concern to residents in the Drumcondra area; if he will instruct the RPA to revert to the original agreed route [17997/07]

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

71 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine if he will report on all lands which will be acquired at Dublin Airport by the Railway Procurement Agency for the purpose of building metro north; if he will report on the current ownership of this land and the estimated cost involved. [17910/07]

Seán Barrett

Ceist:

78 Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the position on the work completed to develop metro north; the completion date for this project [18091/07]

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

82 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine if he has approved funding for independent expertise for residents most directly affected by the metro north tunnel route; his views on a tunnel route that maximises the use of open space and minimises the impact on residential homes [17996/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12, 71, 78 and 82 together.

The Railway Procurement Agency is responsible for this project. Work is under way on the preparation of an environmental impact statement and the documentation required to support an application to An Bord Pleanála for a railway order, the legal permission needed to build and operate metro north. The actual construction timescale for the project will be dependent on the outcome of this statutory approval process.

Geotechnical work has also commenced along the planned route. This work will provide the RPA with detailed information on underground conditions and will feed into the detailed designed of the project. The public private partnership procurement process has formally begun, with the publication in theEU Journal of a series of notices inviting contractors to express their interest in building metro north by taking part in an initial pre-qualification short-listing round. Results of this stage of the tendering process are expected this summer.

The design of the project, including the detailed alignment, station locations and land to be acquired, are matters for the RPA in the first instance, and ultimately a matter for An Bord Pleanála when considering the application for a railway order. This statutory planning process also allows considerable opportunity for the public to comment on and challenge the detailed plans for the project.

I understand from the RPA that the detailed alignment of metro north will be influenced both by the outcome of ongoing consultation with residents, businesses and institutions in the area and by detailed engineering design considerations. The RPA has engaged in detailed consultations with the representatives of residents in the Drumcondra area and has written to householders whose properties are located close to the proposed tunnel alignment as part of the ongoing consultation. Furthermore, I am informed that the RPA has agreed to provide funding for independent technical advice for representations of residents who may be affected by tunnelling works along the route, subject to agreement on the detailed arrangements for this. The RPA will continue to consult with residents on these issues. Whichever route is chosen, however, it will pass beneath houses, businesses and other buildings.

When the detailed design options have been further developed, the RPA will write to all affected residents again enclosing details of the option and seeking comments from them. These comments will feed into the overall environmental assessment of the options so that the detailed tunnel alignment for this portion of metro north can be finalised.

Has the Minister approved the making available of funding for independent expertise for the residents concerned? His predecessor agreed this at a meeting between himself, the Taoiseach and local residents but the funding was not signed off and that is holding up the process, adding to the concerns in Drumcondra.

The crux of the issue is that the RPA published a route that maximised the use of open space in the Drumcondra area, gaining the support and trust of residents based on that route while, behind the scenes, it worked on a different route that minimised the use of open space and maximised the use of local residential areas for a different route, telling no one about its own preferred route and leaving the residents to believe the route was under open space, as was widely publicised.

The RPA has agreed in writing to the residents that it will review the matter with a view to maximising use of open space but continues with the preparatory drilling on its preferred route. It is rapidly losing the confidence of a largely elderly community in the Drumcondra area. Will the Minister talk to the RPA about this? Everyone wants metro north to proceed as quickly as possible but it must have the confidence of those directly concerned.

Since only two minutes remain, I will ask Deputy Shortall to ask a brief supplementary question so the Minister may conclude.

Is the Minister aware of the widespread concern about the manner in which the RPA is conducting its business? Deputy Gregory has outlined the deception it engaged in when it did not tell people what it proposed to do. There are major implications for residents of Drumcondra and the RPA did not see fit to tell people what it had in mind. The RPA must go back to the drawing board to examine its interaction with the public. I experienced this in Ballymun last year. The agency must speak to people and provide information that is clear and based on a logical decision-making process. So far it has utterly failed to do so.

When will the final decision be taken on the route through Drumcondra? Is the Minister aware that residents will be protesting about this outside St. Luke's in Drumcondra in an hour because they were given guarantees that funding would be available for independent advice but the funding has not been made available?

I understand that, in common with all of these projects, a number of routes were laid out for consultation and such consultations continue. The RPA has indicated clearly, subject to normal procurement rules and regulations, that it will make funding available for residents to get their own technical advice. There have been difficulties in recent weeks in making contact with a member of the residents' group to set up a meeting and I hope by the end of the day to have some information on a meeting between the RPA and the residents.

I have received an assurance that the RPA wants to facilitate residents to the greatest possible extent. No matter what it does, not everyone will be satisfied and whatever route is chosen, it will pass beneath some houses, businesses and other buildings. Residents wish to minimise that and I have no problem with that. As the Deputy said, there has been a breakdown in trust between the two groups and the quicker it can be restored, the better for everyone. As both Deputies point out, this project is needed because people on the north side of Dublin wish to see it secured. I will do all I can to advance that.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.