Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 18 Oct 2007

Vol. 639 No. 6

Priority Questions.

Public Transport.

Fergus O'Dowd


1 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Transport the progress that has been made to address the lack of park and ride facilities in Dublin; if his Department has plans to meet the target of 74 park and ride sites in Dublin as was stated at the outset of Transport 21; the number of additional sites that have been provided since they were announced in December 2005; his plans to introduce park and ride sites in the commuter towns outside Dublin that have no such facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24668/07]

Good progress is being made on the provision of park and ride facilities in the greater Dublin area, GDA. Iarnród Éireann is currently undertaking a nationwide programme of expanding and upgrading station car parks and 17 of these are in the GDA. New facilities at Leixlip Louisa Bridge and Adamstown were opened already this year and plans are well advanced at Donabate, Rush and Lusk and Sallins. Upgraded facilities at Gormanstown for 250 cars have also recently been provided. To date, 800 extra spaces have been provided in the GDA, along with the 200 extra spaces at Sallins which will be opened shortly. I have approved funding for Iarnród Éireann for a further 600 spaces at three other sites and proposals for a further 500 spaces are being considered by my Department.

The park and ride sites on the proposed Luas and metro lines will open simultaneously with the start-up of services. The extension of the Luas line to Cherrywood will include a park and ride site with 350 spaces at Carrickmines which will open in late 2010. Proposals from local authorities for rail-based park and ride facilities will also be considered for Transport 21 funding.

A DTO report has concluded that bus-based park and ride has a limited role in Dublin because of the city's size and consequent distances. Nonetheless, where there is a sound business case, my Department will give favourable consideration to funding. I understand that South Dublin County Council is awaiting the outcome of its application to An Bord Pleanála for permission for a bus-based park and ride facility close to Leixlip. I am confident that the Transport 21 commitments on park and ride facilities will be comprehensively delivered.

Park and ride facilities are well below what were targeted in the national plan in Transport 21. There are no park and ride facilities on the approaches to Dublin from the main motorway between Belfast and Dublin. If there were such a facility, it would prevent the delays people experience, notwithstanding the option of the port tunnel. While it is up to the local authorities in theory to make the proposals, we need a Dublin transport authority and a more dynamic team to drive the agenda. The local authorities are in some cases playing their part, but in other cases they are not doing so. Will the Minister make it happen?

Last week, people were waiting in traffic for an hour, having passed the entrance to the port tunnel, because they could not pay €12 before they got to Whitehall. If a park and ride option was available, people could take the bus.

I do not disagree with the Deputy. There is an emphasis on Transport 21 and some local authorities have been better than others in providing facilities. When the work starts on the metro and the joining of the Luas lines in the centre of the city, we must ensure we have plenty of park and ride facilities on the outskirts. I will encourage the local authorities to provide facilities.

The park and ride facilities are being provided by the taxpayer through the grants given to Iarnród Éireann. In Gormanstown, in the Minister's constituency, Iarnród Éireann is charging for the use of the park and ride facilities. The taxpayer has paid for them and Iarnród Éireann is hiking up the prices on people who want to use public transport. It is inequitable to take taxpayers money to build park and ride facilities and then charge for using them. People who use rail transport are very angry, particularly in the Minister's constituency. Will he address this issue with Iarnród Éireann and ensure that taxpayers' money is not used to generate more money for itself? It should be running a more efficient service in any event.

I have a fundamental disagreement with the Deputy on charges for park and ride, regardless of whether the facilities are in my constituency.

Gormanstown is in my former constituency; it is in Deputy Shane McEntee's constituency. It gives him an issue that he can talk about. The charges of €2 per day or €5 per week are very modest. The charges were designed to prevent people using the facilities who were not using the trains. It is modest and it provides some deterrent, although the evidence is that it does not deter everybody.

Over the lifetime of Transport 21, a total of €180 million is available to local authorities for providing park and ride facilities in the greater Dublin area. When the facilities are in place, there is a need to service and maintain them. One of the principles of the provision of park and ride facilities is that the cost of the facilities should not be added to rail fares. I am happy that the charges are reasonable. The facilities offer an incentive and the small charge is a deterrent to those who wish to park but not travel by train.

Aer Lingus Group.

Thomas P. Broughan


2 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Transport if he will call an extraordinary general meeting of Aer Lingus to deal with the proposed loss of Shannon Airport’s Heathrow slots; when he will fill the two vacant Government directorships on the board of Aer Lingus; the directions and roles these two directors will be mandated with; the contacts he has had with Aer Lingus management, unions or State industrial relations bodies in terms of the current industrial relations turmoil and the possible effects of same on the social partnership process if the current approach is allowed to proceed; if he will use the powers available to the Government under section 38 of the Industrial Relations Act 1990 to refer the dispute to the Labour Court or the Labour Relations Commission or to request the commission, the court or another body to conduct an inquiry into the dispute and to report back to him; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24529/07]

The Government's legal advice is that, having regard to the duties of the board of directors pursuant to the Companies Acts and the memorandum and articles of association of Aer Lingus, shareholders do not have the power to overrule management decisions on business matters. In effect, this means that even if the Government on its own, or in combination with other shareholders, called an EGM, management of Aer Lingus is not obliged to follow any directions from shareholders regarding business matters or to obey any resolution regarding such matters.

Regarding the appointment of directors, the State is entitled under the memorandum and articles of association to appoint three directors to the board of Aer Lingus. Currently, there is one State appointed director serving on the board and it is now proposed that two further appointments will be made in the near future.

The State's appointees will seek to ensure that all future decisions of the company that have significant implications for wider Government, aviation or regional development policies are considered at board level. This will give the State appointees the opportunity to raise the public policy implications of each decision and to ensure that the full commercial implications for the company are taken into account. The State appointees to the board do not have a veto on board decisions. It is not possible for the State to avail of its shareholding to seek to impose non-commercial obligations on the company.

With regard to questions raised regarding industrial relations at Aer Lingus, these are matters for the company and the trade unions to address. The assistance of the industrial relations machinery of the State is regularly used to good effect by both parties and the need to avail of the provisions of section 38 of the Industrial Relations Act does not arise. I welcome, as I am sure Deputy Broughan does, the recent agreement reached at the LRC between management and Aer Lingus pilots.

Is it not a fact that the Minister seriously misled this House on 26 September 2007 when responding to the debate on Shannon Airport? I note that the 2006 annual report clearly states on corporate governance that the board is responsible for establishing overall group strategy, including new activities and withdrawal from existing activities.

The Minister and his predecessor, Deputy Martin Cullen, knew of the danger to slots at Shannon and possibly at Cork and Dublin since the expansion project. Is it not clear that Mr. Francis Hackett, the existing governor appointed by the Government, would have known of this expansion plan and would have been duty bound to bring it to the Minister's attention, notwithstanding the presence of directors such as Mr. Chris Wall and Mr. Ivor Fitzpatrick on the board?

The Minister now says that the two new directors will receive a mandate to look at regional policy and protect connectivity in Ireland. Surely that was the existing mandate for Mr. Hackett? Did the Minister, therefore, mislead the House on the matter during his speech on Shannon? Either the Minister should resign, with the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, or he is leading a totally dysfunctional Department, in which case he should still resign.

Is there a management committee structure in the Department? I certainly could not find any minutes of such a committee on the website. I shadowed the Minister when he was Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and there was a management committee to which the Minister referred me several times. Why was this not passed up the line from Mr. John Murphy to the Secretary General to the Minister?

On the day he entered the Department, the Minister was given this document, a briefing of all the activities of the Department as of 14 June. Ms Julie O'Neill kindly gave me a copy when I became Labour Party spokesman on transport. It refers to a wide range of problems that might arise, but it does not mention the elephant in the room. Was the Minister not duty bound to ask if there were problems with the ongoing privatisation of Aer Lingus and Shannon Airport? Did the Minister not fail in that duty and mislead the House and should he not now resign?

It usually takes Deputy Broughan a little longer to call for the resignation of the Minister he is shadowing.

This is unprecedented.

Inevitably, however, he does it fairly often during the course of a Government. The briefing document the Deputy refers to is the one I got containing information about various aspects of the work of the Department. I am glad the Deputy confirms there is nothing in it to indicate a problem.

It mentions Shannon Airport several times, saying it has an unsustainable cost base.

That is a totally separate issue to do with Shannon Airport generally. The Government, my predecessor and I were always aware when the company was to be privatised that the slots were among the most valuable assets, with staff and aircraft. We can see the competition for them and we endeavoured in the privatisation to put in place as much of a safeguard as we could to prevent the disposal of the slots. I am still confident that the rules, regulations, memorandum and articles of association protect the slots from disposal and they have served their purpose.

Air Services.

Fergus O'Dowd


3 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Transport the way he will prevent further loss of connectivity of Irish airports, such as Cork and Shannon, to major air traffic hubs, such as Heathrow; if the delay in appointing new directors to the Aer Lingus board is jeopardising the connectivity of Irish airports served by Aer Lingus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24669/07]

The Government will seek to ensure that connectivity at Irish airports is maintained and developed through the continued implementation of its aviation strategy, which is to promote the development of as wide a range as possible of competitive international air services to and from Ireland to underpin our economic growth and competitiveness.

We need regular, safe, cost-effective and competitive air services linking the country to key business and tourism markets around the world. To this end, within the European Union, Ireland has consistently supported market liberalisation measures which have served as the platform for the rapid expansion of aviation generally. We have also promoted liberalisation on a wider basis, most recently in pressing for the conclusion of the EU-US open skies agreement and in concluding a more liberal agreement on a bilateral basis with Canada.

I should add that our approach to the encouragement of air services is complemented by our policy on the development of airport infrastructure within the country. The main objective is to ensure that the three State airports have sufficient capacity to respond to the growth opportunities of a competitive airline sector and to provide vital international access. In addition, the six regional airports have a key role to play in promoting regional development.

It is open to each airport authority to introduce incentive schemes to attract new business, subject to EU competition and state aid rules. I welcome the initiative taken by the Shannon Airport Authority to introduce a new hub airport incentive scheme to encourage airlines to commence new services to and from Shannon, including Shannon to Heathrow.

I have decided to appoint two further directors to the board of Aer Lingus. I will ask the State appointees to seek to ensure that all future decisions of the company that have significant implications for wider Government aviation or regional development policies are considered at board level. That will give the State appointees the opportunity to raise the public policy implications of each decision and to ensure the full commercial implications for the company are taken into account. The State appointees to the board do not, nor will they, have a veto on board decisions. All directors, including the State appointees, will be bound by their fiduciary responsibilities under the Companies Acts.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Under company law it is not possible for the State or any other shareholder to overturn a decision taken by the company on day-to-day business matters. The legal advice to the Government has been clear and unequivocal. Neither is it possible for the State to avail of its shareholding to seek to impose non-commercial obligations on the company. By appointing our full board complement it will be possible to seek to ensure that the full ramifications of all significant strategic decisions are fully discussed by the board.

The appointment of these extra directors would not have changed the decision on the Shannon to Heathrow service. The board gave the management a mandate to pursue all commercial opportunities for the airline. On foot of this mandate, management decided to discontinue the service between Shannon and Heathrow. It did not have to get the further approval of the board. The appointment of two extra directors would not have made any difference to this decision. Even if board approval was a requirement, the emphasis that the company has put on the commercial advantages of Belfast over Shannon suggests that a better understanding of the wider implications for the Shannon region and wider commercial issues for the company would not have tipped the balance in this case.

Is the Minister's reply not an example of total incompetence on the part of the Government? I asked about the vacant seats on the board of directors of Aer Lingus, but in reply the Minister talked about what the directors will do when they are appointed. He refused to appoint them when he could have done so and, therefore, when the slots were being discussed, two of the Government seats were vacant and no one could articulate the policy for Shannon, the region or connectivity to Heathrow.

It is utterly unbelievable that, while everyone seems to have known about the decision of Aer Lingus; the Dublin Airport Authority knew, the board of Aer Lingus knew, the Department of Transport knew and the Belfast groups knew, the only person who did not know was the Minister. Not alone did he not know but for 44 days he sat in the Department and no one told him that he was not the mighty Minister, but the mighty mouse.

Was there a question there?

There may have been.

I did not notice it. The Deputy's original question was concerned with how we will continue connectivity, it had nothing to do with what the Deputy then said.

The appointment of the extra directors, which is referred to in the question, would not have changed the decision on the Shannon to Heathrow service. The board gave the management a mandate to pursue all commercial opportunities for the airline. On foot of that mandate, management decided to discontinue the service between Shannon and Heathrow. Management did not have to get further approval from the board. The appointment of two extra directors would have made no difference to that decision, even if board approval was a requirement. The emphasis the company has put on the commercial advantages of Belfast over Shannon suggests that a better understanding of the wider implications for the Shannon region and wider commercial issues for the company would not have tipped the balance in this case.

The decision was made by the board. The board discussed it before the executive went ahead. The Government seats on the board were vacant. The vow of omerta of the Government about Aer Lingus was in operation.

Did the Taoiseach's monitoring unit, which costs so much and which he praises so highly, not report to him the article in The Examiner on 13 June that stated that Aer Lingus hub plans would mean 1,000 jobs for Belfast and a loss of services in Shannon? The question is simple. The Taoiseach’s office must have known about this because it monitors the media, even if the Minister was unaware of it. Was the Minister informed and, if not, why not?

The Minister is incompetent, he has failed in his duty of care and has shown an incredible lack of competence. He should tell the whole truth now.

If the Deputy is let shadow me for the full five years, he will find that is exactly what I always do, sometimes at great inconvenience to myself. He is incorrect when he says the board decided on this issue, discussed it and knew all about it.

On a point of order, I said it was discussed by the board and that the Minister was not represented by his regular nominees.

That is not true.

The Deputy is confusing two separate issues, but I hope we will be able to give him clarity later. As far back as the IPO launch and the documentation for it, it was made clear that an expansion of Aer Lingus was envisaged and that at least there would be one other hub. Even on 13 June it was generally known that Aer Lingus was examining possibilities for other hubs. The Deputy is confusing the issue that all the slots were going to be taken from Shannon for that particular hub, which was not known.

Road Safety.

Fergus O'Dowd


4 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Transport if, in view of the transfer of responsibility for regional roads to his Department, he will delegate responsibility for the safety auditing of roads to the Road Safety Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24670/07]

I am not considering the extension of the Road Safety Authority's remit to include road safety audits of the public road network. Safety is a fundamental consideration in the provision and maintenance of the national and non-national road networks. As such, safety issues are built in to the processes of planning, design, operation and maintenance of the roads systems. As part of my responsibility for road safety policy, I have a keen interest in ensuring road transport infrastructure and services are provided, managed and used in a manner that protects people from death and injury.

The National Roads Authority funds an extensive programme of engineering works with the aim of improving road safety and dealing with accident black spots on national roads. My Department provides funding for local authorities for the same purposes in respect of non-national roads. Ongoing responsibility for the monitoring, review and enhancement of the safety of specific road infrastructure rests with the National Roads Authority and the relevant local authorities.

The whole idea behind transferring responsibility from the Department of Transport to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government was that the condition of the roads would receive greater attention. The key to this is the necessity for an overseeing body to ensure equal standards apply throughout the country. I apologise for the error, as this question should have been put by Deputy McEntee, although my name appears on it. He has made a strong play on this issue, particularly in County Meath. We are seeking a six point road safety plan. Does the Minister agree that, in keeping with international best practice, there should be a safety audit of roads? An independent authority such as the Road Safety Authority should undertake such an audit which cannot be left in the hands of those who do the work to be audited. An independent audit is required.

I agree with the Deputy that it is extremely important that safety standards and specifications should, at all times, be a priority in the design, construction and maintenance of roads. A disagreement arises — if one wishes to call it that — in asking the Road Safety Authority to fulfil that role. I am satisfied with the role played by the authority, as well as by local authorities and council engineering staff. I do not want to comment on a specific case, but the Health and Safety Authority has been involved, even though it is probably acting ultra vires. An amount of work is being done on road safety, including road design. Arising from the HSA’s interventions, new guidelines are being put in place. Other issues will arise from the road safety strategy, including that of soft engineering. The Garda Síochána now has a forensic unit and every accident location is treated as a crime scene. The information is fed into the system since it is important to have access to information on a combination of all these aspects. At this point, I would not like to distract the Road Safety Authority from its important job, otherwise it may have to acquire a range of skills it may not have, but I will keep the matter under review.

The way forward would be for the RSA to appoint independent companies to do contract work on its behalf, including road work analysis and auditing. I would not expect the authority to take on more staff. However, the key point is that 33% of deaths on the roads are due to poor road surfaces and bad signage.

The issue concerning the Health and Safety Authority is an important one. The authority is involved because of the work done by people employed there. The budgets of many counties do not permit all necessary works to be undertaken in line with new standards. More investment is required to provide for better roadworks, better management and, in particular, an independent auditing system.

The Deputy and I are at one in that general aim. Accident black spots, including blind spots, are being dealt with. I will certainly keep the matter under review and no doubt the Deputy will raise it again.

Drogheda Port Company.

Fergus O'Dowd


5 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Transport his Department’s position on the proposals for Drogheda Port and Bremore; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24671/07]

It is my intention to give approval for Drogheda Port Company to enter into a joint venture agreement to develop a new port facility at Bremore in Fingal county, subject to the enactment of necessary legislation. I am advised that an amendment to the Harbours Act 1996 is necessary to enable the port limits of the Drogheda Port Company to be extended to include Bremore and to enable me to convey approval of the joint venture agreement. The joint venture proposal is in line with established ports policy. Subject to the necessary further feasibility, commercial and regulatory work, it also presents a unique opportunity to provide significant additional port capacity in a prime location on the east coast. It is intended to develop the new facility in a number of phases. The actual capacity of the first phase will be determined by the joint venture partners in the light of the further work referred to which has yet to be carried out.

As I indicated, an amendment to the Harbours Act 1996 will be necessary to enable the joint venture to be formalised, but the feasibility work I referred to can be put in hand in the meantime. More generally, the existing legislation is more than ten years old and requires updating. My Department has made substantial progress in preparing the heads of a new harbours Bill to support further implementation of ports policy and update existing legislation. I propose to seek early Government approval for the drafting of the Bill and intend to pursue its enactment as quickly as possible.

The joint venture will help to promote competition while relieving congestion at Dublin Port. The proposal is being advanced as a stand-alone project and is not dependent or linked to any relocation of capacity from Dublin Port.

I welcome the Minister's reply. As a Deputy for County Louth — I realise the Minister represents part of the adjoining county of Meath — it is important to reiterate my support for everything the Government has done on this issue. A modern deep-water port such as that to be constructed at Bremore is critical for the infrastructural development of the country. I will fully support the proposed legislation. When does the Minister intend to bring it before the House? I understand it will take approximately one year for Drogheda Port Company to go through the required process, having received commitments from the Department of Transport yesterday or the day before. It is all systems go for the new port which will make a significant contribution to the country's economic well-being, particularly counties Louth and Meath.

I thank the Deputy for his support. While I cannot outline a specific timescale, I intend to examine the progress of the Harbours Bill with a view to ascertaining if it can be completed and brought forward relatively quickly. If it can, I will table the relevant amendments. If the legislation is likely to be delayed, I will proceed with something separate in order to amend the Bill. The necessary assurances and undertakings have been given.