I welcome the opportunity to speak on the issue of transport. Deputy Dooley should note that Deputy Bannon did not seek to undermine Bus Éireann or CIE. Many transport-related issues provide a road to economic recovery. lreland is a small country and relatively new State. Rather than go abroad this year, I travelled the length and breadth of the country. During my travels, I observed the significant work done in improving the road network in the past ten or 15 years, particularly around the major towns. Irrespective of the contribution made by individual counties to the economy, whether in agriculture or through other activities, all of them have a transport infrastructure on which they can build.
The Government must show foresight by continuing to invest in transport to assist economic recovery. In recent weeks, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, expressed delight that Dublin's car parks were not full. Perhaps he believes this is the outcome of some Green Party initiative to persuade people to use bicycles or buses. As Deputies will have noted, however, buses are no longer full. Someone should inform the Minister that the reason our buses and car parks are not full is that 400,000 people are staying at home. We must address this issue.
As a rural Deputy, I am aware that members of the two main parties have played the rural isolation card in recent debates on drink driving. Isolation affects those living in towns as much as those in rural areas. I had the privilege of living in a town. If one has no contact with one's neighbours, there is no more lonely place to live than in a town. In the country people can ask a neighbour to give them a lift whereas people in towns will find themselves stuck for a lift.
Transport must be provided in every corner of the country but State money cannot be pumped into loss-making services. I have been a member of the Joint Committee on Transport for four or five years. The joint committee has had some good meetings with Bus Éireann, Iarnród Éireann, Aer Lingus and other transport companies. During the boom times, providers of bus services opened new bus routes. At our meetings, however, they told the joint committee that they would close them if they did not make money.
While Bus Éireann, like Aer Lingus, is an established Irish brand, this does not mean that one can continue to throw money at these companies. Earlier today, we met representatives of Aer Lingus pilots. A couple of weeks ago, when representatives of Aer Lingus outlined the company's plans at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport they failed to inform members of plans to establish a new company in England which will employ contract workers at the expense of Irish workers. As all the available figures show, Aer Lingus, Bus Éireann, Iarnród Éireann and other transport companies have a viable future.
The Minister must take responsibility for all aspects of transport. He cannot continue to pass the buck by arguing that the National Roads Authority, CIE and other bodies are not his responsibility. He must take responsibility for the money allocated to transport and ensure the best possible services are provided, regardless of whether one lives in a town or city or on Achill Island.
The population of the State is predicted to increase from approximately 4.25 million to 6.5 million in the next 30 or 40 years as a result of the baby boom. Figures also show that we do not have sufficient university or school places to accommodate the 10,000 additional students who will complete school annually over the next ten years.
Transport services must be able to pay for themselves. If we must create competition to achieve this, so be it. I am not a businessman but it is clear one cannot continue to throw borrowed money into a system that is not paying for itself. The companies involved, whether CIE companies or private bus firms, know this practice cannot continue.
The transport companies are responsible and helpful. They return one's calls and respond to queries, even if their responses are not to our liking. I do not have any complaints in that regard and Deputy Bannon did not try to undermine them in any respect.
Before the property boom, the economy was driven by exports. Companies considering locating in Ireland found that while the greater Dublin area had good transport infrastructure, road standards were not good in counties such as Leitrim and Mayo or even north County Meath. The position has since changed for the better. We must maintain the road infrastructure developed in recent years.
The M3 was a major issue when I was first elected four or five years ago. While the road will be built, I am not sure many people will use it because fewer people commute to Dublin. It is, nevertheless, a great investment. We must build new factories and create jobs for our young people, rather than export them to the United States, Australia and elsewhere. We must build factories near the major roads to Cork, Galway and Belfast and stop building up our cities. Whereas in the past, it could take four or five hours to travel from one of our airports to one's destination, we now have good road links from our airports. We must ensure some areas are not left isolated and stop driving investment to the east coast. With the island at peace, we must also develop greater links with the North and become more competitive.
I am the Fine Gael Party spokesperson on road safety. My county has experienced several serious accidents involving buses in recent years. In terms of introducing Bills, we have missed golden opportunities, particularly in regard to drink driving, to have safer roads. Some three or four years ago we had the second or third worst road safety record in Europe. It is an area in which I am lucky to be involved.
One can play politics with this area or with peoples' lives. Noel Brett and Gay Byrne were appointed four or five years ago to do something about the carnage which was taking place on our roads. A lot has happened and we have jumped from being second or third worst in Europe in terms of road fatalities to sixth worst. I have no doubt, if everything goes according to plan, that we will be near the top when new figures come out. However, many lives are still being lost on our roads and the introduction of the new drink driving measures, which is causing controversy in every party and which has resulted in lobbying from various groups, is worth it if one life is saved. We need to address some of the issues rural Deputies have referred to regarding transport.
On road safety, whereas we have risen to the top in regard to the number of deaths per head of population, we have slipped down to second worst in terms of road deaths suffered by those walking on our roads. Some 71% of all road deaths take place in rural Ireland, whereby many people walking on our roads have died because there are no facilities in place to transport people home safely at night. The taxi system in rural Ireland has broken down. One can only get a taxi from Saturday night until 6 p.m. on Sunday. There is little or no service outside those times.
The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, had a golden opportunity to address all the issues regarding road safety in his new Bill. In referring to it I am not going off the mark. Speed is a massive issue and some 40% of road deaths are due to speed. Some 30% of people are killed as a result of road conditions and 24% are killed due to drink and drug driving. If the new laws are introduced and gardaí receive new equipment that figure will probably rise to 26%.
Speed cameras were supposed to be introduced. I do not now what is the current position but, looking at what has happened in England and other countries, they will be outdated when they are introduced. The introduction of fixed speed cameras is not working in other countries. As road safety spokesperson I intend to examine that issue in my own county, which is no worse than anywhere else. All the fixed speed cameras in place in my county are burned out as a result of people dropping fire-bombs into them. This situation will continue because one cannot continue to police them.
Mobile speed units, the location of which people are unsure, are becoming more effective. The Minister is dallying in terms of addressing the speed camera issue. There is a problem between the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, but more people will die on our roads because of a lack of prevention in consequence of gardaí not being given speed cameras or whatever. On the argument between the different parties in the Dáil over the last weeks and the lobbying which is taking place regarding the drink driving laws, there should be a full and open debate on what is happening in Ireland in regard to drink driving and whether the proposed law on reducing the limit from 80 mg to 50 mg will isolate people.
Those arguments are nonsense. Problems in rural Ireland in terms of pubs, shops and everything else are a result of prices and people not having money. A transport system in a parish or an area is the way forward. One hears people saying that a special VRT rate for a publican is a good idea but it is not. One cannot have a man standing behind a bar and then driving a bus home. One could examine the idea of having a carrier within each parish which could provide services throughout the day. Deputies Bannon and Dooley referred to the fact that people want to go to the post office, shop or pub. The same situation pertains in towns. One can now only get taxis at certain times of the day because taxi drivers cannot earn a living when they are all in the one place at the one time and there is no movement.
We have covered good ground and a lot of money was spent on our roads during the boom years. The different bus operators have tried new routes and are now beginning to realise money is not coming in and they have to stop the services. As Deputy Dooley correctly said, Bus Éireann has recognised routes which have been in place for years but there may only be two or three people on buses. One cannot continue to pump money into and protect such an industry. One cannot run a bus from Carrickmacross to Kingscourt, Nobber, Navan and Dublin with three or four people on it. It does not make sense, even though it might look good and one can say the service is there. We all know cuts are necessary and we cannot continue to put money into such a system. There is nothing wrong with the Fine Gael idea that there should be competition. We have to look at the possibility of opening up the industry and see what happens over time.
I come from a small village in Nobber and some 35 years ago two thirds of our football team came to Dublin. If we depended on a single Bus Éireann bus such people would never get to training or matches. One had different buses which ran at different times, a system which worked quite well. With costs such as insurance it is difficult to run any business, but one cannot have an industry where one half is supported while the other is not because the result will be similar to what happened to supermarkets, many of which have closed down. That is something for which the Government is responsible. We have ended up with a system where all the small shops, post offices and Garda stations in rural Ireland are closing down.
Many thousands of jobs can be created in the transport system, but only if a Minister does not give an answer when a question is asked regarding the NRA, CIE or Iarnród Éireann which states, "It is not my business". That day is gone. It is his business because when a new link is opened in Dunboyne or a new part of the M3 is opened the Minister is there to open it. One must have a Minister who takes responsibility for all the different avenues of transport. He has to take full responsibility for the moneys which go into it.
Every Deputy in this House gets the same representations. This country is at a complete standstill in regard to cash flow and not a cent is being given to any small business. We discuss child benefit, which is a lifeline to families. One cannot continue to tax people. In this context, 99% of the children's allowance will be spent.
We need responsibility rather than more tax cuts. We need Ministers to stand up and be responsible for their Departments. I did not like the meeting I had with Aer Lingus pilots today and we must make a stand on the issue. The State owns 25% of Aer Lingus and the workers have put €40,000 and €50,000 of their own money into it. Now we have brought in a few people who feel it is okay to form another company in England and put out to contract Irish people's jobs to those from abroad. That comes under the remit of the Department of Transport.
Every job involved with transport or even the building of our roads and railroads is one of the greatest possible investments for this country, along with education. The Government should no longer pump money into a black hole and should instead open the process. If the Government wants to borrow billions of euro to keep the banks running — I know we need them but they are getting too much — it should borrow an extra couple of billion to continue building roads and railways. In that way we will keep people employed and safe on our roads.