This is an important motion because it goes to the heart of the way our country has been run under this Government and the lack of accountability of major State and semi-State organisations which have controlled and spent vast amounts of public money since 1997.
Since 1997, CIE has received and spent €6.23 billion of taxpayers' money, broken down by capital funding of €3.2 billion and an Exchequer subvention of €3.3 billion. Taxpayers' money is being misspent. After all the wasted years of this Government, we still have none of the policies that might deliver the change that is needed. We do not have proper national park and ride facilities, integrated ticketing, real-time traveller information, bus competition or independent review of route and frequency strategy so taxpayers can see what they are paying for. We do not have policies for peak-hour spreading or incentives for off-peak travel. We have no Dublin transport authority, a year after the legislation was passed.
The subvention to Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann quadrupled in the past ten years but the number of buses has remained almost static. Dublin Bus is now taking buses off the road in order to save money. Issues such as this cannot be adequately addressed by the Oireachtas when requests for information as continually frustrated by CIE.
In 1999, the subvention for Dublin Bus was €16.8 million when the fleet size was 987. In 2009, the subvention had risen to €82.4 million, yet the fleet size was 1,028. The Bus Éireann subvention commenced in 1999 at €7.4 million. In 2009, it had risen to €44.9 million whereas the fleet has increased by 70 buses. There is a lack of accountability for this spending and a lack of oversight by the Oireachtas.
Senator Shane Ross reported this issue in the Sunday Independent and, on 14 October, we wrote to Irish Rail seeking a copy of the Baker Tilly report, which alleged serious wrongdoing at a very high level in CIE and specifically in Iarnród Éireann. The answer given was that “the Baker Tilly report is an internal report commissioned by Iarnród Éireann. The report itself contains material which is both commercially sensitive and the subject of legal proceedings. As a result, I regret that we cannot use this report externally.”
This is a significant and serious issue. Access to a report in which the word "fraud" was mentioned something like 17 times was denied by Iarnród Éireann to the Oireachtas and the Fine Gael transport spokesperson. Surprisingly, the report was then placed in the Oireachtas Library at 6 o'clock on the Friday evening of a bank holiday weekend, when the Joint Committee on Transport was due to meet on the following Tuesday to discuss the report - which had not been released to us - and to raise these issues. I do not know why the Minister placed the report in the Oireachtas Library so late. Perhaps he did not receive it until that morning. I do not know why we could not have seen it earlier. The key point in the report was identified by the Minister in the House last Thursday night at 9 p.m., when he said he was gravely concerned about the import of the report and what was going on in CIE companies, specifically Iarnród Éireann.
CIE is not being held accountable to the House. CIE management come to meetings of a joint committee occasionally but the company is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act and it ought to be. If it was, reports such as this would be available and could be debated in this House and at the Joint Committee on Transport. If the company was subject to the Freedom of Information Act, we would have much greater oversight of what is going on in CIE companies and of the billions of euro which have been spent. We would know if the system was faulty.
I am not criticising the excellent work done by the vast majority of employees of CIE. Neither do I criticise employees of FÁS or the NRA. I am talking about decision making, usually at the top but not necessarily so, where abuses are taking place. The Minister for Transport would not know about the Baker Tilly report if Senator Shane Ross had not published it in the Sunday Independent. The wool is being pulled over the Minister’s eyes. CIE is treating him as a ribbon-cutter, who goes to opening ceremonies to cut ribbons and have his photograph taken. There is no substantial accountability, either to the Minister or to the Oireachtas.
It was also noted in a 2007 internal audit annual report, which was presented to the Iarnród Éireann annual review group in March 2008, that "further significant breaches were found in areas which are outside the scope of our report, including significant non-compliance in the chief mechanical engineer's department". I ask the Minister for an explanation of this and for a copy of that audit report. It is important that we know exactly what is going on. This is a serious matter. It is not acceptable that this is allowed to continue.
The budgets and audits of this company must be accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts. The Comptroller and Auditor General must scrutinise its audits and there must be Oireachtas oversight, as the Minister refuses to hold it accountable. The company must also be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. These companies must report to us to ensure that we have credibility and integrity in our system.
I do not ask that the parliamentary question system be changed so that we can ask the Minister why the 5 p.m. train from Cork to Dublin was three minutes late. However, we should be able to get at the fundamental issues of policy decisions, remuneration of directors, who they are and how they are appointed. There must be transparency and accountability with regard to policy decisions and major investments in CIE.
I wish to address the allegations in the Baker Tilly report. The report found there is a fundamental systems deficiency in Iarnród Éireann where procurement procedures relating to the issuing of contracts are concerned. It also found that stock discrepancies are not being independently investigated to a satisfactory extent and that some staff members are uncertain as to the nature and extent of their duties. Furthermore, the report highlights the fact that, incredibly, not one manager or senior executive buyer was aware of a corporate procurement strategy.
Serious questions must now be asked and answered as to how such a shoddy system was presided over for so long. Iarnród Éireann is the beneficiary of handsome State funding and for loose practices to be allowed to go unchecked for so long is completely unacceptable.
This report accelerates the need for CIE's exemption from the Freedom of Information Act to be lifted. The Minister has not addressed this issue in the Government amendment. He affirms Government policy. We do not particularly disagree with anything there, except the lack of accountability. The Minister has not addressed that issue. He said he accepts there are grave issues here and the only way they can be addressed is through greater and further accountability.
Turning to the National Roads Authority, the Freedom of Information Act and related matters, there is a serious issue in regard to the policy in the National Roads Authority. It is subject to the Freedom of Information Act, although not to parliamentary questions. I would like the process that applies to the Health Service Executive, whereby if one asks a parliamentary question, one gets an answer from the HSE, to apply to the NRA. One could ask a parliamentary question through the Minister for Transport. The issues would have to be substantive in order to get a direct response from the National Roads Authority. That would be a simple way to address some of the lack of accountability there.
The key issue on which I wish to focus is safety in the Dublin Port tunnel and the frustration of my freedom of information request on this issue by the National Roads Authority. We discovered through a "Prime Time" programme on RTE by Mr. Paul Murphy that there were serious problems with the Dublin Port tunnel. Having brought in the National Roads Authority and having got evasive replies from Mr. Barry, the chief executive officer, I decided to make a freedom of information request on a particular report on safety. That report was dated 2007 but it took me a year to get it from the Information Commissioner because the National Roads Authority refused to give me a copy of the report, which it had and which was fundamental to my charge that the port tunnel was open while it was in an unsafe condition. That is a very serious charge. I made a freedom of information request as I was frustrated in my efforts to get to the bottom of that issue initially raised by RTE.
There were two reports, one of which was the Martin Kelly report which was earlier than the one about which I will speak later and which looked at what was going on in the tunnel in 2007. It looked at all the systems in it and found significant problems. For instance, the over height detection system, which is supposed to tell one a lorry is over height, would not work in 10% of cases.
It found the communications network, which was essential for the proper running of a complex system like a port tunnel, had not been designed and configured for the safety critical requirements of the Dublin Port tunnel. It stated there was very limited diversity in the configuration to take account of a major incident in the tunnel; there were a number of single points of failure of network components; the network took too long to reconnect and reconfigure after a component failure; the installed devices were designed for commercial and not industrial applications; they were not as robust and reliable as they should be for this application; and that some of the network components were obsolete. One is talking about a tunnel which cost approximately €580 million not being fit for purpose when it was originally opened and not being safe, as this report bears out.
The report states:
The network is so delicate that there are a significant number of "out of communications" errors each week. In an 8 day period in April there were around 1000 "out of communications" errors occurring daily. In a period at the end of June 07 the occurrences had reduced to around 40 per day. This reduction is probably because there is now some temporary air conditioning equipment installed in most equipment rooms. If this is the reason for the reduction, then it is obvious that a permanent HVAC system is necessary.
The report further states:
Because there is insufficient or no redundancy of certain items, when a component fails, it causes the system to shutdown. This has happened on a number of occasions since opening.
The report refers to incidents on certain dates. This is essentially a charter on how not to build a port tunnel and a charter of evasiveness of a State body, the National Roads Authority, which refuses to be accountable and frustrates our efforts in this regard.
The SCADA system is supposed to be an operational system to run the tunnel. The report states:
When a fault occurs that cannot easily be identified TTO have to rely on the support of local Indra technicians. These technicians sometimes have to contact their engineers in Spain to carry out remote analysis of the system to trace the fault and sometimes rectify the fault.
People in Spain must remotely access the Dublin Port tunnel, which cost approximately €580 million, to fix a system because nobody there knows how it works. What has been going on? What oversight did the National Roads Authority have?
The worst is contained in the second report which I could not get for a year either. It looked at the design of the tunnel. It stated that the results of tests confirmed that the operating system was unable to provide the required level of safety, especially in the case of an event leading to important data exchanges such as accident or fire and that this was due to lack of reliability of the systems and inadequate architecture and design, operating deficiencies and an unsuitable man-made interface.
The report further stated that the system was unsuitable particularly because unpredictable and erratic transmission time leads to a range of one to four minutes transmission time for an event detection to the action result and that one must keep in mind that in the case of a fire, people must be evacuated within ten minutes after the fire starts because after this period, the risk of people being killed by the fire is extremely high. There could be a delay of four minutes. That is four minutes gone out of the maximum ten minutes one has to get out of the tunnel alive. We need an investigation in that system.
Even today the National Roads Authority refuses to be accountable for this issue. Under an EU directive, it appointed a tunnel safety officer. When the NRA refused to answer my questions, I tried to contact him. The reply I received from the NRA stated that it confirmed my request to be provided with a telephone number for this gentleman. It declined to provide the number for the safety officer for the port tunnel and it advised that it considered it more appropriate that communications with this gentleman should be in writing rather than by telephone. It stated that it considered that written forms of communication were more appropriate in order to avoid any unintentional misunderstandings or incorrect recollections given the complexity of the subject matter. It very kindly offered take a letter from me to give to him.
For each tunnel, the tunnel safety manager shall co-ordinate all preventative and safeguarding measures to ensure the safety of users and the operation of the tunnel. The safety officer may be a member of the tunnel staff or the emergency services but he shall be independent in all road tunnel safety issues and shall not be under instruction from an employer in respect of those issues. My case has been made.
The National Roads Authority is frustrating the truth getting out about what went on in the tunnel for the first two years of its operation. We cannot hold it accountable, nor can the Minister. Things must change in the National Roads Authority. It is not good enough for it to frustrate basic issues such as this. It is cocking its nose at the Minister and at us and it does not give a damn. I am not happy about that and I hope the Minister is not either.
We want accountability and transparency. CIE must be accountable under freedom of information legislation and the Comptroller and Authority General, otherwise all this money will continue to be wasted, in many cases without accountability and responsibility from those organisations.