Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 10 Nov 2009

Vol. 694 No. 1

Accountability of Government Agencies and Companies: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

CIE has received and spent €6.23 billion of taxpayers' money since 1997;

the National Roads Authority, NRA, has received and spent over €13 billion of taxpayers' money since 2000;

is deeply alarmed that CIE is not subject to any real accountability or transparency mechanisms including:

the Oireachtas Committee of Public Accounts;

Comptroller and Auditor General audits and investigations;

Oireachtas oversight as Ministers refuse to be held accountable or answer questions; and

the Freedom of Information Act;

is deeply concerned over the lack of policy and Exchequer funding accountability and oversight in the NRA as Ministers refuse to be held accountable to the Oireachtas;

acknowledges that these problems extend to other agencies and companies across Government;

considers these facts lead to an unjustified democratic deficit at the heart of Government; and calls on the Government to:

strengthen democracy and bring about greater transparency in Government by introducing a proper system of parliamentary spending oversight for CIE and the NRA and also for other agencies and semi-State companies in receipt of billions of taxpayers' money;

ensure the financial budgeting, procurement and accounting processes used by government agencies and companies become more accountable to the Oireachtas; and

bring CIE within the scope of Freedom of Information and under the remit of the Ombudsman's office and the Comptroller and Auditor General.

With the permission of the House, I wish to share time with Deputies Paul Connaughton, Brian Hayes, John O'Mahony and Joe McHugh.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

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.

Last week I sat through a full meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport attended by the chairman and the chief executive and others of CIE and Iarnród Éireann. I do not have time to go into the details in the few minutes speaking time allotted to me. The committee would not have seen the report were it not for the fact it appeared in the Sunday newspaper. We would not have been able to ask the many questions needed. We expect the board members will be back before the committee and we will have a lot more questions for them.

I believe the Minister also commented but I certainly was not happy with the procurement systems. I am not able to say how big a problem exists as I do not have that information but if an interested bystander listened to what happened at that meeting, he or she would know that all was not well at that level. People I deal with locally would have nothing to do with such type of monkey work, so to speak, which may or may not have taken place. We must get to the bottom of this situation. For example, a person with a disability applying to the local authority for the smallest of grants, must procure two or three different tenders. It appears that on occasion, significant contracts were awarded without that basic principle being applied.

I hope to speak on Second Stage of the Public Transport Regulation Bill tomorrow or the day after. The Minister has a big job on his hands in order to operate and co-ordinate to the best advantage of the travelling public the various codes of transport. I refer to a bus service from Galway to Dublin which in order to cut out the competition is charging €1 a seat from Galway to Dublin. This is in an attempt to quench a company which has a full licence from the Department of Transport to serve the direct Galway to Dublin route. The company offering the €1 seat does not have a licence to be on that route.

I understand that if a court case results, that company can only be fined a total of €6 a day. We must recognise the problems that exist.

I assume I have only one minute remaining.

The Deputy has one and a half minutes remaining.

Irrespective of the very difficult financial times, I hope the western rail corridor will continue on schedule. The Minister has said it will continue but many people, including myself, are becoming sceptical as each day passes. I expect the Minister will refer to it in his concluding contribution.

The subvention is being increased but there will need to be much better value for money. I ask the Minister to note that one cannot compare sparsely populated areas such as parts of the west of Ireland with Dublin city. The subvention system cannot be used the same way in either place. The rural transport initiative is very important for the outlying areas of the west of Ireland. I ask the Minister to ensure a balance. Córas Iompair Éireann, Iarnród Éireann and Bus Éireann are doing a fantastic job and they have come on in leaps and bounds. However, unless the private sector is given an opportunity to compete, then we will be back to the bad old days which is something neither the Minister nor I would want to see happening.

I am pleased to speak on this important motion on which I commend Deputy O'Dowd. The National Roads Authority, NRA, has developed new roads across the country and made great improvements in infrastructure. However, the subject of this Private Members' motion is echoed in every council chamber across the country, including support from members of the Minister's party when they see at first hand the difficulty in making representations about issues to the NRA. Some of them have become frustrated over the years.

For instance, in my constituency of Tipperary South, a bypass has been required for several years for Tipperary town which has been clogged with traffic for years. Several Ministers over a long period have stated that a bypass was badly needed and have given commitments. The current Minister has also given a commitment to consider this issue. The NRA has consistently put it on the back burner. A small amount of money is allocated every year to cover the design and smaller issues. However, it is far away from being started. There is a question about how the NRA is spending the significant funding. Members of local authorities find it impossible to find out. We need to have access to the NRA so that we can find out this information. When a small change needs to be made in a major roads project, it is very difficult. For instance on the Dublin to Cork road when a rural community outside Kilcoran near Cahir was being cut off, it took a long time for the NRA to make a decision. Parliamentary questions, interventions and deputations to Ministers were employed. Something that would not have cost too much to achieve initially, took a long time and was very frustrating. These are the difficulties encountered by people in accessing the NRA. This is quite unfair in these times when accountability is required.

With regard to CIE, a total of €6.3 billion of taxpayers' money has been spent on CIE by way of subsidy since 1997. This begs the question as to what has been CIE's overall plan. Why has it allowed the transport of goods by rail to go to transport by road? We have spent vast amounts of money yet we have allowed what was a good well structured rail network lose that valuable goods business. It is wrong and it is unfair to the taxpayer. It is unfair of the Government to allow this to happen. I ask the Minister even at this late stage to explain why taxpayers' money is being spent and the goods transport business is being lost.

I wish to support this motion and to commend Deputy Fergus O'Dowd and the Fine Gael Party on tabling it.

Other speakers have raised the issue of significant amounts of taxpayers' money being paid to the NRA and CIE in the past 11 or 12 years. A total of almost €20 billion has been paid through these agencies to provide much needed upgrades in our infrastructural network in roads and railways and to ensure efficient and reliable services on our trains and buses throughout the country. The reality is that some of that money has been well spent but many questions remain to be answered on a significant amount that has been badly spent, misspent, overspent or wasted. It would be in some way acceptable if there were transparent and accountable procedures in place such that people could be held accountable for the mistakes made and the money wasted. If that happened, structures could be put in place to prevent a recurrence and the public's confidence would be somewhat restored. Instead, we found out many years later there was in excess of a €4.1 billion overrun on the roads programme adding 60% to the original cost. The NRA was set up to avoid such an occurrence but instead facilitated it.

The port tunnel is a good case in point. Eventually, it cost four times the original estimate, overshooting the costing by €580 million. It was discovered late in the day that it was not big enough to accommodate certain trucks. Some weeks ago my colleague, Deputy O'Dowd, discovered that it was not safe for use when it opened in 2006. This would be very funny were it not so serious.

It is not acceptable that CIE does not come under the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General such that no proper audit or analysis of spending can take place. Also, it is not good enough that CIE does not come under the Freedom of Information Act, as outlined earlier by Deputy O'Dowd.

It is in no one's interest that there is a lack of transparency and accountability in these two bodies and it is not fair on the hundreds of people who work in these organisations, who do a fine job, but are hampered by archaic and restrictive practices that erode confidence in the public mindset. For example, subventions to Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann have quadrupled in recent years but buses are now being taken off routes instead of an increase in services. This must be explained. Deputy O'Dowd referred to the need to answer questions on the substantive issue. However, as Deputy Hayes remarked, at a local level issues remain and in my constituency of Mayo there are ongoing threats to bus routes in rural and tourist areas such as Cong and Achill that require accessibility from larger towns and cities. Recently, a bus was withdrawn which services Ireland West Airport in Knock.

The lack of accountability and transparency has had a significant impact on the ability of Deputies to get answers for constituents within a reasonable timeframe. Questions to the Minister are usually passed on, kicked to touch or not answered at all. For example, it may be a small issue in the overall context, today I received an answer from the NRA regarding the adjustment of speed limits on an NRA road but I have been chasing the answer for almost two years. We also get the same "pass the parcel" approach between county councils and the NRA on matters of signage or access from bypasses to original roads. The Minister opened the Charlestown bypass more than one and a half years ago but ongoing trouble with accessibility to the older road continues and many accidents have taken place. Similarly the early bird train service between Mayo and Dublin was announced recently. It will travel from Westport and Castlebar but Ballina and north Mayo have been totally ignored. Given the delay in the building of the N26 route, this service could have been extended to the north of the county. These matters may not be important to the Minister but they are very important to my constituency and others throughout the country. I strongly commend the motion to the House.

In the brief time I have I wish to highlight some issues relating to Iarnród Éireann and issues of public accountability related to the National Roads Authority. I commend the efforts of our party spokesperson on transport, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, in tabling the motion. Not only does it challenge the lack of financial accountability, it also challenges the lack of public accountability. In my short time in the House I have tabled 20 parliamentary questions related to national primary and secondary roads which have been disallowed for answer. Given the times in which we live and the need of people for more transparency that is no way to carry out democracy and it does nothing to legitimise our role as Members representing our constituencies.

The first casualty of poor public accountability is safety. I refer the Minister to a specific example in my constituency. I do not take the opportunity to be parochial but if the Minister were to assist, many safety issues arising throughout the country, such as those highlighted by Deputy O'Mahony, could be addressed. If one were to carry out a safety audit on the N56 outside Letterkenny, a new road, well built and constructed, several issues would arise. Safety anomalies arise related to footpath provision, lack of public lighting, safety issues outside a primary school and a lack of turning lanes. Such issues create numerous hazards on that stretch of road. There were two car accidents as recently as this weekend and in the past three or four months there have been numerous other car accidents on this stretch of road. The Minister's Department, not the NRA, should carry out a safety audit on this stretch of road. Only then would the Minister gather an insight into the problems associated with this stretch of road and many similar roads throughout the country.

The missing link is in respect of public accountability. No one among the county councillors, the executive level in Donegal County Council or the Members has the parliamentary privilege of a single line answer in respect of the NRA, which is not acceptable. I am pleased our colleague, Deputy O'Dowd, has put this matter into the thrust of the motion.

I recognise CIE is referred to in the motion but CIE is the parent company of Iarnród Éireann and it is this company to which I refer. Between 2002 and 2006 some €1.3 billion was spent on railway infrastructure in the country, including new rail on the western rail corridor, to which Deputy Paul Connaughton referred. This money was also spent on the upgrade of new infrastructure in respect of rail or transportation cargo. Within the €1.3 billion allocation there was a 3% contribution from Europe, which would have come from the Trans-European Transport Network Executive Agency. My figures indicate a sum of €39.6 million came from Europe. I cannot establish where this money was spent. The Minister must indicate, either by contacting Iarnród Éireann or through the good offices of the Department, where this money was spent. Was it spent on the Cork to Dublin railway line or was it spent on the Dublin to Belfast railway line, for which it would have been intended because of the trans-European cross-Border funding mechanism? At present, Iarnród Éireann will only provide a figure for the Belfast to Cork route, which implies it is not willing to breakdown the percentage spent on the Dublin to Belfast and the Dublin to Cork route. My fear is that money may have been used specifically for the Cork to Dublin line. If the Minister's figures show the majority of the money was spent on the Cork to Dublin line, the implication is funding on a cross-Border basis was used for the Cork to Dublin line. My geography and my education inform me the line from Cork to Dublin does not cross the Border. If this is the case and if the figures show the vast majority of funding was spent on the Cork to Dublin corridor, there must be accountability. The public deserves such accountability, especially since there was once an all-island railway link and perhaps that is what we should pursue rather than to consider drawing down money in an non-accountable way.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all the words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"—welcomes the sustained commitment of the Government under Transport 21 and earlier transport investment programmes to upgrading transport infrastructure and services and the good results obtained from this investment including reduced journey times for road passenger and freight traffic and more, higher quality public transport services;

welcomes in particular the completion of major road and public transport projects including the completion of two light rail lines in Dublin; the transformation of the Irish Rail rolling stock fleet with the acquisition of modern train sets; and the transformation of the national road infrastructure, particularly the progress being made towards the completion of the motorway network on the major interurban routes;

commends the comprehensive arrangements in place for appraising, approving and monitoring transport projects under Transport 21 which includes publication of detailed information in an annual report and a dedicated website;

notes the positive assessments of the Value for Money reviews completed on the annual subvention paid to CIÉ (2006) and on the 2nd Railway Safety Investment Programme (2008);

notes that a cost and efficiency review of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann was completed in early 2009 and is being implemented;

further notes the comprehensive arrangements in place as required by their establishing legislation and the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies to ensure the accountability of the NRA and CIÉ to Government and the Oireachtas including requirements relating to annual reports and accounts, half-yearly accounts, and certification of compliance with requirements of Code of Practice; and

acknowledges that both the NRA and CIÉ appear regularly before the relevant Oireachtas Committee to account for the discharge of their functions."

I propose to share time with Deputy Michael McGrath.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Thanks to this Fine Gael motion, I have the opportunity to report on the progress made by agencies including the NRA and CIE in upgrading our transport infrastructure and on the beneficial impact of the sustained high level of investment in transport; on the arrangements to evaluate and monitor Exchequer funded capital and current expenditure by the NRA and CIE; and on the arrangements to ensure the NRA and CIE are accountable to the Government and the Oireachtas.

Transport 21 continues to provide the strategic framework guiding Government investment in transport infrastructure. The primary purpose of this unprecedented investment programme is to progressively deliver a first class national roads network and a modern, integrated public transport system that provides reduced journey times for commercial activity around the country and facilitates the more efficient movement of people. This is the fourth year of Transport 21. In the first three years Exchequer funding amounted to a total of almost €6.8 billion. Expenditure in 2006 was €1.94 billion; in 2007, almost €2.4 billion; and in 2008, €2.5 billion. The Exchequer allocation for 2009 is €2.1 billion. These are massive amounts of money committed by the Government.

Great progress has been made to date, with many of the projects completed or nearing completion. Over 66% of the major interurban motorways are now open to traffic and the remainder are under construction and on target to open in 2010. The upgrade of the M50 is on target for completion in 2010. By the end of 2010 we will have built a 750 km interurban motorway network, an unprecedented achievement in such a short time.

Good progress is also being made on improving public transport infrastructure and services. The Cork commuter rail line opened earlier this year and both phase 1 of the western rail corridor and the Kildare rail line are due to be completed by the end of 2009 or in early 2010. Work is under way on phase 1 of the Navan line. The Luas extension to the docklands will open in early December. Two other Luas extensions to Cherrywood and Citywest are under construction and will open in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

The Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Irish Rail fleets have been renewed and increased, resulting in greater accessibility and improved services on many rail and bus routes. The new regional railcar fleet has allowed Irish Rail to expand services in an economical and efficient way, even in this difficult economic environment. The company recently announced a range of new services to take effect from the end of this month, such as two new early bird Monday to Friday services, from Westport to Dublin and Galway to Dublin respectively. The company is introducing new services on the DART line to provide a service every 15 minutes off-peak.

In addition to capital funding the CIE companies receive an annual subvention towards the cost of loss-making socially and economically necessary services. This subvention is over €303 million in 2009. Along with capital funding, it has enabled the CIE companies to improve the quantity and quality of bus and rail services throughout the country. The result of this investment and increased subvention was a strong growth in passenger numbers up to 2008.

Despite this high level of current funding the companies are now facing a very difficult financial position due to the sharp economic downturn. The companies now face the difficult challenge of lower passenger numbers, higher costs and static subvention. This requires the urgent and vigorous pursuit of cost recovery plans to reduce and eventually eliminate operating deficits.

Given the scale of Transport 21, the Government recognised the need to put in place processes and procedures to ensure a rigorous evaluation, monitoring and auditing regime for the major projects involved. My Department has established detailed monitoring procedures and carries out audits at various levels. At the start of Transport 21, a high level monitoring group was established to oversee the implementation of the programme. The monitoring group oversees an intensive audit programme that is undertaken by independent consultants. These audits review the appraisal and the financial and physical implementation of selected Transport 21 projects. In 2007 and 2008, audits relating to projects with a total estimated capital cost of €2.6 billion were carried out. Six additional audits are being carried out in 2009.

Financial and physical progress audits carried out to date have found that projects are generally being implemented in a satisfactory way. The findings of Transport 21 appraisal audits have verified that the implementing agencies are continuing to appraise Transport 21 projects in accordance with Guidelines on a Common Appraisal Framework for Transport Projects and Programmes, a document developed by my Department, and the Department of Finance document, Guidelines for the Appraisal and Management of Capital Expenditure Proposals in the Public Sector.

All major Transport 21 projects are subject to detailed cost benefit analyses that are carried out as part of the project selection and approval process. The results of cost benefit analyses are published on the Transport 21 website once projects have reached construction stage. Transport 21 is being managed in accordance with best practice and this is delivering dividends for the taxpayer and the transport user. These benefits are particularly evident in the case of the national roads programme. It is a tribute to the great work of the NRA and local authorities that most major road projects, including recent examples such as the Tullamore and Waterford city bypasses, finished within time and within budget.

Projects benefiting from EU Structural Fund assistance are subject to detailed procedures and checks to ensure compliance with the relevant EU rules. As well as checks by the agencies and my Department, audits are conducted by financial control unit within the Department of Finance, the European Commission and the European Court of Auditors. The combination of domestic and EU oversight of the transport investment programme provides a high level of assurance but no level of sample checking can ensure that no mistakes are ever made.

The annual subvention paid to CIE has been subject to independent reviews over the years. The most recent was in 2006 when a value for money review was carried out as part of the expenditure review process of the Department of Finance. That review concluded that good value has been obtained for the subvention, which has supported a better service than would have been the case in the absence of the subvention. The annual subvention paid to CIE is currently administered through a memorandum of understanding with each of the CIE companies. These memoranda have been in place since 2003 and are negotiated annually with the companies. They set out service quantity and quality requirements and require quarterly reporting against targets. In anticipation of the EU regulation relating to compensation for the discharge of public service obligations, due to come into force before the end of the year, public service contracts to replace the memoranda of understanding are being finalised. These contracts will set higher requirements for transparency and performance obligations.

A cost and efficiency review of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann was undertaken in 2008 on my direction. This report made a number of recommendations to improve bus services to customers, and in the case of Dublin Bus to increase efficiency and save money. The recommendations are being implemented. A value for money study of the €500 million second railway safety programme, published in early 2009, concluded that the programme objectives on projected outputs were broadly met and that the cost of the work delivered was generally economically efficient. Nevertheless, the report into procurement practices in Irish Rail raises serious concerns about the internal arrangements in Irish Rail relating to the purchase of goods and services. I am due to receive a full report from the CIE board on the matter and I will then decide on any further necessary action on my part.

Will the Minister publish it?

To clarify to the House, the Baker Tilly report was handed to a named official in the Houses at 2.30 p.m. on that Friday. I do not know why it took until 6 p.m. for people here to get it.

When did the Minister first receive it?

I got it on the Tuesday or Wednesday of that week.

So the Minister had it for three days.

I am entitled to read it.

The Minister could give us a copy also. That was the whole point.

The Minister would be entitled——

Did the Minister know on Friday? Does the Minister do clinics on Fridays?

——to read it before the Opposition spokespersons——

The Minister did not even tell us he put it in the library. Only that Senator Shane Ross found out——

——as a matter of course.

Striking the right balance between giving State agencies the freedom to get on with the job and putting in place adequate arrangements to ensure that they account for their stewardship of public funds is difficult. We have created a range of public bodies to carry out important tasks on behalf of the State and the taxpayer. The job of the Government and the Oireachtas is to hold them accountable for the delivery of a clearly stated mandate, but not to interfere with the day-to-day execution of that mandate. I believe the Government is getting that balance right. We have given transport agencies such as the NRA and CIE a clear mandate through successive national development plans, Transport 21 and memoranda of understanding. Their corporate governance obligations are set out in the code of practice published by the Department of Finance and they have a range of specific reporting obligations as to compliance. However, if we set up State bodies, we have to give them authority, responsibility, resources and the space to do their jobs effectively. It is also important to distinguish between ministerial and agency accountability.

I have spoken in some detail about the accountability regime applying to the capital and current funding programmes of the NRA and CIE. I now want to examine the wider accountability arrangements set down in their governing legislation and by the code of practice for the governance of State bodies. Under the Roads Act 1993, the NRA is charged with managing the development, improvement and maintenance of national roads. As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in respect of national roads. The implementation of individual national road projects is a matter for the NRA under the Roads Act 1993 in conjunction with the relevant local authorities. The Government sets the investment framework in Transport 21 and provides annual Exchequer block grants to the authority. The NRA decides on the allocation of those funds and I have no role whatsoever in the discharge of that function.

As a non-commercial State body which receives significant State funding — more than €1.4 billion for 2009 — the NRA's accounts are subject to annual audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Over the years, the Comptroller and Auditor General has carried out evaluation and value for money studies on the NRA's roads programme, including the West Link buy-out which I note is the subject of a special report in the Comptroller and Auditor General's 2008 accounts. The NRA regularly appears before the Committee of Public Accounts to account for its stewardship of public funds. It also appears regularly before other Oireachtas committees to answer for the discharge of its statutory functions and it is open to the relevant committee to question it on any matter as frequently and deeply as it requires.

It does not answer the questions.

Under the Roads Act 1993, the NRA is required to prepare and submit annual accounts to me which are then presented to both Houses of the Oireachtas. The authority is also subject to the code of practice for the governance of State bodies which requires it to comply with requirements relating to a broad range of matters, including remuneration, risk management, audit, procurement and capital investment, and to report annually to me on compliance with those requirements. In addition, I meet with senior representatives of the NRA on a regular basis, for example, on four occasions in 2008 and in May of this year. This is in addition to informal meetings with NRA board members and senior officials at the many road openings during the year.

Specifically on Oireachtas oversight, I note that already this year the NRA appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport on 15 July and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on 6 October. In addition, the NRA will appear again before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport on 18 November and before the Committee of Public Accounts on 3 December with my Department. This is hardly evidence of a lack of public accountability.

CIE must prepare and submit to me an annual report and accounts which I in turn submit to the Government and place before the Houses of the Oireachtas. It must prepare and submit half-yearly accounts to me. It must also comply with the requirements of the code of practice for the governance of State bodies on a broad range of matters, including remuneration, risk management, audit, procurement and capital investment, and the chairman must report annually to me on compliance with the requirements of the code.

The CIE chairman and the chief executives of the three operating companies appear regularly before Oireachtas committees, particularly the Joint Committee on Transport. Since January 2008, the chairman and-or chief executives of the CIE companies have appeared before Oireachtas committees on nine occasions. The companies are also subject to the accounting rules and practices and independent auditing standards that apply to any commercial undertaking.

I meet regularly with the chairman and-or chief executives of the CIE companies. I have had 11 formal meetings with the chairman and-or chief executives of the CIE companies since 1 January 2008. I am also accountable to the Oireachtas in respect of my statutory functions whether through parliamentary questions, debates on Estimates and my Department's output statement, policy debates, Private Members' business, Adjournment debates and so on.

I stress that I am accountable for my statutory functions, while the NRA and CIE are accountable for theirs. The Fine Gael motion seems to suggest that the Minister and the Department should be answerable for all and every aspect of the activities of the NRA and CIE. This is neither reasonable nor practicable and if followed to its logical conclusion would result in every detail finishing up on the Minister's desk. Such an approach would delay decision making, result in a damaging lack of clarity about the role of the agency and the Minister, would undermine the role and responsibility of the agency boards and management and would be contrary to best practice in corporate governance.

The NRA and CIE are established under statutes which set out the responsibility of their boards and management for fulfilling their statutory responsibility. The code of practice for the governance of State bodies complements the statutory provisions by setting out a governance framework for the way State bodies do their business. Under that code, the chairperson is placed under a particular obligation to certify, annually, compliance with a range of requirements under the code relating to financial control, audit and procurement. In addition, good practice dictates that I and my Department are alerted to significant actual or potential problems. This is generally what happens. As with the recent Irish Rail procurement issues, it does not always happen but we should not engage in knee-jerk responses to such an incident by insisting that everything has to be reported to the Minister. This would not be feasible, workable or appropriate.

The NRA is subject to the Freedom of Information Act, but CIE is not. Commercial State bodies have not been included under FOI legislation because it would compromise their ability to act commercially and compete effectively in the markets in which they operate. It is often the case, however, that records of public bodies not subject to FOI may come within the scope of a FOI request and be released by virtue of being held by a Department.

I thank the Minister for sharing time with me and for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this important Private Members' motion tabled by Deputy O'Dowd and Fine Gael.

It is a timely motion because it is appropriate to discuss in a responsible fashion how we can improve oversight and transparency not only in regard to the bodies named in the motion but also other State agencies and commercial bodies. I agree in general on the need for these principles when expending public moneys. The motion refers specifically to CIE as a commercial State company and the NRA as an independent statutory body and in a more general way to other State agencies and semi-State companies.

Given that the NRA's accounts are subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the role of the Committee of Public Accounts in overseeing that official's reports, I believe that body is properly scrutinised. The NRA will appear before the committee in early December to discuss an issue identified in the Comptroller and Auditor General's 2008 report. Any member of the committee can ask questions about the NRA's accounts in the presence of the agency's executives and the Accounting Officer of the Department of Finance.

The catalyst for this motion is CIE and the recent revelations contained in the Baker Tilly report. I cannot understand why the company did not inform the Minister in a timely manner about significant issues involving fraud and losses to the Exchequer because of poor financial controls over procurement procedures. These issues should have been identified at the earliest opportunity but I hope the report he is awaiting will address them in detail.

As a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, I believe the structures we have in place for examining the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General are effective. In respect of the appropriation accounts of Departments, the HSE, the VECs and the financial statements of non-commercial State sponsored bodies, the committee provides an excellent forum for interrogating witnesses on expenditure decisions to ensure that correct procedures have been followed and value for money achieved.

As the motion notes, CIE has spent more than €6 billion of taxpayers' money since 1997 and the NRA has spent more than €13 billion since 2000. These are vast sums by any measure but the great majority has been spent wisely. I can only speak from my personal experience as a public representative for Cork. Huge improvements have been made in the areas for which CIE and the NRA are responsible. Our motorway network has dramatically improved and a fast and safe road between Cork and Dublin will be complete by next year. New rolling stock has been provided to Iarnród Éireann and the Cork-Dublin line was the first intercity service to use the new fleet. These developments have transformed the experience for the travelling public in a positive way. There is now an hourly train service between Cork and Dublin and the Cork-Midleton line was reopened earlier this year.

When we speak about the various forms of State bodies, it is important to recognise that the legislation establishing an individual body provides the statutory framework for its operations. As the Minister has pointed out, Oireachtas committees play a particularly important role in this regard. When I was first elected, I put down a number of questions on the status of NRA projects in my constituency and was surprised that I was unable to elicit this information. I acknowledge Deputy O'Dowd's argument that the NRA should not be required to produce the same level of detail as Departments but substantive issues could be addressed by way of parliamentary questions. Given the amount of public money involved, it is important that Members can receive timely and comprehensive information. I do not see how we would threaten the role or functions of the NRA by being able to ask questions. Where it is appropriate, we should reassert the primacy of Dáil Éireann and its elected Members. In certain instances, power can be devolved from this House to a designated body such as the NRA, which has the necessary statutory powers to overcome the significant obstacles lying in the way of a national road strategy.

A code of practice for the governance of State bodies requires compliance with measures such as annual reports, half yearly accounts, certificates of compliance, details of internal audit functions and competitive tendering. It is the function of the boards of these bodies rather than the Oireachtas to monitor the activities of executive management. We recently debated proposals on an Oireachtas committee to oversee the workings of NAMA. While oversight is important, it cannot be allowed to interfere with the operational decisions that have to be made by bodies. The motion makes specific reference to financial, budgeting, procurement and accounting processes, all of which are matters for the boards of the bodies concerned. Reference is also made to improving the accountability of these boards. Perhaps Deputy O'Dowd will clarify how that might be achieved given that the NRA is already fully accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts. The NRA operates transparently in terms of its website, Transport 21, freedom of information requirements and the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

CIE is also subject to a number of important provisions. Its annual reports are laid before the Oireachtas and its constituent companies appear before the relevant committees on a regular basis. The Exchequer's capital and current funding for CIE is dealt with in the Estimates process and the Secretary General of the Department of Transport reports to the Committee of Public Accounts on the disbursement of this funding. Ministerial nominees to the boards of these companies play a particularly important role in reporting on issues of key concern. In the case of CIE, the Secretary General of the Department is accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts. I thank Deputy O'Dowd for tabling the motion and the Minister for an opportunity to contribute.

I wish to share time with Deputy Morgan.

This Fine Gael Party motion is timely as there is an ongoing, serious and dangerous lack of accountability to the Dáil and people we represent in many areas of Government administration. This problem has grown since 1997 when this Government, in a different form, took office.

I have strong concerns about parts of the motion. The organisations to which it refers are semi-State bodies. If they were to be subject to the Committee of Public Accounts and Freedom of Information Act, their commercial mandate could be hobbled and they would be left at a profound disadvantage vis-à-vis private sector companies unless all parties were held responsible to the committee.

The trigger for the motion was clearly the recent Baker Tilly report commissioned by CIE to investigate allegations of irregularities in the procurement of certain goods and services in Irish Rail between 2000 and 2006. I was very unhappy with the procedures and internal controls described in the report and it was a matter of grave concern that past employees and companies which had an association with Irish Rail may have been favoured in the procurement process. At the Joint Committee on Transport meeting on the Baker Tilly report, I described the report as devastating in regard to the internal procurement processes up to 2006 and highlighted the responsibility of the chairperson of Irish Rail, Dr. John Lynch, and its chief executive.

The Baker Tilly report found that there had been a circumvention of procurement policies and procedures; people taking advantage of weak internal controls; a lack of trained staff; an absence of controls in the procurement department; the use of incorrect documentation in procurement transactions; non-compliance with procedures; the use of generic invoices which did not appear to refer to specific jobs; problems with budgeting in the infrastructural maintenance programme; the absence of supporting coding structures for track expenditure activity; problems with cost analysis and WBS codes; a lack of traceability; and a lack of the field key to link to the work taking place on the ground. The Labour Party wants all the issues highlighted in the report to be fully and urgently addressed.

Internal controls at Irish Rail should be greatly strengthened and I understand this process has commenced under the chief executive, Mr. Dick Fearn, and the newly appointed commercial manager. In addition, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, Irish Rail and CIE must commit to formally report to Dáil Éireann and the Joint Committee on Transport with regular updates on the implementation of all the report's recommendations. I supported the request for the Minister to appear before the joint committee on this matter and for the boards of CIE and Irish Rail to come before the joint committee with their respective auditing teams to enable the joint committee to make a report to the Oireachtas about what took place, as revealed to us in the Baker Tilly report.

It must be acknowledged that CIE began the investigation into irregular procurement practices and commissioned the Baker Tilly report. Moreover, in the pre-2002 policies, rail procurement policies were weak because Irish Rail had little to procure. Until 2000, the company had a budget of only €16 million per annum for the maintenance of the entire rail network.

The National Roads Authority is another State agency which has received significant tranches of public money over the past decade. Two issues, on which the Minister has refused to be accountable to the Dáil, remain a cause of concern in the NRA's remit, namely, tolling on the M50 and the administration of the Dublin Port tunnel. The saga of the West Link bridge on the M50 has been one of the greatest scandals of this Government and the two Governments that preceded it. In February 2007, my colleague, Deputy Shortall, estimated that the €600 million deal on the West Link toll bridge would, combined with profits already generated, deliver a return to National Toll Roads of an incredible 2,000% for a project which originally cost the company £38 million to build.

Many motorists were disgusted at hikes in toll charges and the difficulties caused by the new system, particularly for those who do not have access to computers, as well as numerous additional administrative charges imposed when the barrier free system was introduced. Tag and video accounts have a range of extra charges, including account management charges, a deposit, minimum top-up requirements and charges for hard copy statements. This week, it was reported that the National Roads Authority has collected €12 million in fines from motorists who failed to pay their toll charges on time.

While I accept the NRA's bona fides on the need to iron out teething problems associated with barrier free tolling, it is unacceptable that the Minister, as far as I am aware, has consistently refused to answer any Labour Party questions in the Dáil on problems with barrier free tolling and the principle of tolling, despite 100,000 motorists being gravely affected by these problems every day. Given the significant public health and safety issues which arose with the Dublin Port tunnel, it is also troubling that the Minister did not instigate a full review of all safety and systems procedures at the tunnel, as I requested at the time. The matter has not yet been addressed in the House.

The fundamental problem is the absence of accountability of Cabinet Ministers to Dáil Éireann for a range of semi-State agencies, companies and regulatory bodies within their remit. The Office of Ceann Comhairle, certainly under the previous Ceann Comhairle, has been complicit in this matter by protecting Ministers from reasonable questions on public policy. This problem has become more acute since 1997.

I am obliged to inform the Deputy that it is not in order to make any adverse comment on the Chair, including on former holders of that office.

Parliamentary questions to the Minister for Health and Children have always been batted away. Many Opposition Deputies — I pay tribute to Deputy Durkan in this regard — have been upset by the practice of precluding Members from asking questions about policy, not to speak of the detailed issues of administration to which the Minister alluded.

The Minister for Transport is another serious Cabinet offender in ducking ministerial responsibilities. Last Thursday, when taking questions in the Chamber, he again excelled himself by dodging a range of crucial questions I tried to ask him on behalf of my Labour Party colleagues. They included questions on safety issues related to the €120 million motorway service station programme, including the decision to build only three such service stations, and on passenger safety and security on public transport. Having refused to answer a question about the College Green bus gate, the Minister then had the cheek, at about ten o'clock last Thursday night, to start discussing the issue on the floor of the House and lecturing Labour Party councillors in Dublin.

The Minister has also refused to discuss waiting lists for the national car test, proposals for the development of the aircraft maintenance industry, specifically a successor business to SR Technics, and dwindling aviation passenger volumes. This morning, I had to ask the Taoiseach to request that the Minister come before the House to discuss the devastating cutbacks proposed at Aer Lingus. The Minister will not discuss the travel departure tax, an issue he passed on to the Minister for Finance, or the roll-out of infrastructure for the national electric car programme, which he has passed to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who does not answer many questions in the House either.

Deputy Broughan has been a Member for long enough to know how to address questions.

If the Labour Party ever returns to Government, I will answer questions put to me by the Minister in his role as an Opposition Deputy.

The Deputy must address his questions properly if he wants me to answer them.

The Minister will not answer questions on agencies under his remit on the ground that he is not responsible for them. Let us contrast his position with that obtaining in the House of Commons. I have a copy of Hansard, the record of proceedings of the House of Commons, which includes questions on issues such as additional road links to Exeter Airport. I asked a question on a similar issue of the Minister.

I have nothing to do with roads in Exeter.

Hansard also includes a question on public safety on English transport networks which the minister, Mr. Sadiq Khan MP, answered. While the British Minister may not know the details, he takes responsibility for policy. The Minister will not do this and his disgraceful lack of parliamentary accountability contrasts with the accountability shown by many of his colleagues across the European Union.

The Minister has ruled out questions I have tabled on issues ranging from the National Roads Authority, the Road Safety Authority, Irish Rail——

On a point of order, I do not rule out any questions.

The Minister's officials return them to the Office of the Ceann Comhairle. We all know how it works.

The matters are adjudicated on by the Office of the Ceann Comhairle. The advice is given by the line Department.

It is disgraceful.

The motion highlights the role of the Committee of Public Accounts, of which I am proud to have been a member for the past seven years. The current committee chaired by Deputy Bernard Allen has investigated a wide range of inappropriate and unacceptable uses of public moneys, including in FÁS and the Health Service Executive. While the Committee of Public Accounts, a constitutional committee of 12 Deputies, including Deputy Shortall and me from the Labour Party, carries out this vital scrutiny role, it may not be the most appropriate forum for monitoring day-to-day activities at commercial companies such as Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Irish Rail. It may be very difficult to try to invigilate the daily behaviour of a commercial company.

The Deputy has used ten minutes but I understand Deputy Morgan is giving some flexibility.

I thank Deputy Morgan. I also have strong concerns about whether such a commercial semi-State company would be subject to freedom of information requests and the ombudsman while its competitions——

The Fine Gael Deputy obviously wants to have many bus companies racing up and down the road, competing with Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus.

No, I want Deputy Broughan to go on a private bus and be happy.

How can one commercial company be answerable to freedom of information requests or the Committee of Public Accounts while its competition on the same route is not? It does not make sense and it is a ludicrous suggestion. Why should public commercial companies be put at such a disadvantage and have every decision monitored if the ulterior motive is not to destroy any efficient public enterprise? I agree with the Minister in this regard and have grave concerns about Fine Gael policy in regard to public transport.

I spent much of my time outside this House and before I was elected supporting communities and real businesses.

How long are you here?

I have directed companies. I am not sure what experience the Deputy has. He does a lot of talk about it.

I am sure they were very profitable.

Through the Chair, Deputy.

The Deputy has talked a lot about it but unfortunately he has shown himself to be an enemy of public enterprise. During the current financial crisis——

The Deputy should go back to East Germany.

That is quite a disorderly comment.

Perhaps the Deputy should go back to Germany in the 1930s.

We have also seen some appalling practices in private companies which have had a much wider impact on their employees. For example, this morning Deputy Burton referred to companies such as Tesco and how they make pricing decisions. Many famous companies such as Ryanair got good starts because they received certain public contracts. It is not as simple as public or private companies. Dáil accountability must be greatly enhanced and reform of the current committee system is a key element. A number of Oireachtas committees undertake critical and essential work, include those on Finance and the Public Service, Transport and the Committee of Public Accounts, of which I am a member.

It does not make sense to have a system of departmental committees unless we give them much stronger powers. Departmental committees should at least have the same kind of powers as those of the Committee of Public Accounts, which is also looking for stronger powers. The first Dáil of which I was a Member in the early 1990s had a committee on State-sponsored bodies which was chaired by the great former Deputy, Liam Kavanagh, and which was a very powerful body. I recall it was the first committee at which we began to find out the wonderful salaries the leading presenters in RTE were paid. It did some very good work. On balance, the establishment of a committee on State-sponsored bodies with strong investigative powers might be a good idea.

My Fine Gael colleagues highlighted the large subsidies CIE has received in the past 12 years. Money allocated from the public purse must always be used in the most efficient way possible and be subject to the highest levels of accountability and transparency. The Deloitte review showed us that Dublin Bus has a PSO of only 12%, which is one of the lowest public subsidies in Europe and is something I never hear my Fine Gael colleagues discussing. Bus Éireann has a 12% subsidy.

I call Deputy Morgan.

Dublin Bus has one of the lowest urban subsidies in Europe.

The Deputy knows that with competition there will still be a situation whereby companies will be subsidised for a PSO, an issue to which the Minister might return. I thank Fine Gael for raising this important matter but the appropriate invigilation must be found to ensure that semi-State companies are allowed to be fully competitive and commercially flexible.

I thank the Labour Party and Deputy Broughan for sharing some of his time with me. The old adage about the inch and the yard will not be forgotten by me again.

The need to ensure that accountability and transparency mechanisms are put in place to avoid the wastage of public money is absolutely critical. When we are unable to get clarification from Government Ministers or under the Freedom of Information Act as to how moneys are being spent in CIE or the NRA, we are leaving the national transport network open to exploitation, abuse and criticism and it cannot be allowed to continue. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, indicated during the debate in the House on NAMA that he would consider trying to introduce a mechanism to allow him to be subject to parliamentary questions on NAMA. It is currently a promise and has not yet happened, but, if such a system is introduced, it would leave some possibility of Government Departments returning to some level of real accountability in this House for their various portfolios.

I support this motion, which proposes that a proper system of parliamentary oversight be introduced for CIE, the NRA and other agencies and semi-State companies which are in receipt of billions of euro of taxpayers' money. It is important that we do not replicate the mistakes of State agencies such as FÁS across all State companies and bodies. It is necessary to ensure at all times that such bodies are serving the interests of the public in a cost-effective way with no wastage. CIE should be brought within the remit of the Office of the Ombudsman and that of the Comptroller and Auditor General and there should be no abdication of responsibility from the Government in disclosing important information to the public. Taxpayers' money is funding these bodies, money which, in these times, is earned in sweat if not in blood in many cases. Taxpayers are entitled to know how such money is being spent and that it is being used wisely.

I am worried, a concern I share with Deputy Broughan, that this motion could be a wolf in sheep's clothing and that Fine Gael, a party which is a known proponent of the privatisation of public services, is using this opportunity to advance its own ideologies. Deputy O'Dowd would never do that, but the party might.

No, definitely not.

The lack of transparency and accountability should not be used to promote the privatisation of public transport, nor should transport contracts be opened up to competition. Efficiency cannot be gained by snatching services from the people. Experiences such as Aer Lingus and Eircom have shown that profit overrides the public need and given the current economic circumstance we are in, we cannot allow this to happen.

There is no reason that a competent, cost-effective transport system cannot be provided by the public sector. While there is substantial scope for reform of oversight and transparency procedures to ensure that taxpayers' money is not being wasted frivolously, there is no rationale for the Fine Gael position regarding privatisation of services. Looking for a quick buck to fill a hole in the public finances this way will seriously undermine public services in the future as contractors seek their own economic efficiencies, even to the point of leaving people standing at a bus stop.

While a recent newspaper expose revealed a litany of abuses, including offences such as collusion, kick-backs and incompetence in CIE, the rotten core does not lie in the fact that this is a public asset. Waving the magic wand of competition is hardly the only viable solution. The culture of speculation, cronyism, scratching one's friend's back, poor governance and the lack of governmental and public oversight has brought us to this impasse.

Regarding the Minister's reply to the question on the Freedom of Information Act, I accept his proposition that it would be a dangerous tool if it were opened completely to a semi-State body which is a commercial entity, as it would be to a non-commercial entity. Similar to the Minister for Finance's example in regard to NAMA, which raises commercially sensitive issues to which he has promised to find a way around, devices could be employed which would allow important answers regarding the accountability and transparency of CIE to come under the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. There is no reason that the Minister and his Department cannot devise such a system. In fact, if he or his Department wish to have the advice of this side of the House, I am sure we will be more than willing to assist him in that endeavour.

Debate adjourned.