I appreciate the response given to some of my colleagues by the Minister for Transport in the House yesterday, indicating that he would be flexible or allow discretion to local authorities in the use of their local and regional roads allocation. Notwithstanding this, I put the case again that the Minister should seriously consider an emergency allocation for roads which were badly damaged during the snow and ice conditions of December 2010. It is neither practical nor acceptable that local authorities should have to work from their general allocation to deal with what are exceptional circumstances.
My county of Wexford was badly affected by two separate and lengthy spells of severe weather conditions. The first snow fell in Wexford on 27 November and many roads were impassable for three weeks following that. The three weeks of compacted snow and ice had detrimental effects on road surfaces and structures. These conditions were compounded by a second severe spell of weather from 21 to 28 December. As a result, the roads in many parts of the county and throughout Wexford are now a disaster zone. I assure the Minister of State that I am not exaggerating the case.
Road safety is a significant issue as a result of the weather-inflicted damage to the roads. It is not simply a question of reducing speed to avoid the danger. At issue are substantial distances where the compete road surface has disintegrated to the point where potholes extend to several metres. As a result, drivers are trying to find a stretch of safe road on which they can drive, in some cases leaving the correct side of the road. This is not acceptable. In many cases drivers must drive at less than 20 km/h. These situations must not be allowed to continue. Parents and workers are forced to put in a great many extra miles onto their normal journey to avoid potholed roads and roads in bad condition.
Our local and regional road network serves an important economic role and provides valuable social and community functions. Some 94% of all our roads are regional or local roads, carrying 60% of all traffic and 43% of heavy goods vehicles. Rural businesses have suffered because of the bad road conditions. There is a need for emergency funding to Wexford County Council and, no doubt, many other local authorities throughout the country. Yesterday in this House, the Minister stated that he was not passing the buck and warned it was time for people to take responsibility. He further stated "It is the responsibility of the local authorities to look after their local roads." It is up to local authorities to look after local roads but they cannot look after local roads if they do not have adequate funding. Like many other local authorities throughout the country, Wexford County Council is starved of funding for the road network. I urge and plead with the Minister of State to give extra, emergency funding to Wexford County Council in the same way as the rainbow Government did in 1994 to repair the potholed roads throughout County Wexford. These are not isolated incidents, this is the case throughout the county. Wexford is a county and constituency with one of the largest rural road networks. It is not good enough for road users to have to pay motor tax while the roads are not kept to an acceptable standard, causing punctured wheels and damage to cars. Over the past two months in County Wexford, there have been accidents involving motorists who were forced to drive on the other side of the road to avoid potholes and then collided with oncoming traffic. As this is a road safety issue, questions arise for the Road Safety Authority to answer. To have safe roads, they must be in an acceptable condition.
The state of the roads in County Wexford is a scandal. I have reported the condition of many roads to the local authority's road engineers and the county manager but the word I get back is that the local authority is starved of funding and cannot afford to carry out remedial works. I hope the Minister's response will outline how these roads will be repaired. People in Wexford do not expect the roads to be repaired overnight; they accept repairs will have to be carried out over a certain time. However, it would be unacceptable to leave roads in County Wexford, and many other counties, in the conditions they are after the recent severe weather any longer.