Other Questions

Road Safety

Derek Keating


6 Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he is satisfied that the drivers' forum which informs the National Road Safety Authority regarding the standards required for driving instructors is adequate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33241/11]

Derek Keating


28 Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the functions of the drivers' forum which informs the National Road Safety Authority in respect of driving instructors and driving tests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33240/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 28 together.

The question relates to the drivers' forum that informs the Road Safety Authority regarding driving instructors and driving tests. Responsibility for regulation and oversight of driving instruction rests with the Road Safety Authority, RSA. In accordance with the Road Traffic (Driving Instructors Licensing) (No. 2) Regulations 2009, driving instructors are required to be approved by the authority before they can offer services to the public. In addition, the authority as part of its regulatory function maintains a register of approved driving instructors, ADIs.

I understand that for the purposes of interaction and consultation with approved driving instructors, the authority established a stakeholders' forum. It is important to note the RSA does not have an employer-employee relationship with ADIs, who generally are self-employed or employed by another entity.

While the specific functions of the forum are a matter for the authority, I understand the terms of reference of the forum include to act as a two-way channel of communication between the industry and the authority, to make or bring suggestions to the forum for improvements to the ADI scheme or the industry, to assess and evaluate the impact of proposed changes to or new developments under the ADI scheme or in the industry and to report any proposed changes or developments to stakeholders, as well as the authority through the forum.

The forum comprises 11 ADI and two RSA representatives. The ADI members of the forum are elected on a regional basis by approved instructors around the country. The next election of members is due to be held in October 2012.

Tourism Promotion

Willie O'Dea


7 Deputy Willie O’Dea asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the tourism initiatives other than the Gathering that emerged from the recent Global Irish Economic Forum; and if he will provide further details on some of the initiatives he intends to pursue over the next few years as a result of the forum. [33475/11]

The question relates to the Global Irish Economic Forum and other initiatives, including the Gathering. Participants in the 2011 Global Irish Economic Forum discussed the Government's priorities for economic renewal, job creation and the restoration of our reputation abroad, and explored how people at home and abroad could work together to contribute to economic recovery. It was in this context that I presented proposals for the Gathering in 2013, potentially the biggest tourism initiative ever staged in Ireland.

The role tourism can play in Ireland's economic recovery was a major focus at the forum and several participants came from the travel, tourism and hospitality sector. A dedicated working group session considered the topic of "Improving our tourism product and promotion abroad — what is Ireland doing right and what further practical steps can we take to build growth in this sector?". The Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and I, with senior officials from the Department and the tourism agencies, attended these sessions and took the opportunity to meet a range of Global Irish Network members who made a number of contributions on the topic.

The formal report of the forum which includes the overall outcomes is being finalised by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and will be published shortly. It will detail the various initiatives to be pursued, including those from a tourism perspective. However, some ideas were brought forward in the working session, which have considerable merit, including the following: an actor's-film forum, which would be a "Davos-style" forum for actors or the film industry or both, was mooted and could start with the Gathering in 2013 but with the potential to become a regular event; further visa reform, whereby a number of aspects of the current visa regime were discussed in order to make Irish immigration and visa arrangements more attractive for potential visitors; and using Irish films to promote tourism — the issue of finding ways to use films as a marketing tool for tourism was highlighted, particularly in developing markets, in building on recent successes in film-making in Ireland, for example, by making titles available with subtitles in Chinese and Indian languages. My Department, as well as the tourism agencies, is working to advance these proposals.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. The Gathering has the potential to be a very significant attractor for tourism and other inward investment in the coming years. However, there is a requirement for an action plan. As with many initiatives, there are good ideas, but unless they are progressed in a very comprehensive way, based on an action plan and with somebody taking charge, they tend to wither on the vine. What new moneys have been allocated to this initiative? Has a working group been established that will report to the Minister on progress made? Will the Minister confirm that no existing programmes funded by his Department such as for small festivals and other initiatives, whether in the arts or otherwise, will lose funding as a result of the investment made in the Gathering?

With regard to the Gathering, a chairman, Mr. Tim O'Connor, has been appointed and is in place. The next step is to appoint a board to oversee implementation, which will happen soon. There will be a voluntary council of champions and individual well known celebrities who are being approached and asked whether they will promote the project. There will also be an executive team, the members of which will come from the existing tourism bodies, including Fáilte Ireland and, I hope, Tourism Ireland. We are also hoping to receive support from other public bodies and organisations. There is also the option of using interns for the project.

It is estimated that the project will cost perhaps €13 million or €14 million over two years, but there is no separate, dedicated funding stream for it at this stage. There have been some offers of support from private companies, which could prove helpful, but I cannot give the Deputy a guarantee that it will not involve cutting back on other programmes. There will be cutbacks in the tourism budget next year. Obviously, some of the resources for the Gathering will have to be found from this. However, the Gathering is being designed in a particular way to complement what we are already doing. It is not supposed to comprise a series of new events or festivals which might flop but is instead an attempt to build on existing festivals and events and to do new things in different towns. Rather than closing a festival to provide for the Gathering, we wish to piggy-back on existing festivals.

I am disappointed that such a relatively small amount, €13 million or €14 million, to establish the Gathering cannot be found through the provision of an additional measure. The Department has a limited amount of funding and is strapped in the support it gives to festivals and artistic endeavours within communities. The establishment and continuation of these events, as I know from the events in which I have been involved, are dependent on funding available in the current round. Anything that would inhibit these events from continuing to receive funding would have a detrimental impact on economic activity within the tourism sector. While the Gathering might ultimately do good work, I hope it will not be at the expense of existing initiatives. I appeal, therefore, to the Minister to try to find funding through whatever cost savings can be made at administration level, rather than taking money from small village groups.

I appreciate the Deputy's comments. As I said, a dedicated funding stream has not yet been identified. We certainly have not agreed the budget for next year at this stage, as we are only beginning those discussions, having finished discussions on the capital budget side. Like all spending issues, I am sure there will be a reduction in the funding available for festivals next year, although it will not be huge. In fact, because of the Gathering, it may turn out that there will be an increase because festivals with a Gathering element will be supported, or at least it is intended that they will be supported. I accept the Deputy's remarks and agree with him in principle.

Pension Provisions

Timmy Dooley


8 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of the pension fund at Aer Rianta and Dublin Airport Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33455/11]

The Irish airlines (general employees) superannuation scheme, IASS, is a multi-employer scheme involving the employees of Aer Lingus, the Dublin Airport Authority and the now non-operational SR Technics. Following the enactment of the State Airports Bill 2004, all former employees and pensioners of Aer Rianta became employees and pensioners of the DAA and are, accordingly, covered by this same superannuation scheme. DAA pensioners and employees constitute a minority of the members of the IASS. DAA membership constitutes around 27% of the total, with Aer Lingus and SRT representing 69% and 4%, respectively. The scheme is closed to new entrants.

Pension entitlements and pensions in payment under the scheme are primarily matters for the trustees, the members and the companies participating in the scheme. I understand, however, that the trustees for the IASS have advised the participating employers and membership that the preliminary results of the March 2011 actuarial valuation of the scheme indicate a significant deficit as measured using the statutory minimum funding requirement. A final actuarial report is expected by the end of the year. I understand it is expected that the trustees of the scheme will make proposals at that stage on how to address the deficit. I have been informed by the DAA that it continues to work with the other stakeholders to identify solutions and that it remains hopeful of a negotiated resolution of the current pension challenges.

I understand there is a deficit of somewhere in the region of €500 million. Obviously, this exerts significant strain on the capacity of the fund to remain solvent into the future. As the Minister said, there is no capacity for future new members, which is one issue. Aer Lingus has been privatised and there is a belief that it has no liability to plug a potential gap. However, I noticed during the week that one of its significant shareholders indicated that Aer Lingus would perhaps make a payment in this regard. Taking this in the context of the Minister's stated intention to progress the issue of the ownership and management of the three State airports, does he believe the State has a liability in this regard? Does he believe it will ultimately, through whatever structure is in place, have to find a way to plug what appears to be a substantial hole?

Both Aer Lingus and the DAA maintain that they have no liability in this regard. We have to wait for the trustees of the pension fund to bring forward their proposals and I have asked for this to be done by the end of the year. That should be done in the normal way. The trustees will put forward options for how the deficit issue can be resolved. I want it to be resolved. DAA staff are employees of a semi-State company, while Aer Lingus staff are employees of a private company. Notwithstanding this, those who have contributed to a pension fund throughout their working lives should have a decent pension.

It is not the case that either the Exchequer or the DAA, a State company, is in a position to bail out a pension fund in significant deficit. This is an issue for An Post and other pension funds, and the ESB may provide the template. It dealt with its pension deficit largely via an agreement under which employees increased their contributions, the terms of the pensions they expected to receive were changed and the company made a contribution. A solution such as this may offer a good model for the companies in question to pursue.

National Sports Campus

John Browne


9 Deputy John Browne asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the current status of the developments at the sports campus in Abbotstown, Dublin; and the further developments he intends to undertake there. [33447/11]

This questions relates to the national sports campus. At its meeting on 21 June the Government approved my proposals for the development of the national sports campus at Abbotstown-Blanchardstown on an incremental basis. In particular, I have asked the National Sports Campus Development Authority, NSCDA, to proceed with the development of a national indoor training arena, to include an indoor track. I am acutely aware of the difficulty in securing capital funding from the Exchequer because of the financial difficulties facing the Government. I have, therefore, asked the campus authority to explore other avenues of funding such as philanthropy or the sale of land or both.

I have also asked the authority to continue to pursue the policy of developing elements of the development control plan in partnership with the GAA, the FAI, the IRFU and Irish Hockey Association. As provided for in section 7(8) of the National Sports Campus Development Authority Act 2006, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is arranging for the transfer of the land to the NSCDA.

Abbotstown House is a protected structure in the Fingal county development plan. I believe the house would benefit from having an anchor tenant and that the Irish Sports Council would be an ideal tenant in this regard. I have asked the campus authority to consider this suggestion and come back to me with proposals for the future use of the house.

In parallel with the core national sports campus project, the campus authority is also continuing its strategy of redeveloping and refurbishing existing buildings on the Abbotstown site for use by the wider sporting community, in particular the national governing bodies of sport. The OPW has approved tender documentation for the refurbishment of the former Marine Institute building as the sports headquarters and it is expected that a contract will be awarded before year end. Work on this project is scheduled to take approximately six months to complete.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. While the national sports campus would be an effective flagship project for the development of sports facilities, it must be recognised that sports bodies and sporting endeavours in various communities need the continued support of the Government. Is there any hope the sports capital programme will be reinstated in the coming year?

The sports capital programme announcement will be made tomorrow. This budget line is the responsibility of the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and I am sure there will be information on it tomorrow.

The amount of Exchequer funding for the national sports campus is small. Given the state the country is in, we cannot put millions of euro into the project. We are, therefore, pursuing philanthropy and the sale of lands. In some cases, we are receiving co-operation from national governing bodies, some of which have their own resources. For example, many of the smaller sports organisations rent offices in Park West and will move to the new accommodation in Abbotstown to save money. We are also in discussions with Dublin GAA, the FAI and the IRFU on how we could, in partnership, develop training grounds on the campus. It is my intention to proceed with the project. There will not be stadiums and so on, while the commitment on the part of the taxpayer will be small.

Road Network

Jonathan O'Brien


10 Deputy Jonathan O’Brien asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to renegotiate deals in place following public private partnership initiatives which means that the State must pay a penalty for reduced traffic on some roads. [33431/11]

The question relates to the renegotiation of public private partnership, PPP, contracts. I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in regard to the national roads programme. The implementation of individual national road schemes, including PPPs, is a matter for the National Roads Authority In particular, the statutory power to levy tolls on national roads, make toll by-laws and enter into toll agreements with private investors in respect of national roads is vested in the NRA under Part V of the Roads Act 1993, as amended by the Planning and Development Act 2000 and the Roads Act 2007. Contracts for privately operated toll schemes are commercial agreements between the NRA and the PPP concessionaires concerned. Two PPP contracts, the M3 Clonee-Kells and Limerick tunnel PPPs, incorporate a traffic guarantee mechanism.

With regard to the remaining PPP schemes, all traffic risks remain with the operator, while the State stands to benefit from the revenue share arrangement where average daily traffic volumes exceed scheme specific predefined thresholds. At current traffic levels, a revenue share only arises on two of these schemes, the M1 Dundalk-Drogheda bypass PPP and the M4 Kilcock-Enfield-Kinnegad PPP.

With regard to the traffic guarantee mechanism, such difficulties will not arise because it is envisaged that future PPP projects will be funded by way of unitary-availability payments rather than through tolling. Under this arrangement, it is envisaged that availability payments would be made on a regular basis by the NRA for the duration of the contract, with penalties applying in the event that the road or particular road lanes were not available.

PPPs have been a disaster in this regard, as the NRA put in place a mechanism, whereby if traffic levels dropped, the State would have to compensate companies. This does not make sense. The companies involved have been well paid, with many receiving significant sums from the State to undertake the projects. The Minister referred to the Limerick tunnel PPP. The NRA paid €1.8 million over a four-month period last year to the private operators of the N18, the Limerick tunnel and the M3 motorway. I am glad the Minister said private companies should not be compensated because of reducing traffic volumes. That should not have happened in the first place and I hope he is discussing how this issue can be addressed with the NRA. Is there any way of avoiding the payment of these penalties?

These arrangements will not be made again under my watch and it would have been better if they had not been made. I will not gratuitously condemn the previous Government for agreeing to them because, at the time, nobody could have predicted the economy would crash by more than 20%. Perhaps their projections at the time were reasonable.

One must have two parties to renegotiate a contract. Many of the toll companies which do not have traffic guarantee clauses are losing money. For example, the toll company and PPP contractor for the Waterford bypass project have lost money and this will make it more difficult to agree new PPPs. One would have to offer something to renegotiate the current contracts. People will only agree to a change in a contract if they get something in return. The only thing these companies would want is a toll increase above the rate of inflation instead of a traffic guarantee mechanism. The Deputy would not support that either, which is why I am not pursuing a renegotiation of the contracts.

The Minister has stated it is more difficult to secure agreement on PPPs owing to the uncertainty about traffic flows. Has there been movement on the proposed Newlands Cross-N11 works, which may be subject to a PPP? Will he give an update on this proposal?

Deputy O'Brien was well intentioned in tabling the question, but the Minister has outlined the difficulties involved and recognises that the previous Government had to make agreements to get projects up and running, which was the right thing to do. What else can the Minister do to advance projects such as that mentioned by Deputy Timmins and one close to my own heart, the N18 Gort-Tuam upgrade which would have a significant impact not only on County Clare but also on County Galway? I do not have the answer, but is the Government considering other financial mechanisms for PPP projects? Are we just looking at the standard way this was done in the past or has any other initiative been considered?

At this stage there is major uncertainty with PPPs which does not relate to traffic levels. As neither road would be tolled, traffic levels are not relevant. The major issue with PPPs is that banks are not willing to lend money to Ireland on a 30-year basis at an interest rate we can afford. That could get even harder because next year, European banks must hoard capital to raise their tier 1 capital ratios and if there are defaults in Greece or elsewhere, banks will be badly hit. Money to invest in these projects is thin on the ground and investors do not want to invest in the eurozone and where they do, they do not want to invest in Ireland because it is included in an IMF programme and there are Members in this House suggesting we should default on our debts. There is no way anyone would lend money to a country for 30 years when people are talking about that sort of thing. We must hope the country will return to the markets in the next few years and if we are in that position, money might become available. That is why the Newlands Cross-M11 project, the cheapest of the all the PPPs, is being continued and why we continue to engage with the banks and others who might fund it. We will be ready to start if we can secure funding and agree the appropriate guarantees. This project is still being pursued, but I cannot make any promises and it would be wrong for me to do so, given that I do not control the banks we want to lend us money.

Driving Licences

Seamus Kirk


11 Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if a new proposed credit card style driving licence will be mandatory when introduced next year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33461/11]

Under EU Directive 126/2006, all member states are required to introduce a standard format plastic card driving licence by January 2013. Under the terms of the directive, the licence must feature the name and date of birth of the individual, the dates of issue and expiry of the licence, the licence number, and a photo and signature of the holder. The licence must also specify the category or categories of vehicle covered and any restrictions applying such as, for example, the need to wear glasses while driving. There is an option to include the holder's address, which we have chosen not to do, as it would represent a potential security risk and mean reissuing a licence each time a person changed address.

The Road Safety Authority has been tasked with delivering the project to introduce the plastic card licence. I have asked it to expedite this process to ensure the new Irish licence will be introduced in time to meet the requirements of the EU directive. The authority is progressing the project and my Department is maintaining close contact with it to ensure the project will be completed on time.

Once this form of licence is introduced, old-style paper licences will no longer be issued. However, existing paper licences will remain valid until their expiry date. They will be replaced by the new plastic licence as and when they come up for renewal.

I fail to understand why it is not possible to switch those licences that are still valid and replace them with the plastic card when the time arrives. The cost would not be significant and if we want to standardise the licence, making it easier for law enforcement officers on inspection to recognise if someone is disqualified, we should ensure everyone will be issued with the new licence from the date it goes live instead of having a rolling programme under which the old licence will be eliminated over a period of ten years. Those who have had a licence replaced this year will hold it for ten years; therefore, there should be a swapping of licences to standardise them.

We could do that, although we would need to pass legislation to invalidate the old paper licences from a certain date, but I do not rule it out. The first thing we should do, however, is get the new system up and running and then we can consider making the old licences invalid. The new licence will be so convenient — it will be a standard form of identity recognised across Europe — that many with paper licences will want the card and go ahead and order it. I would be one of those people. Whether we want to compel people to do it by invalidating their licences before the expiry date requires some thought, but the Deputy may wish to table an amendment to the Bill to achieve this if he thinks it is such a good idea.

I welcome the introduction of the card, but I was not aware that the licence must mention the need to wear glasses. I do not remember seeing this before. It seems strange that we would include such a detail. For various reasons, a person could be driving without his or her glasses and I do not understand how this provision could be included in the legislation.

It is included in the existing paper licence. If it is not included in the Deputy's, it should be; it is in mine. It states I must wear corrective lenses. I have since had laser surgery and no longer need them, although I have yet to have my licence amended.

Is there a penalty for not wearing glasses?

I do not know, but I will find out.

I hope there is not.

I hope there is because someone who requires glasses to drive should wear them.

Road Network

Dessie Ellis


12 Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to remove tolls on all roads which are no longer required to be tolled either for recoup of expenditure or under contract with private partners. [33432/11]

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in relation to the national roads programme. The implementation of individual national road schemes, including toll roads, is a matter for the National Roads Authority. In particular, the statutory power to levy tolls on national roads, make toll by-laws and enter into toll agreements with private investors in respect of national roads is vested in the NRA under Part V of the Roads Act 1993, as amended by the Planning and Development Act 2000 and the Roads Act 2007.

The matter to which the Deputy refers does not arise as the privately operated toll schemes are subject to commercial agreements between the NRA and the public private partnership concessionaires concerned. In addition, public tolls are levied on the M50 and the Dublin Port tunnel, with all revenues raised being reinvested in the national road network. The toll revenues generated on the M50 are being used to cover the costs of the M50 phase 2 upgrade and the buy-out of the West Link Toll Bridge. In the case of the Dublin Port tunnel, the primary purpose of the toll is as a traffic and demand management mechanism.

It has been reported that there will be increases in tolls in the new year. The Minister mentioned previously the tolling of different parts of the M50. Is that idea dead and buried? It would cause huge problems for people throughout the city, while adding huge volumes of traffic to secondary roads. Are there plans to toll the Jack Lynch tunnel? We should also lower the tolls for use of the Dublin Port tunnel to entice more people to use it. It is too expensive and does not make sense for it to be a white elephant. We must do something about this.

The proposals for additional tolls on the M50, for using the Jack Lynch tunnel and in other places were originally made in the local government efficiency review report last year. No decisions have been made on the matter which is still open to consideration by the Government. As I have said several times, if it was to happen, it would not happen for a number of years and would require EU approval. There would be upsides and downsides to doing this.

The existing tolls on the M50 are needed to pay back the money spent to pay for the bridge. The primary purpose of the Dublin Port tunnel toll is as a control measure. It has been reduced; it is now €3 off-peak and could be further reduced, but the tunnel is for use by HGV traffic from the port. While we would be open to considering a reduction in the toll in order that more people would use the tunnel, anyone who uses it ends up very quickly at the roundabout just before the River Liffey and the last thing we want is for the tunnel to be heavily used in order that traffic backs up into it, which would be unsafe.

With the downturn, the number of heavy goods vehicles using the Dublin Port tunnel has lessened significantly. I accept the Minister's statement to the effect that we do not want huge volumes of traffic. However, we do want a reasonable amount of traffic to use it in order that it will be diverted from the main areas.

I am not sure what the Deputy says is entirely true because port traffic has increased as a result of the rise in exports. I will take the matter under advisement. It is an option and I will certainly give it some consideration.

Swimming Pool Projects

Denis Naughten


13 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will approve the development of a swimming pool in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33238/11]

Under the local authority swimming pool programme, which is administered by my Department, grant aid to a maximum of €3.8 million is provided to local authorities towards the capital costs of new swimming pools or the refurbishment of existing pools. This is subject in both cases to the total grant not exceeding 80% of the eligible cost of the project or, in the case of projects located in disadvantaged areas, 90% of the eligible cost. Proposals must comply with the standards set out in the Department's "Procedures for the Planning, Approval and Financing of Swimming Pools and Technical Guidelines". Under these guidelines, there are four principal stages in a swimming pool project following the submission of a feasibility study. In order of progress, these are preliminary report, contract documents, tender and construction. The Department and its technical advisers in the Office of Public Works evaluate each stage. Local authorities cannot proceed to the next stage of a project unless prior approval issues from my Department.

When the current round of the local authority swimming pool programme closed to new applicants in July 2000, an application was received from Roscommon County Council on behalf of Ballaghaderreen. This project is already included in the current round of the programme but it is obviously a matter for the local authority to progress the project. A preliminary report in respect of this swimming pool is currently awaited in the Department.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. He will be aware that a considerable level of local fund-raising has taken place in Ballaghaderreen over a long period. If everything is in order when the preliminary report is submitted, will the Minister of State indicate whether there are funds available to meet the commitment in respect of the €3.8 million required? Does Ballaghaderreen fall into the disadvantaged area category? How is disadvantage defined in this regard? The community that would be serviced by the swimming pool is located in a very rural and disadvantaged area.

The funding is in place. We have already approved three pools this year. The Department is awaiting the relevant information from the local authority. If everything is in order with that information, then the project will be approved. As the Deputy is aware, the last round was in 2000 and there has been no activity since then. Ballaghaderreen is one of 12 swimming pool projects currently being dealt with. It is a matter for the local authority to produce the preliminary report. I am aware that a great deal of local fund-raising has taken place in respect of Ballaghaderreen and I understand that a substantial sum of money is now in place. As already stated, the Department's funding is in place. I am not sure whether Ballaghaderreen is located in a CLÁR area. If it is, the level of grant aid will be 90% rather than 80%.

Will the Minister of State provide a commitment to the effect that he will deal expeditiously with the local authority's application when it is received in the Department and that he will ensure there will be no further delays in respect of this project? As he is aware, there has been an ongoing saga in respect of Ballaghaderreen swimming pool. No one wants to see a repeat of the tragic events involving pupils from St. Nathy's College who lost their lives in Sligo a number of years ago. It is important to put facilities such as swimming pools in place for local communities.

As Deputy Naughten is aware, many local authorities are finding it difficult to come up with matching funds. I will give the Deputy a commitment to the effect that as soon as Roscommon County Council submits its report, it will be dealt with. I will deal with Ballaghaderreen in the same way I dealt with Castlerea and Roscommon town. If the matter is put before me, it will be dealt with.

The Minister of State is probably aware that there already is an enclosed swimming pool in the town of Ballaghaderreen. This pool is located in the local hotel, which has been shut down. Would the Department consider the option of allowing the council to lease that pool in order that it might save a great deal of money? There are those who would state that the pool to which I refer is not big enough. All I can say in reply is that if it were located in my town, the people there would be delighted.

If €3.8 million in funding is available, perhaps the Minister of State might consider releasing a small portion of that money — I will probably be informed that this is not possible — to develop further Castlerea swimming pool. I am involved with a not-for-profit organisation, Castlerea Swimming Pool Limited, which was established to try to ensure that Castlerea swimming pool will remain open all year round. We have everything apart from the sliding roof — in respect of which we have carried out a great deal of research — in place. We commissioned a study — I can supply the Minister of State with a copy — which indicates that it would be possible to have a 33-metre swimming pool in Castlerea that could open on a year-round basis and that could be an open-air facility in the summer and during periods of good weather. This would be a fantastic tourism attraction for the area and it would only cost €500,000 to fund. Will the Minister of State give consideration to this matter and will he meet representatives from Castlerea Swimming Pool Limited in order to discuss it?

I support Deputy Luke ‘Ming' Flanagan's proposal in respect of Castlerea swimming pool. There is a commitment in place in respect of Ballaghaderreen and this must be protected. It is not impossible for miracles to occur in the House. If Deputy Luke ‘Ming' Flanagan can wear a suit into the Chamber, which is a miracle in itself, surely it must be possible to fund a sliding roof for a swimming pool.

We are not dealing with that matter now.

I knew Deputy Luke ‘Ming' Flanagan would show me some respect today. That is why he is wearing his suit. I thank him for that.

I wore it especially for the Minister of State.

A Deputy

I will buy the Deputy a tie.

It is a million-dollar suit.

The swimming pool to which Deputy Luke ‘Ming' Flanagan refers in Ballaghaderreen is in private ownership and the hotel in which it is located has been shut down. If the county council makes a proposal to the Department in respect of this matter, we will consider it. I am not indicating that we are going to agree to it, I am merely stating that a proposal should be made.

In the context of Castlerea, the Deputy will be aware that the programme is closed. However, the Department recently provided €125,000 for the purposes of upgrading the pool at Castlerea and making it wheelchair accessible. I have no difficulty with meeting the individuals to whom the Deputy referred but there is nothing I can say to them. There has not been a programme in place since 2000. We are going to deal with the 12 swimming pool projects which remain outstanding. Until these are disposed of, we will not even consider whether a new round should be commenced.

Did the council not make an application in respect of the private swimming pool to which I refer?

That is a matter for the county council. It can bring forward a proposal and I will examine it.

Departmental Expenditure

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


14 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans for capital expenditure on transport infrastructure outside of the major Dublin projects being explored. [33433/11]

This question relates to capital expenditure on transport outside the major Dublin projects. Funding for all transport capital projects for the next five years will be determined in the context of the capital review which will be published tomorrow. I will announce my Department's plans for capital expenditure immediately thereafter.

Is the Minister in a position to confirm whether there was an underspend of €340 million in respect of capital projects? There is a commitment in the St. Andrews Agreement of 2006 in respect of the A5 Dublin to Derry road. The project relating to this road forms part of the cross-Border initiatives in respect of which the Government stated it would provide 50% of the funding. The road in question would link Dublin to Donegal. North-west Donegal is one of the areas which has been badly affected by recent events and has a major unemployment problem. The death rate on the roads in north-west Donegal is one of the highest in the country. The A5 project is vital in the context of trying to address the matters to which I refer. It would be disastrous if the project were not to proceed. The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, spoke to Mr. Pat Doherty MLA at some stage. He gave some form of a commitment in a written reply on 20 September 2011, stating "in the context of the March 2007 agreement between the Irish and British Governments on a funding package to support the restored Northern Ireland Executive, the Irish Government made a commitment to provide funding for a roads investment package for Northern Ireland to contribute to the upgrading of the A5 road from Aughnacloy to Derry/Londonderry to dual-carriageway status." In the context of what is being rolled out in the next couple of days, will the Minister be able to make an announcement on this or will the Government scrap another commitment given to the people?

This is a matter which, ultimately, must be decided at the North-South Ministerial Council next week. What I can say is that arising from the St. Andrews Agreement, the Government is committed to co-funding the construction of the A5 through Northern Ireland to Derry, thus improving access to Letterkenny and north Donegal. We remain politically committed to the project and expect some work to commence during the lifetime of the 2012-2016 capital programme. However, the exact timeframe and the sections to be commenced and completed during the programme must be worked out with the Northern Ireland Executive in the coming months.

It is clear that the Minister has just mothballed the project. He clearly has a political desire or willingness, but he is not prepared to honour what was a significant decision taken by a previous Government in the context of an international agreement.

I could make all the political points — my colleague, Deputy McConalogue from Donegal, will do that in another forum — on the impact that funding would have had on Donegal. It is a significant part of that international agreement concluded in good faith by both sides and while I recognise the difficult financial circumstances in which we find ourselves, it is somewhat reprehensible if the Government is prepared in the current climate to shelve or mothball that project.

Perhaps Deputy Dooley did not hear me correctly. I stated that we remain politically committed to the project and expect work to commence during the lifetime of the 2012-2016 capital programme. That is neither shelving nor mothballing.

However, the commitment of €560 million over the next four or five years is an enormous and difficult commitment to honour given the financial situation we face. This must be discussed at the North-South Ministerial Council. We remain committed to the project but the exact timeframe of the project and the sections of the road which can be commenced during that period must be worked out with the Northern Ireland Executive.

I hear what the Minister is saying but this is a commitment. This is an international commitment as well as one between us and the northern authorities. We need a better idea, not merely to wait for the meeting of the North-South ministerial body to discuss this. We must have something concrete and we must say it will be done in a certain timeframe. The Minister is saying he is not scrapping it but, effectively, he is putting it on the long finger to such a point where it could be five or ten years down the line. That would be unacceptable given what has happened.

It does not say much for relations between North and South. We all are trying to build up the continuity between North and South to foster proper relations North and South. It is something that really needs to be addressed. It was a firm commitment and it should be adhered to.

The situation we face North and South of the Border is difficult. I spent the bank holiday weekend in Belfast and one of the major issues being discussed when I was there was a decision of the Northern Ireland Executive, which includes members of Sinn Féin, to close the accident and emergency department at Belfast City Hospital. These are the kind of decisions being made North and South of the Border. It is interesting to see how good Sinn Féin is at cutting spending in the Six Counties——

Unfortunately, we do not have fiscal control.

——relative to the position it takes here.

There is a big difference.

Deputy Ellis states that his party does not have fiscal control in the Six Counties. We do not have fiscal controls in the 26 Counties either.

But that is out of choice.

This country is entirely dependent on the kindness of strangers, the IMF and the EU, to fund its budget deficit and pay its public servants and pensions. That is the situation we are in. In that context, difficult decisions must be made.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.