Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 19 Feb 2013

Vol. 793 No. 1

Other Questions

Roads Maintenance Funding

Dara Calleary


106. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the amount of funding that is available to improve road networks in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8556/13]

Jim Daly


132. Deputy Jim Daly asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the preventative measures being implemented by local authorities to preserve the condition of the network of rural roads that are being eroded to dirt tracks across the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8384/13]

Bernard Durkan


158. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the extent to which he has had discussions with or received submissions from the various local authorities in connection with proposals to address the issue of local and county road deterioration arising from the prolonged wet and wintery weather conditions; the extent to which he has managed to provide funding to address this issue; if he has received any priority lists for such works; the extent to which he has responded to any such requests; if this adequately meets the demand; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8465/13]

Charlie McConalogue


168. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the amount that will be invested in our national roads network in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8546/13]

Jim Daly


180. Deputy Jim Daly asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will review the current policy that operates within local authorities whereby rural roads are repaired as they are eroded by the current weather cycles and never maintained to prevent this erosion. [8385/13]

Bernard Durkan


801. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the extent to which he has received submissions from the various local authorities in connection with urgently required road restoration works arising from winter weather condition damage to the local road network in urban and rural areas; the extent to which he can make available the necessary finance to meet such requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8902/13]

Bernard Durkan


802. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the extent to which he has received a priority lists in respect of road improvements-restorations from the local authorities in County Kildare with particular reference to addressing this issue arising from winter weather damage to the road network; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8903/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 106, 132, 158, 168, 180, 801 and 802 together. It is almost like Taoiseach's questions, with all of the questions being taken together.

These questions relate to the maintenance and repair of the network of national, regional and local roads. The protection of the existing investment in the Irish national, regional and local roads network is the first priority of the Department’s expenditure on roads. Exchequer-funded roads improvements, where they occur, will focus on safety works or access to industrial estates and similar facilities.

As Deputies will be aware, Ireland has an extensive road network. The network consists of approximately 98,000 km of road which represents two and a half times the EU average in terms of kilometres per head of population. We have a lot of roads for our population. Obviously, the maintenance and improvement of this extensive network of roads places a substantial financial burden on local authorities and on the Exchequer.

Given the financial position that this Government inherited from the previous Fianna Fáil-led Government, there have been very large reductions in roads expenditure over the past number of years, and there will be further reductions in the future.

From a peak in 2007, when there were grants of €363 million towards the maintenance and restoration of national, regional and local roads, this has fallen to €232 million in 2013. On the other hand, the output we are achieving for the available funding is being improved by the use of new technology and initiatives. While these are significant reductions in expenditure, it is worth noting that neither of the two main Opposition parties provided for increased roads spending in their pre-budget submissions, which they published last December, so neither can credibly call for more spending on roads this year.

Over €52 million has been allocated by the NRA to local authorities for minor realignment upgrade projects and road pavement improvement works on national roads across the country in 2013. Construction work will continue on 17 schemes this year, selected by the NRA under its work programme and a further 25 projects are being brought through the planning process.

As regards regional and local roads it is important to note that the role of Exchequer grants in this area is to supplement the local authorities' spending in this area. The contribution made by individual local authorities, which are after all the roads authorities in law, has fallen in recent years both in real and percentage terms. In 2008, local authorities contributed €406 million towards expenditure on their own regional and local roads representing 40% of total spend; this had fallen to an estimated €175 million or 32% by last year. There is considerable disparity between what individual local authorities will contribute from their own resources towards roads, with some local authorities contributing as little as 8% to the total cost of road maintenance and restoration, while others provide more than two thirds of total funding from their own funds.

It is most disingenuous for some local authorities to complain about reductions in Government grants when they have reduced their own contribution by a greater proportion or make little contribution at all. From my Department’s perspective, regional and local roads funding has been directed towards the maintenance and repair of regional and local roads, and low cost safety works. This will remain the position in coming years and, unfortunately, this will have implications for the development of new roads schemes.

Furthermore, I am aware that many local authorities have expressed a desire to have greater flexibility in the manner in which they expend their allocations. My Department is open to such suggestions provided it is done in a prudent fashion and can be clearly measured.

I will call the Deputies who have tabled questions, starting with Deputy Jim Daly and then Deputy Dooley.

I thank the Minister for his response. I wish to bring a couple of issues to the Minister's attention. First, I acknowledge his efforts and those of his Department last year to rebalance the allocation to Cork County Council, which has the single largest road network in Ireland. Despite our calls in previous years to have such a rebalance undertaken, it was brought about last year. I wish to thank the Minister and his Department for that.

Is the Minister willing for his Department to be more flexible in the allocation of funding and to allow councils more flexibility in how moneys are allocated? In west Cork, a lot of money is going into the regional and national road networks, but very little into local and tertiary roads. Further discretion should be allowed to local area offices. Is the Minister willing for his Department to engage in that process?

Is the Minister aware that in some councils, to which his Department is allocating tens of millions of euro, payroll costs account for up to 62% of the moneys involved? I have analysed this matter and private contractors tell me that their payroll costs are in the region of 18% to 20%. Is the Minister aware of this information and, if so, will he comment on it?

I am very much open to providing more flexibility to local authorities, thus allowing them to move funds from one heading to another. My Department has received a proposal from one local authority and my officials are due to meet with the City and County Managers' Association to see if that can be progressed in the coming weeks. However, I want to be sure that the money actually goes into roads and does not end up being diverted into something else.

While it might be tempting to use all the money to patch up potholes, thus fixing the roads for a few months or a year, that is not the best way to do it long-term. We do need to strengthen the roads and restore them so that they can last for ten or 20 years. We want to be sure that does happen.

There is a new pilot scheme which the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, has devised and is heading up with county managers. It is a new community involvement scheme and local authorities will be able to bid for funds for that quite soon.

Flexibility is something the Government wants to assist local authorities with and allow them to do, provided it can be sure the money goes into roads and the work done is measured.

I wish to call Deputy Dooley and offer my apologies, as I was not aware the Deputy had nominated Deputy Calleary's question.

That is understandable, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, in light of the number of Fine Gael Deputies who have tabled parliamentary questions today. They clearly do not hold parliamentary party meetings at which they get an opportunity to ask the Minister behind closed doors. Nevertheless, it is good to see they have an interest and are assisting the Minister-----

It is because there are so many.

They are assisting the Minister in his efforts to lobby for a greater slice of the budget. Members received a small history lesson from the Minister on the difficulty he faces based on who caused all the problems. He then suggested that somehow the county councils should provide more money. Never having served on a county council but having a keen understanding of what goes on there, I remind the Minister they are under significant pressure. Their other income streams are severely curtailed, including development levies, which would have provided them with moneys in the past. Similarly, they are finding it very difficult to collect rates and there have been significant reductions to the block grant. Consequently, it is disingenuous to somehow suggest it is a devolved responsibility the local authority should find the methodology to resolve.

The Minister must fight his case much more vociferously when it comes to the next round of Estimates. I also suggest that Ireland is in a different financial position in light of the Government's negotiation with the ECB. The Government has trumpeted the fact that an additional €1 billion is available this year. The Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, can confirm the Tánaiste was clear yesterday when he indicated the deal that was done of course would have an impact on budgetary measures. I argue that an appropriate and sufficient road network is an integral part of the recovery of the State. As the Minister is aware, it has a stimulus effect in the construction sector through the provision and creation of jobs but more particularly in the continued effort to make roads and the driving and passage thereon more safe. There has been a blip in this regard in recent days and weeks and while I do not wish to characterise this in any way as having been as a result of changes in road patterns or profiles, it reminds Members of the necessity for a continuous focus on road safety.

The improvement on the road network has led in no small way to the lack of deaths on the road. It would be a highly retrograde step if we were to allow the road network to deteriorate back to its former state and the only way one can avoid this is by continuing to invest in it and to not allow the state of the surface revert to the position it reached in the past. More money is now available to the Government as a result of the €1 billion that has been saved and the Minister should make his pitch for whatever amount of that he can ultimately achieve. The Minister's own quiet way of negotiation could and hopefully will lead to success in that regard.

Deputy Dooley makes a valid point in stating that local authorities are under pressure and I fully acknowledge that. Central government also is under a lot of pressure and I find it a little disingenuous of local authorities to point the finger at central government, which perhaps has cut its allocation by 20% or 30%, when the local authorities actually have cut their own by 60%. It is interesting to observe the wide variation among local authorities in quite similar counties as to how much they do or do not put into roads. It also is important to bear in mind that 85% of motor tax goes to local authorities, some of it through my Department, which must be spent on roads and some through the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, which they are not obliged to spend on roads. It is interesting to see how little of the latter local authorities choose to spend on roads.

As for the €1 billion, that amount is being saved every year for at least the next ten years as a result of the elimination of the promissory notes. That is €1 billion less that the Government must borrow and not €1 billion more that the Government has to spend. There is a very big difference and I would hate to see this country revert so quickly to that Charlie McCreevy way of thinking. His way of thinking, which is the reason we are in this current mess, is "When I have it, I spend it". However, the Government does not want to be in a position whereby it states that as it is not obliged to borrow it, it will spend it. It is too soon to talk about the next budget, as there are a lot of moving parts. For example, Departments overspent by €1 billion last year and were that to happen again, the aforementioned €1 billion will have been eliminated. The Government must achieve €300 million in savings targets from the Croke Park extension alone this year. In addition, the Government does not know whether the growth targets will be achieved this year. Consequently, it is too soon to start spending that billion euro at this point.

However, if money or a capital stimulus becomes available, I have many projects that are ready and the ones I can move on the quickest relate to road maintenance and minor works. I heard Jack O'Connor, one of the SIPTU leaders, talking earlier about a public private partnership or off balance sheet stimulus. That would be attractive but anyone who has been involved in a PPP knows it takes two to four years to bring them to fruition by the time a consortium is brought together and so on. We need a stimulus now or next year, not in four year's time and that is why I would prefer an Exchequer stimulus rather than an off balance sheet stimulus, but that is contingent on the budgetary position looking better at the end of the year and it is too soon to start considering that now.

I accept the Minister's point but the Government will have to borrow €1 billion less. The Estimates and the budget were prepared on the basis of the capacity the Government had to borrow. The Government should borrow that €1 billion because it will form part of what the Minister's colleague's friend, Jack O'Connor, has been saying. I listened with interest to him earlier. While he believes our capacity to borrow on the markets has improved, I am not sure the Government will be able to borrow to the extent that the Labour Party's friends in the unions seem to suggest. They mentioned €7 billion or €8 billion using a multiplier effect. Perhaps we will hear more detail from Mr. O'Connor and the Labour Party in the coming weeks about how that will work. However, I would support a targeted and well thought out stimulus programme within our overall budgetary framework. The deal the Government has done provides that and, therefore, the Minister must fight for his portion of that to deal with road maintenance. There are new projects that would be nice to start but let us try to maintain what we have in the interim. Let us take out the bottlenecks on some regional and local roads, which are creating significant blockages and leading to road fatalities. Accidents will accumulate as a result. I urge the Minister to continue to fight for his portion of the funds in that regard.

It is wrong to suggest that many local authorities are cutting back proportionately more than the Department on projects. My experience is that Dublin City Council, DCC, is tailoring all projects as much it can, including roads projects.

I refer to the A5 project, which the Minister said would be funded in 2014. If money became available, is there any way that project could be considered? It is an important project for the north west and it would be the final piece in the jigsaw of linking up the road system, because there have been massive improvements.

With regard to local authority funding, ramps are also a major problem because many substandard ramps were built. Money was provided by the Department but there are a huge number of them throughout the State and should additional money become available, it could be used for this purpose. The DCC has to maintain so many of them that additional money is needed. I do not know whether new capital projects will come on stream this year but if so, a number of projects could be examined. Perhaps the Minister could elaborate on that, given he said that there might be flexibility.

In view of my constituency colleague's comments, I urge the Minister to examine how much can be borrowed and what can be done to stimulate the economy. It is unusual to hear Deputy Dooley refer to Jack O'Connor as the Labour Party's friend in view of his own party's close friendship with the social partners over a long period.

The Deputy is distancing himself from Mr. O'Connor already.

Not at all. When the Minister and the Government are establishing the limits of what can be done given the requirement to borrow €1 billion less, they will have to consult Fianna Fáil's friends - the IMF and the remaining members of the troika.

They are the only ones providing the Government with money at the moment.

With regard to Deputy Ellis's question, it is a fact that local authorities have cut their contribution by more than the Government's and I provided the figures in my reply. They used to provide 40% of the cost but that has fallen to 32%. Local authorities are, therefore, cutting their funding faster than the Government is cutting their grants.

If additional money becomes available, we could easily put another €100 million into road maintenance, €100 million into the small NRA schemes that I would like to go ahead with, and probably between €50 million and €100 million into new road, tourism and sports projects.

That is all we would be able to spend. I would love to receive further funding as it would be preferable to pursuing public private partnership projects which take two, three or four years to complete and do not provide good value in the long term. As I stated, it is not necessarily the case that €1 billion has become available. We must meet our growth targets and, unlike last year, all Departments must come in on budget and without an overspend this year. In addition, we must also deliver €300 million in savings, the figure under discussion in the Croke Park talks. Given that the €1 billion is not available to spend just yet, we should not go down that road.

Deputy Ellis is correct that a number of ramps, especially in Dublin, were badly constructed and are in very poor condition. Fingal County Council has been allocated €100,000 to address the issue, with similar amounts allocated to other counties. This funding will not be sufficient, however. If additional money was available, I would happily give it to the local authorities and they would happily receive it.

The Government has committed £25 million in 2015 and 2016, respectively, to the A5 road project. The elements of the project north of the Border are not proceeding owing to a judicial challenge. This matter must be dealt with and the project needs to start before we can offer more money.

Road Safety Statistics

Noel Harrington


107. Deputy Noel Harrington asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will provide a breakdown of road fatalities in 2012; if he will provide comparative figures for each of the past ten years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8394/13]

This question relates to road fatalities in recent years. The statutory responsibility for the collection and analysis of structured information on road traffic collisions lies with the Road Safety Authority. That analysis is published annually in the authority's facts book, Road Collision Facts. While 2012 figures are still being analysed, I understand the analysis for 2011 is being finalised and will be available shortly. In the interim, the most recently published edition of Road Collision Facts is in respect of 2010 and is available on the authority's website www.rsa.ie. This publication also provides details on collisions in previous years.

Since 2007, there has been a considerable reduction in road fatalities. In 2012, we had the lowest annual deaths on record at 162. This compared with 186 in 2011, 212 in 2010, 238 in 2009, 279 in 2008 and 338 in 2007. The figure for 2002 was 376. However, while there has been considerable progress over the past five years, we cannot be complacent. Thirty-one lives have been lost this year on the roads, an increase of 13 from the same period last year. I have discussed these recent events with the Road Safety Authority and it is too early in the year to detect any definite trends. We will continue to monitor the position closely and it is important that all road users take care.

The Road Safety Authority is finalising a new road safety strategy for the period from 2013 to 2020, which, subject to Government approval, I intend to launch formally next month. The aim of the strategy, as with all previous strategies, will be to save lives and prevent injuries by reducing the number and severity of collisions on our roads.

I congratulate the Road Safety Authority, the Garda Síochána, the Department, road users and everyone else involved in achieving a substantial improvement in the figures relating to road traffic fatalities in recent years. While one death on the roads is a death too many, we are on the right track. I am concerned, however, about what appears to be a spike in road traffic fatalities so far this year. This emerging trend should serve as a wake-up call for those involved with the road safety strategy and, in that regard, I welcome the Minister's statement that it is proposed to implement a new strategy.

When does the Minister expect the Road Safety Authority to publish a breakdown of the figures on road deaths for 2011 and 2012? Could new software or systems be introduced to speed up the publication of figures on road traffic collisions and fatalities, especially the latter? I presume the same template is used to present the figures every year. As far as I could ascertain from the 2010 figures, they do not include information on cases involving driver fatigue. It should be possible to extract figures on the distance road users have travelled prior to a collision. While this information may not be available in all cases, it would be helpful to have such figures included in the annual reports of the Road Safety Authority as they would indicate the extent to which driver fatigue was a factor in accidents.

I note from the 2010 figures that the majority of accidents involving fatalities occurred in dry conditions and on straight stretches of road. This is an extraordinary statistic. Fatigue is a major issue.

I thank the Deputy for his comments. This year's figures to date are a cause for great concern, in that the number of road fatalities has increased significantly. However, it is important that we not read too much into this increase. When I first took up office in March 2011, the first quarter indicated an increase in road fatalities. By the end of the year, though, 2011 had become the safest year on record. It is important that we not read too much into monthly or quarterly statistics.

We need good road behaviour and enforcement. The latter is important but difficult, given the reducing Garda numbers. We will have the detailed breakdown of the 2011 figures soon, although those for 2012 might take a further year. Sometimes, this process gets held up because of coroners' cases. For example, suicides in cars can be reclassified. It can take time to analyse the statistics.

To answer Deputy Harrington's valid question on fatigue, I do not know. I will undertake to seek a reply for him from the Road Safety Authority, RSA. I would also like to know the answer. Fatigue may be difficult to prove after the fact, which is not necessarily the case with other causes.

I seek Members' co-operation, as many wish to ask questions.

I thank the Minister. If we are to tackle the safety figures, we need to know the reasons. Fatigue is one such reason, but another reason for single vehicle accidents is linked to a different strategy, namely, our suicide strategy. That there may be a link is regrettable. That the evidence is only anecdotal is a pity. The RSA's figures make no reference to this link. Perhaps something could be done about this.

When discussing these issues with the RSA, it points to enforcement, education and engineering. All over the country, people are driven berserk when they turn off national primary roads onto tertiary roads on which grass is growing up through the middle and where the first thing they see are poles bearing 80 km/h signs. The RSA will point out that this is not the desired speed, but the maximum allowable speed. However, major problems are being caused because roads are being assigned speed limits for which they are unfit. Local authorities have the option of examining such limits, but it is a cumbersome process, is taking too long and is doing road users a disservice. Is there a way to shorten the process?

Deputy Harrington raised a point. Aside from road fatalities, could the categories of injury be broken down? A road accident that sees no fatalities can still cause destruction, in that people can be left paralysed or seriously injured. If the RSA, in conjunction with the hospitals, including the National Rehabilitation Hospital, could be encouraged to produce the relevant figures, it would act as a stimulus for the road safety programme.

Of fatal collisions in 2012, seven drivers were on learner permits. In total, 3,237 drivers with learner permits were involved in one form of collision or another in 2012. This is an important element to be addressed and I would appreciate the Minister's opinions on it.

Is the Minister comfortable with the road safety information being furnished by the GoSafe company, a private operator that records many speed violations? Its information is dependent on the performance of its drivers and whether its machines are working properly and are at the right angles. We have been approached by a number of its drivers who are unhappy with their work practices and conditions. Aside from their employer's poor treatment of them, they are also concerned that recordings are sometimes being used even after they have told the company that the recordings are not fit for purpose. When they check to see whether the recordings have been used, they find that they have been thrown into the mix even though the machines were not working properly on the days in question. People are being caught for speeding despite this.

The control and curtailment of speeding is critical in dealing with road safety and reducing collisions. Against the backdrop of the fact that the Minister has allowed the function to be outsourced currently to the GoSafe operation, what safeguards does the Department have in place? Does he consider a role for the Road Safety Authority in terms of liaising with GoSafe? The validity of the information is absolutely dependent on the human input of the driver who sets up the machine. We are aware that the conditions in which the workers operate are in breach of serious amounts of legislation in terms of health and safety and the working time Act, which undermines the validity of the information they collect. Will the Minister consider having someone in his Department link in with the operation to monitor it? I accept it is under the control of the Garda to an extent but there must be an independent role for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Speeding and ticket fixing would have an impact on the control of speeding. An investigation is currently under way by the Department of Justice and Equality. Has the Minister had any input or received any feedback on it?

I echo the sentiments of my colleague, Deputy Harrington, on the tremendous work in reducing road fatalities, in particular on the part of the RSA, An Garda Síochána, the Department and local authorities.

I emphasise the importance of the continuation of the education and training of young drivers in particular and those who will soon learn to drive. I have seen and taken part in the road safety campaign for secondary schools that has taken place in The Helix on a number of occasions. It is a tremendous initiative, one that if we continue and bolster and perhaps make part of the syllabus within secondary schools would be very much welcomed in terms of addressing the ongoing battle to reduce road fatalities.

Will the Minister liaise with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, on the road safety strategy? It is clear there will be a reduction in Garda numbers and speed checks are carried out by the Garda in addition to those that are done privately. Will the traffic corps be maintained at its current level?

I carried out an analysis on the number of speed cameras and discovered that the one hot-spot in the country in which one would be more likely to get penalty points for speeding was between the Red Cow roundabout and the Kildare county boundary where the road, which is segregated, has three lanes. Perhaps the distribution of cameras could be examined as well.

A lot of questions have been asked and I will try to respond to as many as I can. A number of them are for the Minister for Justice and Equality and I do not wish to answer questions on his behalf. I will be liaising with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the road safety strategy, which will be signed off by the whole Government, not just my Department. We have a Cabinet sub-committee on road safety which includes the Garda and the Minister for Justice and Equality. I understand that it is their intention to maintain the traffic corps at a similar level to the situation currently. The fact that there will be fewer gardaí in stations and more out in cars will assist with that.

In response to Deputy Clare Daly’s question, I have no news on the report on the ticket fixing or squaring scandal but I look forward to seeing the report. It is something in which I have a great interest. My understanding is that the GoSafe vans are contacted by the Garda. That is the first I have heard of the issues raised by the Deputy. I have not heard of such complaints from staff but I will ask the RSA to examine the situation and see whether issues arise in terms of GoSafe vans. It is important that people trust the system and that it has integrity. I will undertake to ask the RSA to examine the issue.

In response to Deputy O’Donovan’s question on the category of injuries, it is intended to do that. I have appointed to the board of the RSA the head consultant in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire. The situation is complicated because even in medicine there is not a clear classification of injuries but it is something we want to include in the new strategy, in order that it is not just about fatalities but about life-changing injuries and how they impact on people.

We are doing a speed limit review at the moment. I have the draft of it. One of its recommendations speaks to what the Deputy said and suggests that the 80 km/h speed limit signs on tertiary roads and boreens effectively act as a target and not as a limit. The suggestion being made is that we remove them altogether or replace them with the previous delimiter signs which the Deputy may recall with the white circle and the grey stripe through it. I will consult with the Oireachtas committee on the report but I personally think it would probably be the right thing to do on the basis that people are treating the limit as a target rather than as a speed limit. It would be better if the signs were not there or if we had a delimiter sign instead.