Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 17 Jun 2015

Vol. 883 No. 1

Other Questions

Services for People with Disabilities

Mattie McGrath


6. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the measures that are being taken to improve travel and transport facilities for persons with a disability; his assessment of the Government's commitments to the travel needs of persons with a disability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23242/15]

The Minister confirmed to me last October that despite commitments of 100% wheelchair accessibility for the Bus Éireann public service obligation, or PSO, coach fleet by 2015, the proportion will reach a mere 60% by the end of 2015 from a current level of 56%. At that rate of going, it will take up to ten years to meet the commitment.

Accessibility improvements to public transport services are being advanced in the context of Transport for All, which is my Department's sectoral plan pursuant to the Disability Act 2005. The plan promotes the principle of mainstreaming by requiring accessibility to be an integral element of public transport services and sets out a series of policy objectives and targets for all modes of public transport to make them more accessible to people with mobility, sensory and cognitive impairments. The plan was first published in 2006 and reviewed in 2008. The latest edition was published in 2013 following approval by both Houses of the Oireachtas. It provides a roadmap for further advances in public transport accessibility improvements and aims to build on the progress already achieved. As was the case with previous versions, the plan was prepared following an extensive consultation process with all stakeholders.

To date there has been a significant increase in the number of accessible vehicles together with improved access to much of the public transport infrastructure. Many targets have already been achieved and significant progress has been made towards the realisation of several others. For example, close to 60% of Irish Rail's stations have received significant accessibility upgrades while urban bus fleets in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford and Sligo are 100% wheelchair accessible. While 56% of Bus Éireann's coach fleet is wheelchair accessible, I recognise that an accessible service is only available on a limited number of routes. Work needs to be done and that work is ongoing. The targets in Transport Access for All are also reflected in the national disability strategy implementation plan which provides for a whole-of-Government approach to improving public service provision generally for people with disabilities. Both plans contain monitoring and evaluation mechanisms which involve groups representing people with disabilities.

Given that the plan was published in 2006, reviewed in 2008 and remains a plan, it is not acceptable that by the end of the 2015 deadline, less than 60% of the fleet will be accessible. I asked this question of the Minister having become aware that there is no daily bus service from Clonmel designed to accommodate wheelchair users. According to Bus Éireann's own information, its current selection of accessible coaches only have one wheelchair space per bus, which means it cannot be guaranteed that a space will be available. Surely, that is not meeting any obligation or plan. The Minister mentioned Dublin and Cork, but I am talking about the fleet in rural Ireland. Bus Éireann also requests that wheelchair users notify their local bus stations by telephone of an intention to travel 24 hours in advance. If that is not discrimination, I do not know what it is. The Minister can talk about all the equality legislation he wants, but that is blatant discrimination against disabled people and those who have to use wheelchairs. They have to telephone up 24 hours in advance and there will be only one seat available on the bus. It is a lottery system and that is not public transport.

It is public transport. It is transport on a public bus fleet being provided to try to meet the needs of residents. I want to see all forms of public transport being made available and being accessible to everybody in the country, but I note that €74 million has been spent since 2006 by this and previous Governments to make our public transport more accessible for everybody. If I look at what has happened in 2015, new lifts have been put in place in Connolly Station and wheelchair accessibility measures have been undertaken at a further five railway stations.

I am talking about Tipperary. Ireland does not end at the Naas Road.

I am answering the Deputy's question in regard to the overall fleet.

The Minister is not.

Many services from across the country go to Connolly Station as the Deputy well knows and if those measures were not in Connolly he would, understandably, criticise me. In 2015 alone, 40 additional wheelchair accessible bus stops were made available in 20 towns across the country.

There is no seat on the bus.

A grant of up to €10,000 per vehicle has been proposed and is available to make taxis and hackney vehicles more accessible.

It is not all about Dublin where the Minister's constituency is located. Money has been pumped into Dublin and the fleets in Dublin, Galway, Waterford and Sligo have been made 100% accessible. I am talking about Tipperary, which I represent in case the Minister does not know. This is a scenario that cannot be allowed. The Minister can talk about his new bus shelters, but when the bus comes one may not get a space on it. That is farcical as the Minister knows better than me. Wheelchair users in Tipperary have legitimate expectations around being able to access suitable public transport. Even those modest expectations are years away from being a reality, which is deeply frustrating to say the least. While his Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, may not tell him, the Minister has a responsibility to the disabled public of Tipperary as well as to Dublin, Connolly Station, the Luas and God knows what he will have underground. It is not all about Dublin. Ireland does not end at the M50 and it is time the Government realised that.

In his rush to make his point to me, the Deputy clearly did not listen to a single word I said.

I did in respect of Tipperary.

In my contribution, I made it very clear that measures have taken place in Dublin and also in Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford and Sligo.

I am talking about Tiobraid Árann.

I also made it very clear that we have put 40 schemes in place in 20 towns across the country.

I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to ask the Minister to answer my question. I am talking about Tipperary but he is giving me a Bord Fáilte tour of the country.

The very reason these measures have been put in place is that I am fully aware of my national responsibility.

The Minister is aware but he is not living up to it.

That is why this and previous Governments have invested over €70 million to make public transport more accessible.

There is no room on the bus and there will be no room on the paper for the Minister.

We are doing this to put in place with the limited funding we have all the measures we can afford and that are available to us to make public transport as accessible as possible.

Cycling Policy

Denis Naughten


7. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the steps he is taking to resolve the concerns of owners of land between Athlone in County Westmeath and Aughrim in County Galway relating to the routing of the new Dublin-Galway cycleway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23245/15]

At the outset, I note that I support the principle of a coast-to-coast greenway. However, the Minister and his officials have gone about this the wrong way. They have taken the wrong approach and the wrong attitude and, as a result, stopped any progress on this project. I want to know why the NRA looked to lands in public ownership between Dublin and the River Shannon, but adopted a completely different attitude once they crossed it in regard to both the assessment criteria and the lands to be used for the route.

I assure the Deputy that I am fully aware of the concerns of landowners along the proposed route of the Dublin to Galway greenway. In an effort to investigate how these concerns can be allayed and a mutually agreeable solution reached, my ministerial colleague, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and I met with Oireachtas members from east Galway, landowners and their representatives along with representatives of Galway County Council and the National Roads Authority. At this meeting it was agreed that members of the project team in Galway County Council should begin a process of engagement with the affected landowners. The object of the exercise is to seek a better understanding of their concerns and to establish whether it is possible to identify a broadly acceptable route for the greenway. This consultation is now under way. Given the number of landowners involved, the process is expected to take up to three months.

The delivery of this project is a priority for my Department in the delivery of a national cycle network for Ireland. The Dublin to Galway greenway corridor was identified as the ideal corridor to progress first for a number of reasons, the main one being that the extensive route when completed would make sense in its own right and also form part of the Eurovelo cycle route network, which provides ready-made branding for the project that will assist in attracting overseas visitors.  That aside, it is and always has been the wish of my Department to deliver these projects in co-operation and agreement with local communities to ensure the long term success of initiatives which are delivered with substantial Exchequer investment.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. How does he intend to get the cyclists from Athlone to Ballinasloe if he is not prepared to engage with either the Oireachtas Members or the landowners between Athlone and Ballinasloe? He might clarify, for the record, that some Oireachtas Members in County Galway have been invited to meetings. As he knows, at least two Oireachtas Members through whose parishes the greenway is going have been excluded to date from these discussions. Why has the Minister of State not looked at using the existing public lands between Dublin and Galway - the Bord na Móna lands, the Coillte lands, the National Parks and Wildlife Services lands, and the existing public rights of way that are currently disused - and start from that basis to develop the project? Specifically regarding the route between Athlone and Ballinasloe, it is my understanding that Bord na Móna is vetoing the use of its lands for this greenway on the basis that it is in active production. Surely the same applies to farmland.

As far as I am aware, the elected representatives were invited and a number of them were there. The farmers were also invited and brought along their representatives. Where possible, the State is going to use public lands. We are going to use Coillte land and Bord na Móna land. The difficulty is particularly at the Galway end of it. Some 809 farmers are involved. Six officials from Galway County Council will call to every one of these farms and see if we can get agreement from the majority. I was glad to hear Deputy Naughten saying he is supportive of the greenways. I was very much involved in negotiations with farmers in my own county. The Deputy is, of course, right that we have to talk to farmers. We have to bring the farmers on board and accommodate them where possible. We have the process in place. It will take three months. Six officials from the county council will meet every landowner in the area to see what agreement we have before progressing this any further.

Not all of the Oireachtas Members were invited. I am sure that if the Chair were free to speak, he could clarify that for himself. One cannot get to County Galway without engaging with landowners in County Roscommon first, or do the officials in the Department need a lesson in geography? It is possible, by using Bord na Móna lands and existing disused rights of way and by having a segregated route between Ballinasloe and Aughrim on the old N6, to bring the greenway as far as there without any disruption of farmland. Yet that has not been given the consideration it merits. What is the situation regarding Bord na Móna? Has it vetoed access to its lands on the basis of active production? If the rule applies for Bord na Móna, it should also apply to farmland.

Fáilte Ireland has assessed this line and has decided that the proposed line is the most scenic and most beautiful one to bring people into. I have made clear to the Deputy that any available State land, where suitable, will be looked at.

We are going to look at all options. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and I have a very serious problem. We have people from all over the country, every day, looking for money for greenways, in my own county and every other county. Everybody is looking for them now. We want to implement this but we want to implement it with the goodwill of the farmers and the landowners in the area and we will have to do that-----

And exclude their own public representatives

We are speaking to everybody.

We will speak to everybody. Deputy Naughten cannot say on one hand that he is in favour of it and on the other hand putting every obstacle in its way. We are going to sit down with the farmers and we do need their co-operation. I speak as someone who knows about greenways and knows how to deal with farmers, because we did it in the west and without the farmers it would not happen.

And their representatives. It would not have happened without them.

It would not happen without their goodwill, their co-operation and we are going to sit down with those farmers, see if we can get their co-operation, and then we will adjudicate.

Harbour Authorities

Timmy Dooley


8. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on concerns over corporate governance standards at Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company in County Dublin, and the financial viability of a €67.5 million plan to revitalise the harbour; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23474/15]

In light of recent revelations in the Sunday Business Post obtained through freedom of information requests relating to the financial viability of a €67.5 million plan to revitalise the harbour at Dún Laoghaire and other concerns raised by people in the Minister's Department about the corporate governance of that entity, could he provide us with the background to that story and whatever information he might have?

I have a number of statutory responsibilities as regards corporate governance oversight of our State commercial port companies under both the harbours Acts and the code of practice for the governance of State bodies. These include the requirements in the Acts that a company seek ministerial consent in relation to certain specific activities, such as the establishment of any subsidiary company; borrowings; and certain investments in undertakings, other than a subsidiary, greater than €1.27 million. In addition, the code of practice requires ministerial consent for any "action which would extend or change significantly the nature, scope or scale of activities in which it ... engages" and also where any joint venture is proposed.

As the Deputy has noted, as part of its development masterplan, Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company has a number of projects at different stages of conception or delivery, some of which require ministerial consent and some of which do not. Both my predecessor and I have previously raised concerns in regard to the company's timely adherence to their obligations in this regard. However, I recently had a constructive meeting with members of the board of the company in which I outlined clearly my position on these projects and I have subsequently written to the company highlighting its reporting obligations in respect of them.

The Minister is confirming what we already know through freedom of information letters, which disclosed that the Dún Laoghaire harbour board had failed to obtain ministerial consent for certain activities prior to commencement. Can we take it as a fact that the Minister or his predecessor has refused to give consent for certain activities?

Could the Minister also advise regarding an issue that was flagged by a civil servant in October 2014, namely, concerns around the sustainability of the company's corporate plan, which included a €50 million diaspora centre, a cruise-liner berth at a price tag of €15 million and a €2.5 million urban beach? I will quote from that letter, which said that "our consideration of this latest revised plan has increased departmental concerns as regards the company's approach towards managing the short- and medium-term sustainability of the company as a whole". Could the Minister bring us up to date on those revelations? He has stated that he has met with certain directors or certain people in the company. Is he now happy that the proposals the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company has in place are sustainable and viable? Is he happy that the appropriate corporate governance is in place and being adhered to?

I have met the officers of the management team and board in Dún Laoghaire on a number of occasions to discuss matters of interest to my Department and matters in which we have a very clearly defined role.

With regard to the Deputy's specific question on the nature of my ministerial consent, which question I want to answer, I have written to the chairman of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company and informed him that my consent for what is known as the St. Michael's plaza project is not forthcoming based on how the project is currently presented to me. The port faces very changed circumstances as a result of the withdrawal of operators and other issues. What we are doing is engaging with the company on its corporate plan. There are a number of projects in that plan. Some require my ministerial consent and others do not. I have made clear our position on the St. Michael's plaza project and I am now engaging with the company on other projects it is proposing.

I recognise what the Minister is saying, namely, that there are aspects of the company's plan that require ministerial consent and others that do not, and that the company can proceed as it so wishes. Let me ask the Minister an embracing question in this regard. In light of his discussions with the board of management and his recognition of what he can and cannot do regarding decisions or consent, is he happy in general with the state of operations at Dún Laoghaire Harbour? Is he happy with the approach of management and his engagement with the board? Does he feel comfortable with the board's understanding of his concerns? Is management taking the appropriate action to ensure the viability of the operation? Is the Minister assured that management's approach to corporate governance is adequate? Does he believe the relationship between the Department and the company is what it should be based on the role he has outlined?

The Deputy referred to other projects and I want to outline the position on these in the interest of clarity. With regard to the urban beach project, my ministerial consent is not required. Similarly, it is not required for developments for the cruise facilities. My consent is required for the diaspora centre and I have already told the Deputy my views on St. Michael's pier. These are the various building blocks of the key projects that are under way.

On the Deputy's broad question on whether I am happy with Dún Laoghaire Port, the team in the port, let alone my Department, is facing great challenges and is working hard to come up with a plan for the sustainable development of the port. That is why I meet the team regularly.

On the questions the Deputy asked, I am very confident that the company is extremely clear about my views on the future development of the port, where my consent is needed and the role of my Department in projects the port is considering. I am satisfied that the company is very clear on the feedback and on how we will seek to work together in the future.

Tourism Promotion

Denis Naughten


9. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the steps he is taking to try to secure direct flights from China to Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23231/15]

Almost 110 Chinese tourists per day visited Ireland last year. The number is estimated to grow by one fifth by 2017. Some 120 million Chinese are to travel abroad this year and are to spend a total of approximately $100 billion. Despite this, we do not have any direct flights from China to Ireland. Is it not about time the Government put strategies in place to try to attract direct flights to this country?

The strategies are in place. The Government and its agencies are working very hard to establish direct air services to China to underpin further the growing tourism and trade relations between the two countries.

The House will recall that the Chinese Premier visited Ireland along with a number of other Chinese Ministers in May. In his meeting with Premier Li, the Taoiseach welcomed efforts to improve connectivity between Ireland and China and indicated his desire to see direct flights.

The legal framework for the operation of international air services is laid down in bilateral air transport agreements. Both Ireland and China signed such an agreement in 1998 to facilitate the establishment of direct air services. However, the setting up of such a service is ultimately a commercial decision for the airlines concerned.

There are ongoing contacts between my Department and the Civil Aviation Administration of China. The Irish airports and Tourism Ireland also have attractive incentive and marketing programmes available to help support new services.

Last week, Tourism Ireland led a five-day sales mission to China. A delegation of 14 tourism enterprises from the island of Ireland took part in the targeted travel trade mission in a bid to increase our share of this rapidly growing tourism market. Initiatives such as this help to raise Ireland's profile with the Chinese travel trade and population more generally and I hope that airlines will see the potential demand for services increase as a result and be encouraged to establish new direct routes.

More than 300,000 Chinese tourists visited New Zealand last year. New Zealand has a population pretty much the same as that of Ireland but it is actually farther from China than Ireland. However, there are direct flights.

In light of the strong ties between Shannon Airport and senior political figures in China, should we not now try to build upon that and bring high-spending Chinese tourists to Ireland? On average, each Chinese tourist in New Zealand spends approximately €2,600.

Specifically, what measures are being put in place to make available funds and a marketing budget to attract an airline to fly directly between China and Shannon? This would allow access to the western seaboard and the midlands, where there is considerable potential to develop tourism.

All this work is actively under way already. We are enjoying a growing tourism relationship with China. This is one of the reasons we introduced a new visa programme along with the United Kingdom. Under the programme, a potential visitor to Ireland from China can use the same visa to go to the United Kingdom and vice versa. VisitBritain and Tourism Ireland are working together and are to target long-haul visitors to come to both countries on the same visa. This is the very reason we had a five-day mission last week led by Tourism Ireland. It was to determine how we could generate demand to sustain direct flights between both countries. That is the reason Tourism Ireland has a presence in four Chinese cities, including Shanghai and Beijing. We are doing all this work to generate demand sufficient to sustain a direct service between Ireland and China. As the Deputy will appreciate, I am not in a position to direct a company the State does not own to provide a flight between both countries. However, we are working very hard to establish an environment in which such a service could be launched.

The problem with the visa is that it is a single-entry visa. Therefore, a Chinese visitor who visits Ireland after having visited the United Kingdom cannot return to the United Kingdom before returning home. This anomaly needs to be addressed because it is causing a barrier.

Owing to the very close relationship the Minister now has with IAG, surely he could telephone Willie Walsh and have a chat with him about the possibility of putting flights in place. As the Minister knows, since the exclusive arrangement for US visa preclearance at Shannon may not continue, it will undermine the role of the airport.

There is huge potential to use the political capital that has been built up as an anchor to bring direct flights to Shannon, the midwest region, the west and the midlands. Will the Minister put together a working group composed of the Chinese community here, tourism agencies, his Department and public representatives from the wider catchment area, both Government and Opposition, to see how we can develop and market this as a whole?

All of the work the Deputy calls for is taking place. This is why a mission to China took place last week and why we have had such contact at a senior level between Chinese political figures, Government Ministers and Irish politicians to put in place an arrangement where certain services can be launched. The Deputy knows that for a service to be either launched or maintained, the demand from either tourists or investors has to be there. Through measures like the visa programme, which is proving to be a huge success, and our contact with the Chinese civil aviation authority and the Chinese Government, the Government is putting strong measures in place and working, hopefully, to land such a link in the future. A really important development is taking place this weekend when we will have the first direct access between Ireland and Africa. I know that all of the figures that have been involved in making this happen are working as hard in making the Ireland-China route happen at a point in the future.

Cycling Facilities Provision

Catherine Murphy


10. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his Department is in a position to support the Naas neighbourhood greenway project in County Kildare either in part or in full; the consultation his Department has had relating to the proposal; the advice and support that has been offered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23485/15]

My question relates to a greenway. Although my question is specific, I am also trying to find out what the Department's general approach is to the development of greenways. Clearly, we must change habits. The initiatives by local communities like this one need to be encouraged and helped to develop.

The National Transport Authority, NTA, is the body that is responsible for the delivery of cycling infrastructure in the greater Dublin area in co-operation with the relevant local authorities. I have consulted with the NTA on the Deputy's question. Perhaps she might be able to clarify this for me in the supplementary. I will then revert with the information. The NTA informed me that no approach has been made to it by a project referred to as the Naas neighbourhood greenway project. If the Deputy lets me know whether the project has a different name, I will find out whether such contact has occurred. I am not in a position to comment on the exact nature of the project. However, the NTA's current understanding is that while the project is being described as a greenway, it may be more of a local cycle network within the town which might include elements of what we would describe as a "greenway" along the canal. I have requested the NTA to give me more information about this project but if the Deputy could tell me more about the contact she believes to be happening, the NTA will get back to her with a specific update on that project within ten working days.

I know it as the Naas neighbourhood greenway project but I will go back to it and ask it. I know the tow path on the canal is very much part of it but the plan is much wider and would cover the entire town. Clearly, the local authority will have a function and the like of the Leader project is being looked at so there may be a number of different mechanisms. I really want to know what the approach is and whether this is the kind of thing that forms part of the sectoral plans we will see. It is low-cost but high-return in terms of changing behaviour so I am really looking to find out information about the mechanism. The Minister is telling me that the NTA has a function. I will certainly gather some more information and possibly provide it to the Department.

I will update the Deputy about the kind of activity that is under way via the NTA in her county and constituency. The NTA is in the process of putting together a town cycle network for Naas with Kildare County Council. This will be provided as part of the greater Dublin area cycle network plan. Routes contained in it include the Grand Canal greenway through Sallins with a spur to Naas, Kill-Johnstown-Dublin Road-Main Street-Newbridge Road, Sallins Road, Blessington Road, Caragh Road, South Ring and Ballycane Road, N6 Monread Road-Millennium Park-Newbridge Road, the N7 Link through Lakelands Estate between Kilcullen Road and Blessington Road and a further link at Corbins Lane in the town centre. That is the nature of the network being developed by the NTA and Kildare County Council. I have been informed that they are marked on a map that is available and are being funded through the greater Dublin area cycle network plan. If the Deputy gives me more detail about the specific project to which she referred, I will find out where it stands.

Deputy Lawlor has a brief question.

I appreciate the fact that Kildare County Council and the NTA provided €50,000 for the development of the cycle way along the canal from Sallins as far as Naas. I was at the launch of that project at the weekend. The Royal Canal seems to be prioritised as a greenway. The link from Naas to Sallins links to the Grand Canal. Does the Minister intend to provide funding so we can develop that Grand Canal route as well?

From what the NTA has told me, the Grand Canal greenway, which will run through Sallins with a spur to Naas, forms part of the town network map that has been developed for the Naas area between the NTA and Kildare County Council. With the funding that is available, I am trying to progress projects like that. As the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, said in response to an earlier question, we face a real challenge because there is now massive demand for greenways across the country following the success of a certain number of greenways. We are trying to help with the design of those projects. At a point in the future, when they are designed the way they need to be designed in order to be high quality cycle networks, hopefully, we will be in a position to do things like that on a phased basis.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.