Priority Questions

Public Transport Provision

Robert Troy


26. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has consulted with Bus Éireann on its plans to reduce expressways services; and the measures he is taking to ensure full services are maintained on Expressway routes. [39119/16]

It appears that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Support, Deputy Shane Ross, has woken up and smelt the coffee if reports in today's newspapers and yesterday's RTE news are to be believed. He finally realised the severe issues that face Bus Éireann and brought them to Cabinet yesterday. Perhaps he might enlighten the House about the situation, now that he has realised the severity of the issues facing Bus Éireann, in particular the Expressway service, and what he intends to do to alleviate these problems.

I thank Deputy Troy once again for his kind comments. It is a pity that he was not present at the select committee meeting earlier to be able to make the same comments. Not only was he not there, his substitute was also not there. He should not talk to me about waking up and smelling the coffee. It looks to me as if he did not wake up at all today. Unfortunately, the Fianna Fáil Party was not able to attend a very important committee of which he is a lead and, at various times when he feels like it, a very important contributor. It is good that he is in the House now.

I have been clear since assuming office that issues relating to pay and conditions in any State owned company under my Department's aegis are a matter for discussion and agreement between the employer and the employees. I am aware that Bus Éireann is considering options designed to address its significant financial losses which result from its commercial Expressway service. The formulation and progression of those plans are a matter for Bus Éireann. It has engaged consultants to independently review the options available to it as it seeks to address these losses.

In addition, the Deputy is also aware that the company has indicated its desire to discuss the Expressway issue with trade unions. I am firmly of the belief that difficult issues such as this can only be resolved through open, constructive and realistic engagement between the company and its employees, and I do not propose to comment on the detail of any proposals that might be put to trade unions to address the serious challenges facing Bus Eireann. As shareholder, however, I do have a view that Bus Éireann's serious financial challenges should be tackled decisively and effectively so that the company can be viable and serve its customer base on a sustainable basis.

The Deputy will know that there was a Labour Court hearing yesterday to consider a trade union pay claim in respect of Bus Éireann. I understand that the Labour Court decided it will not issue  a recommendation on the basis that the company is finalising  its reorganisation plan which is due for completion by the end of January 2017.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I note that the Labour Court stated that it would be available to the parties if required. Expressway routes are commercial services which do not receive any Exchequer funding. Last year commercial bus services carried almost 23 million passengers, with approximately 7 million of those passengers choosing an Expressway service.

The Deputy is probably aware that the commercial bus market has seen significant growth in recent years with passenger journeys in 2015 13% higher than in 2013. These services are regulated by the National Transport Authority, NTA, under the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009. There have been instances in recent years whereby some commercial services have been reconfigured leaving certain areas without the desired level of public transport provision. In  response, the NTA has used its powers under the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 to ensure continued public transport services through the provision of subvented public service obligation, PSO, services.

I offer the Minister my apologies. My substitute did not attend the meeting. I understood Deputy O'Keeffe represented the party at the meeting. I could not attend, due to a prior arrangement. Last week I could not attend the meeting and asked the Minister to facilitate a change in time, but he was unable to do so. I accept that, but it is deeply unfair and nonsensical on the part of the Minister to say that I do not play a role in the committee and engage with him fully.

There is major anxiety about what is happening with Bus Éireann. The Minister is aware of that and has been since the middle of the summer. Now, two weeks before the end of the year, he has brought the issue to the Cabinet. He has a significant role to play, given that he is the main shareholder in the company. Public meetings are being held throughout the country. People are terrified that they will not have a bus service in the new year and the Minister has done nothing to alleviate those fears, in fact, he is stoking them even further.

I ask the Minister to try to bring about a resolution. The unions need to talk with the management of Bus Éireann, but so too does the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the NTA. The unions and Bus Éireann are willing to sit around the table. Are the Minister and the NTA willing to sit around the table? A resolution must be found to this issue before there is further industrial action.

I will correct the Deputy because he was not aware that Deputy O'Keeffe was not there this morning. I am talking about this morning. Deputy Troy should be aware of this as it was an important issue. There was a meeting of the select committee on a Supplementary Estimate of €106 million. Deputy O'Keeffe was not there. No one from Fianna Fáil was there. This is important. No one was there except for the Chairman and Deputy Munster. Deputy Troy should not be inaccurate about those things. It is important that we are not just here for the roaring and shouting. That is where the work is done. A lot of money affecting the Deputy's own area might have been discussed at the meeting and I am sorry he was not there. I will brief the Deputy on it afterwards. I am very happy to brief him on it, if he likes, as well as on last week's meeting which Deputy Troy did not attend either. I accept there was a substitute for Deputy Troy last week, but I will brief him on all these issues when he cannot turn up. That is perfectly all right.

Let me address the issues about Bus Éireann.

I am afraid the Minister cannot because his time is up.

That is the problem with the Minister. He is more interested in tackling the man than tackling the issue. I asked for the meeting last week to be changed but the Minister could not change it, and I accept that. However, he asked that the debate on the same legislation, which was to take place in the Dáil this evening, be moved and we, as a party, facilitated him, so less of the Minister's nonsense and let us get down to the issue that is affecting the men and women who rely on Bus Éireann and Expressway to get to work, hospital appointments and visit relatives who have been contacting me. I do not know if they have been contacting the Minister. I do not know if the Minister has ever travelled on a bus in his life, but there are people outside Dublin who rely on Bus Éireann and the Expressway service to go about their daily lives.

The Minister is the person who is fortunate enough to serve in Cabinet as Minister with responsibility for transport, which he sometimes does not seem to realise. What will the Minister, as the main stakeholder in this company, do to ensure that we will not have industrial action in the new year and that we can achieve resolutions?

I can meet the Minister, without question of a doubt.

The Deputy's time is up.

I will bring forward proposals.

Will the Deputy resume his seat?

I wonder, however, if the Minister will refuse to accept our amendments, as he did last week.

In future we will try to arrange the meetings of the committee to suit Deputy Troy so that he can shout and roar down there as well as up here. The Deputy knows well of the seriousness of the situation Bus Éireann and its Expressway services face. He knows this because I have commented on it numerous times on the floor of this House and in committee. For the Deputy to affect surprise or outrage at what I say is disingenuous at best.

Since assuming office, I have been briefed repeatedly by my Department officials on the issues faced by Bus Éireann, including the issue of the pay claim lodged by trade unions. I have met the chair of the company twice in recent months, including this week, at which meeting the stark challenges facing the company were again underlined to me. Given this week's Labour Court appearance, I thought it timely to brief my Cabinet colleagues on Tuesday morning on the issues that were likely to feature as part of public commentary. There was no particular significance as regards the timing other than that I thought it an appropriate point at which to update colleagues.

We all recognise that the company faces challenges. Yesterday evening the Labour Court also recognised those challenges when it decided it cannot issue a recommendation while the company finalises its options to address the losses it faces as a result of its Expressway services.

Thank you, Minister. That concludes the matter.

Public Transport Provision

Imelda Munster


27. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the future of public transport here in view of the serious issues raised by the NTA's rail review, concerns regarding the future of the Expressway bus service, ongoing industrial relations issues surrounding a number of national carriers and previous industrial action taken by Dublin Bus and Luas workers; his further views on whether he should re-evaluate his approach to public transport funding and his engagement with the sector, in view of the ongoing difficulties in the sector since he took office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39117/16]

My question on the future of public transport has been topical since the Minister took office and even more so in recent days, the Minister having acknowledged that Bus Éireann is in crisis. Has the Minister considered re-evaluating his approach to public transport and his engagement with the sector?

First, I thank Deputy Munster for attending the meeting of the select committee this morning. It was good to see her there.

The Minister's office had better never ring across looking for us to accommodate him again, as we are this evening.

Deputy Munster can be assured that I am fully engaged with establishing an appropriate response to the challenges and needs of the transport sector. The Deputy has identified a range of issues on the industrial relations front and then implied that these issues stem from inadequate funding of public transport.

I have just answered separately a priority parliamentary question tabled by Deputy Troy about Bus Éireann's Expressway services, which are operated in the commercial, competitive bus market and which, by their very nature, do not receive State funding. I cannot accept that the Dublin Bus and Luas disputes, which have since been resolved, somehow reflect adversely on my approach to public transport funding or policy. I can see the connection the Deputy is making, but they were pretty early in my tenure. To suggest that some of those things were not a result of longstanding problems that existed in these companies is probably somewhat misleading.

In 2017, PSO funding for public transport service contracts will increase by 11%.  I am also providing funding for the completion of the Luas cross city project next year. In addition, I will be providing funding for more than 180 new buses comprising 110 buses for the Dublin region and more than 70 buses and coaches for the Bus Éireann fleet. Furthermore, I have secured up to €160 million for the maintenance and  renewal of the rail network and the increased PSO finding will allow the National Transport Authority, NTA, to allocate vital funding for maintenance of railway rolling stock.

In the case of the rail review, the challenges that the railway faces long precede my appointment as Minister. As the Deputy will be aware, the NTA is currently running a public consultation on rail in Ireland.  It was launched with the publication of the Rail Review 2016 report, which review the NTA undertook in conjunction with Iarnród Éireann, together with an NTA consultation document entitled The Role of Rail in Ireland and Funding its Delivery.  Both documents are available on the NTA's website.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The NTA's public consultation will run until 18 January.  Through the consultation process, the public and interested parties have an opportunity to contribute to the debate on the future of rail. The purpose of the public consultation is to open up a public discussion on the role of rail and its funding and to provide factual material to inform that discussion.  The NTA will then prepare a report about the consultation process which I intend to bring to Government.

In summary, therefore, I am taking all reasonable steps to focus available funding on the improvement of public transport and I am strongly supportive of the rail review process currently under way.  I am determined to make further progress on policies that will help commuters and passengers.

The Minister is aware that public transport is the main option available to us to reduce congestion in cities, improve links in economies in regional areas, meet our carbon targets and continue to ensure rural and social inclusion through our public transport network. In fact, it is the main solution to the myriad transport issues we face. I am sure the Minister understands that public transport is not always profit-making. It is a public service that is provided to serve the people and the State from both economic and social perspectives. It is a hugely important public service.

In recent days, the Minister told his Cabinet colleagues that, due to losses of more than €5 million last year and up to €6 million this year, between six and eight routes may have to be cut. Bus Éireann has also mentioned the separation of the Expressway service - separation being another word for privatisation. It is also proposing a reduction in staff and the introduction of pay cuts and changes in pay conditions for workers, yet the programme for Government commits to a full review of public transport policy and investing in services, including an updated bus fleet.

This issue has been flagged by the company and the unions for quite some time. Will the Minister facilitate engagement by all the stakeholders, including his Department, the NTA, Bus Éireann and the unions, in order to find a resolution to this issue? It is extremely serious. This is our public transport network.

The Deputy is correct that I briefed the Cabinet yesterday. No decisions were to be made. I was keeping them informed and in touch with the current situation and its gravity, which I would not like to underestimate. One should not believe everything that one reads about what I said. The Deputy referred to cuts to six to eight routes. I addressed the issue of various routes but the numbers quoted by the Deputy are inaccurate. That is not her fault, because the information is not there. Whether certain routes are commercial and what should be done about them will have to be examined but I do not believe that I spoke in terms of axing routes, as quoted in the newspapers today, nor was there any question of privatisation. I wish to reassure the Deputy that there was no question of talking about privatisation yesterday.

The Deputy may be alarmed by how often I share her view, but I too believe public transport is the main channel for getting people out of their cars to free up the roads and improve the environment through lower emissions.

I am sure the Minister will acknowledge that continued under-investment has been the root cause of the crisis in which we have found ourselves since 2008. The public transport network receives a much smaller subvention than in many countries across Europe. Cutting off links and services that are failing should not be the automatic response, given the economic and social benefits public transport provides. People in rural communities feel isolated as a result of the closure of Garda stations, post offices and so on. I dearly hope the Minister will not cut or privatise public transport services. However, if one believes what one reads, one must wonder whether it is Government policy to cut off rural areas completely. To do so would be a retrograde step. Public services are not supposed to be about making profits. The purpose of a public transport network is to provide a service.

I agree that public services are not supposed to be principally or exclusively about profit making. However, as the Deputy will probably be aware, Bus Éireann cannot receive a subvention as it is purely and utterly a commercial operation. The company cannot be viewed in the same way as other semi-State bodies because it must survive without a subvention from the State.

On the wider issue, I agree that public transport entities cannot be viewed as exclusively profit making. There is no danger that they will be privatised. As Minister, I fully acknowledge that a subvention is necessary and that public transport services have a social element and a social duty. To be fair, I believe that view is shared by everybody and reassure the Deputy in that regard. While we seek value for money for taxpayers, commuters and travellers, there is no question of taking a purely commercial view of public transport.

Coast Guard Services

I ask Deputies and the Minister to observe the clock because I will be strict on time to give everybody an opportunity to contribute.

Robert Troy


28. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will address concerns that there are proposals in his Department to diminish Irish Coast Guard services or reduce the number of active stations in operation; and if he will consider proposals to place the Irish Coast Guard on a more distinct statutory footing. [39120/16]

I ask the Minister to address concerns that there are proposals in his Department to diminish Irish Coast Guard services or reduce the number of active stations in operation. Have such proposals emanated from the Department? If not, will the Minister confirm that that is the case and set out his view on whether the Irish Coast Guard should be placed on a more statutory or formal footing?

There are no proposals in my Department to diminish Irish Coast Guard services or reduce the number of active stations in operation. In my response to Parliamentary Question No. 677 of 15 November 2016 I outlined the legislative provisions that underpinned the activities of the Irish Coast Guard and confirmed that there was no requirement to put it on an additional statutory footing as the current arrangements were satisfactory for carrying out maritime search and rescue missions.

The Irish Coast Guard provides maritime search and rescue services through its three rescue co-ordination centres and dedicated search and rescue units. These search and rescue units comprise helicopters and Irish Coast Guard volunteer units. Search and rescue units are also declared to the Irish Coast Guard from the RNLI, with which the Irish Coast Guard has a very close working relationship. The Irish Coast Guard enjoys an equally strong relationship with the Defence Forces and both Naval Service and Air Corps assets are readily provided on request.

The location, distribution and response service provided by Irish Coast Guard assets are kept under continuous review, with a view to development and improvement in the delivery of search and rescue services. The Irish Coast Guard is working to improve buildings around the coast and investment in new equipment is an ongoing process. Current projects include procurement of upgraded all-terrain vehicles and climbing unit vans.

I reassure all Irish Coast Guard staff and volunteers that there are no plans to discontinue or downgrade any of the services provided around the coast.  I again acknowledge and thank the courageous volunteers who are untiring in their commitment to provide a search and rescue service for their local communities.

While I welcome the commitment given by the Minister on this issue, I have not made up the concerns to which I allude. Many of my party colleagues, particularly Deputies who represent coastal constituencies, have been contacted by Irish Coast Guard volunteers, among whom there are palpable fears. I understand Irish Coast Guard volunteers are authorised officers under the Pollution Acts, 1991 to 2006, and the Merchant Shipping Act 1993 and that their appointment depends on a decision by the Minister. The legal advice available to me is that their position lacks grounding in the body of the relevant legislation and that this is creating fear in communities about the survival of the Irish Coast Guard service. The Irish Coast Guard is the only voluntary service which is not recognised in statute. While I accept the Minister's bona fides in this matter, will he alleviate the current fears about the Irish Coast Guard service by placing it on a more statutory footing?

I do not doubt the authenticity of the concerns to which the Deputy refers, as I have also heard them. They should be allayed, however, by the response I have provided. I reassure the Deputy that, having made inquiries into this matter, they lack substance.

On the issue of whether the Irish Coast Guard lacks grounding on a statutory basis, let me spell out the reason it is sufficiently secure within my Department. Once known as the Irish Marine Emergency Service, the Irish Coast Guard was formally established in 1991 by Government decision through the creation of a new division within the then Department of the Marine. The Irish Coast Guard has sufficient powers, as a division of my Department, to carry out its functions which are augmented by various maritime legislation I have previously outlined to the House. If, at any stage, members of the Irish Coast Guard are justified in feeling insecure, I will be happy to review the position. However, I am not given to believe that is the case.

The Minister has acknowledged that communities have concerns about this issue. I have heard these concerns, as, I am sure, the Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, has whose constituency is located in a coastal county. Perhaps the Minister's constituency might not stretch to the sea.

It is landlocked.

According to the legal advice I have received, the Irish Coast Guard has not been placed on the same statutory footing as other emergency services. This is driving the concerns and fears of communities which did not emerge from thin air. I pay tribute to the work done by Irish Coast Guard volunteers. In times of emergency their voluntary efforts are critical and sometimes save lives. I acknowledge the Minister's statement that he would be willing to place the Irish Coast Guard on a stronger statutory footing if he believed it were necessary to do so. How do we go about convincing him that this is necessary, given that members of the Irish Coast Guard believe it is?

I do not believe it is necessary and I certainly do not believe it is a majority or particularly vocal view. It is, however, one I have heard around the place, albeit without great authority. No one in the Irish Coast Guard has made representations to me on the issue and I pass the Irish Coast Guard office every day.

If I receive any official, authoritative or credible representations I will, of course, consider them. As the Deputy will be aware, the coastguard is supported by its volunteers who are unwavering in their commitment and bravery, very often in difficult circumstances and conditions. I would not like to miss this opportunity to join the Deputy in paying tribute to the phenomenal work they are doing for the nation and the people of the areas in which they live. The Deputy and I are united in the view that we need to be particularly sensitive to any kind of fears they express in light of the great work they are doing in our communities.

Brexit Issues

Imelda Munster


29. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the engagement he has had with his Northern counterparts on matters relevant to his portfolio, particularly in the areas of infrastructure and tourism, in view of Britain's intention to leave the EU in the next two years; his plans to maintain and improve current cross-Border engagement with relevant organisations; the interactions he has had with the Assembly in Northern Ireland regarding the changes that will come about when Britain leaves the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38838/16]

In light of Britain's intention to leave the EU in the next two years, what engagement has the Minister had with his Northern counterparts on matters relevant to his portfolio, particularly infrastructure and tourism, his plans to maintain and improve current cross-Border engagement and what interactions, if any, he has with the Assembly in the North on the changes that will come about when Britain leaves the EU?

I met my counterparts, Mr. Simon Hamilton, MLA, Minister for the Economy and Mr. Chris Hazzard, MLA, Minister for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland in July and November of this year at the North-South Ministerial Council.  Both council meetings considered the implications of the result of the UK referendum.  Full sectoral audits have been carried out by Departments of both the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government to identify the possible impacts, risks, opportunities and contingencies which may arise following the UK's intended withdrawal from the EU and consideration of these will continue at North-South Ministerial Council, NSMC, level. On 15 November last, the Minister, Mr. Hamilton and I joined the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and deputy First Minister for Northern Ireland at the official launch of Ireland's bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

I will be meeting the Minister, Mr. Hazzard, again in Armagh on Monday next at a transport sectoral meeting under the NSMC, where we will have more detailed discussions on the implications of the UK exit from the EU. With regard to tourism, the Minister, Mr. Hamilton, and I are scheduled to meet on 8 February 2017 in tourism sectoral format, where the implications of the result of the UK referendum on tourism  will be discussed. Separately, my officials continue to be in regular contact with their counterparts in Northern Ireland on transport and tourism matters.

Brexit is the highest strategic risk facing my Department and along with my officials I will continue to engage with all relevant stakeholders, including other public and private stakeholders and with my Northern Ireland counterparts to address the implications of the UK exit in the most effective manner possible. As part of this process, my Department is arranging all-island sectoral dialogues on transport and logistics and on tourism and hospitality to be held in January 2017, to which Northern Irish stakeholders, including representatives from political parties, will be invited.

I welcome the Minister's confirmation of his one-to-one meeting with the Minister, Chris Hazzard. Has the Minister met with cross-Border groups such as Tourism Ireland to discuss Brexit in particular and with a view to ensuring EU funding secured for cross-Border projects remains in place? On the hard Border issue, has the Minister had any discussions on, for example, the need for Donegal-based businesses to have access to ports and so on? If access is restricted it will throw up a huge array of problems, particularly for the transport sector, including ports, airports, roads and railways, across the island. Given the projected short timeframe for Brexit and the enormous impact it will have on the island of Ireland, what plans have been put in place by the Minister or his Department to deal any issues arising for the transport sector?

I have met Tourism Ireland on several occasions, including formally at my office and less formally on other occasions. I am in constant contact with Tourism Ireland on various issues, including Brexit. It is a group I have met more times than any other, although often for only a very short time. We have discussed the issue of Brexit at great length. Tourism Ireland had a great deal to offer in that regard.

On cross-Border projects, the issues highlighted by the Deputy will be discussed in the plenary next week. The Government's commitment to the Narrow Water Bridge and A5 projects is as strong as it ever was. On the issue of a hard Border, I am not sure whether that specific issue was raised during my discussions with Tourism Ireland but I have spoken to many people about it. The issue of a hard Border has been addressed by my departmental officials with their counterparts in Northern Ireland. Brexit is a difficult matter to address because of the British Government's reluctance to spell out where it is going in that regard but models for all sorts of eventualities are being prepared, including a hard Border. My departmental officials are energetically engaged on these issues with their Northern Ireland counterparts.

Smarter Transport

Brendan Ryan


30. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the progress made on the national smarter travel policy given targets are due to be reached by 2020; the plans he is putting in place to reach them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39126/16]

The economic recovery will be wasted if it is retained as the only measure of the nation's health. With sewage spilling into our rivers and seas and carbon dioxide emissions increasing year-on-year, our beautiful green island will be green no more. We need to look at our economy through a climate change lens. As the Minister is aware, transport is a vital aspect of climate change. The Minister can be a leader on this matter. I ask him to prioritise the smarter travel policy as a matter of urgency.

I thank Deputy Ryan for his question on this issue which I know he is particularly interested in. As the Deputy is aware, Smarter Travel: a New Transport Policy for Ireland 2009-2020, was launched in January 2009. The targets set out in that policy were broad and ambitious. As it turns out, they were over-ambitious.  The goal of the policy was to reduce private car use by increasing the number of people who walk, cycle or use public transport.  Implementation of the policy was to result in reduced congestion and contribute to Ireland's international obligations to reduce carbon and other emissions and contribute to improving public health and quality of life. 

The targets set out in the smarter travel policy were predicated on significant investment of €4.5 billion. This was in addition to the then approved Transport 21 investment programme.  As the Deputy is aware, owing to the economic and fiscal crises, there was a significant and necessary scaling back of investment, with many projects in the transport area cancelled or deferred, and it has not been possible to direct the funding originally anticipated towards implementing the 49 actions contained in the smarter travel policy. I regret that. Nevertheless, the overarching goals contained in smarter travel remain the cornerstone of our transport policy.  This is recognised and reflected in the Programme for Partnership Government in which we commit to ensuring that the €3.6 billion investment in the public transport system provided for in the capital plan will uphold the principles of the smarter travel policy. The capital plan also specifically commits €100 million in funding for smarter travel and carbon reduction measures.

Progress has been made and continues to be made in encouraging people to use public transport and more sustainable forms of transport. For example, we have seen a significant increase in cycling in Dublin with steady year-on-year growth, with an increase of more than 125% between 2006 and 2015. My Department has invested in a number of programmes and initiatives such as the smarter travel demonstration projects, active travel towns and national cycle network programme and the public bikes schemes.

As rightly pointed out by the Minister the Government of 2009 adopted smarter travel as national policy, which includes the four important targets to be achieved by 2020. None of these targets is being met.

It will be impossible to meet our Paris Agreement commitments without immediate reductions in transport emissions. Transport is the only sector in which emissions rates are still higher than in 1990. Investment in light, heavy and metro rail networks in the next decade will go a long way towards helping us to reach our long-term emissions targets. People will be encouraged to leave their cars at home only if they have a top quality public transport network to get them from A to B. It makes economic, environmental and ethical sense. Dublin today is chock-a-block. It is at maximum traffic capacity. The extension of the Luas is welcome, but we need more. We need metro north along the M1 corridor. We need similar plans to get people out of their cars and onto rail lines and high-speed bus routes. Transport is one of the anvils on which the crisis will be resolved.

I share the Deputy's aspirations and aims. The timetable has gone askew. That is obviously a product of the financial crisis, but that does not mean that we do not still have ambitions. We still have those ambitions and commitments. I accept the fact that if there are clean, good and efficient public transport services in Dublin, it will very definitely contribute towards a reduction in emissions. That is our policy, as one can see. The timetable may not keep the Deputy happy and it does not keep me happy either, but the cross-city Luas service will commence next year, I hope, and it will make a great difference. I have already introduced an alternative fuels infrastructure project to the Cabinet. We have a national mitigation plan which recognises what we are attempting to do in this area within the limited resources available to us as a result of the crash which has certainly thwarted our ambitions.

The Minister talks about over-ambitious targets, but we are now at a critical point at which we have to set ambitious and achievable targets. Recognising the time lost, we need a three-year plan for the period to 2020 and it needs to be launched immediately. I recommend that the Minister task the sustainable transport division in his Department to spearhead this plan in the next three years. Most importantly, it should report every six months on progress. It should set out a project plan with deliverables and timelines and a report on our progress in meeting the targets set should be presented in the House. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, might include such a proposal in his draft climate action plan when he addresses the Dáil tomorrow.

We need to realign investment in the transport sector in order to reduce emissions. That means further investment in cycling lanes, rail and bus services. That is another reason I am concerned about the Minister's statements on Bus Éireann and how they have been allowed to hang in the media. The State needs to be full square behind transport solutions that get people out of their cars. Buses are part of that strategy. We need a clear plan for the period to 2020. We can turn the corner, but the Minister and his colleagues in the Cabinet need to take the lead. The Minister has an opportunity to be a climate justice champion within his brief and the Government. I ask him to seize it.

I love the rhetoric. I would love to be a climate justice champion. It would be a great ambition. Ultimately, the exigencies of the Exchequer make it very difficult to do everything we would like to do in such a short period. I acknowledge that the Deputy has mentioned cycling and other modes of transport. Significant funds are awarded to the NTA and the GDA annually for the delivery of cycling and walking infrastructure in co-operation with the relevant local authorities. Under the sustainable transport measures grant, STMG, programme, my Department provides funding for the NTA for the seven local authorities and the GDA for the implementation of sustainable transport measures which include cycling and walking infrastructure, in addition to quality bus corridors, safety, integration and traffic management projects throughout the region. Funding of €23.2 million was allocated for the programme in 2016 alone. The NTA also manages a similar sustainable transport grants programme, the regional cities programme, in the four regional cities of Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. Overall funding for the two programmes in 2016 was €36.7 million. We have made a commitment which is indicated in the programmes. The strategy is ambitious, but it cannot be fulfilled to the extent of meeting the 2020 targets. We are still absolutely determined to make a really serious and significant contribution.

If the targets are not to be achieved by 2020, what is the Minister's current assessment of when they might be achieved?

I am glad that the Deputy mentioned that matter. I am meeting the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, tomorrow morning and my officials very shortly to consider what the targets will be. This time we want to make them absolutely realistic. We want them to be within the financial constraints and do not want to overshoot the mark like we did the last time.