Other Questions

Motor Insurance

Imelda Munster


31. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the current situation regarding motor insurance; the measures he has taken to address it; if he has met the Minister for Finance on the matter; the proposals his Department has on the way to resolve the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38839/16]

I seek the Minister's view on the current position on motor insurance. What measures has he taken to address the problem? Has he met the Minister for Finance on the matter? What proposals does his Department have on how to resolve it? Will he make a statement on the matter?

I have not arranged a meeting with the Minister for Finance to specifically discuss the cost of motor insurance. My officials have met Department of Finance officials through a joint group that carried out a review of the future framework for motor insurance compensation in Ireland following the Setanta Insurance liquidation case. The report of the group is available on the Department of Finance's website.

My Department is very active in the cost of motor insurance working group established by the Minister for Finance some months ago. The group includes representatives from relevant Departments, the Central Bank of Ireland, the Injuries Board and the State Claims Agency. I understand its report which will take into account the recent Oireachtas joint committee report on the cost of motor insurance will be presented to the Minister for Finance in the coming weeks and published shortly thereafter.

Full implementation of the Government's road safety strategy for the period 2013 to 2020 should over time, taking account of the current mid-term review, lead to a reduction in the numbers of road traffic collisions, fatalities and injuries. This can make an important contribution to reducing the cost of motor insurance, as road safety has delivered in the relatively recent past.

I recently met representatives of the insurance industry, together with the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, to press the insurance industry to deliver as soon as possible a motor insurance database that would indicate to An Garda Síochána who was insured and who was not. This is very important. The development of such a database in the United Kingdom has in the past, together with police enforcement, led to a significant reduction in the level of uninsured driving there. We anticipate that they will report to us very shortly.

The Minister did not quite make it clear whether he had seen or read the joint committee's report on the rising cost of motor insurance. The rising cost of motor insurance is extremely troubling. The Minister said in June that explanations were required and that further investigation was needed. I am glad that he met representatives of Insurance Ireland and the Minister for Justice and Equality, as he said he would. The reality is that up until July 2016, insurance premiums had risen year on year by 38%. In the last three-year cycle they had increased by up to 70%. Many people have reached the stage where they cannot get a quote. It is impossible and they are being priced out of the market. Given that it is a legal requirement to have motor insurance, the increases put people in a very difficult set of circumstances.

Insurance companies state that fraud is a major issue in the sector. Perhaps it is - I am sure there is an element of it - but if the companies claim fraudulent claims result in an increase in insurance premiums in the order of €50, it does not go anywhere near explaining the huge increases, sometimes in the order of 200% or 300%. Will the Minister consider having or supporting some kind of public nationalised insurance scheme for vehicles, given that having motor insurance is a legal obligation?

At the same time, we leave the entire matter in the hands of the private market.

We have exceeded the-----

Will the Minister give support for this?

We have to stick to the minute. Otherwise, Deputies will be waiting. That applies to the Minister also.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and accept that fully.

I will not consider that at the moment, Deputy, but when we met the insurance companies, we faced a lack of adequate information. That is why we have sought for them to revert to us with more information. We are keen to get information about who is insured. That database should be improved. Once we have the information on who is insured, we will find out the more telling issue, namely, who is not insured. An issue that disturbed us when we met the insurance industry was the fact that there are still accidents being caused by people who are driving alone on provisional licences.

My principal role in the issue that the Deputy has raised, that of motor insurance, is to ensure that the number of accidents comes down because that will reduce insurance costs. In that role, I must put increased pressure on the State agencies involved to reduce the number of road deaths.

Do the insurance companies approach the Minister and tell him that, if he revises the Road Traffic Acts, it might help to reduce premiums? Given that there are road traffic crashes and tragedies, do insurance companies tell his Department that, if it upgrades speed laws for town approaches or country roads, they will reduce drivers' premiums?

Not in my experience. It has not happened yet.

Deputy Bailey is not present, so we will move on to Deputy Durkan's question. He is familiar with the Standing Orders.

I should be at this stage.

Sports Events

Bernard Durkan


33. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his proposals to use the medium of sport to project a positive national image, promote tourism and generate renewed economic activity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38860/16]

This question seeks to ascertain the extent to which the Minister of State hopes to capitalise on sport as a medium for generating beneficial focus and enthusiasm in the nation economically, socially and politically.

I thank Deputy Durkan for his question. The hosting of major sports events, both participative and spectator, can be a great showcase for Ireland and drive international visitor numbers. In addition, the media coverage of sports events helps to put Ireland on travel itineraries as a holiday destination.

Accordingly, I am supportive of the ongoing efforts of the tourism agencies, specifically Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland, and the national governing bodies of sport to attract international events, subject to an assessment of the costs and benefits involved in any State financial support, and overseas visitors.

The Government has assisted the IRFU in its successful bid to host the Women's Rugby World Cup, which will take place in 2017. The Government has also supported the FAI in its successful bid to host four games as part of the UEFA Euro 2020 football championship and the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive are supporting the IRFU in its preparation of a bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023. Ireland has successfully passed the applicant phase of that process and is through to the candidate phase. The Northern and Southern Governments will be working closely with the IRFU to ensure that the best possible bid is lodged with World Rugby next June. A final decision will be made by World Rugby in November 2017.

A number of other international sports events hosted in Ireland in 2016 have been supported by the Event Ireland division of Fáilte Ireland, such as the World Masters Fly Fishing Championships, the World Karate Championships, the World Archery Field Championships, the World Boat Angling Championships, the FEI European Jumping Championship for juniors, the modern pentathlon Youth A World Championships, the World Rugby Women's Sevens Olympic Repechage, the World Junior and Cadet Kickboxing Championships and the World Shore Angling Championships. In that light, the Deputy will see that the Department and Fáilte Ireland have made a considerable commitment to the sector's development.

I thank the Minister of State for a comprehensive reply. To what extent do he and his Department make contact with various international bodies in order to ensure that this country remains a viable option for all such events in future? To what extent can he indicate what is likely to happen in that regard next year and subsequently?

Event Ireland has its ear to the ground as regards potential future events that are of interest to Ireland Inc. I am satisfied with its interactions and with my dealings in the Department with the national governing bodies of sport, be they the paralympic movement hoping to host events or any of the other major and smaller bodies. They are all prepared to put their heads above the parapet. They receive State support through Sport Ireland in respect of their basic ongoing needs.

Fáilte Ireland is examining this matter because sports tourism is a multibillion euro industry globally. The events that have already been scheduled to take place - UEFA's Euro 2020 and the Women's Rugby World Cup - and the others that we hope to acquire, for example, the men's Rugby World Cup, are of major significance to the whole island of Ireland. Our Department will continue working with Event Ireland. If people have specific suggestions, we will take them on board.

To what extent are there opportunities for the promotion by way of global publicity campaigns of Ireland's attractive locations of historical and architectural significance, the capacities of available sporting facilities and the latter's ability to do justice to any sporting event? How will those opportunities develop in future?

One of the best examples of what Deputy Durkan is referring to is the video that was launched as part of Ireland's Rugby World Cup bid for 2023. It shows the four provinces, North and South of the Border, in a fantastic light. Apart from the bid offering and its importance, any discerning visitor would watch the video and want to visit this place. A large part of Tourism Ireland's marketing programmes in its major markets - Britain, North America and northern Europe - is sports tourism. The associated imagery, in particular of our indigenous games of hurling and Gaelic football, cannot be underestimated. Croke Park and the provincial locations, for example, Newbridge in the Deputy's part of the world and Donegal, which is the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's part of the world, are visitor attractions, as are the interprovincial contests of our national games. Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland are conscious of using that imagery in advertising Ireland in a good light. The Department will continue to support that work.

I thank the Minister of State.

I seek the agreement of the House. I did not notice Deputy Bailey entering the Chamber. She was trying to attract my attention. There will be a penalty if the House agrees, in that there will only be one supplementary question. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Tourism Promotion

Maria Bailey


32. Deputy Maria Bailey asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the work his Department has completed on promoting the brand, Dublin: A Breath of Fresh Air; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38695/16]

I thank and apologise to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Given that someone in Dublin city can, within 30 minutes, reach the Dublin Mountains, the sea or the vibrant and bustling city centre with its arts, heritage and culture, what work is the Department doing to promote the brand, Dublin: A Breath of Fresh Air?

The Department's tourism role lies primarily in developing national policy. It is not directly involved in the management or development of individual tourism initiatives, including the development and marketing of brands, which is a matter for the tourism agencies. In line with its regional tourism development functions, Fáilte Ireland has operational responsibility for the development of tourism in Dublin. In this context, it is pursuing the implementation of Destination Dublin: A Collective Strategy for Tourism Growth to 2020. A central action to be delivered under this strategy is the development and promotion of Dublin: A Breath of Fresh Air, the new experience brand for Dublin city and county. Fáilte Ireland markets this brand domestically and Tourism Ireland conducts the overseas promotions.

In September, I launched the 2016 international marketing campaign for Dublin. As with last year's successful campaign, this year's campaign highlights Dublin's broad and distinctive offering, from the vibrant modern city centre to the beautiful surrounding bay and mountains. This year, to ensure maximum return on available investment, Great Britain has been identified as the primary target market for the campaign.

Across the British market, the campaign is focusing on the culturally curious segment and targeting cities with direct access to Dublin, mainly Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool. It is aimed at encouraging British holidaymakers to take a short city break in Dublin, particularly outside the peak season.

I have asked the tourism agencies to provide the Deputy with further operational detail on the marketing and promotion of the Dublin brand, domestically and overseas. If she wishes, she can contact my office further to the matter.

The deferred reply under Standing Order 42A was forwarded to the Deputy.

I was delighted to see the December issue of the monthly economic bulletin because it shows that from August to October 2016 there was an increase of 9.4% in the number of tourists visiting this lovely country. I am also pleased there are such close links with the UK given that we share the same wonderful climate and that people from there enjoy the same cultural pursuits we do as well as the many sporting endeavours we have.

I know Deputy Boyd Barrett will join me in congratulating Cuala GAA club on its win on Sunday in the Leinster final.

It was a long time coming and it was well deserved.

Both of us come from that area so I am sure he does not mind me throwing in that comment.

We have many sporting clubs throughout the county. One can go cycling, walking, hiking or even have a dip in the Forty Foot or whatever it is one wants to do in Dún Laoghaire. I am a runner and I regularly run from Dún Laoghaire to the Dublin Mountains. It is only 12 km in distance. We are in close proximity to so many free sporting activities that allow one to have a healthy lifestyle. There is also a wealth of cultural experiences in Dublin. I am delighted the Department is working closely with Fáilte Ireland. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his leniency in allowing me to ask the question.

Deputy Bailey should thank her colleagues.

I thank all concerned.

Deputy Bailey is correct in saying Dublin has a lot to offer. The brand that has been developed has proven itself. More than 10 million people will visit the island of Ireland this year, which is a phenomenal number. More than 8.5 million will visit the Republic and a huge proportion of those will visit Dublin. Dublin’s brand is very strong. That is why the Government is also driving other brands, namely, the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East because we have a commitment in the programme for Government that we want to drive tourism out into the regions as well. There is no doubt we have a constraint in Dublin in terms of availability of accommodation and transport but Dublin is the capital city and like every other capital city it deserves to be promoted. That is why Fáilte Ireland is promoting it but we are doing it in a balanced way. We are very conscious of the fact that there are other regions that are still not where they should be in terms of tourism development and that is why we are trying to treat everybody fairly.

The suggestions Deputy Bailey made about sports tourism are akin to those made by Deputy Durkan recently. If she has specific suggestions or initiatives that could be promoted by Fáilte Ireland or the Department we would be open to them.

Airport Charges

Clare Daly


34. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the proposals he has made to the DAA in relation to dealing with the fact that night time airport charges are reduced, effectively encouraging extra traffic at a time when it has the most impact on nearby residents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38675/16]

The question stems from a discussion on the previous Question Time when I brought to his attention that in contrast to the activities of other similarly sized airports, which operate a policy of differential charges to deter night-time aircraft, the DAA actively promotes it. The Minister expressed surprise at the time and said he would look into it. What proposals does he now have to deal with the fact that the DAA incentivises night-time flights?

As the Deputy will be aware, the DAA has statutory responsibility to manage, operate and develop Dublin Airport. I have made no proposals to the DAA on airport charges, as the setting of such charges at Dublin Airport, within the regulatory framework established by statute, is an operational matter for the DAA.

The Commission for Aviation Regulation, CAR, regulates airport charges levied at Dublin Airport. CAR's determinations on airport charges take the form of price cap regulation, whereby a maximum average charge per passenger is established. Within the limits of the overall price cap, the DAA sets variable annual charges in respect of specific services such as runway landing and take-off and aircraft parking.

The DAA has informed my officials that discounts for departures in the 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. period have recently been introduced. Deputy Daly is correct. The early morning discounts were initiated as a direct result of the capacity shortages currently being experienced at the airport. The move is designed to maximise efficiencies of the existing runway infrastructure, a stated action for all airports, as set out in the national aviation policy published by my Department in 2015.

As the Deputy knows, I recently announced my intention to designate the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, pursuant to EU Regulation 598/2014, to undertake the process to be followed when considering the introduction of noise-related operating restrictions at EU airports. The implementing legislation, currently in preparation by my Department, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, will require the IAA to undertake a review of the noise situation at Dublin Airport immediately following commencement of this legislation. As part of this review, the legislation will require the IAA to consult all key stakeholders, including environmental authorities, local residents and business interests, prior to making any decision on operating restrictions at the airport.

It is precisely because of the imminent changes at Dublin Airport that the residents are particularly concerned about the impact of noise and the manner in which the authorities deal with the issue.

The Minister should forgive me but he appears to be a little bit more muzzled than he was when I previously asked the question, when he expressed his immediate gut reaction of horror that an airport authority would actively incentivise bad practice environmental standards that would have an impact on adjoining residents. He has confirmed that he has checked out the information and the point to which his attention was drawn is accurate. This is not just something that happened recently. The pre-6 a.m. discount is now in place without further notice and it is being extended indefinitely. There is also a Dublin Airport congestion alleviation scheme, which is slightly different. We also have very noisy aircraft from Ethiopian Airlines. There are no noise limits, night-time quotas or auxiliary power unit bans. All those are mechanisms whereby the Minister could intervene, as the Minister responsible for the authority, and say that is not good environmental practice and it is intruding on the neighbours. Other airport authorities can proactively use the mechanisms I outlined to have a more sustainable development. I put it to the Minister again that it is within his remit to come up with proposals.

I do not feel more muzzled. I regret if the reply is not satisfactory. Nobody has done more in terms of meeting the residents who live close to the airport and passing on their views about the noise regime in which they find themselves currently.

The Deputy should be aware that this is just in the 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. period, which arguably is night time. It is a massive and further inconvenience for the residents who have had an intolerable time in terms of noise. That is why, as the Deputy is aware, I have appointed the IAA to take over noise regulation in a totally independent way. It is a group which not only has an understanding of the residents but will be obliged to consult with them, as the DAA has done. It also understands the requirements of the airport. I look forward to a new noise regime in the airport. I think I have made it perfectly clear in the past that sometimes I find it very difficult to accept the attitudes of some of the State monopolies to people who are vulnerable.

The discounts are given in various blocks depending on the scheme. It is not just the hour the Minister mentioned, the hours range from 11 p.m. to 5.59 a.m.

I am disappointed with the Minister's response because he said he will not make any proposals whatsoever. The IAA has been appointed following EU regulations not out of concern for residents adjoining Dublin Airport. I put it to the Minister that in an airport such as Gatwick, for example, take-off and landing charges vary, depending on how much noise an aircraft emits. That is a standard which the Minister could introduce. It is not about the amount charged or the manner in which an airport authority does it, it is about having a proactive policy of protecting adjoining residents. There is a litany of mechanisms in the 17 similarly sized airports to Dublin Airport. There is a range of issues.

We do not need to reinvent the wheel. These things need to implemented and it is very regrettable that the Minister has not seen fit to exercise his powers a bit more forcefully.

A new regime and a statutory instrument will come in very shortly, hopefully, in the new year. When it comes in, the IAA will undoubtedly undertake a review of the noise situation at Dublin Airport. It will not be the same situation where a State monopoly dominated all action at the airport up to now and with whom the residents have had contact but have not had what they describe as satisfactory contact.

Harbour Authorities

Richard Boyd Barrett


35. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the progress of the due diligence that is being carried out in a company, details supplied, in anticipation of the transfer of ownership of the harbour and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38851/16]

The latest twist in the lamentable saga of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company involves the company sending a notice to the Genealogical Society of Ireland on 14 November telling it that it was to be evicted from its premises on Carlisle Pier. I will go into that in more detail. It is extraordinary that this rogue company acts as a law unto itself when due diligence was supposed to start in May 2015. We still do not have the results of that due diligence and this harbour company continues to act as a completely unaccountable law unto itself. When is the due diligence coming and when will the decision be made about the governance of Dún Laoghaire Harbour?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and not for the first time. I think he has another question on it later which looks enormously like a duplicate.

It is to increase my chances in the lottery.

It gives him a chance for two extra supplementaries later on.

The clock is ticking.

As the Deputy is aware, the Harbours Act 2015 provides the legislative basis for one of the key recommendations in the national ports policy, namely, that governance of the five ports of regional significance should vest in local authority-led governance structures. Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company, as a port of regional significance, is designated under the policy for transfer to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.  The process of transferring governance and the future operational structures of the port are primarily matters for agreement between the council and Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company.

The council has procured consultants to conduct the due diligence of the port company.  While the procurement and management of the due diligence process is a matter for the council, I understand that a draft report has been recently forwarded to the port company for its consideration and comments. 

I also understand that Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council have established two transitional teams which are working on the practical issues associated with the transfer. When the due diligence process is completed, I expect that matters will progress towards agreeing a model and the timing of the transfer.

This saga of due diligence has gone on at length and the harbour company has not signed off on the draft referred to by the Minister. It seems to want to do everything to slow down and delay this process, and our examination of the workings of a totally dysfunctional entity that needs to be dissolved. I ask the Minister to directly intervene as the main shareholder to stay the plan to evict the Genealogical Society of Ireland, which is a hugely important community and national resource for heritage that in particular serves the elderly community which involves itself in the activities of the society. The society is a model of such societies and is linked in with an international network of genealogical societies, universities and so on. The eviction of the Genealogical Society of Ireland is just another instance of a company that has attempted to sell off parts of the harbour, that is talking about a harebrained plan for a "flotel", that wants to borrow €18 million to build a giant cruise berth that nobody wants and that is now planning to lease the old terminal building for ten years, all of which are contrary to the interests and aspirations of the people of Dún Laoghaire. The company continues to act as a law unto itself. When will this charade end and when will the public get back control of Dún Laoghaire Harbour? I ask the Minister to help the Genealogical Society of Ireland.

I share the belief that it has taken far too long. Dún Laoghaire is certainly the slowest of these ports that will be taken into local authority control. I accept that the delay in decision making and progress in any direction is not satisfactory. However, I am very reluctant to interfere in a situation of this sort when it is really a matter for the local authority and the harbour company. I will make further inquiries purely on an information basis to find out where things are but as far as I know, we still have a draft report.

The Deputy took me by surprise with regard to the situation involving the Genealogical Society of Ireland. I did not know that and I agree with the Deputy that it is alarming to hear that this is happening. I am certainly not going to give a commitment to the Deputy that I will intervene immediately because I do not know enough about it but I give a commitment that I will try to find out about it, see if there is another side to the story and why this has happened and report back to the Deputy.

The Genealogical Society of Ireland has written to me asking me to ask the Minister to intervene as the main shareholder. The situation is outrageous. This is a fantastic society and a huge resource and amenity for the local people that has links to all sorts of organisations nationally and internationally. It would be unconscionable if this harbour company was to evict it and I appeal to the Minister to intervene and make sure that does not happen. I appeal to him more generally because we cannot continue to allow this company to work up harebrained plans that nobody wants and to try to sell off and lease parts of the harbour when what the people want is a national maritime diaspora and sports amenity in the harbour which would be a huge boost to Dún Laoghaire, the Dublin region and the entire country, where groups like the Genealogical Society of Ireland could be housed and where we could have a huge heritage amenity. However, this will only happen if we seize control of the harbour from this dysfunctional quango.

I think "seizing control" is emotive language of the kind I might have used when I was sitting in the Deputy's seat but which I would not use from here. The Deputy can be assured that I understand and share his impatience. I also share his views about the doubtful nature of some of the schemes that have been put forward such as cruise terminals. In respect of where the funding for such a project would come from, I believe a sum of between €15 million to €20 million would be involved. I do not think that is necessarily a very realistic project for Dún Laoghaire. I have heard of others that sound somewhat exotic but are probably not particularly profitable. It is certainly the policy of my Department that it should be an amenity area. I guarantee that I will look into the situation involving the Genealogical Society of Ireland as soon as possible and probably report back to the Deputy privately. I can do it in the House if he likes but it would probably be quicker to do it privately.

Transport Policy

Bernard Durkan


36. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his preferred options for the development and facilitation of the public and private transport sectors with particular reference to strategic investment in road and rail facilitates, the extent to which he expects targets to be met and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38859/16]

This question seeks to encourage the maximisation of efforts between the public and private sectors to achieve an investment in public and private transport that will be sufficient to meet the challenges not only of today but of the future.

I thank the Deputy for his question. The capital plan published in September 2015 outlined proposed transport investment priorities to 2022. The transport element of the plan was framed by the conclusions reached in my Department's strategic investment framework for land transport. This report highlighted the importance of maintenance and renewal of transport infrastructure together with targeted investments to address particular bottlenecks and critical safety issues. The capital plan provides €6 billion for investment in the roads network in the period to 2022 with €4.4 billion earmarked for the maintenance and strengthening of the existing extensive network throughout the country and €1.6 billion for new projects.  Allowing for the commitments relating to the PPP projects, the balance available for new projects within the available capital envelope is limited.

As Minister I have to work within the annual allocations set out in the plan and in this context the capital plan provides for a gradual build-up in capital funding from the current relatively low base towards the levels needed to support maintenance and improvement works. It will, however, take some years yet under the capital plan to restore steady State funding levels for land transport. The focus will have to continue to be on the maintenance and renewal of infrastructure. There will be a significant ramp-up in funding from 2020 which will facilitate the construction of the road improvement projects included in the plan.

As regards the possibility of additional funding within the plan period, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform indicated in his budget speech that he is bringing forward the capital plan review. There is a strong case for additional funding for the transport sector which I will make. However, the parameters for the review and the final decisions on allocations are matters for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and Government as a whole.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Notwithstanding the financial constraints, would the Minister agree that there now appears to be an urgent and pressing need for investment earlier than anticipated a year ago in the transport sector owing to the traffic jams that are increasing daily on roads such as the M50? Awaiting a plan to put in place in two or three years' time is not the answer now. Would the Minister consider formulating an extended plan to encompass the requirements now visible and those yet to develop, given the nature of the economy's development?

I thank the Deputy for his suggestion. Nobody would realistically underestimate the traffic problems, particularly in the capital city. It would be unrealistic for me, as Minister, to suggest anything else. I acknowledge the difficulties, particularly with the M50 and in Dublin city centre. We need a certain amount of patience at the moment because a large number of the plans we have would be unaffordable at the moment. Metro north is a multi-million euro project, which I would love to see starting tomorrow but we simply do not have that money in the Department or the State at the moment. The projections from the 2020 period onwards are fairly optimistic. We cannot achieve overnight what we would like to achieve with the traffic volumes increasing, but we have a well-considered long-term plan that includes metro north, the DART underground and, of course, the Luas cross-city which will start next year.

I call Deputy Wallace for a condensed 30 seconds, because I have the facility to cut him off.

The National Transport Authority and Irish Rail are believed to have earmarked five rail lines for closure, including the stretch of line between Gorey and Rosslare. It is unclear whether these threats, which have come about because of severe cuts to subventions, will materialise, but it is worrying that such closures are being contemplated. I wish to make a couple of points to the Minister.

The Deputy has-----

Passenger numbers on the section of line are increasing while the subvention cost per passenger is decreasing. Some 3,500 people commute from Wexford to Dublin and Wicklow each day. Wexford is 100 km closer to Dublin but the train journey time is the same. If improvements were made, many more people would use it and it is a very worthwhile service.

I will combine this with Deputy Durkan's final supplementary question.

To what extent can public private partnerships be used as a mechanism to provide a greater share of the capital investment required now? To what extent can the private sector on its own be encouraged? To what extent can the Minister enhance the role of the public transport sector in that area with a view to a combination of factors to bring about the desired result?

The Minister has one minute to respond to both.

In response to Deputy Durkan, if any public private partnerships are produced to the NTA, I would certainly encourage it to look at them. There must be such possibilities around the country. A large number of people have looked at them and suggested that they were not commercially viable, but if anything commercially viable is proposed and it is socially acceptable, it should, of course, be considered because we have a critical situation.

Deputy Wallace got the longest 30 seconds that anybody has got away with in this House for a long time.

The Deputy played in many a match that was won or lost in 30 seconds.

In injury time, and he is in injury time there. He is talking about the Gorey to Rosslare rail link. The issue there is simple. No rail lines have been targeted for cuts. To me this is not a cop out. The public consultation ends on 18 January. The rail review will then make certain suggestions. I have no personal view on the issue the Deputy has raised. I am very happy to consider what he has to say about the low subvention and the high traffic numbers.

I thank the Minister.

That is absolutely fine, but I can assure him it is not targeted for cuts, because nowhere is targeted for cuts at the moment.

Road Projects Status

Martin Heydon


37. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of contact between his Department and Kildare County Council on the southern distributor route in Athy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38766/16]

I call Deputy Heydon for Question No. 37. I ask Deputies to consider that I would like to get to the next question.

I raise the issue of the southern distributor route, a ring road around Athy, which has a long and chequered history. The road has been sought for almost 40 years. It is absolutely crucial infrastructure for the town. There is full consensus in the county that it is the No. 1 infrastructural project of Kildare County Council. Importantly, the Government put it on the capital programme last year and we now need it to progress to planning. Kildare County Council has been working on that. What is the latest engagement the Minister has had with the council? Does it involve the Department giving approval to go the board officially?

I thank the Deputy for his very important question. As he knows, the improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads, such as the Athy southern distributor road, is the statutory responsibility of Kildare County Council, in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from the council's own resources supplemented by State road grants.

The capital plan 2016-2021 provides that a number of schemes, including the Athy southern distributor road, targeting bottlenecks in the road network will be progressed subject to necessary approvals. In this context the project has to meet the requirements of the public spending code and my Department's common appraisal framework for transport projects as well has obtaining planning approval. It is a matter for Kildare County Council to progress the scheme through the approval process.

The council has been liaising with my Department on the preliminary business case for the project and further contact is planned in the lead-up to the submission of the detailed business case and cost-benefit analysis to this Department, and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Once the project appraisal process is completed and clearance is given to proceed, the next stage is submission of the project environmental impact assessment and compulsory purchase order to An Bord Pleanála for approval. Once An Bord Pleanála approval is obtained the project can proceed to construction.

Ultimately, there are two factors influencing the timing of this project, namely, the time required to complete the project appraisal and planning approval process and the need to manage annual budgets in the capital plan, which means that projects have to be phased. This is also subject to the outcome of the mid-term capital review which will soon commence.

I thank the Minister for his detailed response. He referred to a cost-benefit analysis. The southern distributor route for Athy was included as part of the last Government's capital plan for the next five years because it has one of the highest benefits to cost of any road infrastructure in the country. Does the Minister or his officials have any indication as to when Kildare County Council is expected to submit the detailed business plan and project appraisal to the Department? How long does the Minister envisage that decision will take to turn around? It is crucial that the project proceeds to An Bord Pleanála as quickly as possible, given that we have waited so long.

I am not sure of the answer to that question but I will communicate with the Deputy and find out for him if we have any idea. I do not know off the top of my head when this is going to happen. The mid-term capital review, which was in effect launched on budget day, I would think this would be a good case for the Deputy to make a representation for that and to consider it in that light. The current position is as I have outlined and I will come back to Deputy Heydon on the issue he has raised.

I thank the Minister for his response. The people of Athy have waited a long time for this road. I ask, through the Minister's good office and through his officials in the Department, that when Kildare County Council submits the detailed business plan and the project appraisal that a decision would be turned around as quickly as possible.

Deputy Heydon has made a very good case. The traffic congestion at peak times in Athy makes it a compelling candidate for the mid-term capital review.

We are tight for time, so I will facilitate one supplementary for Deputy Broughan.

Road Safety Strategy

Thomas P. Broughan


38. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of his Department's priorities listed which include the statement that a mid-term review of the road safety strategy has commenced; the details of this review; the achievements he envisages from the review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38657/16]

The Minister has at long last put up his list of priorities on his Department's website and it includes the mid-term review of the National Road Safety Strategy 2013-2020. Would the Minister agree that parts of that strategy seem to be in tatters when one looks at the enforcement targets, for example, or the annual report on the strength of the Garda traffic corps and how it is actually carrying out its enforcement and given also that as of this morning 175 people have lost their lives on Irish roads, and the casualty list is still rising?

On a point of order, is Deputy Broughan getting two supplementary questions or one?

The Minister will start the clock.

I want to be able to give the Deputy a lot of time and want to know how to use the time.

The Deputy will have one supplementary contribution because there will be no sos today at all.

My Department's immediate priority for road safety at this time is to ensure the passage of the Road Traffic Bill 2016 through the Oireachtas followed by its speedy enactment, together with the ongoing implementation of the National Road Safety Strategy 2013-2020.  The Road Traffic Bill 2016 contains a series of reforms dealing with drug driving, mutual recognition of driver disqualifications between Ireland and the UK, and a new optional 20 km/h speed limit in built-up areas.  In addition, several miscellaneous and technical matters will be addressed. I would not describe anything as being in tatters but the road safety figures are completely unacceptable. The reasons given for them seem to the four basic ones we have had before and about which the Deputy is familiar, namely, seat belts, mobile phone use, speed and alcohol. I would not say anything is in tatters at all but the figures have spiked this year and this should tell us something. It should tell us that it is not enough to be advertising aggressively in the newspapers and on television. That does not work on its own, the figures are so bad. I am hopeful that the Road Traffic Bill, particularly with its drug clauses and clauses around speeding in housing estates, an issue in which the Deputy has been involved, will help to bring those figures down. I hope to have this legislation ready next week.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The National Road Safety Strategy 2013–2020 lists 144 actions, aimed at reducing the number of deaths on our roads to no more than 124 by 2020, in line with the EU target of no more than 24 deaths per million population. The mid-term review of the strategy commenced in November 2016, with an all-day meeting of stakeholders to review progress to date on the implementation of the strategy, including whether the actions identified are still relevant.  While there is good progress on implementation of much of the strategy, more recent trends are a cause of concern and challenges remain in many areas.

This is an opportune time to examine what measures will have the greatest impact on improving road safety for the remaining years of the strategy, particularly in the light of the worrying increase in road fatalities this year, paralleling increases in other European countries and the US in recent years.  The Road Safety Authority is working to produce a report on the work that needs to be done and on the issues and actions identified by stakeholders.  I understand that this review will be submitted to me as soon as it is complete early in the new year.

Deputy Broughan can put all of his supplementary contribution into one minute.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I have said this to the Taoiseach a few weeks ago. Since the Minister and I were elected to this House in 2011, almost 1,000 people have died on our roads and there have been between 15,000 and 16,000 very serious injuries. Clearly, if this was happening in any other area of Irish life or administration it would be a targeted area and action would be taken. The enforcement actions of the road safety strategy are hopelessly behind target. I welcome the fact the Road Traffic Bill will be passed next week at the latest and certainly will be passed during this Dáil session, but with regard to enforcement by the Garda traffic corps and through penalty points and so on, there has not been sufficient delivery on some of these actions.

What kind of a strong response can be taken? The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality is responsible for carrying out of much of the enforcement. From the experience of the last eight or nine months does the Minister, Deputy Ross, feel there needs to be a special protocol between the two Departments in how road traffic law, which the Minister is bringing through the House, will be enforced by the Department of Justice and Equality and by An Garda Síochána? This applies particularly in cases of speeding. District Court records show huge inconsistencies in how speeding offences are being dealt with and how in some District Courts there is very low conviction rates compared to others.

I am very reluctant to get into any more trouble with the Judiciary than I am already in another sphere by commenting on the Deputy's last remark. There is a need for more consistency in sentencing, especially in the area of traffic offences, and I suspect that some of the penalties are too light in certain areas. In view of the road deaths, I would like to see a more consistent form of penalty being imposed. The Deputy is probably aware that the upcoming bail Bill will contain a clause that people will, in certain circumstances and at the discretion of the court, be forced to hand up their licences when they have been charged with serious offences. This is quite new and is a measure of which I and my Department would fully approve.

I thank the Deputy for his contribution to this debate, it has been very helpful and genuine. I hope to be able to respond and take more concrete measures if necessary to reduce road deaths.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.